Friday, October 17, 2008

Can kids teach themselves?

I have just watched a thought provoking TED talk, so thought provoking that I had to write this blog post as I sit on my plane flying from Wellington to Dunedin. Sugata Mitra asks the question “Can kids teach themselves?” and went about finding out with a very interesting research project. Concerned about the poor level of education for students in remote areas such as rural India Sugata decided to find out how technology could help. He built ‘hole in the wall’ computers connected to the Internet and placed them in remote, non English speaking areas and then videoed what happened. He found that children very quickly taught themselves how to use these machines to browse for information. Amazingly these children taught themselves how to speak English using the machines to enable them to actually use the machines!

He found that all children could teach themselves with the computer, and this is the vital bit – as long as they were in twos or more. Over 300 children would become computer literate in a 6 month time frame with only one computer. And this was because of the group nature of the learning.

There are many more profound instances in this talk, I urge you to watch and be challenged.

Now I am not seeing this talk as saying we don’t need to teach our kids. One of Sugata's premises was that technology is being rolled out for schools with good kids and good teachers and not making too much of a difference, where it should be rolled out in areas where students are not experiencing a good education, have a lack of teachers, lack of quality education and there the technology makes a marked difference.

However there are important elements in this talk for those of us lucky enough to be in well-developed education systems. There were two major things that stood out for me in my thinking from the results of this research project. The first one was that it affirmed my solid belief in the importance of using computers collaboratively. With all the push for 1 to 1 computing I think we are losing the great benefit of students talking to each other and problem solving together.

The second thought was to do with teachers who are afraid to introduce technology unless they are proficient in it themselves. I have always believed that teachers need to be confident with the technology and be able to know the possibilities but do not need to be the expert. This talk highlights that we can’t hold kids back because of our limitations. My favourite way of introducing new technology to my class is to grab a couple of kids, give them time to explore and play, have them report back to me on what the technology can do and then I introduce it to the rest of the class. I then have ready made experts who can support the students. My job as the expert in learning and teaching is to know how this technology can enhance and extend my students’ learning. If we hit a problem with the technology, then fantastic, problem solving time!

The quality of the sound is a bit low but stick it out, it is worth it.

Blogged with the Flock Browser


Pedro said...

Thanks Jane,
This squarely adds weight to your tweet to @dwenmoth. Pedagogy meaning 'child led'.
Teaching is allowing all those perspectives to inform an emvironment that feeds and grows children the best. I had always thought of pedagogy as the structure that supports thought on all those things. Now I suppose I can call that structure androgogy.


Mr Lietze said...

Hi Jane :+)

Interesting post! My mind is still thinking...

One thing I thought I would share is that I am privileged to have a computer suite in my school where there is 1 computer per student (30 computers). I have found this very beneficial. Eg: getting work done quicker, all students engaged and at their own pace, etc.

I wanted to share this because if a school can I still believe it would be of greater benefit for the students to have a computer each in a lab. I agree with you; using computers collaboratively IS powerful but I want to say that my kids, although they have a computer each are still working collaboratively eg: looking at what their neighbour is doing and discussing/sharing as they would do if they were working on one computer together.

Just a thought to add into the mix :+)