I am writ­ing this from Dhaliny­buy School in remote Aus­tralia. What’s even more impres­sive is that I am typ­ing this on a pro­duc­tion-mod­el OLPC XO‑1.5!

For those who don’t know yet, in March I start­ed full-time as the Tech­ni­cal Co-ordi­na­tor at One Lap­top per Child Aus­tralia. This basi­cal­ly means that I man­age the tech­nol­o­gy sur­round­ing the XO lap­tops, XS serv­er and so on.

We are in East Arn­hem Land, North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry, this week for OLPC deploy­ments, as well as train­ing in Yir­rkala School and the Yir­rkala Home­lands Learn­ing Cen­tres (HLCs).

There are eight HLCs in all, spread over a wide area. The clos­est one is close to two hour’s dri­ve away from Yir­rkala, almost entire­ly on dirt road. Yir­rkala itself is quite remote — about 13 hours dri­ve (again, almost entire­ly on dirt) from Dar­win. It’s gen­er­al­ly eas­i­er to fly to these loca­tions (which takes at least four hops if you’re com­ing from Syd­ney), espe­cial­ly right now as a trop­i­cal cyclone (which bare­ly missed us a month ago when we were out this way) destroyed many of the roads.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Uni­ver­si­ty of West­ern Syd­ney (UWS), and with some assis­tance from the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing (NTDET), we have formed teams and spread out over the eight HLCs to work with chil­dren, teach­ers, schools and com­mu­ni­ties.

I’ll have to go into my work at Yir­rkala School at a lat­er time, but here at the HLCs we have man­aged some impres­sive feats, if I do say so myself! For instance:

  • this is to the best of my knowl­edge the world’s first deploy­ment of the new XO‑1.5 devices, and we’re doing it across all eight HLCs at once
  • chil­dren can write in their own lan­guage, as we installed Yol­ngu Matha fonts
  • we have taught teach­ers and stu­dents to cre­ate their own e‑books using Scratch, using pic­tures they take with the cam­era and con­tent we loaded onto the XOs before­hand

In addi­tion, I worked with Ian Cun­ning­ham from NTDET to pro­duce an inex­pen­sive and sim­ple means to deploy wire­less access points to these remote com­mu­ni­ties. These are Linksys WRT-54GL devices flashed with DD-WRT. We con­fig­ured each such that they will just work when plugged in. The HLCs that have satel­lite Inter­net can have their access points man­aged from any­where on the NT Schools net­work.

I left our set­up to the UWS stu­dents (none of whom are tech­ni­cal) on my team, and they were able to suc­cess­ful­ly set up the access point and cre­ate a work­able area for the XOs to be charged.

Most of the HLCs have their elec­tric­i­ty sup­plied entire­ly by local gen­er­a­tors, which are nor­mal­ly rationed to run at night. Dhaliny­buy school has its own small­er gen­er­a­tor. This is enough for the basics, but insuf­fi­cient for the four desk­top PCs that they have. Con­se­quent­ly, these com­put­ers are rarely used, and the teach­ers tell me that they are too dif­fi­cult to man­age any­way. Being bat­tery pow­ered and far more pow­er effi­cient, XOs are far more suit­able.

We have suc­cess­ful­ly deployed XOs to every school-age child in Dhaliny­buy. I’m still out here, so I don’t yet know the sta­tus of the oth­er HLCs. I am, how­ev­er, con­fi­dent that they are oper­a­tional, giv­en the ease at which we got things going here.

Through the access point, every XO (and hence every child) can col­lab­o­rate and share their activ­i­ties in Sug­ar. This also facil­i­tates an Inter­net con­nec­tion for all the XOs, through the NT Schools net­work. They are now open to a wider world of infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

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