Charity tweaks laptops to deliver insights on user habits

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Charity tweaks laptops to deliver insights on user habits
Students and teacher make use of the XOs.

Project aims to reveal the power of computing for the disadvantaged.

One Education, a spin-off of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), is trialling the use of an analytics dashboard to enable the not-for-profit to better understand the student use of its laptops, improve collaboration among teachers and achieve a new level of transparency for sponsors.

One Education provides schools in indigenous and disadvantaged areas with rugged, low-cost laptops and training programs for teachers to enable children who may have no contact with technology the opportunity to learn basic PC skills.

The ruggedised laptop known as the XO is an ultra-portable subnotebookcomputer that runs the Linux operating system and a range of educational applications.

“We wanted to provide the schools insights into how the XOs are being used, what applications are proving most popular with different age groups and provide an opportunity for teachers to compare activities from school to school to share best practice,” said One Education chief executive officer Rangan Srikhanta.

One Education obtained demographic and socioeconomic data from the Australian Government, which it then housed in a MySQL database. This data is combined with the serial number of the laptop, which is listed in the institute's Salesforce-based logistics and management system.

“From the moment the XO connects to the internet, it will report usage data back to us anonymously, based on the computer’s serial number,” Srikhanta told iTnews.

The data is then visualised on a dashboard built using SiSense, a tool that allows non-technical users to interrogate the data and combine and analyse data into graphs and tables.

The solution provides teachers an opportunity to share knowledge, but also provides sponsors with an unprecedented level of transparency.

Donor sponsors are able to log in to the dashboard and see how much time schools and classes are spending on the XO and what applications are proving most popular.

“We believe that to provide donors with informatiion on what’s actually happening on the ground is ushering in a new age of analytics and transparency for a not-for-profit,” Srikhanta said.

Srikhanta said he believes there is an opportunity to demonstrate the value that widespread internet coverage can provide to education with hard data gathered from the analytics.

“We are limited by network coverage, but I believe if we can demonstrate kids are opting in to use the XOs regularly, and the kids connecting to the internet are demanding a level of data per child, we are part way to providing Government demonstrable results of the value of the NBN - rather than it being a philosophical or religious discussion.”

The analytics trial has been live for two months. Srikhanta’s team plans to roll the dashboards out as schools express interest and improve the analytics iteratively based on teacher, principal and sponsor feedback.

The trial is gaining interest from Swinburne University of Technology and University of Wollongong, who each are seeking to write a paper on the approach for the British Journal of Educational Technology.

“Some sponsors are burnt out with using technology in education," he said. "There has been a ‘throwing it out there and expect magic to happen’ approach. We are saying that there is a human element to adding value and insight."

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