Sugar Labs @ NDSU

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Luyt’s “The [OLPC] project and the negotiation of technological meaning”


Luyt, Brendan. “The One Laptop Per Child Project and the Negotiation of Technological Meaning.” First Monday.Vol. 13(6), Jun. 2008. Web. 11 Nov. 2010. .

Luyt, in the above referenced article, applied actor-network theory (ANT) to examine how Negroponte and the OLPC project are negotiating the social factors that contribute to the digital divide. He cited, ANT theorist, Bruno Latours‘ thoughts on what makes technology successful, saying that “this process of negotiation involves the linking of a particular invention to a wider set of problems of interest to a wider set of actors.” (2 of print out) This framework enabled Luyt to employ a teleological approach to the digital divide issue, critiquing the scope of the large-scale OLPC project and posing potential problems on how the OLPC might negotiate this issue in developing countries without access to these technologies.

Luyt suggests that Negroponte and his team created a new market niche for laptop manufacturers by convincing manufacturers such as Quanta Computer that there was a market for the production of cheap laptops. Luyt contends that the large-scale vision of the OLPC is what helped persuade Quanta of this potential market.

He discussed some of the difficulties brought about by the OLPC’s push into a constructivist philosophy, and how Negroponte’s subtle suggestions regarding how teachers/educators don’t play a “major part” in this project affected their negotiations with some large partners such as India. (7) Interestingly, this reminds me of Dr. Suzanne Aurilio and her dissertation that examined learners outside of academia in the 3D virtual world of Second Life. She suggests that the university system will have to re-evaluate the educator-learner relationship before more educational institutions begin to implement it into their curricula because learners in Second Life adopt a (in this case) constructionist philosophy. Negroponte makes the same claims with the XO/Sugar combo, saying that the XO enables “the learner to take an active part in the learning process itself, to think about thinking rather than just memorize facts.” (6) So, considering the constructivist approach, how willing will American educators be to adopt a constructionist pedagogy?

Luyt compared and contrasted the XO/Sugar combo to the traditional Windows/Macintosh computers. He noted that the XO/Sugar combo is fundamentally different from the others, since Sugar moved away from the desktop interface metaphor and instead adopted an emphasis on community to foster collaboration. (10) Yet, even if the OLPC is a success, Luyt posed a potential problem surrounding the contructivist vision of the OLPC, saying that, “The OLPC may be great in getting children to think, create, and collaborate, but these skills may not be needed for the jobs that are being out-sourced or otherwise supplied to the developing world.” (11) Essentially, will there be a demand for these highly trained people?

Overall, Luyt draws out the following conclusions:

  1. “…the XO is meant to enroll for-profit manufacturers in the quest for a new goal — low prices and a stable set of features.” (12)
  2. “…the OLPC project appears to be running into problems as their own constructivist educational philosophy is difficult to fully reconcile with the need to enroll teachers in the project as well as children.”
  3. “…if a new market niche is developed, the XO faces the prospect of ruthless competition from for-proft firms anxious to establish their dominance in an industry that would view laptops as essentially commodities.”

Written in 2006, he suggests at that time that the future of the project is “by no means certain,” but may hinge upon the level by which the OLPC team negotiates the meaning of this different type of tech with “teachers and the educational bureaucracy.” (12) Almost five years later, I have seen some slight variations and derivations in the project: Negroponte and Bender have had there differences in the scope of the project and Negroponte still seems to be taking a strong public stance on the XO’s radical departure.

I personally don’t have a strong enough background with the OLPC project to see what else has changed or stayed the same. If there’s anyone reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Luyt’s article and how the OLPC project has or hasn’t negotiated meaning with this new technology.

Any comments?

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This entry was posted on November 4, 2010 by in pedagogy, Sugar, XO and tagged , , .

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