Live-blogging Sugata Mitra's EDUCAUSE 2016 address

I’m going to get retro with this blog post, live-blogging an event.  The event is a keynote address by Sugata Mitra to the EDUCAUSE 2016 conference. Written and edited on the fly –

Mitra begins by describing his hole in the wall experiment as a historical artifact, even dated (1999-2005, I think).  He repeats many of his established claims: kids are likelier to try stuff out on their own, without a teacher’s supervision; the power of self- and peer-teaching; safe, free, public access produced learning.  Mitra argues that the computer taught people, and this was repeated in multiple locations.


Key details: big computer screen (so multiple people can see) and “open access to the internet”.

After seeing these happen over time, Mitra can’t explain how they work.  Boldly, he publishes on this “failure”.

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More, Mitra sets up slightly more structures events, when he poses a challenging question to students, after which they solve it on their own.  He dubs such learning events SOLEs: Self-Organized Learning Environments.  These are self-organized, non-hierarchical, emergent processes.

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 Example: asks us to clap in  unison, which we do.  SOLEs then go viral.

Mitra thinks this is a “grandmother’s method”: daring children to go further.  Then sets up a “granny cloud”, hundreds of British grandmothers who video into schools to – well, not teach, but have a conversation.  (Is this the Socratic method, unnamed?)  Sometimes there’s no academic content, but talk about daily life.  (example of showing students a British fridge)

Shows more examples, from Bangladesh, Harlem, England, Goa.

What are the leading outcomes of SOLEs?

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 Reading comprehension, internet searching, confidence, communication skills (changed speech).

“Now here’s the bad news.”  Assessments happen.  Mitra sounds anti-test.  “We’ve been preparing out children for employers who have been dead for over 100 years.”  Nice analogy: compares prohibiting students to use the internet while taking tests to banning eyeglasses from reading comprehension tests.

Mitra argues that we are becoming cyborgs – doesn’t use that word, but refers to use as “composite creatures”, “my phone and I.”  Example: I and my phone can read Japanese, or find the airport.

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 Compares to handwriting – we don’t need that anymore (it was for the Phoenicians).  Use whatever technology is best.

Closing: Mitra thinks schools should make people happy, healthy, and productive.  Cross-hatch those categories with these headers: comprehension, communication, computation.  Memorizing multiplication tables wouldn’t meet this matrix; we don’t need that anymore.

New pedagogy: based on questions, not answers.  Collaborative and distributive.

I’m ambivalent about this presentation.  On the plus side, I sympathize deeply with the anti-authoritarian, pro-poor people angle.  It’s refreshing to see a positive attitude towards games.  On the negative, he hasn’t mentioned abusive possibilities.  What happens when boys gang up on girls, or go full Lord of the Flies?  No response to these criticisms.  Or these.

(photo by Samantha Eastman)

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4 Responses to Live-blogging Sugata Mitra's EDUCAUSE 2016 address

  1. paulmartin42 says:

    Your final comment is a little unfair. As Margaret Thatcher said, in a different context, it does not behove us to give our opposition the oxygen of publicity. So, though, I have no experience of Mr Mitra I think “ambivalent” is a little harsh

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