A work in progress

So, finally I have some time to think about what happened in the course of the past nine days. When I was trying to solidify my research project about Plan Ceibal, I came across the conference eduJAM! which I mentioned in my last post. Literally within 24 hours of finding the conference online, I received permission from my academic director to go to Uruguay, made hostel and host family arrangements, booked my BuqueBus ticket, packed, went to Spanish class, Spanish tutoring, ate (I think) and bought some batteries and pistachios. And what do you know, in the blink of an eye, I was in Montevideo, Uruguay at 06:30. I decided to take a one hour nap for the sake of my sanity. Then eduJAM happened.

It was an absolutely incredible experience. I wish I had known about it sooner, because from what I’ve been told, the first day of the conference was much more socially oriented. I was overwhelmed when I first arrived on Saturday morning and the first “taller” was about….well I’m not entirely sure. A 13 year old boy was giving a presentation on how he developed a tool for the desktop software, Suguar, in the programming language Python. Now, my spanish needs some work but add programming into the mix and I am absolutely lost….sort of. It wasn’t too bad following the logic in the programming….but listening to it being explained in Spanish threw me for a whirlwind. It threw me for a bigger loop that a 13 year old was giving a lecture to what appeared (and turned out to be) very seasoned programmers. But that is the nature of the culture in a way. I especially admire Daniel for having the audacity to stand in front of all of them and speak with such conviction.

After that, I went to a few other presentations about developing free software through Sugar for students with disabilities. It was interesting to hear the perspectives of the programmers and the teachers as they tried to think of solutions.

After the whole eduJAM! conference, I was invited to observe at the Sugar Code Sprint event which followed on Sunday and Monday. It was a good experience to see free software programmers in action, especially at this event. Most of the time programmers do not have the opportunity to sit face to face and discuss ideas with each other so the atmosphere was extremely energetic and intense to say the least. I learned quite a bit from them. When they tooks breaks, I asked some of them how they got to this point in their lives, what drove them to become involved with Sugar, all sorts of questions. I received a ton of different answers, but there seems to be a common sentiment of some sort of obligation to share knowledge. I have been reading about the free software culture and these sentiments seem to add up.

What bothered me though throughout this whole experience was the lack of interaction between teachers and programmers. Sure, at this conference there was some communication. But it seems to me that a way to develop better educational tools through programming, is to be a teacher and develop them yourself. Programmers are extremely skilled, but the skill can only go so far without the base knowledge of learning processes and things of that natures. Anyway, there is more to be analyzed while I write my paper.

On Tuesday, I had the extreme pleasure of going to the small town, Cardal, where Plan Ceibal went underway as the first pilot program for One Laptop Per Child. It was a great feeling to go where it all started. I must admit that I was expecting to see more of the XO computers. However, I did go on a slightly unannounced type of fashion with some of the programmers which is probably why the teachers were operating under a more day to day fashion. Even in the States, the use of computers in classrooms on a daily basis is fairly radical. I had the opportunity to talk to a teacher and the principal who were both there from the beginning of the program. Even more interestingly, I was able to talk to one of the first five students to receive the XO from the president of Uruguay himself. It was incredible to hear her experiences throughout the five years since the project went underway.

I am so fortunate to have met such wonderful people, especially Pablo (the coordinator of eduJAM!) for inviting me not only to Sugar Code Sprint, but to Cardal as well. My experience in Uruguay has truly opened my eyes to what is waiting out there for me. Also though, it was shown me that there are real issues between the theory, design, and implementation of such a massive undertaking as to give every single student a laptop. I will be thinking more and more about this topic as I continue my research.

Next up: Two interviews with Plan Ceibal officials as well as two interviews with teachers.