L@S Day 1, Session 3

Sugata Mitra presented the first keynote for the conference, providing an overview of his work in equity in education, starting with his hole in the wall project in India, and the ability for learners to create their own opportunities for learning if given the right resources -‘the absence of the teacher as pedagogical tool’. How we do this in our own learning environment? Place the technology into a classroom without teacher support and intervention, and ask them a question that will intrigue them, but learning how to use the technology, and trying to answer their questions. 

‘When you remove competition, learning increases 100fold’ – asking learners to collectively give you one answer moves their focus from competition to collaboration and learning. Self-organisation is critical – provide a small number of computers, leaving the students to form their own groups, that may change and evolve over time. Less focus on a structured learning activity, less focus on learning being done to them.

Sugata then moved on to talk about the school in the cloud, combining what he had learnt about the hole in the world approach, self organised learning, and his integration of his (perhaps poorly named) ‘grannie’ experiment, where an external person, not necessarily of any age or gender, engages with the learners to encourage them and praise them – a friendly but not necessarily knowledgable mediator. In the school in the cloud, all of this is combined with a classroom set up that encourages these aspects. A few computers scattered around the classroom, large monitors so that everyone can see, and questions that inspire curiosity. 

‘The Internet does not know a child is a child, so gives them all of the information’. ‘Together, they are able to reach a reading comprehension much higher than the individual.’

Interesting question – do you ever let the students make their own questions? It has been tried, but they will often create questions that are far too hard. But can be useful for them to learn how to identify that a question can’t be answered. 

Another interesting question – much of what is being presented here brings back what we know from Piaget and Vygotsky. Have we forgotten our lessons here, so that we no longer use these fundamentals to construct our learning environments? I’m not sure I buy the answer, which is that this work is different because it involves the Internet. But I do agree that technology has given us an opportunity to rethink the way that we might approach learning.

Another aspect here, at least in tertiary education is that most academics have no idea about learning theory, and teach based on an apprenticeship based model, learning from the way that we were taught, and repeating the same patterns. 

At this point in the keynote, the tone of the audience questions as well as on Twitter became increasingly frustrated. While the talk was entertaining, and reminding us of some useful relevant theory (incidentally), there was little data presented to support the many, strong research claims regarding how students learn. Members of the audience questioned the statements regarding reading comprehension, while others questioned the lack of data in the publications referenced in the talk.

Another interesting question asked for views on the number of studies that show that many students need high levels of scaffolding to obtain effective learning. The answer, which I at least found dissatisfying, was that where students do badly, we are using examinations from another time. I just don’t buy that. 

For some further analysis, here is one persons views on whether the hole in the wall experiment was successful: http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/sugata-mitra-slum-chic-7-reasons-for.html

I’m left feeling that I really need to read more of this work to form my own opinions properly.

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