Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 23, 2009 - XO Web Sharing / Scratch

Jeff, with all of his experience with Scratch, has come up with a great idea for the further development of the Sugar interface.

Scratch is a programming and animation suite directed at younger children that teaches the basics of programming with a friendly, colorful interface. One of the most important features of this software is its "Share" utility, which allows the user to upload their project to the Scratch website for all to see and comment on, promoting shared learning and communication. When the Scratch file is received on the website, it is then recompiled into a Java applet and is thus usable from the browser.

In addition to the above features, users are then able to take their exploration one step further: by downloading the files for themselves. This allows them to read each other's code and remix each other's projects. This website/client relationship is really the foremost element of the Scratch project, as it provides the users with an integrated, positive environment in which they can share and present. Further, its accessibility over the web allows for what could easily become trans-national, or even global communication, crossing geographical and linguistic barriers with ease.

Jeff's idea is to implement this kind of technology by embedding it in the Sugar interface. Many of Sugar's most prominent activities lend themselves toward sharing and collaboration between children. As such, giving them an integrated collaboration system comparable to Scratch's would only work to expand and support the project as a whole.

Since Sugar 0.84, the user has been asked directly at the end of each session to name and describe each activity they've opened, in order to better organize and save their explorations in the Journal. In an IRC chat with Jeff, it was suggested that the "Name this entry" dialogue box be put to a higher use in setting metadata for works that would be published online, making it even easier for kids to share.

OLPC needs a website comparable to that of Scratch with which to host XO users' projects. This would be the fastest, most reliable method of connecting users and promoting collaboration. Of course, the scope of the OLPC web resource would need to be much greater than Scratch's. Scratch's website only needs to accept and display Scratch files (.sb's), whereas the Sugar site would be able to accept Sugar media of all sorts: "Write" activities, "Paint" drawings, "Physics" projects, and presumably games as well. These different types of media would first be categorized by filetype and then hopefully index by content or topic (Music, History, Science, etc.).

Further, user interaction would have to be both manageable as well as open. For example, students would be able to join Class groups, based on their actual Schools, and Classes. They would thus be able to receive updates about the activities of their group members and collaborate easily as a class. This would be a sort of "Priority" grouping, as the entirety of the user's activities would not be limited to sharing with just their class. In addition to this, users would be able to create groups, invite users, and engage in much of the collaborative networking currently available online.

The homepage of this website could show featured projects of various types, as well as category links, which would lead to content based on filetype (documents, pictures, etc.) or content. This content could of course be searchable, in order to connect the most users to the most relevant content.

The end result of this project would be a web interface, deeply intertwined with Sugar and its activities, that would connect an entire generation and unite them in the spirit of learning.

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