The Keynote Speaker for the last day of Blackboard World 2013 was Dr. Sugata Mitra, inventor of "The Hole in the Wall" project, an experiment which places a computer in a wall in a very public area of an Indian slum (among other locations later) in order to prove that children can teach themselves through natural curiosity and reliable access to technology.
[caption id="attachment_189" align="alignnone" width="300"] Dr. Mitra's credentials[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_191" align="alignnone" width="300"] Children can access computers placed in an Indian slum.[/caption]
He also invented "The Granny Cloud," based on the idea that children can better learn with an encouraging, non-judgmental adult (like a grandparent) watching and praising their progress but not actually guiding it. For more information about Dr. Mitra's projects, check out his Ted Talks.
[caption id="attachment_190" align="alignnone" width="300"] Children have real-time access to retired British schoolteachers, who encourage them in their language acquisition skills.[/caption]
Dr. Mitra's presentation blew me away. How could a teacher not love a man who wants to tap into children's natural desire to learn? How could I not appreciate a man who wants to bring education to children who may have no access to technology or education without him? When talking about the problems with education today, Dr. Mitra said that we need to release teachers and students from excessive testing, and that's where I burst into applause.
When I got back to Ohio after BbWorld 13, I started thinking, and as many of you know, that is where the problems begin. Dr. Mitra's theory is that given access to technology in a very public way, and given the proper amount of encouragement (but not guidance), students will learn more quickly than in a traditional environment. I can see where this is a fabulous idea for areas of the world where children do not have regular access to technology or good education, but now Dr. Mitra is using some public schools in England for his experiment. This leads me to think that he believes those students don't need a teacher, just a computer. Here is where it gets weirder for me: Dr. Mitra says that the roles of his "grannies" in his "cloud" are only to observe and praise, but he specifically chose retired teachers to do this, and the video he showed us featured a granny instructing children (not just observing them) in reading in English. Doesn't this contradict his original theory? Now I'm wondering if this is another push to get rid of face-to-face instruction in favor of online instruction because it will always be cheaper to stick kids in front of computers than in front of live teachers.
One thing I've learned from pioneering a Blended Rhetoric and Composition class is that I am essential to the equation when it comes to student learning. I teach students to learn; I point them in directions where they can find the rest of their way, and yes, I am like the "granny" who tells them, "That's amazing! I could never have done that when I was your age! How did you do that?"
Does Dr. Mitra think that my students would be better off without me?
Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition
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