Dispatch from Kigali: Thoughts on Our Deployment

June 18, 2009 at 7:28 am Leave a comment

The workshop is over, and we’ve been in Kigali for about 10 days. It seems like so much longer – we’ve done so much. I realize (and apologize) that we haven’t been blogging much – chalk it up to a spotty connection at the hotel, really full days, and being worn out by 9 pm every night. From a huge Rwandan government
ceremony-and-conference to school visits, one question has been at the back of my mind: what does this – this specific talk, this story, this piece of advice – mean for our project? I’m going to use this post to try and synthesize the major points we’ll be taking with us from the workshop to Madagascar.

First: feedback and input. My concentration at university was international development, and I’ve heard the refrain a thousand times – successful projects must, must, must have feedback loops built in. Awesome, sure. But that didn’t really sink in as a practical lesson until we were working in the schools with the teachers and with the classes. I was at Rwamagana B, the first school in Rwanda to receive laptops, with almost 100% saturation (some laptops broke and are being fixed). Most of the teachers used the computers in class to some degree. We walked into the first teacher session with a loose plan, ready to show and tell and construct. And that was great for some teachers. I was working with the school principal, who had less hands-on XO experience because she wasn’t in the classroom. To see things click for her was great. About halfway into the session, though, we asked the teachers what they wanted to work on. Though the principal was thriving in the session, we were being repetitive for others. Once we asked what they wanted to know, what problems they wanted to address, we could adapt. I continued working with the principal on certain activities and giving her a survey, while someone working with a P5 math teacher shifted their focus. Ask, listen, and adjust.

I think this particularly has to be a mantra for us. We’ve done research, written down scores of ideas, and contacted many people. But that’s not going to match talking to the teachers, parents, and students. Juliano, who’s Director of Learning at OLPC and worked on sucessful deployments in Brazil, even brought this up while talking about learning projects. Learning projects are multi-subject, multi-activity projects that emphasize kids working on what they’re interested in, what affects them. We can roll up to Ambatoharanana with 80 planned learning projects, but none of them will be effective or utile unless we ask the kids what they want to learn about, what they want to do. Feedback – short-term and long-term – is vital, and input is another facet of that. If we ask teachers how the XO can work for them, if we work with our local partner to create a learning space both physically and socially in and around the school, and if we ask kids, parents, and the community writ large how they want to engage, that will create a successful project. That’s a pretty nebulous success metric, we know. And that’s the next thing.

Second: measuring “success”. It would be pretty hard for us to come out of this deployment with crazy statistics: “The students are now 2000% more computer literate, because they have used a computer.” Well, yeah. And tests as a metric are also flawed – think No Child Left Behind, think
the smart kid who doesn’t test well, and think impracticality and external factors. How can we then measure the success of our project? I’m not sure there’s a solid answer. We have goals. They are also nebulous. They include things like the XOs being used in schools in 6 months, like successfully handing-off control of the project (though we won’t stop being involved once we leave, obviously), and
introducing about 85 kids to the XO and showing them how they can reach beyond Ambatoharanana. The first can be measured in numbers, sort of – but numbers won’t tell us the qualia of the experience. The second could be measured in numbers too, I guess, or even a simple yes-or-no, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The third is another yes-no. If the computers are then used as doorstops, the yes/no doesn’t matter.

So what’s our metric? I want a metric, I can’t lie. That would mean we would be able to say, “our project is good because” and “things we need are” with numerical proof. There can’t really be such a number. What we can do is constantly report from the field, write a report of our successes, failures, mistakes, and missteps, and work to be honest and open about how the project is working. We can also work to ensure future monitoring of the project – not in the panopticon way (that would be strange) but in the reporting way. We aren’t going to Madagascar for ten weeks, then just leaving. We’re jumpstarting a project with MSP that will continue, with us and without us, after we are back in the US.

David Cavallo, OLPC VP of Learning (and whose talks have been some of the best here), told us today, “Your job is to create a positive experience for these kids and the community.” That sounds simplistic. That’s all we can guarantee in ten weeks. We can plant the seeds for sustainability; we can fundraise and meet with people and do as much teacher training, but on August 25, we leave. We can’t make a perfect project that will be perfect after August 25. We can create a positive experience such that people are invested in the XOs, MSP, and OLPC as a whole. We can do the first push.

I’ve got a notebook half-full of ideas to consider, questions to ask, and things to consider. In practical news, we’ve run into some potential hang-ups in customs, and that might end up being a big deal (but can’t figure out more, because we currently have no internet in the hotel). We’re still not sure if we have electricity at the school (and can’t ask, because again, internet issues). I have a list of goals and thoughts that needs to be organized. We’ve got a day of travel ahead of us. There’s a lot of work to do, and we’re ready to start.
[nb: this was written last night, Wednesday.]


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Dispatch from Kigali: On OLPC’s Future Madagascary, the Early Days

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This is the OLPCorps team from GWU and UMD. We'll be deploying 100 laptops to a rural village in Madagascar this summer. Stay updated by subscribing to our feed and checking back regularly. For more information on what we're doing, use the tabs above!
June 2009
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