Standing Between Students and Technology

Wired.com recently published a report that glorified the work of Sugata Mitra, a computer scientist who discovered a supposedly-powerful new way of learning. The article is worth reading, but here's the gist of his teaching method:

"He selected a small group of 10- to 14-year-olds and told them there was some interesting stuff on the computer, and might they take a look? Then he applied his new pedagogical method: He said no more and left."

He began creating schools in India and the U.K. built around the following philosophy:

There will be no teachers, curriculum, or separation into age groups—just six or so computers and a woman to look after the kids’ safety. His defining principle: “The children are completely in charge.”

While I am no advocate of our current Industrial Era school system, the idea that connecting kids to the internet and stepping out of the way is a pipe dream.

A quote by Michael Welsh, associate professor of cultural anthropology and digital ethnography at Kansas State University, emphasizes the reason why this "get out of the way" method won't work:

"We live in an age of almost infinite information and learning opportunity and so the key here is we have to inspire people to have a sense of wonder and curiosity and if we do that, they have what is essentially the world’s largest knowledge machine at their fingertips. If we fail at that they have the world’s largest distraction device."

 

Welsh's comment and Mitra's philosophy both call for a change from the status quo of education, but Welsh leaves the teacher in the picture, with the job of inspiring...and keeping students from being distracted.

I recently wrote a short paper for my Philosophy of Technology class that focused on the Mediated Learning Experience (MLE), where a teacher figuratively places themselves between the student and the environment or object that is being taught. In regards to modern information technology, the idea is that students experience the Internet, computers, tablets, smartphones, etc., through the guiding hand of the teacher.

Technology should change the way we teach, but it will not make us obsolete. We should be the content filters for our students, pointing them to quality information, keeping them focused and weaving our ideas, their ideas and the ideas explored online into a cohesive learning experience.

 

 

Views: 97

Tags: 2.0, MLE, Web, pedagogy, technology, wired.com

Comment by Mary Bucy on November 1, 2013 at 8:29pm

"Without any instruction, they were able to teach themselves a surprising variety of things, from DNA replication to English." Seriously--DNA replication? I'd need a lot more examples than those in the Wired article to believe that putting a computer in front of students automatically leads to learning that rivals our current system. If this were a reliable system, wouldn't more people in our world be becoming geniuses in their free time? 

Teachers in Finland are some of the best paid in the world. They aren't simply giving their students computers and seeing where it goes. I do believe in student centered learning, and that internally motivated learning is more powerful than imposed study. But this article seems to make some major leaps in logic. I agree with your conclusion that teachers will remain central to learning, even in the digital age.

Comment by Sam Battrick on November 2, 2013 at 12:03pm

Sugata Mitra was a keynote speaker at Bb World this year -- a very entertaining presentation, to be sure, and he certainly had us captivated with his the Hole-in-the-Wall experiment conclusions, as well as his new work on Schools in the Cloud, in which students receive mentoring from "grannies" who, while not experts on the subject matter, provide motivation and support by encouraging the kids and marveling at their achievements.

I didn't walk away feeling his point was that children don't need teachers at all -- but that they can self-teach to a remarkable level without them, and achieve even more with the addition of a mentor and guide.

Comment by Stacey Parker on February 10, 2014 at 6:41pm

The article was very enlightening and created a lot of thought into how we need to change in educational institutions to stay abreast with the 21st century. I agree with Peter Gray that we do encourage young children to play and investigate their world around them which in turns teaches curiosity and critical thinking skills. Curriculum that is completely set for children stifles their interests and creativity which limits them. Children today definitely learn differently than how children learned generations ago because the world has changed around them so why should we as educators not change our teaching methods to accomandate the children's learning. I like the idea of what the Finns are doing by incorporating independence and active learning  into the school day. It provides a balance of what the children are required to learn for their age level with their initiate to explore their interests. Research has shown thus far that this type of learning is working for all children of various economic backgrounds. Therefore, I think this is a stepping stone that educators should take in educating this generation of children. It will take time and effort for the educational system that has been established for centuries to change but, I think it is important that we should seriously consider this type of teaching in order to progress into the 21st century. I also agree that teachers will never be replaced completely that they should remain central to learning no matter how technical our world will be.  

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