FAQ

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Introduction

First of all please allow me to welcome you to the Frequently Asked Questions page by OLPC Austria. The first version of this document was written on a long train-ride home from Paris by Christoph in mid-July 2007 and it will be updated, enhanced and maintained by all the members of OLPC Austria. As with most documents on this Wiki the contents always reflects the author's opinion and current state of mind. So it's important to realize that the answers in this FAQ don't necessarily reflect the opinion of OLPC Austria. Being an open organization we feel it's vital to accept and appreciate different opinions so at times you may see two or three answers (written by different people) to the same question. Of course we realize the need to present a single coherent voice at times so we'll always try and provide an agreed baseline set of answers.

Please also feel free to add your own questions to this FAQ and we'll do our best to answer them.

We also want to thank our friends from OLPC Nepal for coming up with a large number of excellent questions which we've partially re-used here!

OLPC Austria

What exactly is OLPC Austria?

When OLPC Austria was started in early summer 2007 it was the first European OLPC grassroots organization. We are a group of people in the German speaking countries, mainly Austria, interested in contributing to the "One Laptop Per Child" (OLPC) project. Amongst other things we want to:

  • provide innovative applications (called "activities" by OLPC)
  • have pilot runs in Austrian schools
  • exchange experience with other OLPC country organizations
  • educate the general public about the project via presentations and workshops
  • and generally contribute to the OLPC effort in whatever way deemed useful

If you had mission statement, what would it be?

Well, the introduction to OLPC Austria above already contains some information about what we want to do. Plus we don't really have a mission statement anyway, again it's important to realize that people are working on many projects which are directly or indirectly related to the OLPC initiative. As also mentioned in the initial version of our introduction we basically want to support OLPC in whatever way deemed useful.

However we do have some goals (or should we call them "moving targets") which we haven't really mentioned above. Amongst the most important ones as the first OLPC grassroots organization in Europe is to serve as somewhat of a hub and catalyst for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Recently our friends from Zagreb - who also visited us in Vienna at the beginning of July - started OLPC Croatia and we'll definitely be in close touch with them. Amongst other things we want to focus on the exchange of experiences, opinions, materials, research, etc. Additionally we also want to seize the chance of Vienna's location in the heart of Europe to maybe organize joint events such as Game- / Actitivity-Jams. If you're thinking of starting up a local OLPC organization in your country or community then please contact us and we'll do our best to support you!

With Austria being amongst the richest nations of the world we obviously realize that it's not one of the target countries of the OLPC initiative when it comes to deploying the X0 laptops. We do however believe that with such a global effort as the OLPC project it's vitally important to contribute locally available knowledge, experience and other resources that might otherwise go unnoticed. Through this global process of gathering and exchanging knowledge and experiences we also hope to build a foundation for similar projects here in Austria. "Similar" in this context refers to the innovative use of ICT in schools and other educational environments. So while I personally don't see the X0s being a suitable solution for the local requirements I think that a similar approach (also built around an optimized software environment and educational content) could maybe be deployed in an "school on a stick" project. This would also allow Austrian children to indirectly benefit from the process started by the OLPC project.

Why do you use a mixture of English and German?

The short answer is: because we want to be both local and global.

The longer answer is a bit a more complicated. Early on when setting up the Wiki we had a discussion about which language(s) to use for all of our content. We quickly realized that the best solution would obviously be a multi-language setup in both German and English (and in a perfect world also Spanish and Nepali). However the overhead in terms of the manpower needed to have accurate translations of all of our content would simply be overwhelming. We'd probably have to invest one of our core-members "full-time" to keep everything in check. Additionally our offline-meetings are obviously also being held in German so coming up with English transcripts of our notes and protocols would add even more work. So a dual-language solution was basically off the table. What to do?

We had to go back to the drawing table and look at the requirements of the whole project. From a local point of view we definitely want to support the German language because after all OLPC Austria is definitely an initiative rooted in Vienna, Austria and its existing ICT-project and network environment. We also have to talk to local politicians, school representatives and other folks (e.g. at events we attend) where presentations, talks and other material obviously have to be in German. On the other hand OLPC is a perfect case-study for an international project with contributors, core-stakeholders and the target demographics being from a large number of different countries. Just producing lots of clever material exclusively in German wouldn't be too much of a contribution to the global effort.

All of these thoughts lead us to the current solution: most of the content on our Wiki are in English. Additionally we offer German translations of project descriptions in order to offer an insight in some of our core-efforts to people who only speak German. Our main mailing-list is also in German because most of the time we discuss rather localized issues where people from outside of OLPC Austria and the local community probably won't miss out too much anyway. Our "announce" mailing-list on the other hand is offered in both German and English so everyone can follow relevant and important developments without having their inbox flooded with discussions on which drinks to bring to our next Game-Jam. Additionally almost all of the material which we rely on for external events such as presentations, events, talks, etc. is in German because our audience is mainly based in Austria and Germany.

Please don't hesitate to contact us in case you need specific content in German / English and we'll do our best to provide complete translations of these materials however this will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

How can I get involved?

First of all we'd recommend you to read through some of the contents on this Wiki so you can get an idea of what who we are, what we're working on and other information. Additionally you can also sign up to our mailing-list which is our main form of online-communication. In general our mailing-list is in German but you're of course welcome to ask questions or contribute to these discussions in whatever way deemed relevant in English. Please do comply with the basic rules of netiquette and check whether answers to your questions are available here on the Wiki before asking them on the mailing-list. It just makes life easier for all of us. We also have an IRC channel (Freenode, #olpc-austria), though at the moment it's still relatively quiet in there.

