One finding the study reported was that the children's favorite activity, by far, was Write. Other favorite activities that scored much lower (3-13%) were Record, Paint, Game, Calculate, Chat, and Memory. The study's authors concluded that, because writing was the most favored activity, the laptops are "a learning device!" (exclamation point theirs).
The usefulness of this data is limited because the study only reports "favorite activity," not the amount of time each activity was actually used. It is hard to tease meaningful information out of this.
Keeping in mind the limited information we have, I draw a different conclusion. To me, their finding says that the laptops are being used as glorified pencil and paper.
Granted, writing is a great educational activity, but laptops aren't necessary for children to write. There are much less expensive, even free, options available for that. In Lesotho, writing is a skill that students master in the traditional classroom without computers.
What I want to see in the results from studies like this is a much higher percentage of other XO laptop activities being used, activities that aren't otherwise available and which develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
I'd especially like to see children say their favorite activity is something otherwise not available to them, like:
- Browse - which means the children are searching out information,
- eToys, Turtle Art, and Scratch - which develop advanced thought processes,
- Write used in conjunction with other activities like Paint and Record - which means the children are performing more complex tasks,
- Tam Tam - which stimulates creativity and abstract thinking,
- TuxMath - because math is a skill not adequately acquired in the standard classroom (in Lesotho anyway), and
- even games like Maze and Implode - which require conceptualization and planning.
I can hardly wait to see what we find out about our project after we conduct our own evaluation. Early on, I'm guessing we will see results very similar to the Ethiopian study, except maybe with Record getting a higher percentage. Hopefully though, as time goes by and we continue to work with teachers and students, we will see more complex activities like Scratch (my favorite) score the highest. When that happens, I'll know we have succeeded.