Meeting the students

March 2, 2010 – 5:57 pm

This afternoon, information pills Sebastian, mind Greg, adiposity and I called in remotely to Lynne May’s class, where they’re just starting their SoaS deployment. It was a short call – or rather, a short series of calls, because Lynne May first called Sebastian in Germany (with Greg and myself on IRC backchannel with him), then called me and Greg in Westford (with Sebastian on IRC backchannel), and everything – including technical glitches – took less than half an hour.

It was enough. On IRC, in the #sugar channel, debriefing afterwards…

Sebastian: They asked a lot of questions, like how I achieved this… having it on a stick, and why Sugar Labs was called Sugar Labs. They had bracelets or so attached to their usb keys to recognize them… and they sat down in a circle and showed them to me.
Mel: We saw the bracelets, but they were very much not in a circle at that point. We had a lot of kids running in front of the camera, coming up to the camera…
Sebastian: heh, ayup… constant movement ;-)
Mel: They asked us where we were and what time it was, and we said we were in Boston, in the office, at work, showed them the parking lot out the window, walked them through the hallways, they got to wave to Max. Spot was out, but we showed them his collection of penguins, frogs, and Star Wars action figures. (imitating excited kid:)”I LOVE Star wars action figures!”
Sebastian: LOL! :)
Mel: Loud enough for everyone in the office to hear through the headphones. And everyone within earshot started cracking up.
Sebastian: Yeah, so I showed them that it was late out here… Lynne May said I was going to bed “soon.” I replied that it depended on the definition of “soon”. ;-) We agreed to pretend it was soon.
Mel: “within the next 4 hours” == “soon”
Sebastian grins. yup!
Sebastian: I feel this is another kind of situation that reminds of… “why are we doing this?” As in, “ayup, THIS is why we’re doing it”
Mel: Oh, I wish I’d thought to take pictures of Greg talking with the kids from our side.
Sebastian: Mhm. Might have not been the last call. ;-)

We used Skype – I wish there were an open source option, but as things stand now, this is the best we were able to do. (And we still had connectivity issues.)

What we’re trying to do here is give the kids the idea that people they talk to online – people in the open source community they’re joining – are real people, people who may be far away in other places doing other things, but who also come online to work with them on Sugar. (This is a difficult abstract concept to grasp when you’re a first-grader. For that matter, it’s hard for grown-ups to grasp sometimes; I still have to explain how I work every day with people I’ve never met in person, and how yes, I really do know them, I don’t need to sit next to them all the time, etc.)

So we popped online – where they’ll usually see us – today. We’ll be dropping by the classroom in person briefly on Friday morning to go “look, we are real people!” And then I believe there will be regular short chat sessions on Friday mornings. (Yeah, more Skype. Better alternatives welcome.)

It’s hard to capture in words now; typing this seems so faded and gray compared to the rush of a posse of running, waving kids shouting into the screen, waving their USB sticks around, chorusing in overlapping voices (that I needed help understanding – thanks, Lynne May). It’s the kind of experience that… it makes me want to keep on doing this. I want to share it with as many people as possible.

I’d like to see whether we can get every single person who directly contributes to this deployment to meet the kids. Gary and Tomeu responded to a post from Lynne May about debugging Write – I wonder if they could help the students walk through testing it a little bit in a 10-minute video conversation. Luke is working with David and Bernie on migrating some Sugar Labs infrastructure into the capable hands of a group of RIT students; these are all services the kids will be learning and seeing and using, and being able to meet the people “behind the curtain,” so to speak, is pretty magical. 10-15 minutes is not long enough to really finish anything, to be sure -  but enough to keep them going and excited, enough to keep us going and excited, enough to remind us why we do all this in the first place.

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