Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trojan Horse Yourself: XO not Kindle

It probably goes without saying that I'm not completely satisfied with the "left-wing" (wtf?) DLC's "A Kindle in Every Backpack" proposal.

Two predictions by me:

  • Before Obama leaves office, he'll launch a major proposal to put a digital device in every student's hands in the US.
  • This will be the only (type of) device distributed to all students in the US for the next 15 years.

That is, if everyone gets an ebook reader that is only an ebook reader, all kids won't get computers (or graphing calculators or clickers or iPhones) for another generation. It will be a pivotal moment.

I remain a proponent of what OLPC used to call the Trojan Horse Strategy -- sell the government on ebooks, with everything else computing can do as an optional bonus. This is important to limit the cost, scope and expectations of the projects. To make this happen, the long-term cost to local districts must be $0 per student.

If we're giving every kid a "laptop," people will start worrying about whether they can do video editing on it, etc and all of a sudden it costs $600. And if it is a "laptop project" it will be expected to provide a significant return on investment in the form of test scores, and the evidence for that is, well, not conclusive enough to convince those who aren't inclined to believe it.

So call it a money-saving ebook reader that's practically worth it just to cut down on greenhouse emissions and scoliosis. Just, oh by the way, make it also suitable for running simulations, learning programming, running probes, doing whatever clickers do, calculating, watching some video, and expandable via USB.

You'd think this would be obvious, but it is hard to tell.

The big challenge is support costs, which will tend to drive schools toward more closed, appliance-like solutions. To me, the (disruptive!) solution would be to create devices around removable flash drives. Here's the troubleshooting scenario:

  1. Kid's ebook stops working.
  2. Teacher grabs replacement USB key with standard image out of the middle drawer of her desk.
  3. Kid and teacher swap USB keys, the student's goes in the tech support bin on the corner of the teacher's desk.
  4. Computer still doesn't work.
  5. Kid pops out the battery and his personal key with his files.
  6. Teacher grabs extra ebook from a filing cabinet.
  7. Kid pops the battery and his files into the replacement ebook.
  8. Not-working ebook goes into the tech support bin.
  9. Janitor sends contents of the tech support bin(s) to the district at the end of the day.

If the school, a teacher, or the kids want to run non-standard software, they can just make their own drive image.

Anyhow, this is the fight after the next one. After the first round of Duncan's education reform has crapped out and something new is needed.

1 comment:

Claus von Zastrow said...

Interesting news about the Kindle. Apparently, Amazon can delete books from your Kindle even after you've purchased them. They mistakenly sold unlicensed copies of Orwell's 1984 and then deleted them from customers' Kindles. Some customers lost all their annotations. Ironic that the text in question was 1984....