About four years ago, I heard about Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Project while working at an Episcopal school, and the administration was all fired up about equipping the students with computers. Unfortunately, they did not explain the premise of the experiment completely and missed the point of having teachers act as facilitators and mediators. They did increase the number of computers in the classroom, and the middle school and upper school students are using them for their everyday work. However, the teachers still direct most of what and how the students learn.
Professor Mitra’s experiments showed how productive children can be when they work together to figure out things that are interesting to them. He aligned this with cavemen looking up at the stars and talking about “those twinkling lights” in the sky. He advocates letting children explore and learn together; he promotes self-organizing learning environments, places where children can work in groups and access the internet, with the help of “British grandmothers” or the Granny Cloud.
The idea of a teacher (or granny) setting the learning in motion, sitting back to let the students explore and discover, then giving them encouragement whenever they figure something out sounds radical. But I believe it’s the way that children were taught life and survival skills before formal schools were established. This time around, though, instead of sitting together by the fire, granny is miles away in front of her computer while the children are gathered around theirs.
Maybe, when I grow up I’ll be a granny in the cloud. But for now, I’ll be helping my students explore together out in nature, in the classroom, and in front of the iPad. Who knows what they’ll discover?
Self Organizing Learning Environment Toolkit (pdf)