Tag Archives: OLPC

Presenting…InfoSlicer (educational software for Sugar)

InfoSlicer two-colour icon

InfoSlicer is a small application that enables you to download articles from Wikipedia, drag-and-drop sections of them to create new articles, and then publish your collection of articles for others to install or view on their own laptops.InfoSlicer on an OLPC laptop

The ideal of InfoSlicer is to support teachers in schools where access to books is limited. They can use InfoSlicer to quickly obtain content from the internet (maybe at a cybercafe rather than at the school or at home) and to create customized versions of the information that are suitable for their pupils and can be viewed with needing access to the internet.

Since completing the initial prototype, however, it’s become apparent that InfoSlicer could actually be more useful to the pupils themselves than just as a means to receive information created by their teacher. The children themselves could use InfoSlicer to download articles and then learn how to re-organise information for a specific audience or purpose and how to attribute someone else’s content without plagiarising it; the outcome of creating the articles is then less educationally important than the process of doing it.

So if you have Sugar, download the first version of InfoSlicer and give it a go (or just find out more) from: http://sugarlabs.org/go/Activities/InfoSlicer

Update 13th April 2009:

On re-reading this article (which was intended to be just a short intro to publicise InfoSlicer), it sounds as if I wrote the software myself! I didn’t. It was the outcome of the brilliant efforts of the InfoSlicer Extreme Blue team during their internship at IBM Hursley last Summer. Here’s a photo of the team at their Expo stand in Germany:

Jessica Vernier, Matt Bailey, Chris Leonard, Jon Mace
Jessica Vernier, Matt Bailey, Chris Leonard, Jon Mace

Fosdem ’08: Free software in education

Back in February I attended a couple of sessions about free software in education. One was the kickoff meeting of OLPC Europe (the European support group for One Laptop Per Child). The other, was a fantastic talk by Knut Yrvin, who’s done a lot of work with free software in education in Norway.

His focus in the talk was on cross-platform free software – that is, free software that can be used in schools and runs on Windows, Linux, and (usually) Mac. He gave four examples of free software that he thinks is great in schools:

GCompris (award-winning software for younger end of primary school children) (www.gcompris.net/-en-). Having since met a 5 year old at LugRadio Live USA whose favourite activity on her OLPC laptop is GCompris, I’ll happily recommend it too.

StopMotion (for older end of primary school) (I’ve just been hunting for the URL for Windows but can’t find anything about it – can only find the page for the LInux version developer.skolelinux.no/info/studentgrupper/2005-hig-stopmotion/index.php – will let you know if I find the Windows one cos it looks really cool software)

OpenOffice.org (for secondary school level) (www.openoffice.org) – He made a point of saying that we shouldn’t inflict office skills on young children cos it’s boring. 🙂 But at secondary level, this is a great alternative to paying for Microsoft Office. I use it all the time at work and at home. It’s free now but used to be a product from Sun Microsystems who sold it as Star Office. Much better now and is compatible with MS Office documents (eg .doc, .xls, .ppt files). Just download it and have a go.

Firefox web browser (all ages) (www.mozilla-europe.org/en). Again, I use this all the time (alternative to Internet Explorer) at home and at work.

If you’re a Windows user and want to know more about free software in education, there’s more free software that will run on Windows here: www.schoolforge.net

Multiple tabs & parallel browsing

As you may have heard, I recently acquired an OLPC laptop. At some point I am going to write up my experiences with the OLPC/Sugar software so far (in the meantime, to uphold a promise I made, here are some useful tips for using and setting up software on the OLPC). For now, here are my thoughts on browsing the Web from the OLPC Browse activity.

The killer bit of the Firefox browser, IMHO, was the ability to open multiple Web pages in separate tabs within the same browser window. Of course, internet Explorer now does multiple tabs (in a rainbow of shades) but back in my Windows (pre-IE7) days, I frequently did parallel browsing of websites by simply opening each webpage in a new window. The advantage of multiple tabs is that you don’t end up with a clutter of browser windows all over your taskbar.

I suspect that multiple tabs in browser windows, and (in Firefox at least) being able to bookmark all the tabs at once, has slightly altered how people browse.

Opening in a new window set me off down the path of parallel browsing but multiple tabs ensured I got there. Especially as websites got more interactive and state-sensitive (meaning that you can’t switch to another website then click ‘Back’ to return to your internet banking session). And I got less patient waiting for pages to load (ironic seeing as connection speeds have increased).

So now I’ve started using my OLPC to browse the web occasional when my other laptop is unavailable. This is an interesting, and slightly frustrating, experience.

The Sugar interface on the OLPC basically does away with the idea of windowing environments. That is, you don’t have a desktop on which to drag around and switch between windows. instead, each application (known as an ‘activity’) runs moreorless full-screen, like this:

This means a return to linear browsing. in some ways it’s a liberating experience in that I read what I want to read of the current website or page before moving on the the next. And when reading blogs and the like, I can always click ‘Back’ later. In many ways, though (and i’m a great believer in computers supporting user-behaviour, and not the other way round), it’s just frustrating.

For example, in writing this blog-post, I couldn’t easily open my blog or Andy’s OLPC tips page to check that I used the correct URL in my links. Nor could I quickly check my usage of a word in dictionary.com. I can, and sometimes do, open other instances of the Browse activity – essentially opening in a new window but with a little more effort – but more than three instances, I’ve found, tends to crash the whole lot.

Now, the OLPC and its software isn’t designed for me; it’s an education tool for children in developing countries. On the other hand, how soon before the older or more tech-savvy children start to want to browse in parallel – especially when internet access gets more ubiquitous?

I have resisted putting Firefox on my OLPC but tonight I’m sorely tempted…