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OLPC: Bring on the How-Tos

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Expanding Video Capability for How-Tos 

Video: Fiddling About #15: Expanding Video
I am very interested in providing better support for novices who are interested in computing, whether computing as an instrument of our purposes or computing as an object of interest in itself.  All of that interests me.

I also want to expand the variety of techniques used to support the learning of those who are inquisitive about the computers they are using, whenever and wherever they have the need and the desire to explore and master more of the technology they find at their fingertips.

Here is the variety that I am exploring:

  • Web technologies for authoring and exploration, using sites such as nfoWare and the Miser Project as each is expanded with content and made collaborative with wikis and open-source projects
  • Multimedia authoring, such as that made possible by CD-ROM and DVD publishing
  • Software development projects that apply principles for encouraging effective conceptual models and reinforcing confident use and demonstrable trustworthiness of the software producers

Beside authoring tools and software-development utilities, my attention is on ways of capturing and demonstrating computer technology:

  • Scripts and transcripts of console sessions that are presented in text and can be used/confirmed by experiment
  • Screen shots and captures of computer dialogs and operations in demonstration and confirmation of useful activities, including installation and configuration of software
  • Drawings, graphics, and photographs that illustrate, summarize, and organize concepts and structures for better understanding
  • Screencasts, slideshows, and videos that deliver demonstrations and explanations using audio and video over the Internet
  • Tools and technology for authoring: software, computers, digital cameras, audio recording equipment, video recording equipment (also demonstrated using these very same methodologies)

Targets of Opportunity

I have a number of projects that provide opportunities for how-tos and mastery of various kinds. 

  • Around computer technology for software development, I am compiling materials for Visual C++ novices, budding cybersmiths, and toolcraft enthusiasts.  These are related to the notion of software engineering for everyone (SE4E) and are subject matter for Professor von Clueless in the Blunder Dome.  In addition to development for Windows, useful contrast and clarification is provided by also addressing development on and for the XO, the One Laptop Per Child computer.
  • When it comes to use of computers and in particular the use of digital audio and video technology, I find it useful to rely on the easy use of images and videos on the new Orcmid's Live Hangout, a blog for also applying those technologies in demonstrating those same technologies at a more practical, popular level.  The XO computer comes equipped with audio and video capabilities and related application programs.  These will provide fertile ground and useful contrast with more-familiar (to me) PC-based audio and video and Microsoft Windows applications.

Everyone Into the Pool!

The initial work will not look like much and it certainly won't address everyone's questions.  Over time useful materials will accumulate, there will be course corrections along the way, and there will be consolidation in accessible forms.  Blogging and subscribing to each others blogs is a valuable approach.  A large part of my compilations are based on researching blog feeds and discussion forums.

One Laptop Per Child: Give 1 Get 1 For the OLPC program, the initial resource for Give 1 Get 1 recipients (the Get side) is the OLPC Wiki.  There's a certain anarchy around the wiki process and it takes some useful gardening to provide organization for seekers of information and also for those who want to contribute.  This is the primary resource at this time and you can find me there.

  • There's a Support Page with a good overview and links to additional material, especially the burgeoning Support FAQ.
  • There's also a Help Using XO page which is designed to deal with getting started and getting going.  The New Users Q&A page, on the other hand, is pretty geeky and seems to be duplicating some of the Support Page effort.
  • It is easy to get lost on the wiki.  I'm pretty sure that I found the map at the bottom of this post on the wiki and I have no idea how to find it again to provide attribution.  When I do, I'll update this post again, quasi-wiki-style.
  • The XO is currently in what others would look at as a "wide beta" along with the G1G1 program.  The approach to updating and knowing the status of individual machines is going to take some stabilization.  The Wiki is also a fluid creature and there will be more expansion contraction and organization.  You can play here as part of your own constructionist learning activity around mastery of the XO and contribution to this global program.  You can also create your own materials and link to them from the wiki (and vice versa).  I will be doing that.

It's all learning and development, all the way down.

When is How-To Too-Much-To?

In my superficial understanding of the constructionist approach to learning embodied in the OLPC program, the idea is to actively acquire experience and develop comprehension through activity and exploration.  A key aspect is to learn to be fearless about learning.

I want to cultivate the same spirit in supporting of learning and mastery of software-development technology based on Microsoft Windows.  How-tos should provide a platform for exploration and for confidence without somehow short-circuiting the pleasure of discovery by over-scripting an activity.

