Sugar on a Stick/Essence
Project essence and core challenges
Sugar on a Stick is a project to design, distribute, and deploy the Sugar Learning Platform software on inexpensive USB and SD flash storage devices, which people can easily carry from home to school to library to clubhouse to boot or run on any computing device for seamless continuation of their learning Activities and collaborations.
Simultaneously, the project must
- overcome the technical challenges of building and distributing a transportable GNU/Linux operating system—in the sense that each installation must work on multiple and diverse computing platforms to provide learners with continuity in their accessibility to friends and activities, and
- develop the social structures to best deploy this new, online, offline, inter-device, resumable, mixed computer, collaborative technical capability within and between the communities where learning occurs.
Thus, distribution no longer just means getting the software onto an end user's computer, where it can be stably configured for a single hardware environment. The installation must be ready to be picked up and moved to another, wholly different environment. This goal presents many technical challenges that are new, or made more significant because portability and resumability are essential to the project.
Developing the social mechanisms to imagine, plan, and deploy this leap in technology is also at the core of the project. We must take existing community resources, often old and institutionalized, and reconstruct them around the movements of the learners and their collaborators. Just as the human brain grows and develops in a social context, the Sugar Learning Platform aims to offer a constantly accessible, electronic, companion set of tools for learning, and ultimately, growing our capabilities in human society.
Having persistence of availability for the learner's Activities and collaborations permits repeated and deep exploration of concepts and phenomena, and recreates that electronic system into an adaptable learning appendage.
Sugar on a Stick is unique among the Fedora Spins in that it is designed to be the primary and a resumable portable medium for computing on different computing hardware. (The installations are not simply demonstrations or temporary stages for a future home, although they may be.) This feature exposes the software platform to some difficult shortcomings in system capability:
- Hardware interoperability
- For example, we have not yet provided reliable Macintosh support.
- Software image endurance
- Specifically, the capacity and capability to perform repeated system updates without exhausting the persistent operating system storage.
The rapidly growing capability of mobile electronics influences society, which, in turn, feeds back new challenges for technologists to fulfill.
Technical difficulties quickly overwhelm early adopters of Sugar on a Stick, and inhibit advanced experimentation in deployment, despite enthusiasm for the concept. (See Sugar on a Stick/TODO.)
The pervasive availability of ever-more-capable cell phones among students, and an anticipated boom in tablet computing devices and their apparently easy-to-use apps (often using touch interfaces) has begun to shift the attention of educators toward rethinking the role of such technology in learning. This should open the door for more techno–social experimentation as it becomes easier for teachers, parents, and all participants in the learning environment to imagine how they might be involved with the new technology for traditional roles.
The mass of resulting deployments will set standards of expectations for ease of use and will likely stimulate creative improvements in networking and collaborative methods. Synchronizing tablet and smart phone versions of Sugar is the natural extension of the portable and resumable essence of Sugar on a Stick, where the phone can become both the computer and the storage stick.
The social–technical feedback cycle presses both traditional educators and traditional technologists who might be comfortable with their current systems and supposedly reliable methods. As Alan Kay has taught, the computing revolution has hardly just begun, and the Sugar on a Stick concepts can surely contribute to the future of learning and computing.
We need to stimulate more sympathetic technologists to work on Sugar on a Stick technical challenges so that we can advance our partnerships with educators and learners. See this description of the core strengths of Sugar Labs that help us meet our mission.
One potential benefit that Sugar on a Stick might achieve as part of its essence is independence from many current technical and administrative barriers that inhibit free collaboration in learning. Imagine a field trip where a class visited a museum and, without special preparation, was able to connect their SoaS devices to the computers in the museum's computer or library room and continue group projects and Activities in a routine and safe manner.