Archive/Current Events/2009-03-17

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Sugar Digest for 17 March 2009

1. Now that the Sugar community and the Release Team have wrapped up 0.84, it is time to talk about our “Big Overarching Vision Goals for 2009” I've written some notes in order to kick off the discussion.

What are our objectives?

In an era of limited resources there is still pressure to equate 21st Century skills with learning to use Microsoft Office™; it is more important than ever to promote the use of free software that encourages learners to acquire critical-thinking skills, and to further the development of diverse communities of development and support around the needs of teachers and learnings. Children are not office workers and nothing in their future will resemble office work from 30-years ago. Our collective future is dependent on our children's ability to develop creative problem-solving and collaboration skills, which is not the same as “excelling” in the use of one word processor versus another.

What are our strategies for achieving these objectives?

While there are hundreds of instances of powerful learning tools, there are only a handful of efforts to create learning platforms. Sugar is such a platform. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution to learning—the one right way; rather is about a change in culture: computing as a resource employed by the learner as opposed to a service provided to the learner.

Sugar is new; it is incomplete; it has its rough edges. Over time, it will become more refined. But Sugar will always be demanding: We impose a level of discomfort because we demand a level of engagement missing from most educational software: Sugar is about the “hard fun” of learning as opposed to the facility of empty consumption.

It takes time to make a deep, systemic impact that results in a change in culture. Our collective efforts at Sugar Labs have influence, but the many challenges posed by the economic crisis, budget cuts, the energy crisis, global communication, “clash of civilizations”, etc. are mandating real change to the status quo. We have to be cognizant of these external influences.

What are our short- and long-term (measurable) goals?

Growth is an ambitious goal during a global recession; nonetheless, the goals for Sugar Labs in 2009 are to grow its community, broaden its code base, and most important, increase the number of children using Sugar.

While the core of the Sugar software development community is tremendously dedicated, tireless and talented, we are always going to be in need of more hands. While we have been growing this community incrementally—your enthusiasm is infectious—step-wise growth will occur when local Sugar Labs start coming on line. The launch of a half-dozen “labs” that engage local high-school and university students in making real contributions to global free software project is not an unreasonable goal for 2009 and it would easily double the size of development community.

Coupled with growing the software development community is growing the Sugar education community. We are beginning to cultivate a climate where the teachers who have been using Sugar in their classrooms are comfortable engaging in discussions among themselves and in some cases, with the development community. This trend is especially evident on the Sur list and in the blog sphere. Their feedback has been of tremendous value. But most teachers not actually part of a Sugar deployment are hardly aware of Sugar and until they make the transition from awareness to giving it their attention, they will not be engaged. Building a Sugar presence in the forums that teachers habituate is an important goal for 2009.

Sugar is a learning platform, so it is only relevant when it is in the hands of learners. By the end of 2009, we'll have reached over one-million children through Sugar deployments on OLPC-XO-1 computers. It is an ambitious but reasonable goal to reach as many children through other means of distributing Sugar as well: Sugar on netbooks; Sugar on a Stick; Sugar deployed through a terminal server. We have laid the ground-work over the past six months, working with the packaging teams of a number of GNU/Linux distributions; now is the time to leverage those efforts.

What are the means of getting there?

Getting our message out—also known as marketing—is a key to our growth. We've been living under the shadow of One Laptop per Child, which has meant that we have been able to focus on creating great tools, arguably without (many) distractions. This has changed and in response, our marketing team has stepped up the clarity and quality of its efforts. (I am particular excited about the possibility of the viral marketing of Sugar.) However, we are being diligent about not over promising—we will stand behind our message.

On the technical front, we will be spending the next few months setting the goals for Sucrose-0.86. High on my list are better integration of SWF, Javascript, and non-Sugarized applications in general. I think we can do more to bring the gap between Sugar and other approaches, both so that we can invite more people under our tent and also let Sugar be a part of other efforts. Sugar on a Stick v1.0, will be launched in 2009 as well.

In terms of teacher outreach, we are exploring more formal and informal means of engagement. The proposal to the US National Science Foundation that we submitted last week focuses on a global assessment of Sugar deployments. The survey we are putting together for the teachers in Uruguay this week will be a vehicle for data gathering, but also a means to bring to the attention of teachers the importance of feedback. I expect that this by-product will result in a more in-depth, on-going channel. Local Sugar Labs will help in this regard as well.

Let the debate begin

These are my thoughts about our 2009 goals. I haven't mentioned important topics such as support and documentation. And I am sure that we'll find lots disagreement on the technical front. And as we are always going to be shorthanded, we'll always have to make trade-offs regarding competing goals and means. But by adhering to the principles of free and open debate, we'll continue to be able to leverage the benefits of our differences and our diversity. We will accomplish great things this year.

2. The new "static" website is live. Please visit and enjoy http://www.sugarlabs.org. Many thanks to Christian Schmidt for his great efforts. This new landing site promises to be much more accessible to parents and teachers than the wiki.

3. Dave Farning was the Sugar Labs representative at the Winter Camp meeting of FLOSS Manuals in Amsterdam last week. The FLOSS Manual effort continues to build momentum around community publishing. Anne Gentle just sent out a call for volunteers to help refresh the Sugar Manual in light of 0.84.

“Ideally we can complete revisions and screenshot updates by March 16th to coordinate with the software release itself.”

You can register for a login with FLOSS Manuals at User Registration.

Once these updates are completed, FLOSS Manuals will offer a printed book for sale on Amazon (once we get the process ironed out) and Lulu. PDF and HTML versions are always available for free.

4. Recommended reading. Bernie Innocenti circulated a link to some interesting reading about software projects. Don't be put off by the title—there are some good ideas here (How to successfully compete with open-source software).

Community jams, meet-ups, and meetings

5. Fernando da Rosa is hosting a workshop for teachers (Jornadas de Educación y TIC) this week in Montevideo. We hope to survey the attendees about their Sugar experience.

Help Wanted / Help Received

6. We need to clean up the Project Ideas page for our Google Summer of Code application. Please add any pet idea that they would like an intern to tackle.

7. Bastien Guerry has set up a translation wish-list page in the wiki.

8. We would very much like to include some photographs of children using Sugar (as opposed to generic child with computer) for the website. If you have any such pictures (or can take some this week), please contact the Marketing Team.

Tech Talk

9. In addition to the update to the FLOSS Manual, the Release Team is pulling together notes for Sucrose 0.84. They are requesting help from Activity maintainers. Please use the Template to create a page and link it appropriately on the 0.84 release notes page. As an example, see the Browse release notes.

10. Daniel Drake has been doing some great testing of the School Server in Paraguay.

11. Michael Stone is working on a new version of Rainbow that will work wherever Sugar works. He is looking for feedback and testing (See http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Rainbow).

Sugar Labs

12. Gary Martin has generated another SOM from the past week of discussion on the IAEP mailing list (Please see SOM).