For me, I want to provide resources that support initial confidence through confirmation.  These are tiny steps intended to avoid start-up difficulties and support the idea of confirmable experiences.  So initial how-tos are very specific and detailed.  Later ones might be also, so they can be accurately reproduced/confirmed and provide a comparative example that can help in understanding a difficulty that comes up in original, derivative activity.  What I don't want is to provide scripted, monkey-see-monkey-do activities that do not allow room for understanding through modification, experimentation, and innovation.

I'm not sure where to draw the line.  I am fairly certain that the beginner activities and those around toolcraft acquisition do need to be finely-detailed, perhaps through progressive disclosure and availability of easy ways to locate details from higher-level descriptions.  I am doing everything I can to forestall is the situation where a beginner ends up out on a limb, experiences an inscrutable failure, without resources for isolating, identifying, and resolving the difficulty.  I believe this is a defect in many beginner materials, especially for software developers, and I want to see what can be done to overcome that by equipping the novice to recognize and deal with the inevitable breakdowns.

The OLPC is an interesting test case, because it is meant to be usable without being a computer expert, yet there needs to be computer expertise for advanced projects and for learning how to trouble-shoot and resolve difficulties that will come up.  The operating system is exposed to the users and there will be many tips that involve working directly with it.  Navigation among the clashing abstractions on the OLPC computer is a great opportunity for some useful and powerful support for the learner.

Refining this approach and finding the appropriate balance is all by experimentation.  Let's see how it goes.

[update 2007-12-28-19:08Z: I added photography, drawing, and graphics to the list of ways to capture information for how-tos.  Looking over that list, I am amazed at the variety of ways we have for communicating via computers and networks now.
 update 2007-12-27-17:06Z: I added the section linking to known resources for the OLPC and the XO.  A few other passages have been tweaked.  I can no longer find the original source for the map shown below.  When I stumble over it again, I'll provide attribution and a link.]

Frank Bajak: Laptop Project Enlivens Peruvian Hamlet.  (news article) Associated Press on High Tech, 2007-12-24 (via Yahoo! News).
The novelty of the OLPC is taking hold in with youngsters in places where educational materials are scarce to non-existent.
Dan Bricklin: Podcast with Laura Fitton about Twitter and using Seesmic and Qik.comDan Bricklin Log, 2007-12-25.
Covering a number of social-connection mechanisms, and how much easier it is becoming now with video too, there is mention of the OLPC under the Christmas tree and a video about it.  It was not until this juxtaposition that I am struck by the prospect of the OLPC as a social-networking instrument.  Of course it is, with its wireless capabilities and built-in speakers (and headset jack), microphone, and video camera.  Maybe the OLPC will bring "mesh-up" to our vocabulary.
Chris Sells: Posting from my OLPC PC.  Marquee de Sells  (web log).  Sells Brothers, 2007-12-23.
Chris is disturbed about the keyboard, illustrating the difficulties it presents for adult hands (especially developer power-typists).  I'm going to look at hooking up an external keyboard as one of my early how-tos.  I have to free up one of my wireless keyboards with an upgrade to a bluetooth replacement.  I am also wondering how much can be done using the XO in its reader configuration.  This may be more tablet-like, although the display is not touch/stylus-sensitive as far as I can tell.  There are ample controls around the display surface, and I'm curious about that.

Thanks for this post. I have one OLPC tech question already. I installed Flash, in order to use the flash & browser-based instant video conversation site Seesmic. It works, but the video image from the camera appears to be incompatible with Flash for the moment. I can't get the settings to register a picture from the cafe_ccic camera. Any thoughts? Thanks, Laura Fitton
Hey pistachio, I saw your Seesmic video taken of you making a video on your XO, and I wondered if you had been able to post it anywhere.

My first thought was to find out the format of the file used to record on the XO, but then I realized that the workflow from camera to on-line video site was much more involved than that.

Also, since Seesmic is in alpha right now, I think it might be better to start with something simpler, like uploading the completed video to kyte.tv or somewhere else like that (YouTube, whatever).

My best concrete suggestion: let's meet up on the discussion page of the OLPC Wiki Support FAQ and see what we can come up with as a brief step-by-step, along with finding answers to questions needed each step of the way?
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