Archive/Current Events/2009-08-27

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Sugar Digest

"He was guided by what he saw rather than what he wanted to believe." – Vernor Vinge

1. While I am not chasing down Turtle Art bugs, I am catching up with my summer reading. The quote from A Fire in the Deep seems a nice summary of the discussion about teaching physics on the IAEP list. It is worthwhile reading the whole thread.

2. Some other summer reading includes a short article on behavioral economics published by the New Economics Foundation that discusses some principles of behavior that we may want to consider as we consider how to maximize the impact of our efforts as a community. (I am unaware of any serious study of Free Software by behavioral economists. This particular summary is more useful in regard to understanding the motivation of teachers whom we'd like to consider adopting Sugar and perhaps become more observant about what they are doing with the platform in their classrooms.

I am thinking about each of their principles as a vehicle for asking questions that I am hoping community members may be able to discuss.

  • "Other people’s behavior matters."
This would suggest that we need to expose teachers to Sugar best practices that they can then emulate. Can we identify the "mavens", "connectors", and "salespeople" in our target communities? What resources can we apply to influence their adoption of Sugar? For example, I am working with a small school district in the Boston metropolitan area that other, larger districts follow closely. If we can have an influence with a "maven" district, we may get broad leverage. It also suggests that we need to be vigilant as a community to make sure that our examples for emulation are pedagogically sound.
  • "Habits are important."
This would suggest that we raise awareness about some of the habits that are part and parcel with the status quo. What incentives can we provide that would encourage change? What actions can we take to sustain and reinforce changes in behavior?
  • "People are motivated to ‘do the right thing’."
We need to engage teachers in a discussion about what is "the right thing" and remind them that the right thing often involves hard work: "Sire, there is no Royal Road to Geometry" – Euclid.
  • "People’s self-expectations influence how they behave: they want their actions to be in line with their values and their commitments."
This is a tough one for us, because much of what we are doing is not in line with expectations. However, as long as we are on a sound footing in terms of values, we are in a position of influence.
  • "People are loss-averse and hang on to what they consider ‘theirs’."
Sugar need not be an either-or proposition. (Sugar on a Stick means there is nothing to give up in taking up Sugar.) And as Minsky has pointed out, until you understand something from more than one way, you don't understand it. Sugar can offer another perspective on their status quo.
  • "People are bad at computation when making decisions."
Further, they are often intimidated by the prospects of learning new things (until they are actually doing it). "Immediate losses are stronger incentives than long-term rewards." This would imply that we really need to keep the "pain" associated with getting started to an absolute minimum.
  • "People need to feel involved and effective to make a change."
We have a community with a potential for great discourse that welcomes contributions. This is one of our real strengths."

Help wanted

3. Last week's discussion about feedback led to the suggestion that I highlight feedback from the field in the Sugar Digest. Please send me reports that I can include each week.

In the community

4. There has been a lot of activity on our "community-powered" support portal. The interface is a bit clumsy, but much more friendly to non-developers than the trac system. Check it out. (Dennis Daniels has been including links to screen casts with most of his posts.)

tech talk

5. In the run up to string freeze for Release 0.86, Simon Schampijer led a triage session (See Milestone 0.86).

6. Tom Gilliard (satellit) continues to experiment with alternative formats for Sugar LiveUSB images (See [1]).

Sugar Labs

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

Just for fun

Another quote from A Fire Upon the Deep: "Finally they pulled the big, floppy ears simultaneously: the dataset popped open." Sounds like he was describing an OLPC XO-1.