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Saturday, March 14, 2020

The School in the Cloud - when children and teachers cannot come to school


The Corona Virus, Covid-19, has done what experts have suggested, but not been able to implement, over decades. It has stopped children from being herded into classes. At least for a while.

So, what’s going to happen to the children who are at home? Who is going to look after them if their parent(s) are away to work? What will they do all day?

I have worked with children, both in and out of school, for several decades. In particular, I have worked on what the internet and children can do together. Maybe, in all those years of work, are some answers to what could happen in a world without schools as we know them.

In what follows are some ideas that I know will work, some that may work although I have not tried them and some that are just guesses. If you are a teacher or a parent, I hope you will find some of this useful.

Groups of unsupervised children sharing an internet connection on a large screen in a safe and public space, can learn anything by themselves – if they want to.

This was the main finding from the ‘hole in the wall’ experiments of 1999-2005 in India that led to the development of ‘self organized learning environments (SOLEs)’ between 2006-2009 in England. Later, we added a ‘granny cloud’ from 2010 to augment the process and whole thing was called ‘the school in the cloud’. Its all there in my book ‘The School in the Cloud – the emergning future of learning’ (https://us.corwin.com/en-us/nam/the-school-in-the-cloud/book257918). References to published research work are available from my website at www.cevesm.com .

Maybe it is time to bring the school in the cloud to this strange new world we have been plunged into by the Corona Virus of 2019. Here are some of the things you could do – and some that you should not.

Make a group of 24 children using, say, WhatsApp, FB messenger or something similar. This is not a ‘class’ and you are not going to do ‘online teaching’.

Take anything that you think would be interesting for the children to learn about and make a question out of it. Start a group chat and build up to the question. This is a very critical part of the process you are about to start. Don’t make the questions too easy. Not the kind that google can produce an instant answer to. Questions that you or anyone else does not know the answer to are sometimes the best! There are lots of questions that teachers have tried, good or bad, available from sites such as https://startsole.org/. Also, the Granny Cloud (http://thegrannycloud.org/) has people who have used the internet to talk to children for over 10 years. They can give you invaluable advice.

It may be poetic justice to ask, ‘Is a virus dead or alive?’ as one of your first questions. No one, I think, knows the answer.

It would be ideal if the children in your group could form groups of about four each, maybe by gathering at someone’s home. They should access the internet using a large screen, such as a desktop computer or a smart TV. Tiny devices like smart phones and tablets are not good because it is difficult for more than one person to see what’s on the screen. Giving a device or computer each to every child is not a good idea – you want them to share the resource and share their ideas.

If it is not possible to make physical groups of children, things are bit more complex. Try to get each child to access the internet from a large screen and, at the same time, be in touch with other children in the group, using whatever means works best – phones, tablets, Bluetooth, whatever.

Tell the children they must collectively arrive at an answer, or answers, to your question. Suggest a time to reassemble. They could present that collective answer in whatever form they want – video, audio, document, presentation etc. But it must be only up to six answers for your group of 24. Not more. They have to discuss and figure out how they will assemble the answers. They must figure out how they will go about finding the answer. Don’t make this sound like an order, tell them you are helpless, you don’t have the time to look at 24 answers. Ask them if they can figure this out by themselves

This is your new sci-fi school. Just some learners and you, floating in cyberspace. ‘You go there, I will go with you’ is all you can say.

This is called a Self Organised Learning Environment. A SOLE. It works with children from 8 years old to young adults in Universities. That is as far as I know.

You can map an entire curriculum into questions. A curriculum that is made of the things that we don’t know is more interesting than one that is a list of the things that we know. In trying to figure out what we don’t know, learners will come across what we do know, anyway.

The statement, ‘No one knows the answer’ attracts all of humanity - we are built that way.

The SOLE as a method of learning needs no tests or examinations. After all, the whole process consists of learners attempting to answer questions, which is what tests are all about anyway. You could give a score to each SOLE session, if you like. You won’t find out how much learners remember, but you will find out how they can critically examine issues and problems.

This then, could be your school. The Corona Virus may have closed schools down, or it may have expanded them to cover the globe.

If these suggestions interest you and you do try them, please let me know how it went. There will be many ways to let me know, I think. You figure that one out 😊



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