[Sugar-devel] 2017 Goals for Sugar Labs
walter.bender at gmail.com
Sun Apr 9 09:31:20 EDT 2017
As per the discussion in the last Suagr Labs Oversight Board Meeting, I had
agreed to write a draft statement of goals for 2017. The document below
includes feedback from Samson G. I hope this document can serve to
revitalize our discussion from 2016 that never reached resolution.
Sugar Labs Plans, Goals, Aspirations
What is Sugar Labs?
Sugar Labs creates, distributes, and maintains learning software for
children. Our approach to learning is grounded in Constructionism, a
pedagogy developed by Seymour Papert and his colleagues in the 1960s and
70s at MIT. Papert pioneered the use of the computer by children to help
engage them in the “construction of knowledge.” His long-time colleague
Cynthia Solomon expanded up his ideas by introducing the concept of
engaging children in debugging as a pathway into problem-solving. Their
1971 paper, “Twenty things to do with a computer”, is arguably the genesis
of contemporary movements such as the Maker Movement and Hour of Code.
At the core of Constructionism is “learning through doing.” If you want
more learning, you want more doing. At Sugar Labs we provide tools to
promote doing. (We focus almost exclusively on tools, not instructional
materials.) However, we go beyond “doing” by incorporating critical dialog
and reflection into the Sugar learning environment, through mechanisms for
collaboration, journaling, and portfolio.
Sugar Labs is a spinoff of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project and
consequently it has inherited many of its goals from that project. The goal
of OLPC is to bring the ideas of Constructionism to scale in order to reach
more children. A particular focus is on children in the developing world.
In order to meet that goal, Sugar, which was originally developed for OLPC,
was by necessity a small-footprint solution that required few resources in
terms of CPU, memory, storage, or network connectivity. The major change on
focus from the OLPC project is that Sugar Labs strives to make the Sugar
desktop available to multiple platforms, not just the OLPC XO hardware.
Who develops Sugar?
Sugar Labs is a 100% volunteer effort (although we do occasionally raise
money for paid student internships). Sugar development and maintenance is
incumbent upon volunteers and hence we strive to provide as much control as
possible to our community members, including our end-users. (In fact, one
of our assertions is that by enabling our users to participate in the
development of the tools that they use will lead to deeper engagement in
their own learning.) Towards these ends, we chose the GPL as our primary
license. It has been said of the GPL that it “restricts my right [as a
developer] to restrict yours [as a user and potential developer]”, which
seems ideal for a project that wants to engage a broad and diverse set of
learners. But at Sugar Labs we go beyond the usual goals of FOSS: a license
to make changes to the code is not enough to ensure that users make
changes. We also strive to provide the means to make changes. Our success
in this goal is best reflected in the number of patches we receive from our
community. (We achieve this goal through providing access to source code
and development tools within Sugar itself. We also actively participate in
workshops and internship programs such as Google Summer of Code,
Outreaching, and Google Code-In.)
Who uses Sugar?
Ultimately, our goal is to reach learners (and educators) with powerful
tools and engage them in Constructionist learning. Currently we reach them
in many ways: the majority of our users get the Sugar desktop preinstalled
on OLPC XO hardware. We have a more modest set of users who get Sugar
packaged in Fedora, Trisquel, Debian, Ubuntu, or other GNU/Linux platforms.
Some users get Sugar on Live Media (i.e., Sugar on a Stick). Recently
Sugarizer, a repackaging of some of the core Sugar ideas for the browser,
has been finding its way to some users. There are also a number of Sugar
activities that are popular outside of the context Sugar itself, for
example, Turtle Blocks, which has wide-spread use in India. Harder to
measure is the extent to which Sugar has influenced other providers of
“educational” software. If the Sugar pedagogy is incorporated by others,
that advances our goal.
Who supports Sugar?
When we first created Sugar Labs, we envisioned “Local Labs”—hence the name
“Sugar Labs”, plural—that would provide local support in terms of
local-language support, training, curriculum development, and
customizations. This model has not ever gained the scale and depth
envisioned (we can debate the reasons why), although there are still some
active local communities (e.g., Educa Paraguay) that continue to work
closely with the broader community. There are also individual volunteers,
such as Tony Anderson and T.K. Kang, who help support individual schools in
Rwanda, Malaysia, et al. An open question is how do we support our users
over the long term?
What is next for Sugar?
We face several challenges at Sugar Labs. With the ebb of OLPC, we have a
contracting user base and the number of professional developers associated
with the project is greatly diminished. How can we expand our user base?
How can we attract more experienced developers? Why would they want to work
on Sugar as opposed to some other project? The meta issue is how do we keep
Sugar relevant in a world of Apps and small, hand-held devices? Can we meet
the expectations of learners living in a world of fast-paced, colorful
interfaces? How do we ensure that it is fulfilling its potential as a
learning environment and that our users, potential users, and imitators are
learning about and learning from Sugar. Some of this is a matter of
marketing; some of this is a matter of staying focused on our core
pedagogy; some of this a matter of finding strategic partners with whom we
We have several near-term opportunities that we should leverage:
* Raspian: The Raspberry PI 3.0 is more than adequate to run Sugar—the
experience rivals or exceeds that of the OLPC XO 4.0 hardware. While RPi is
not the only platform we should be targeting, it does has broad penetration
into the Maker community, which shares a synergy with our emphasis on
“doing”. It is low-hanging fruit. With a little polish we could have an
image available for download from the RPi website.
* Trisquel: We have the potential for better leveraging the Free Software
Foundation as a vehicle for promoting Sugar. Their distro of choice is
Trisquel and the maintainer does a great job of keep the Sugar packages up
* Sugarizer: The advantage of Sugarizer is that it has the potential of
reaching orders of magnitude more users since it is web-based and runs in
Android and iOS. There is some work to be done to make the experience
palatable on small screens and the current development environment is—at
least my opinion—not scalable or maintainable. The former is a formidable
problem. The latter quite easy to address.
* Stand-alone projects such as Music Blocks have merit as long as they
maintain both a degree of connection with Sugar and promote the values of
the community. It is not certain that these projects will lead users
towards Sugar, but they do promote FOSS and Constructionist principles. And
they have attracted new developers to the Sugar community.
* School-server: The combination of the School Server and Sugar desktop is
a technical solution to problems facing small and remote communities. We
should continue to support and promote this combination.
Specific actions: After last year’s Libre Planet conference, several
community members discussed a marketing strategy for Sugar. We thought that
if we could reach influencers, we might be able to greatly amplify our
efforts. There are several prominent bloggers and pundits in the education
arena who are widely read and who might be receptive to what we are doing.
One significant challenge is that GNU/Linux remains on the far periphery of
the Ed Tech world. Although the “love affair” with all things Apple seems
to be over, the new elephant in the room—Chromebooks and Google Docs—is
equally difficult to co-exist with. Personally, I see the most potential
synergy with the Maker movement, which is building up momentum in
extra-curricular programs, where FOSS and GNU-Linux are welcome (hence my
earlier focus on RPi). (There are even some schools that are building their
entire curriculum around PBL.) We can and should develop and run some
workshops that can introduce Sugar within the context of the Maker
movement. (Toward that end, I have been working with some teachers on how
to leverage, for example, Turtle Blocks for 3D printing.) It is very much a
tool-oriented community with little overall discussion of architectural
frameworks, so we have some work to do. But there is lots of low-hanging
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