17 June 2013


As I wade through marking a large pile of mid-year exam papers reflecting a form of assessment that I no longer believe in (if I ever did, which I doubt!),  it is nice to take a breath and be led, via Twitter (well, via my email notification of Twitter, to be exact, as I'm not the world's most avid twitterite, am I?) to an interview by Steve Wheeler with Sugata Mitra, and thence to the latter's TED Talk on YouTube, which was posted, I see, in February.
You'd probably seen it before, but you may remember that I played his 'hole in the wall' experiment TED talk at the Long Weekend d'Immersion in 2011 as I think it speaks volumes about learning and motivation.  The latest TED talk is a summary of his previous work and his vision for the future of learning. What he says really resonates with me as it calls into question the whole structure of western education, the role of teachers and the relevance of schools in their present form. It's easy to see why some feel threatened by his approach as, if he's right, then teaching as we know it could go the way of the dinosaurs.
He presents what he calls the SOLE (Self-Organised Learning Environment) for which the only requirements are BROADBAND, COLLABORATION and ENCOURAGEMENT.
He says "We need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organisation. If we allow the educational process to self-organise then learning emerges. It's not about MAKING learning happen, it's about LETTING it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then stands back in awe and watches learning happen." I can really relate to this as I don't think anyone has ever successfully MADE me learn anything. I have, of course, 'learned' a heap of things out of obligation, but any deep, real learning I have done over the years has had a large element of self-organisation. It can be random and punctuated by fertile and fallow periods but it's been a largely effective process of action and reflection dictated by my own curiosity, interest, needs and head-space. Two key factors, which I've mentioned many times, are MOTIVATION and CHOICE.
Sugata Mitra ends with "I think we need a curriculum of big questions". Some would go further and suggest that those big questions should ideally be generated by the students themselves rather than the teacher.
I like his 'granny cloud' initative which links older people with time and expertise to young learners, via Skype. That's something I'd be interested in getting involved with once I hang up my official boots. It's not dissimilar to some of the things we've done on Blackboard Collaborate with L'Ecole Hors les Murs. I love that 'hands across the water' stuff.
Now, how's that for a productive procrastination of exam marking?
^. .^


  1. I can see why you were easily drawn away from your exam marking! Through the work of two teachers here in NZ (Tara TJ and Jo Fothergill) that I follow through social media, I get regular reminders of Sugata Mitra's work. His confidence in this interview that the "gaps can be bridged" is really heartening and it is the type of big picture to be hanging on to. The inherent belief that students can learn in a SOLE environment is the other big picture. I see two things here: well because part of me is pretty dinosaur like, there is indeed a role for the teacher in this, through making and nurturing such an environment. One thing I would like to know is how teachers can ensure that SOLE approach is a part of what they add to the mix of experiences they offer their students over a period of time. I am not pedagogically equiped enough to make a call if SOLE is the way to go or not. What I can say though is that over time spent with students in a learning environment, whichever it is, there is ample opportunity to make sure students are placed in a SOLE situation. Through reading Ewan McIntosh design thinking allows for a similar thing to happen when learners dig dip into their questions posing and work together to move on. The big questions are indeed generated by the learners. We are born curious and self motivated, and this is the heart of SOLE I understand. Are we born reflective to amplify our curiosity and self motivation? Teachers who see the benefits of students self organising have a role to play in fostering self reflection around learning to learn in particular... Much to think about I dont see the teachers disappear in a hurry, but transformation of their role is necessary, and it will only transform through experiencing with approaches and inquirying into what works best for the students in front of them.

  2. I share your not being pedagogically equipped enough to make a call as to whether SOLE is the way to go or not. I think it's probably blue sky territory from my present perspective. The vital component that seems to be lacking here, in an environment where there is so much electronic stimulation and so much stuff happening, is CURIOSITY. The students may well be curious about something but I can't see a lot of it directed towards language learning. Therefore SOLE wouldn't work if the objective is for the students to learn something in particular. I can see it working in an environment where there is a lack of resources and the students are hungry for new experience and still curious about the learning potential of technology. Where I have seen a fair bit of mutual curiosity of late is between some of our students (who might otherwise never have shown much interest) and the French exchange students in our school at the moment. The boys are making a particular hit. One of my students said to me today 'That's absolutely the best thing that's ever happened to me. They're so hot!'. It remains to be seen whether she puts two and two together and is stimulated to put more effort into French. I can only hope. But it is a salutory lesson about the value of making it real. Interestingly enough some of the high flyers showed scant interest in the French students (there were about 8 in the class) and preferred to go off by themselves and 'practice for their oral assessment!!!'.

  3. I'd forgotten to mention that a bunch of the French exchange students had invited themselves to attend my Year 10 French class this am.

    1. I read this with a great smile on my face (une banane!) Nothing replaces the real thing, the real experience, absolutely. I am living it right now currently putting my ideas and thoughts around ePortfolio through a design thinking process... The question remains: are interactions and communication and relationships (all necessary ingredients to one's developing a willingness to learn another language) developed remotely, through tech will ever provide the hook to awaken the inner motivation to learn? A great one to investigate and action research maybe! :-)

    2. Yep, it must be the pheromones. You can't detect them virtually!!


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