Barefoot In the head

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Schools in the Cloud – What could they be?

 Let’s look back at some past work:

1.   Groups of children can learn to use a computer and the Internet by themselves, under certain conditions described a little later. This is a finding from a set of experiments between 1999 – 2004, often called the ‘hole in the wall’ experiments.

2.     There are places all over the planet where it is difficult or impossible to build schools.

3.     There are places all over the world where good teachers cannot, or do not wish to go.

4.     Children who know how to read can use the Internet in groups to research and answer questions far ahead of their traditional curriculum.

5.     This kind of learning is a ‘self organizing system’ in the technical sense of those words. It happens in a ‘minimally invasive’ environment and appears to be a  ‘emergent phenomenon’, again, in the technical sense of those words.

6.     The emergence of learning in children from a chaotic, self organized situation seems to be helped by the occasional presence of an admiring, interested, but not necessarily knowledgeable, adult or adults.

7.     Reading comprehension is a key requirement for this kind (perhaps any kind) of learning.

8.     We don’t know, but can ask, whether children in groups can learn to read by themselves. This question is courtesy Nicholas Negroponte. We could also ask if children in groups can read at higher levels of comprehension than individually.

Is it possible to put all this together into a learning system for children in need?

If you give children, below the age of 13, access to a computer connected to the Internet, they learn how to use it. However, there are some conditions for this to happen.

1.     The computer has to be in a safe, public place so that parents will let children come there. A playground, for example, is a good place. Public visibility is important so that people can see what the children are doing and the children know this.

2.     There should be no adult directing them, children don’t like having people breathing down their necks watching their every move.

3.     About four or five children with one computer seems to be the optimal number.

4.     They should know that they are free to do what they like and there is no pre-selected activity. What they choose to do is a group decision. Usually they find and choose to play games.

If you then ensure the computer is in working order, children begin to tire of games in a month or so and look for other activity. Painting is a very popular activity and they learn to save and load pictures in the process. Some children learn to look for and install games from the Internet. In the process they discover Google.

If they can read sufficiently well in English or some other language that is adequately represented on the Internet, such as Spanish, Italian, Chinese etc., children begin to search for answers to questions. These questions are usually about games, but in the process of looking up these words related to games, they stumble upon other sites. In about six months time, they begin to understand keyword searching.

Some begin to search for homework related materials while others look for news or sports. I have seen some look for a job for their fathers, a horoscope forecast for their family, or medicines for the elderly.  They must have considered these questions important.

If a group of children find a question that they think is important, they will search for an answer. On the Internet, this will usually result in finding good information. Groups of children, in the presence of good information will discuss possible answers. Most of the time, such a process results in the emergence of good answers. A by-product of this process is learning.

We can bring this process into classrooms through Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs). This is now fairly well understood and accepted by many teachers around the world.

We can ‘beam’ people to places where they cannot physically go by using the Internet. The ‘Granny Cloud’ is a group of mediators that are Skyped into schools. It has been in existence since 2009 and is currently (2013), quite active.

Can the SOLE and the Granny Cloud come together?

Well, we have some problems:

1.     Are SOLEs really self-organizing? When conducted in a classroom, children are asked to make groups (by themselves), each group is given an Internet connection and they are asked to answer a question. We allow them to move around, change groups, talk and look at each other’s work. But it is we who are telling them to do all this. Are we moving away from the chaotic self-organization of the hole in the wall? (this question is courtesy C.Y. Gopinath). We could argue that an ‘attractor’ or a ‘seed’ is required for emergent behavior to happen in a self organizing system. But is the adult organizing a SOLE just a seed? Or is this adult the traditional teacher in disguise. Is it fake? This is a troublesome question.

2.     If self organized learning is an alternative to traditional teaching, then how is the Granny Cloud of any use? Are we not bringing traditional teaching back, disguised with some clever technology? To my mind the Granny Cloud was to improve children’s English, but did I actually mean to ‘teach’ English? “The first granny said, "How did you do that?!" She …sold them on their own power. Then (on the Granny Cloud) you said, "sorts everything out." I hope you misspoke. I hope your granny cloud does nothing of the sort. I hope they don't work one-on-one with struggling learners because that would take us back to the empire.” wrote Thomas Garrod in an email to me.

