Class Act Tips from an Experienced Volunteer


Are you leaving your country with a bag full of XOs? Would you like some helpful tips before you go? Then this article is for you. It was written for One Laptop per Child (OLPC) volunteers who are about to depart for a deployment. The information came from a presentation at OLPC by experienced volunteer, Nancie Severs. She took 12 XOs to the Vung Vieng Floating Fishing Village in Ha Long Bay in Northeast Vietnam. This was her first deployment. I hope that you find this list helpful.

* Before you leave make sure all the XOs you’re bringing work:

– Check the hardware: Does each machine boot and have sound? Are the screens working?

– Reflash and update the XO software.

– Download any specific Activities you want that are not pre-loaded.

– Check each XO to make certain that all of the same Activities show up on each one.

– Do you need any specific languages installed on the XO? If so, be sure to work with the localization team from Sugar to get the language packs installed and working.

* Emphasize the following in the first teacher training and while teaching:

– How to care for the XO: Be careful with moisture and sand (they could possibly get in the USB ports).

– How to open AND how to close Activities.

– How to use the keyboard and the touchpad, and teach preventative skills:

– Improper shutdown and misusing the power button too often contributes to a short battery life.

– Batteries will ultimately not recharge and replacing them is a challenge in remote locations.

* Recommended starting points for first time computer locations:

– Start with Activities without Internet to learn how to work the XO.

– Demonstrate Activities that don’t require English if English is not the language of your host country.

– Explain the Journal Activity and how to delete from the Journal.

– Show How to switch between Activities and teach the Frame key.

– Teach the shortcut to reset a “jumpy” touchpad by holding the 3 corner keys down and then pressing the ‘fn’ key.

* Ask individuals from the country you are planning on visiting that already live in your country for advice. Inquire from them about what you might expect upon arrival, especially, visas and customs issues.

* Some language that may help when speaking with customs agents: “It’s the $100 laptop for children in the developing world. They’re for the children in the village. And these are used donated machines.” In many developing countries, customs agents think that laptops cost $1,000. They may try to assess duty accordingly.

* Good skills to have: creativity, able to think on your feet, able to figure things out on the ground and flexibility.

* If you will be relying on solar power, or other alternative power sources, learn the basics before you leave. This is a critical skill to have. Anticipate what materials might be necessary or helpful and research the availability and cost of obtaining these items in your host country. Bring unavailable items that are small and light enough with you.

* Plan to bring 1 or 2 broken XOs. You can use them for repair training and for spare parts.

* Nancie recommends reading everything about every project page in the OLPC Wiki when you’re planning a deployment. You’ll get lots of good ideas.

* Be culturally sensitive. In some cultures, teachers and students do not work collaboratively. Many teachers who haven’t used a computer or are unfamiliar with the XO and Sugar, may be hesitant to teach with the XO. Some teachers “lose face” when demonstrating something they are not proficient at.

* Build relationships with local professionals (electricians, builders, technicians, etc). You have to find people that can help you every step of the way.

* Demonstrate the XO as if this is your full-time computer. The adults in the field need to see that the XO is not just the “toy” it looks like.

* Learn how to use a flash drive with the XO. Make sure that the flash drive you’re using works with the XO. Some brands work and some don’t. Test the ones you will bring and any that you purchase.

Here’s a list of lessons Nancie learned during her deployment:

* The goal should be to get the children to own the XO. They need to be able to take the XOs home and play around with them when the teacher is not looking over their shoulder.

* Teacher training is very important and basic computer skills are critical for adult mentors. A lot of teaching is done by demonstrating, by doing.

* Having adults (parents and teachers) all on-board along with the children is a key element to success. Adults should learn how to use the XO too.

* Think of ways to offer tangible benefits to volunteers who help you.

* Try to identify a community-wide benefit that your project can include. Successful projects confer special benefits beyond computer literacy for the children.

* Make friends with your nearest computer repair facility.

* Create a teacher training stream. Ask if teachers can be trained at the teacher’s college.

* Convince software developers in your host country to work with the XO software (Sugar, etc).

* Obtain government support and assistance by making truly replicable work.

* Keep in mind that teaching and demonstrating transferable skills is very valuable.

* How does the XO handle in remote environments? It’s great! Be prepared to point out that the XO is:

– Rugged, it has no spinning hard drive to break when dropped.

– The battery does not get hot like in a conventional laptop.

– And the XO charges and runs on less energy than other computers.

“OLPC Startup in 5 Easy Pieces” is a very elegant warning of what can go wrong as you build your deployment team based on Bryan Berry’s deployment in Nepal. One point that Bryan focused on was how to make deployments OWNED by locals. If it’s not owned by the locals the project will not continue or grow.

Check out this list of OLPC resources. It’s a culmination of work from a variety of teams since OLPC started. Every deployment is different and presents its own needs and challenges. There isn’t one prescribed way and there is no complete road map. Read like crazy. Read what everyone else has done and borrow what might work!


Written By:

Sean Laurence,


With Help From:

Nancie Severs


Photo Credit:

Nancie Severs



“To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self- empowered learning.”