Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND
I’ve been giving our Sugar / XO project a lot of mental space lately, so I need to get some ideas on the page / screen. Chris and I, and perhaps a few other new collaborators, are looking to put together a proposal to fund a Sugar deployment in Fargo Public Schools for next fall. We envision distributing either CDs or SoaS (that’s one of the challenges–which one!?) to all K-5 students (although K-8 isn’t out of the picture). We would try to support these kids remotely with a “Sugar Labs at NDSU” website and team, modeled after the DC Sugar Labs. We would also continue to promote and support “tech teams” in schools, like the team we are working with at Madison. Need a lot of people power for this component, whereas the SL@NDSU could be a one or two person job (website, produce documents, etc.).
The big challenge for me right now is formulating the arguments: why is this a good idea? As a parent and educator, I am often concerned about how much time kids spend with screens, and this kind of project only feeds that culture. The counter-arguments, however, are the ones we are trying to refine:
1. We would obviously present Sugar as a learning platform, rather than a gaming platform, but that has its drawbacks for some kids.
2. We are playing around with the idea of trying to foster a “smart” computer culture in Fargo. Fargo has one of the largest Microsoft campuses in the US, and other high tech companies, but this community doesn’t have a start-up culture, a smart computing culture, or a programming culture. Claiming that introducing Sugar could help foster those things is a huge claim, but one we would like to make in our grant proposal.
3. Along the same lines, we think that getting Fargo kids (and parents) interested in Sugar is also about getting them interested in the idea of participating in a globally networked project. Improving existing Sugar activities, and even building new ones = supporting OLPC deployments around the world (at least for now). I don’t know if this is exciting to others, but it gets me interested! Supporting Sugar is about supporting open source education.
Once I start going down this big-picture path, I worry that our project starts to sound unrealistic, very pie-in-the-sky. So I also think about small scale goals and arguments. I’ll save those for another post.