After about a month of juggling potential travel dates and potential international olpc locations (am I teaching in Lebanon, learning in Rwanda, observing in Uruguay?), it looks like I’m going to Rwanda this friday to meet up with the OLPCorps for a two-week conference. OLPC has selected selected top applicant teams and individuals from colleges around the US, Africa, Europe, and Asia to deploy as part of the “Corps” program, wherin each team selects a deployment location in Africa, and is aided with OLPC training, 100 XO laptops, and a stipend. The teams will deploy all over Africa and each team has ongoing relationships with NGO’s, government officials and ministers, and OLPC staff on the ground in their deployment country. A few teams have been living in their deployment locations for weeks or months prior to the OLPCorps conference and training in Kigali, Rwanda which is to start on June 8.

My role in all this will be to learn some of the technical aspects of deploying the technology (upgrading prior-version software, managing large numbers of laptops, teaching local orgazations/individuals technical tasks, working with college corps and interns) and to observe the “learning team” in action. The learning team is led by David Cavallo of OLPC, who has just opened the Center for Laptops and Learning at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST, cute acrynymn no?) and is in charge of the international project of formulating and exploring pedagogical approach around the OLPC mission and XO laptops. The Center for Laptops and Learning will be the world headquarters for this work and so I feel very lucky to see the center in it’s early stages.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with David Cavallo in Cambridge prior to his departure a few weeks ago – the meeting absolutely blew me away. This was the meeting when David and I were feeling out how and whether I might be of use to OLPC and we really jibed. I talked about my experience teaching for MATCH School: I only found success when I departed from a rigid curriculum, using advanced topics (calculus and shakespeare in my remedial math and english classes, respectively) to motivate real student awe and personal investment, eventually leading to a kind of self-motivated competence that projected back on the remedial topics in addition to the new advanced ones. We talked a bit about how the laptop is the malleable “proteus” machine for learning. We talked a bit about the organic learning inherent in constructionalism vs. the numbing and demonstrably unsuccessful alternative so popular in the US (and everywhere, really) today. Read “Mindstorms” by Seymour Papert. Read” The Book of Learning and Forgetting” by Frank Smith.

Without gushing too much…the conversation felt like coming home. Despite my brief forays into pedagogical analysis and teaching, I’ve never really made it a point to hang out with people who challenge the over-structured-super-standardized-“education hegemony.” It is wonderful to finally be working together in an environment where everyone speaks the same language. To finally be able to work in an organization like OLPC with a group of people like David Cavallo (Kigali), Barbara Barry (Cambridge), and the rest of the learning team (all over the world) is a Godsend – an opportunity to adopt a learning “monk” stance, as Barbara calls it, and really open myself to some mentorship and some new adventures in curiosity.

All this, and I get to work on implementation too. My project will be starting new deployments and aiding recent deployments in the Middle East, both from logistical and from teaching/learning perspectives. My immediate project will be managing the deployment of several thousand laptops in Palestine (most likely at West Bank schools for the time being, as Israel is not letting laptops into Gaza schools) and I will continue work with Lebanon (UNRRA schools) and other Middle East deployments at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.

I. Am. Very. Excited.