3.     None of the original holes in the wall are in working condition. Payal Arora pointed this out, several years ago. Technical sustainability is a big problem, often confused with the sustainability or the usability of the method of self organized learning.

The TED prize gives us the opportunity to sort all this out and get some answers.

Schools in the Cloud must be sustainable facilities that provide unsupervised self organized learning environments to children. The role of the Cloud Granny reverts to the admiring adult, who sometimes asks a question, but mostly observes and records learning as it happens.

But what about reading comprehension? I don’t know.  The eMediators will have to tell me how to do this, as we progress. This will be our central research question.

The role of the Granny Cloud will be somewhat different when they are remotely in charge of a School in the Cloud. In addition to developing one or more approaches to how they will interact with the children, they will also have access to much of the hardware in the facility. They will eventually be able to turn the lights on or off, check the batteries in solar powered systems, look anywhere in the facility, and, perhaps, ‘walk’ around through multiple cameras.

“A session is not a lesson”, Jackie Barrow had once said. That just about sums it up.

Seven facilities will be set up over the next year or so. Five will be in India ranging from very remote villages to urban slums and the urban middle class. Two will be set up in England, in relatively affluent areas with excellent schools. What we do in each of them will, I think, emerge, as we go along.

What else can one do when studying emergent phenomena?


Blogger ms gratton said...

Thank you for your hard work and for sharing it with us. As a teacher librarian immersed in ICT and building school culture, I am inspired by the projects you have done! Please continue to challenge the educational norm and our moral obligations. And share them with us!

July 13, 2013 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger Anne Devrell said...

As a newish Granny, I wanted to be a facilitator but think I have become regarded as another teacher in disguise... and this doesn't work for the students in my opinion.
I wanted to BUILD on their English to converse, question, challenge, share opinions, develop questions, encourage research, make mistakes and feel good about this meaning new learning is taking place .. but it's all about grammar in isolation... a session should definitely not be a lesson... but it feels like the objective at the moment....

July 13, 2013 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger DJ said...

With respect to your points 7 & 8.

IMHOSir, some inference can/should be drawn from the past ancient Indian Gurukuls or any Educational infrastructure both hard & soft (setup & participants), that pre-dates Colonialism and its evolved education-mechanisms.

(Group) Chanting was a way of passing on important data (information, life's juice) down to students who perhaps didn't (know how to) read. Common medium (Sanskrit for eg.) was an important factor. Rhyming made sure memorizing these Shlokas were easier, so simple that even plebiscite could be involved in the process.

Self Organising Teams in the recent past have been a buzzword for Agile Management model too. In the IT industry, where building software through traditional large documents was a norm, Agile methodologies bring in a lot of emphasis on breaking down a requirement into verifiable smaller chunks which can be delivered independently. There's a danger of different teams doing their bits as they fit, making uniformity and any sort of measurement very difficult.

In my head,SOLE and Granny Cloud seem as contradictory as Freedom and Rulers. But it turns into traditional teaching only if the Grannies are from traditional teaching background. Mediators from a completely non-teaching (pedagogic) background would be able give it a different dimension, as they would be learning together as well.

Should be frank though, as I have not done enough reading/research on your decade long work, but would try and read up in the coming days.

July 14, 2013 at 12:56 AM  
Blogger A SOLE Journey Through Education said...

As one who has taken SOLE to heart in my class, I thank you for the work that you do. Below are some of my observations based on what you have written.
My Thoughts…
The type of teacher required to run a SOLE is not your typical classroom teacher. They must be willing to trust the instincts of the students in their class. They must be willing to overlook conventional roles and routines and simply become an observer, or a silent evaluator. To truly do a SOLE justice they must allow the students to follow their instincts. In my class the students came up with the questions, formed the groups, monitored the groups, and developed presentations. The only factor during the research were time constraints, which we learned to work around.

Teachers are required to impart knowledge, but not necessarily at the time of the SOLE. I have bitten my tongue many times this year as they asked me questions. My question back is always, “What do you think?” followed by “Why.” They always reach a solution themselves and not always my choice but a solution that works. I let them take the lead, run with it and make the decisions. The students always performed well, made sure everyone in the group was involved in the research and presentation and made sure everyone was able to answer questions.

