Children’s learning styles in the 21st Century

This is my speech at the Dr. Louise Porter Conference held in Hong Kong earlier this year were I raise some of our thoughts and ideas behind Children’s learning styles in the 21st century as part of our Thinkblaze initiative. In general I advocate for more responsible technology use in the family, rather than less and discuss concepts of how our children are affected with todays technology, videogames and internet use. The full blog post on the topic with all the videos can also be seen at: http://bit.ly/1a0assw

Child-driven Tablet learning experiences in a remote village school in Nepal.

When we set out to donate Android Tablets to a remote village school in Nepal it was never intended to be a SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environment) setup, in  part, because the School that we are supporting was setup in a traditional manner with teachers, classrooms etc.

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That said, even with teachers present, the power of child-driven learning was clearly evident within just minutes of us passing out the tablets. My son had dutifully prepared a little step-by-step instruction assuming (correctly) that none of these Nepalese children in a remote village up in the mountains had ever seen such a tablet before and would therefore have difficulty using them. Many of the students don’t have electricity at home, let alone own any kind of digital device.

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What actually happened was that instead of being a “child lecturer” educating novices on the use of a technologically sophisticated device, my son ended up being more of an agile facilitator, a sort of sysadmin, stepping in when something appeared broken. This arrangement worked beautifully. In under 5 minutes an entire classroom of children, whose command of English was very poor (and my son speaks no Nepalese), were exploring their Android tablet, in some cases opening up new pre-installed educational apps, in other cases racking up high scores and 3 stars in Alphabet Car. It looked like the students could continue playing, engaging and learning from the tablets without adult supervision as competently as children in the developed world who are accustomed to regular tablet use.

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What was also fascinating was that small groups formed around those who picked up the devices before others; these “early adopters” began educating those around them on the use of the devices and teaching them how to do so, in their native tongue. While it wasn’t quite like Dr. Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall the effect was startlingly similar in that children began teaching and discovering all by themselves.

I plan to write more about this later but here are just a few thoughts:

1. Giving children a tablet is the way to go, especially in underdeveloped areas. I’m not sure there is a need for OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) to cover that role given the excellent and affordable alternatives out there; it just seems productive to skip the laptop and go straight for the tablet instead. A tablet is also very portable and can be used anywhere and in an environment were a steady and reliable flow of electricity is a challenge; light and portable battery operated devices are ideal.

2. I believe the devices ought to be “open” (i.e. programmable/hackable/tinkerable) and that good quality color screens are important. As such I think Android is a great OS for this purpose, with many affordable options in its stable.

3. As a classroom model, consider giving tablets to share rather than one to each child; this could more opportunities for collaboration and teaching via peers rather than a figure of authority (i.e., teacher). Unlike a desktop PC, a tablet is ideal because they are multi-touch and naturally collaborative – and there are plenty of free apps that take advantage of that.

The tablets we donated were Android PIPO U1 models, which, for the geeks out there is a Dual-Core 1.6Ghz running Android 4.1 on a 7” IPS 1280×800 screen, Wifi, Bluetooth and 16GB of onboard RAM with micro-SD Card expansion slot.

More details of the Tablet donations available over at the Outblaze blog.

Student’s brain flatlined during classes

Student’s brain flatlined during classes

I seem to know a lot of people who seem to flatline during classes (or grand lectures of any kind?). The below should be tested on a wider scale to see how effective Classes are for most students, the results may be surprising (and shocking perhaps?).

From “A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity” (by Poh, M.Z., Swenson, N.C., Picard, R.W. inIEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, vol.57, no.5), a chart showing a single student’s electrodermal activity over the course of a week. Note the neural flatlining during classtime. As Joi Ito notes, “Note that the activity is higher during sleep than during class.” He also adds, “Obviously, this is just one student and doesn’t necessarily generalize.”

via boingboing and Joi Ito

Flatlining Student in Class

Poh, M.Z., Swenson, N.C., Picard, R.W., “A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity,” IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, vol.57, no.5, pp.1243-1252, May 2010. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2009.2038487

The smallest commercially available desktop PC today?

The Giada Slim N10 is probably today the lightest and smallest commercially available “nettop” which is to say that it’s really a full fledged desktop solution. Weighing less then 1kg, this tiny computer has a dual core Intel Atom N330 CPU, NVIDIA ION graphics, up to 4GB RAM, a 2.5-inch hard drive bay with 320 GB, a 3-in-1 card reader and a choice of either Windows Vista or 7 OS. In terms of connectivity ports, it offers 5 USB 2.0, eSATA, VGA, HDMI, WiFi and Ethernet.

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I found it while strolling around Wanchai Computer Center and I spotted this tiny thing while looking for a suitable small desktop PC for my children and that is when I was offered a chance to look at the Slim N10.

I couldn’t resist given its extraordinarily slim size and the fact that this was not only made in China (what isn’t these days?) but this is a Chinese brand trying to make a name for itself. I expect to be seeing a lot more “gadget like” innovation originating from there is what intrigued me and is a theme that I have been harping on for quite some time, Newsweek recently had a very interesting article on this related topic. After a bit of haggling I purchased it for the equivalent of approx. 350 USD (or 230 EUR or so). It came out of the box with 2 GB RAM and a 320 GB harddrive, no OS.

I have taken some out of the box images and as one can see, it is a very tiny PC indeed. It comes with a stand that sets up the PC very much like a Nintendo Wii, infact it is both smaller and thinner than one but it does not come with a DVDROM which needs to be external, or you install your OS using a USB stick.

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To give its size some perspective I placed a La Fonera 1.0 router, the smallest router from FON which as many Foneros and gadgeteers alike will recall as one of the tiniest routers on the planet and the Apple iPhone 3GS side by side the Slim.

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It is infact a little thinner than the Fonera 1.0, and while of course not as thin as an iPhone it does demonstrate how super slim this PC is. When placing the iPhone and the router on top of the slim it should help give it some perspective on the overall dimensions of this PC, when I saw the product marketing pages I didn’t feel that it gave a good feel of the true size of this device.

I successfully installed Windows XP on it and don’t see any reason why Vista wouldn’t work on it either and because of the NVIDIA ION it is able to play 1080p HD with no slow down at all provided that you take advantage of DXVA. I typically recommend that you install something like KLite Codec Pack which includes a handy setup for Media Player Classic like the below.

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I’ve been testing it with various high def trailers/movies etc. and it works quite well, been running it now for a little over a week and in a standup position it seems to manage the heat reasonably well.

It’s obviously not the smallest PC ever, that achievement likely belongs to the Pico-ITX but both the price, weight and general commercial availability in shops make this a really interesting device, whether this be for a space saving PC, or a media player. Infact, if you compare the price of this device with a hard drive vs. other focused media devices such as the Iobox HD100 and Qnap NMP-1000 the Giada is far more multipurpose and value for money.