The OLPC Volunteer Help-Refresh Sprint in Boston

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
Trip End Dec 31, 2016

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I am joining other volunteers in Boston this week, along with some others who are participating remotely. Our goal is to "refresh" the Help Activity for the Sugar OS on the XO.

What does the Help (?) icon on the XO do? Help is the Activity (app) that contains the User Manual. When I received my first day, 2007 G1G1 XO, it arrived in a box with an instruction card to help figure out how to open the laptop. I wondered, now what? Slowly over following the weeks and months, I figured out how to do use the XO to do the things I wanted to do. Many adults asked, “where can we find the manual?” They did not like the answer. No manual? How are we supposed to learn how to use this laptop? Some people quickly gave up. Some fiddled with the Activities and figured it out. And some people volunteered to write a User Manual.

The XO is designed to spark intuitive hands on exploration and learning. It’s based upon education theory called Constructionism.
In theory, experimentation & learning by doing sounds terrific. But in practice, different people have many different learning styles and patience thresholds. For many XO recipients, especially teachers who have never used a computer before, or who have never used one in the classroom, a User Manual may be a necessity to get them started.

In 2008  the OLPC Volunteer Community held it’s first Book Sprint” which resulted in the XO User Manual that is found in the Help Activity. With the many changes and releases to the OS (operating system software), and information sharing from XO projects around the world on how Sugar is being used, the Help Activity needed a revision and expansion. We volunteers believe that this is also a good place to share simple Activity instructions and suggestions for using them.

Last October, 2011 at the San Francisco Volunteer Summit, plans for the Refresh-Help  project evolved. And this week in Boston, here we are! The details can be found here: (main wiki link). Adam Holt (OLPC & Haiti), and volunteers Christoph Derndorfer (Vienna), George Hunt (engineering & School Server expert) Mark Battley (Toronto/Kenya), Craig Perue, (Jamaica), Laura de Reynal France/NosyKomba, Harriet V (India). Sandra Thaxter (MA/Kenya) Ed C (Indiana), Sameer (OLPC-SF & Jamaica), and locals, Bernie, Dogie, SJ  and others worked and played together at the Cambridge OLPC offices to try and get this project done! I saw that the chief organizer of this project, Caryl Bigenho, was busy helping remotely most of the time. There were other folks around the globe furiously writing and editing too. The main Wiki page with all of the details and participants can be found here:
And, you can join our efforts to complete the job here:

The formal Sprint started on Friday April 6 and went through Tuesday, April 10. I arrived from NH on Sunday, after our family holiday celebration. A few volunteers had come in ahead of time. We all worked to re-write chapters for the Help Manual, and to write new ones, and to edit, make suggestions and review each others work.

What else did we do? I missed a picnic on the Charles River, before I arrived. On Sunday night, we had dinner together in Cambridge and a fun evening at historic Grendel's Irish Pub in Harvard Square. Frisbee and soccer (futbol) in the park, was the Monday afternoon work break. I had never played before. Despite being an obvious liability due to inexperience and "age," my excellent coach, Dogie, made certain that I did not hold my teams back. Everyone had so much fun! Thanks go to Adam for organizing activities that reinforce our teamwork!

Did we get the Manual done? We definitely made progress. At last count I think I heard that 27 chapters were ready to publish. But there is still work to be done. We were all guilty of distraction. There was intense philosophical discussion and sharing of ideas and side projects that various of us are working on. I finally got the "details on Jamaica and Haiti, and I would not have known about Ed's interesting e-publishing efforts, or Harriet's challenges and successes in classrooms in India, without a face to face work sprint. Having OLPC employees like Richard S to troubleshoot hardware/software issues was a bonus. While completing the Manual Refresh is the real goal of this volunteer event, I see equal value in the process and the product!

In Boston, it was wonderful to see some of my Alearn colleagues. It was great to see Sandra again and to hear about her recent very successful trip to Kenya. I especially enjoyed meeting Harriet  and learning  about her 200 and hopefully growing XO projects for poor children in

Dogie showed me his new program  where he can use an XO to control another XO or other computer. I am calling it Open Logmein, as it is like Logmein (proprietary) for the XO. Check the photos, this is wicked cool! I can think of many ways that it can be useful in the field.

Mark Battley had been working the week before on a terrific side project. I am pleased to announce to the OLPC Global Community that 3000 Khan Academy videos will be available for download to play on the XO! Can you believe that Mark converted so many Khan videos to .ogv files and organized them by subject so that they will play on the XO? This was such an ambitious project and he completed it!

I copied the files onto an external hard drive. Thumb drives will work for this also. To copy all 3000 of the videos you will need about 35 to 40 GB of storage. I tested some of the videos at random. They work fine on a Mac, a PC, and an XO!! They are in English but it is my understanding that the audio files can be translated to other languages. It is an amazing resource, with subjects in math, science, business, health, history and more subjects presented in simple to very advanced clear short videos. I prepared a drive for Elaine N. Next month, these videos will be available to teachers and students with XOs in Cambodia. Mark Battley, YOU ARE MY HERO!

I had time to share and talk strategy with Elaine about Cambodia, and to get her together with Adam. She has made miracles with "her teachers and children" in Cambodia and I want others to know about it and to learn from her experience!  I took some time to enjoy spring in Boston and even found a dress for my son's upcoming wedding.

Huge thanks to Adam and Caryl for organizing us, to our hosts in Boston and to everyone who worked on this remotely and in person. We are still working to finish up, but the Help Manual will soon be much improved!

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sandra thaxter on

I was there. It was fun. Nancy has done a great job putting us all on-line and telling the stories.

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