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The Sugar learning platform and the future of the desktop

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Walter Bender

The Sugar Learning Platform is an alternative to the ubiquitous computer desktop metaphor that has dominated computing since its invention at Xerox Park in the 1970s. The design of Sugar is motivated in part by the observation that children are not office workers and nothing in their future will resemble office work from 30 years ago.

Three experiences characterize the Sugar Learning Platform:

  1. Sharing: Collaboration is a first-order experience: the interface always shows the presence of other learners who are available for collaboration all the time. Students and teachers dialog with each other, support each other, critique each other, and share ideas.
  2. Reflecting: A “Journal” records each learner's activity. It serves as a place for reflection and assessment of progress—the basis of a portfolio.
  3. Discovering: Sugar accommodates a wide variety of users with different levels of skill in terms of reading and language and different levels of experience with computing. Sugar is easy to approach, yet it does not put an upper bound on personal expression. The learner is able to peel away layers and go deeper and deeper, with no restrictions. This allows the direct appropriation of ideas in whatever realm the learner is exploring: music, browsing, reading, writing, programming, or graphics.

The Sugar Learning Platform is free software that is being bundled with all of the major GNU/Linux distributions.


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Walter Bender is executive director of Sugar Labs, a free software foundation developing the collaborative Sugar Learning Platform; Sugar promotes critical thinking, the heart of a quality education. Prior to founding Sugar Labs, Bender was president of One Laptop per Child, where he developed and deployed technologies that helped revolutionize how the world's children engage in learning. Bender is a senior research scientist at the MIT Media Laboratory. He is former executive director of the Media Laboratory, as well as the founding director of the Electronic Publishing group in the Lab. While at the Lab in 1992, Bender founded the News in the Future consortium and has participated in much of the pioneering research in the field of electronic publishing and personalized interactive multimedia. He has worked closely with pioneers in the field of technology and learning such as Seymour Papert, Marvin Minsky, and Alan Kay for 30+ years. Bender has a BA from Harvard University and an MS from MIT. He is a member of numerous advisory boards, including the GNOME Technical Advisory Board. Bender has a visiting faculty appointment at the University of Tampere in Finland.