Nokia just announced their new device – a mini laptop, a netbook with ultimate connectivity (3G/ HSPA and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), large screen, camera, microphone etc. As such it sounds like an excellent tool for schools, learning and education in general.
There is just one thing I do not like in it: it comes with Windows. Why not with free, open and libre Maemo – the Linux distribution developed for Nokia N810 Internet Tablet or Sugar – the Linux desktop environment originally developed for the One Laptop per Child computer project.
For schools Maemo or Sugar would make much more sense. Why? Here is my list:
1) Open educational resources and social software. The whole educational technology field is moving fast to be mainly about use of open educational resources and social software, all running online as a service and usable with a web browser. Some people call it cloud computing. In it the main local application is highly capable web browser, such as Firefox. Windows does not bring anything to this, except probably trying to break the use of open web standards for online collaboration with their proprietary software that do not communicate with other systems.
2) Open standards. Open standards are important for schools. Without them information does not flow. Free flow of information is critical in learning. Windows have very bad track record in this. Maemo and Sugar are bound to use open standards – in everything, now and forever. The because of the free/libre open license is there to guarantee this.
3) Open for development. For developing educational applications Maemo and Sugar offers much better and more opportunities than Windows: it is free and open for third party developers. In a couple of moths there could be new application and online services designed for the Maemo and Sugar, but usable on other platforms, too.
4) Open for educational hacking. If we are interested in to boost ICT field, the best strategy is to provide students technology they can hack. For clarification, I here use the word “hack” in its original meaning in technology and computer science. With online free and open source development community Maemo and Sugar are offering an exciting “collaborative learning environment” for anyone interested in to develop their programming skills.
All these reasons come back to the fact that Maemo and Sugar are free, libre and open source. Windows is a closed garden. I rather want my children to live and learn in an open society (and free world) than in a gated community.
Last week I took part in a round table discussion about educational technology in Finnish schools. The event was organized by the Finnish Ministry of Education and chaired by the Minister Henna Virkkunen. The participants included – according to the good Scandinavian tradition – representation from all possible stakeholders: students’ and teachers’ unions, municipalities, academia and business. The companies represented in there were the Nokia, IBM and Microsoft.
In Finland, in the last few months, there has been a lot of discussion about are we really corruption free zone (as some studies claim) or whatever we simply have invent our own form of corruption, based on complicated networks of friends with common interests and exchange of favors.
With the new Nokia Booklet 3G we have a great change to do things right. Let’s do some research and find out what makes most sense. Here is a list how we can do this:
- Let’s choose three schools.
- Let’s give all the pupils Nokia Booklet 3Gs with a flat rate 3G internet connection.
- Let’s have one of them Windows, one Maemo and one Sugar.
- Let’s not change anything in our common and well-known curriculum except that the assignments, exams and schoolwork are allowed to be done with the computer.
- Let’s have a training program for all the participating teachers the basics of social software (blogs, wikis etc.) and open educational resources (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, LeMill, etc.) and ask them to work with these with their pupils, too.
- Let’s do a longitudinal qualitative study with observation and interviews.
I am sure this kind of research would be extremely useful for the Finnish educational system and would gain lots of international interest. Based on the results we may then do the same in all the schools. That would be the right thing to do.