Busting a hole in the wall (the purpose of education)

purposed-badgeWhen Sugata Mitra put a computer inside a hole in the wall of the NIIT building in New Delhi, he took the first step in proving beyond a shadow of a doubt, that education was a universal connector craved by people the world over; and that the traditional notion of classroom education was by no means the only way to do it. Now, more than ten years on from the beginning of the HITW experiment, the lessons remain unheeded by many of the people involved in mainstream education. In fact, concepts such as ‘self-directed learning’ and ‘the student voice’ are still scoffed at as Dawn Hallybone was reminded this past week, attending a debate on the National Curriculum review.

Are there still that many people connected to education that truly believe, we, the adults know what’s best for the next generation and the one after that? Nick Dennis spoke of the need for us to focus on principals in this debate and at first I disagreed, as principals like ‘purposes’ are rarely universally shared. However, I now see where he was going, and while I appreciated Doug’s question about whose “better” was Nick referring to, I think Nick’s conviction was what was most important. He asked the big questions about what we want education to be and what we are doing for each other as a community, not as definable roles but as human beings.

It is make or break time for humanity and we have a responsibility to draw a line in the sand, admit our mistakes and create a system of education that can begin to undo the harm that we have done to the world. For all the talk over the last twenty years of the ‘global village’, it has not stopped us continuing to destroy our planet, to wage wars and to continue to ignore the inequalities in society. What is the purpose of education? Surely, it is to create unity by helping future generation to recognise the values that humanity share.

Fred Garnett grapsed this when he argued that new (social) media can foster “collaborative, discursive learning, the kind of learning that creates a healthy, open and participative society.” Is this the extension of Mitra’s experiment? Is social media the natural evolution bringing learners to the stream rather than the well? Some of us embrace change, recognising the merits of experimentation and creativity; others fear it, seeing new as dangerous. I’m not suggesting that we should plunge head first into wildly unstructured models of learning but if it were not for people who dared to be creative, who dared to experiment, we would not be able to stare into the vast ocean that is our solar system, or be able to listen to Mozart on a device, so small, it can fit into the palms of our hands.

When Mitra began his experiment he was giving education back to the people and his observations of the children showed happy, creative, collaborative learnings, the sort of learning Tom Barrett hopes his son will continue to experience. I’d intended to say that education is about more than opening doors; it’s about what you do once the door is open. Now I’m asking who needs doors? Why not work together and bust a hole in the wall instead?

#mootuk10 (Holes In Walls & Cyberspace)

I just found out that I have been quoted in an article on Moodle Monthly written by Kristian Still (@Kristianstill) and Craig Sumner (@hamblecollege). The article offers a recap of the first day of this years Moodle Moot UK. You can read the article here.

I am quoted, responding to the back channel discussion (via Twitter) that was flowing, in response to Professor Sugata Mitra’s keynote on “Hole In The Wall”. A stunning and humbling project which began in 1999 when he was working in Delhi. Working next to a slum he knocked through a wall and stuck a computer in with an Internet connection. After just a month many kids had taught themselves to use the computer improving their literacy and numeracy skills. This turned into a huge project that has seen massive success.

His talk, while I am yet to see it, was clearly very inspirational as it prompted masses of praise on Twitter and sparked a very interesting discussion about the nature of learning, literacy and the benefits/drawbacks of different learning environments.

Learning environments is a topic within eduction that I have been researching and discussing quite a lot recently after reading “Campfires in Cyberspace” by David D. Thornburg, Ph.D. I was therefore naturally intrigued by the discussion arising on Twitter and got involved.

I am currently working on a visualisation of the ideas presented in “Campfires in Cyberspace” and will be blogging about this in the near future. To help myself in this process I used MindNode to create a mind map (click to view/download the mind map) of the concepts presented in the paper, collecting my thoughts and ideas as I read.

Both Prof. Mitra and Prof. Thornburg, Ph. D. through their research raise some very interesting ideas about the way learning takes place and the environments in which that learning happens. My own thoughts at the moment are centered (as the quote in the article suggests) around the idea that the traditional notion of the classroom as “learning environment” is outdated and that “learning” is not constrained to any one environment but is facilitated by multiple / interchangeable environments – many of which are free of walls; be it outside (like the “Hole In The Wall” project) or virtually (in “Cyberspace”).

Here is the quote as featured in the Moodle Monthly article:

I will stop there as I am using up content that will be included in a future post.

Moodle Moot UK (#mootuk10) seemed enthralling and I really wish I could have been there today. I was happy to follow the conversation online however and as usual the wonderful people on Twitter provided me with much food for thought today. You can catch up with and follow the tweets from Moodle Moot UK via Twitter Search here or view the archive on Twapper Keeper here. Why not go one step further and join in with the discussion – the hash tag for the event is #mootuk10.

Find out more about Professor Mitra and the “Hole In The Wall” project at the following links:

Find out more about Moodle and Moodle Moot UK here:

Find out more about Professor Thornburg, Ph. D. here:

Thanks to Kristian and Craig for including me in their article.

If you would like to know more about anything mentioned in this post please e-mail me or contact me on twitter @jamesmichie. Comments are always welcome.