I would argue that reading comprehension grows very nicely in a SOLE as the students share the reading and discussion of what they have read. My lowest students were reading at grade level when we finished on the last day of June. In my experience reading comprehension improved immensely because the students were engaged in their research. They asked the right questions and discussed the impact of those questions. They spent time examining some questions from various view points, trying to see all the possible answers.
I would disagree with the idea that SOLE as performed in classrooms are teacher directed. Teaching using SOLE does not have to involve direct teaching during the SOLE. Traditional teaching is there to supplement the learning by providing insights and advancements to what they are doing separate from the SOLE. The discussions around the topics develop through models about speaking, being respectful, explaining what you are saying, providing examples, taking turns, and listening acutely to what is being said.

The one unexpected by-product of using SOLE was that the students themselves realized that their understanding of all the other students changed for the better. They were able to see each person as an individual instead of being someone else who was there in the classroom. They got to know each other better and became more tolerant and understanding of the idiosyncrasies of the other students. What were thought of before as inappropriate behaviours were now understood and discouraged. SOLE built a community in a way I had not expected. They knew it and are very proud of it. I was impressed with it.

July 14, 2013 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger nothing said...

I appreciate the thought put into this. My one concern, and concerns are not always valid, is that this self-organizing tends to involve only a small component of the necessary audience. Some become engaged with learning, others engage in - perhaps less appropriate learning. Some learners are mavericks, compelled to go against the grain.

I am developing a program for engaging individuals in change. Our approach is small self-organizing groups. We form the groups based on diversity and complementing strengths and weaknesses. This is very similar to Sugata's vision. The difference is that our groups focus on life and learning AFTER addressing core emotional intelligence competencies.

We feel that individuals who are focused on internal change, and this isn't everyone, will benefit from a small mutually supportive team of peers. Not a rotating team, but a fixed team in a long-term relationship.

The EI competencies start with an introduction to emotional intelligence and its relationship to life effectiveness. We start with team-building because this is an essential competency for our model.

Even more than Sugata, we do not see a place for adults in this process because adults tend to be directive and parental, and this teaches youth to be youth. Instead, we treat youth as adults. This model will apply to adults as well, and we do not change content for youth.

I'm not opposed to the Granny approach, but I question the ability of adults like myself to stay in the "bewildered granny" mode.

Other competencies include self-determined self-identity, communication, assertiveness (I need that one), personal project management, conflict resolution, critical thinking, personal learning strategy, and goal management.

All of this is mere theory, since we are building this with part time interns and volunteers. I came up with this approach ten years ago, well before I discovered Sugata Mitra.

I believe both programs would benefit from a partnership.

Thomas Garrod,,

July 15, 2013 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Mindstream said...

I came across your work today and am truly inspired by your endeavors.
I would love to help you in this challenge.
I'm going to read a little further and become familiar with SOLE.

July 15, 2013 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes it is 100%true...
If they can read sufficiently well in English or some other language that is adequately represented on the Internet, such as Spanish, Italian, Chinese etc., children begin to search for answers to questions. These questions are usually about games, but in the process of looking up these words related to games, they stumble upon other sites. In about six months time, they begin to understand keyword searching.

Some begin to search for homework related materials while others look for news or sports. I have seen some look for a job for their fathers, a horoscope forecast for their family, or medicines for the elderly. They must have considered these questions important.
Hi, it’s really nice to read info like this. Thanks for the info

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September 27, 2013 at 9:09 AM  
Blogger Justice said...

Thank you for your inspiring talk on TED - I loved it and would like to ask you if you think my own ideas hold water regarding self teaching. I have long been an advocate of using Socratic Dialogues written alone, to discover what you know and find out what you didn't think you knew, if that is clear. I hasve used such writing to discover what I know and to actually recall what was in the back of my memory of my subjects at university over thirty years ago. My point is this; that SDs could be used as a sort of self reflection coursework to help students in a school in a cloud to find out if they have understood what they have been trying to learn, as well as contributing to peers' own learning in groups sharing dialogues and reading each others - SDs could then increase motivation to learn and help with feedback. If you could offer any waords of advice regarding the use of writing Socratic dialogues in cloud education, I would be very grateful.

October 10, 2013 at 11:00 AM  

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