Sunday, December 04, 2005

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Hole in the Wall

The photo is from Global Vision, as is this precis:
When Indian researcher Sugata Mitra embedded a high-speed computer in a wall separating his firm's New Delhi headquarters from an adjacent slum, he discovered that slum children quickly taught themselves how to surf the net, read the news, and download games and music. Mitra then replicated the experiment in other locations. Each time the results were similar: within hours, and without instruction, the children began browsing the Internet.
The recent discussion about the $100 laptop got me thinking about Mitra's experiment. A hundred dollars doesn't seem much, but where many countries around the globe are only able to spend something less than $20 per capita on health care, it puts $100 in context.

With my last few posts, it must seem as though I'm awfully thin-skinned, and that's probably about right. In the midst of a discussion I was engaging in at Tribe (a social networking site I heartly recommend) where my views were being challenged, a Kenyan fellow living in the U.S. sent me a message. In the message he expressed his frustration with the moderator of the group always trying to tone down the tennor of the conversations. He said that he hails from a contentious culture where expressing disagreement in a measure of respect. There are indeed different ways of seeing intense and vigorous discussions of things. I don't know how much of my difficulty with controversy are the cultural influences that make me a "white guy" and how much of it is favoring Satir's "placating" mode.

In any case I've been reading lots of scorching critiques of the $100 laptop recently, so I was pleased to see this post over at Ross Mayfield's Weblog. Mayfield suggests that one of the good outcomes of the laptop computer is not so much in the hardware, but the software where the computer "watches each student and makes suggestions." Locally a wonderful company Carnegie Learning has been blazing this trail for twenty years now. Here's a Post-Gazette article for a little bit about how students relate to the software.

I'm not sure how The Cognitive Tutor and the hole in the wall are connected, except that part of my pleasure in hearing about the hole in the wall experiment was that Sugata Mitra tried it at all. It was his hunch about the children's native curiousity that so endeared me to him and his idea. And his understanding that curiousity isn't something that fades away as people grow older.

Last night I visited a friend to talk about my birthday party. What's clear from that meeting is that most of my friends aren't reading my blog. That amuzes me. But I now know that if I direct people to a link over at Oligopoly Watch concerning a an issue I think important, that my friends probably won't see it. I also get the word that the idea of a present for me of a present for Nathan doesn't feel at all festive or exciting. Alas.

What excites me, what makes me feel really good, is the Aha! that comes with new discovery. That's why I thought I would like teaching very much, and the sense of despair in discovering that I didn't like teaching very much at all. I'm about as far away fromm a computer whiz as a person can be, still I have a terrific sense of the possibilities of the value that computer and communications technology can bring. I like children so much because they engage their native curiostiy with more rigor than most of us manage in adulthood.

A computer for Nathan will be such a fantastic gift to me is because I feel strongly that Nathan will use it to discover ways of making the possibilities of a computer available for many in his community. It's not the hardware that excites me. I know that Nathan will face numerous obstcles in trying to make use of the computer that we here wouldn't dream of. What excites me are the many ways that he can use a computer. I can dream of a hundred, but know there are so many more I haven't dreamed of. Buying a computer for Nathan is buying me an adventure. This computer scam, scheme, whatever, doesn't enter my head as some selfless act of charity, it's the promise of hours of fun for me. Come on folks, if you're thinking of an example of our generational narcissism, tell me my face doesn't pop into your mind?

Well then, it's all about me, same as it ever was. At least I can write embarassing stuff like this on my blog and know my friends will never be the wiser. Oh and well, the meeting about the party with our dear friend, the Queen Mother of Pittsburgh parties, was quite productive. The theme for the party will be A Cracker Carnival and there will be gambling (with Bazungu Bucks) in the summer kitchen.

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