Day two of Realness and it starts off with a bang- Bernie Innocenti of Sugar Labs/OLPC Paraguay and Christoph Derndorfer of OLPC Austria/OLPC News really set the stage for some amazing presentations over the next two days. Both of them regaled us with tales of success and tales of challenge.

There are a number of things that Bernie and Sugar Labs hope to do in order to improve sugar- getting the computers to start up faster, making the XO printer friendly, building full keyboard navigability, improving the friend view and creating an error message when you copy too many items to a USB (currently there is no such error in Sugar). The versions of Sugar work on a six-month release cycle, constantly improving upon one another but still unfinished as of late.

Christoph structured his presentation on the elements of AC/DC- or rather, Academia, Communication, Documentation, Community and- an element added later to the bunch- Sustainability. These five elements are essential to OLPC and its many deployments. They all work together to make something successful.

The last element, sustainability, is an interesting one. Its the big S word, the overarching goal of many OLPC deployments. But how can it be achieved?

I think this is the ultimate question for many. We are all trying to make ourselves as unnecessary as possible- all desperate to bring about an educational phenomenon with, perhaps, just a child and a laptop. For Waveplace, mentors are also part of this equation- but they are meant to help and not hinder the learning process, and they are, for the most part, locals.

Yet OLPC still asks- how can we help a country of children to learn, how can we expand their opportunities, how can we help them grow from within themselves, their culture, their own home country?

In the afternoon, a small group of us stayed behind in the main pavilion instead of going to class. We had a structured discussion about failure- what causes the failure of an OLPC project, what aspects of successful OLPC projects have failed, and, most importantly, how to prevent these failures.

I talked a lot about my work in São Tomé (biggest failures: lack of materials in Portuguese, no continuation after OLPCorps for the program to carry over the school year, unreliable electricity and internet) and some things about Haiti (biggest failure: not being able to find funding fast enough to continue our programs).

We made a list of things that are essential to a successful OLPC program- the ability to communicate with teachers and students (language ability), having a local person with connections in the community on the ground, making sure teachers (and potentially students) are knowledgeable about how to repair computers. The lack of languages that the Help activity is available in. The failure of setting objectives in various OLPC programs, preventing people from being able to accurately find success. Barriers and challenges such as battling customs, imperfect infrastructures that don’t support, for example, internet when there is no electricity.

Mike of Afghanistan said to me- if you’re having problems with connecting to the internet in São Tomé because electricity is so dodgy, why don’t you hook up the wireless hub to a battery that can charge when there’s electricity at the school? It was a genius solution. Of course we can do this!! That way we can be sure that there will be internet in class and we won’t have to rely on a crazy electricity connection. Amazing what happens when you put some heads together.

A couple of us (Mike, George Hunt from New York) thought of the idea of creating a small manual of how to and how not to start an OLPC deployment. It could be…a checklist of items that are absolutely necessary for a deployment to work out, even a small outline with areas that should be filled in about what the objective of the program is (and other things). We could distribute it on the OLPC website or the wiki. I know that there is a deployment guide already, but sometimes so much information is overwhelming. It might be nice to have something smaller, easy to read, and not overly detailed.

June Kleider talked a bit about her Madagascar deployment- in a town where cell phone reception only started functioning in 2008. The only internet cafe in the area had two computers in it. Most of the children in the program had never seen a computer before.

It’s amazing to think about a situation so Spartan. Not even São Tomé was that removed from the information age. I identify strongly with June’s mission to bring more computers to Madagascar, and I see her as of the same blood- not really officially affiliated with anyone, just trying to lend a hand and educate some kids, in the face of a feeling of a world fighting against you. I respect that greatly.

George thought of a genius idea that has been getting me thinking, a lot. He thought about the idea of starting a nonprofit organization that supports small OLPC deployments. That way small deployments can get tax deductible status as a 501(c)(3) organization. They can also get support in how to work a deployment, how to make it sustainable…it could be so smart. I don’t know what OLPC would think about it, but it’s something I am insanely interested in.

More to come tonight- discussion, questions, maybe even some answers if we’re lucky. Stay tuned.

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