[IAEP] Sugar Digest 2012-10-27

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Sat Oct 27 19:13:34 EDT 2012

On the unspoken truth behind the education system

Calvin: As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of
information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to
forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically
manipulate the system. Congratulations. -- Bill Watterson

== Sugar Digest ==

1. Akarsh Sanghi asked me some questions about computing for a survey
he is conducting. I thought I would share some of my answers here.

;How do you think future technologies in the field of human-computer
interaction (HCI) affect the daily lives of people? [In context of the
rapture of interactive and touch based devices like the iPhone &
iPad]: I think that HCI has little impact. Yes, things arguably get
easier to use, but ease of use is not the gating factor in the use of
these devices. It is access and utility. Also, it is important to note
that very few of the touch-based interfaces represent advances in HCI.
These are old ideas (most from the 1970s) that are only finally
becoming commercially viable.

;How do you think interactive technologies affect the learning process
in primary education? Will these form of technologies help to expand
the horizon of a child growing up in practically a virtual world?:
Well, somewhat in contradiction to my previous answer, touch does make
a difference to very young children, for whom hand-eye coordination is
still an issue. As far as learning, I am skeptical of the premise that
the virtual world is particularly relevant. I think the character of
the tasks the children engage in is far more important than the
technology. The advantage of some small subset of the technology is
that facilitates engaging children in authentic open-ended problem
solving. Making worksheets electronic games is a complete waste of
time (although it may help the children pass an exam to measure how
quickly they can do worksheets.)

;As a part of the Sugar Labs community, I would like to ask you where
does it stand in the future?: Sugar, the learning platform developed
and maintained by the Sugar Labs community, is about giving children
an opportunity to use technologies to engage in authentic open-ended
problem solving. We'll continue down this path, trying to reach more
children in more contexts (laptops, desktops, phones, tablets, etc.)

;Sugar Labs and the OLPC projects are primarily targeted towards
developing nations and their education system, do you think the
education system in a country like America should also be put under
consideration and be directed more towards a student’s own creative
thought process?: Sugar Labs is trying reach children everywhere:
north or south, rich or poor. We have programs in every corner of the

;Every time while discussing OLPC, one hears about Constructionism. Is
the Constructionist approach a guiding or necessary aspect of
distributing laptops to children for learning? For designing an
interface for them? Why or why not?: Constructionism is completely
orthogonal to the problem of distributing laptops. But not to the
problem of using laptops for learning. (This is where Mr. Negroponte
and I differed in our approach.) You can give a child a laptop and
they will learn to use it (See my answer to the first question), but
will they learn to use it for learning? Not likely unless we craft an
environment in which they are encouraged to “imagine and realize,
critique and reflect, and iterate.” That is a constructionist

;How do you think Seymour Papert’s theory of constructionism should be
applied in the today’s time? Should people be involved in developing
tangible objects in the real world to understand concepts or follow
experiential learning processes to gain insight into the world around
them?: Not sure what you mean by “tangible objects”. I think more in
terms of authentic problems. Some of those problems may be tangible.

;How do you think Electronic Publishing is evolving with the rapid
development of reading devices like iPad, NOOK, Kindle and the major
use of ebooks?: To me, the interesting questions are more along the
lines of: Who will write books? What will be the relationship between
reading and writing? What is the future of copyright and the
commercialization of writing.

;Do you think in the near future this kind of electronic publishing
will hamper the growth of children as they will be devoid of
physically reading a book and understand the values that come along
with it?: I think that the difference is not so much paper vs plastic;
but rather, to what extent does an electronic interface afford the
freedom to write and share margin notes (or the books themselves) to
engage in personal expression, etc. The physicality of electronic
media is not the issue.

;In context of the famous phrase by Marshal McLuhan, “medium is the
message”, how do you think technology will evolve in the coming years?
All forms of communication and information will be the material itself
rather than a separate physical device.: McLuhan was wrong. The
message is the message. We use different media to deliver it, more or
less intact.

2. Sugar Labs is applying to Google Code-in (GCI), "a contest for
pre-university students (e.g., high school and secondary school
students) with the goal of encouraging young people to participate in
open source."

Why we are applying? Sugar is written and maintained by volunteers,
who range from seasoned professionals to children as young as 12-years
of age. Children who have grown up with Sugar have transitioned from
Sugar users to Sugar App developers to Sugar maintainers. They hang
out on IRC with the global Sugar developer community and are
full-fledged members of the Sugar development team. It is this latter
group of children we hope will participate in and benefit from Google
Code-in. Specifically we want to re-enforce the message that Sugar
belongs to its users and that they have both ownership and the
responsibility that ownership implies. Just as learning is not
something done to you, but something you do, learning with Sugar
ultimately means participating in the Sugar development process. At
Sugar Labs, we are trying to bring the culture of Free Software into
the culture of school. So the Code-in is not just an opportunity for
us to get some tasks accomplished, it is quintessential to our overall

Learn more about GCI [1] and the Sugar Labs GCI effort [2].

3. Agustin Zubiaga Sanchez noted that last week we passed the
threshold of more than eight million activities downloaded from the
Sugar Labs activity portal [3]. I echo his sentiment that "I'm very
glad to be a sugarlabs developer. Congratulations to all the team :)"

=== In the community ===

4. Last weekend was the OLPC SF summit [4] in San Francisco, which was
followed by a three-day Sugar Camp. Although I missed opening day, Day
Two was quite interesting in that there was a lot of good discussion
about how to sustain and grow the various volunteer-run OLPC/Sugar
deployments. At Sugar Camp, although not much code was written, there
was an opportunity to get tangible and actionable feedback from the
likes of Mark Bradley (we pushed hard on Turtle Art as a multimedia
toolkit). I also had the opportunity to catch up with Raul Gutierrez
Segales, Ivan Krstić, and others.

=== Tech Talk ===

5. The little coding I did do in San Francisco was in support of
migrating more activities to touch. Specifically, I worked on
integrating the on-screen keyboard into several of my activities:
Portfolio and Turtle Blocks. The challenge was that I was using
key-press events directly, rather than accessing them through a GTK
widget such as a Entry or TextView. With help from Raul, I managed to
get things working pretty well: basically, I just drop a TextView
widget under the cursor where I expect keyboard input. The details are
outlined here [5]. I'm generally pleased with the results, but there
is a bit of fine-tuning of the interaction, e.g, you need to defocus
the TextView in order to dismiss it: not such a burden, but at times,
somewhat awkward.

6. Ignacio Rodriguez has been on a tear, helping me to migrate
activities to GTK 3. Over the past week, we converted: Card Sort,
Cookie Search, Color Deducto, Deducto, Flip, Fraction Bounce, Loco
Sugar, Napier's Bones, Nutrition, Paths, Pukllananpac, Recall,
Reflection, GNUChess, Sliderule, Story, Yupana, and XO Editor. I also
worked with Agustin Zubiaga on Portfolio, Flavio Denesse on Ruler, and
Daniel Francis on Turtle Blocks. Whew.

=== Sugar Labs ===

Visit our planet [6] for more updates about Sugar and Sugar deployments.


[1] http://www.google-melange.com/gci/document/show/gci_program/google/gci2012/help_page
[2] http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Google_Code-In_2012
[3] http://activities.sugarlabs.org
[4] http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Sugarcamp_SF_2012
[5] http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Features/Touch/Programming_Tips
[6] http://planet.sugarlabs.org

Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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