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Thoughts from the Open Source Schools Conference

July 21st, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I had an excellent time yesterday at the UK Becta sponsored Open Source Schools unconference.

As always with Open Source events, the energy and enthusiasm of participants was encouraging.

But this was not just an event about Open Source. It was about how we can make creative use technologies to promote and support explorative learning. My keynote presentation will be available on video and audio next week, I am told. But one of my main points was that the idea of bricolage, as put forward by Levi Strauss – about how we make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand – regardless of their original purpose – to learn and to create – applies to the learning environment just as much as to materials, documents, media etc. In other words, in the process of creating, we shape the learning environment, and the outcomes of the process of bricolage will in turn help to reshape the design of the environment. Open Source is valuable because it affords us the opportunities to shape or design its use in the learning process.

I was greatly impressed with a demonstration of the Sugar Learning platform – originally developed for the One Laptop per Child XO-1 netbook and now available to run on most computers. The sugar platform,  say the developers, promotes collaborative learning through Sugar Activities that encourage critical thinking, the heart of a quality education. Sugar is seen as an alternative to the traditional ‘office- desktop’ software.

I am certainly going to have a play with Sugar. I think most of us in the workshop were greatly excited, despite problems we were experienced with the BT network. But what was worrying some of the teachers was just the possibilities of such interfaces for play and exploration. This, they felt, would be wonderful with 6 or 7 year old children. But, sad to tell, the UKs rigid, overcrowded and overly prescriptive curriculum leaves no time for such explorative play.

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