OLPC testing in Wellington

OLPC laptop with a kitschy 70s sugar bowl

Every Saturday morning there’s a group in Wellington that meets to test software for the One Laptop Per Child program (OLPC). I’ve really enjoyed helping with the testing, meeting smart folks with smart politics, and learning more about OLPC. OLPC is the group that tried to develop a $100 laptop especially for children in developing countries. While they didn’t succeed in making it for $100, it is a remarkable piece of hardware.

The OLPC mission statement is:

To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.

I like that this statement clearly identifies kids as the users. I love the phrase “joyful, self-empowered learning”.

The first week we played some simple educational games. Memorize, a simple mathematics and memory game, was lots of fun when networked with other people. While one OLPC is neat, a group of them is quite amazing. The collaborative and cooperative possibilities with a group of OLPCs is really exciting. I’m sure that kids have found ways to do things that us adults aren’t even imagining.

Last week we tested Food Force 2, an educational game where you build wells, houses, farms, hospitals and schools in an effort to serve a growing population. Initially I was really excited, but that wore off quickly. It wasn’t terribly fun, the interface was awkward to use, and it was difficult to close the dialog boxes.

This week there’s several testing requests from developers. I’m particularly interested in the open source Sugar operating system on a USB drive, dubbed Sugar on a Stick.

I’m sure with time I’ll learn more about what expected functionality is, and when things are really broken. Right now I’m not sure how things should be working, so it’s hard for me to tell if they’ve gone wrong. The more experienced people in the group are really helpful explaining some of these things. Also, as we all come from very different backgrounds there are some really interesting conversations about open source software, software development, education, games, and usability.

I really miss troubleshooting software, which used to be a regular part of my job. It’s massively satisfying to figure out what someone did to make something break, replicate it, and then fix it. Although informal, these testing sessions help me satisfy my troubleshooting cravings.

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