An article in eLearn magazine asks Can the “$100 Laptop” Change the World?

While the first half is a good review of the development behind the little green machine now formally known as the XO, it’s the second part that covers the more important point of this story.

Project director Nicholas Negroponte constantly reminds us that One Laptop Per Child is an education project, not a laptop project.

So the better question is can the $100 laptop change education?

Maybe. But as several people working with the project, it’s not going to happen without a fundamental change in our entire concept of education.

Ethan Zuckerman is an activist and researcher based at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. He has traveled widely in the developing world and has studied OLPC in depth. He sees places the OLPC laptop might meet resistance as it bumps up against cultural practice, physical considerations, and teaching styles. “Some–not all–classrooms in the developing world work under a very authoritarian model, where the teacher uses techniques like recitation, repetition, and lecture to the entire class to maintain tight control of student behavior,” says Zuckerman.

Some of the problems he sees in schoolrooms in the developing world are echoed here in our own halls of learning. “Educational systems that teach to standardized national tests mean that the emphasis is on making sure a percentage of students learn enough information to pass the national exams, and less on learning through self-guided exploration, which is what the OLPC project is designed to enable.”

Which leads us to one of the major reasons why technology has not had a real impact on teaching and learning in American schools.

In recent years we’ve spent tens of millions of dollars in this country on hardware, software, and connectivity, yet in most classrooms computers are still used primarily as expensive reinforcements for standard instructional processes.

The people behind the OLPC project talk as if they understand the fact that technology by itself will not improve learning.

It will be interesting to see if they can actually build a new educational system around their inexpensive laptop.

We might even be able to learn something in the process.

[Thanks to Stephen for the link.]

one laptop per child, nicholas negroponte