If you live in or close to Vienna then we'd also be more than happy to welcome you to one of our meetings every first Wednesday in each month, 7 p.m. at the Vivi (Liebiggasse 9, 1010 Wien). We will also attend relevant events and conferences (e.g. LinuxWochen, Chaos Computer Camp) if possible, we'll also host our own events such as Game-/ Activitiy-Jams and at times we can also be found at Viennese locations such as the Metalab and werkzeugH. You'll always find information about these events and activities on the start page of the Wiki. Additionally you can also sign-up to your "announce" mailing-list where we'll be providing you with the most important updates on a regular basis.

OLPC

Why is it called $100 laptop?

$100 is said to be the original target price for a single unit by the end of 2008. At the time of writing these lines in July 2007 the initial price for a single X0-1 laptop is said to be $176. In the long run the unit price for the X0-1 will probably drop to something like $50, assuming that the specifications of the machine aren't changed or updated.

Why laptops? And why laptops instead of more schools, books, teachers, etc.?

This is a very good question which gets asked a lot and definitely lies at the heart of many discussions surrounding the OLPC project. There's no short and easy answer to this question and everyone supporting the OLPC project will probably have a slightly different answer. Just as people who oppose or criticize the project on this issue will also have different views on why the resources involved could be better spent elsewhere.

Therefore all I can do is to answer things from my point of view. One phrase that is used a lot is that of "laptops being the equivalent of pens in the digital age" and I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Now I know that this sentence sounds a bit bland at first but let me explain. Both a pen and a laptop are tools that are very versatile and can be used for many different things. A school book on the other hand is a resource that (if well written) is incredibly useful for teaching people about a wealth of topics. But being a resource it's an entity generally designed for "consumption", which means it's a rather passive experience which doesn't allow anyone (apart from the author(s)) to change, influence or enhance the book's contents. (I'm of course aware of "workbooks" or school books which include exercises and questions but I dare say that the majority of school books is still read-only.) Additionally reading books is a very linear approach and due to the issue of distribution the number of different books / resources available to people can be rather limited. Plus the X0-1 laptops being full blown eBook readers also means that there's nothing that the laptop can't do compared to a traditional book. If a country manages to obtain a license for 100K copies of a school book than it might as well distribute them on the laptop instead of paper.

Above I also indicated that I view the X0 laptops as being a tool. While a school-book is generally designed to do one thing, distribute knowledge and information to school children, the possibilities of using a laptop are much more extensive. As I previously wrote elsewhere: "Of course the whole project is called "One Laptop Per Child" but it's quite obvious that X0 deployment will not only impact the lives of children. Teachers, parents, neighbours and probably anyone in a community that receives some of these machines could potentially benefit from the project in one way or another." In that article I went on to discuss several of the possibilities such as VoIP for facilitating communication, citizen journalism, checking prices of goods and health care. That's of course only the tip of the iceberg and I'm sure everyone will be able to come up with many other things that a laptop could be used for. This is also one of the core advantages of having a portable machine such as a laptop compared to having stationary computers at school: parents, neighbours and other people can potentially also use the laptop at home. So OLPC's core mission is still to facilitate education for children in developing nations and it's very important not to lose sight of that goal. However I strongly believe that "valued added features" in the form of additional capabilities such as the ones mentioned above could really enhance the X0's usefulness beyond education and children.

But I have so far avoided to give you a complete answer because I haven't said what I think of money being spent on the X0 while it could also be used for school construction and teacher training. This is a topic where discussions normally turn into a real mess because even the people who wholeheartedly support the OLPC project have very different opinions on that matter. Again, I'm not pretending to speak for anyone but myself so please don't consider the following sentences "official OLPC Austria policy" or anything as we've had our fair share of discussions about this ourselves.

I invite other OLPC Austria members to also share their views on this important matter so we can cover a broad range of opinions.

Let me start off by saying that I'm fully aware of the fact that my opinion contradicts some of the goals and approaches published by the OLPC foundation. Personally I think that regions or countries without a pre-existing basic educational infrastructure in terms of school buildings, blackboards, chalk, teachers, etc. are environments where other investments are more important than offering access to an ICT infrastructure. Dropping X0 laptops into such an environment isn't very likely to really benefit anyone, I believe certain basics must be available before it makes any sense to implement the OLPC project. When it comes to teachers, teacher training and their involvement in education using the X0 laptops I personally believe that they're vital stakeholders throughout the whole process. A strong involvement and high level of commitment by teachers are amongst the best approaches to giving children a chance to utilize the X0's enormous potential as a tool to its fullest extent. So what I'm saying is that certain basics need to be in place as a pre-condition for effective use of the X0s as educational tools. However I'm also convinced that this tool has the potential to generally enhance and dramatically improve children's education in many ways that we haven't even thought of so far.

ChristophD 22:35, 16 July 2007 (CEST)

How can I get an XO?

The OLPC XO is currently *not* available to the general public. There was a limited offer called "Give 1, Get 1" in the United States and Canada but that was only available for 6 weeks at the end of 2007. That way you donated $400 which got you one XO and bought another one for places such as Haiti, Cambodia and Mongolia. At this point it's unknown whether such a program will ever be available in other parts of the world.

However people interested in contributing to the OLPC project via software, documentation, learning materials, etc. can look forward to a new contributor's program which OLPC Austria is currently developing together with the folks at 1CC (the address of the OLPC offices in Cambridge/Boston). Stay tuned for more information...

For the moment being using the Skolelinux Live-CD is the best way to experiment with the OLPC software. For development purposes there are also other options such as emulation and sugar-jhbuild which are explained in more detail in our Activity handbook.

ChristophD 13:30, 2 March 2008 (CET)

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