Thursday, June 05, 2014


Some notes on a day of legendary speakers.

Sugata  Mitra - From a hole in the wall to the cloud: engaging your students to fulfil their sense of wonder and passion for learning 

Most people will know of Sugata Mitra because of his now famous hole in the wall experiments with computers in India. I knew of these experiments but more recently latched on to his work when I came across this quote that he offered to explain how education globally has come to be in such dire straits:

He maintains that the old (and still current) educational system was designed to produce people who obeyed orders;  people who could, read, write and count, but it was not designed to produce people who were creative or think for  themselves ie it is now obsolete

Is KNOWING (not Knowledge) obsolete?

He revisited this idea of asking whether we actually need to know/remember things anymore,  given that the Internet is constantly at our finger tips, and that the more important skill may be knowing where to find information when you need to know it. I was intrigued by Larry Sanger's refutation of this proposition some years ago, and offered my own comments in this article.

Mitra referred to the Reptilian part of the human brain that is concerned with threat and punishment and is the state of mind in which you learn least effectively; this is how we feel when we are tested in exams!

A new model of learning: 
  • SOLE: self organised learning environment = broadband Internet + collaboration + helpful adult (guide/facilitator)
  • Self Organising systems > the edge of chaos > emergence (RIP Marie Jasinksi - a former colleague who was well ahead of her time in identifying chaos theory as a explanation of how creativity and innovation come about.)

Mitra has funding to build 'schools in the cloud' (5 in India; 2 in the UK)

This was an inspiring presentation from someone who is daring to challenge traditional thinking about how students learn, and is refreshingly humble about his achievements. Several times during his presentation he said "I'm not sure" or "I don't know" but I think he's right about a great deal.

PANEL SESSION  Higher Ed Congress

Just caught the tail end of this session. It was great to hear the renowned Elliot Masie talk in person. A few snippets:

·       unis don't necessarily meet the needs of industry; degrees aren't all that valuable (echos what employers often say about TAFE qualifications in Australia)
·       corporations want continuous learners, and more emphasis on evidence than ritual (eg PPT is a ritual and does not promote cognitive transfer)
·       wants 'aggressive learners'
·       the world does not present 'disciplinary problems'; so we need cross-disciplinary experts. (A theme Ken Robinson has often addressed. If we want to solve complex problems like climate change our education systems need to produce people who can contemplate such problems from multiple perspectives - scientific, sociological, economic, etc)

John Daniel and Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic -
Post traditional Tertiary Education: Exploring the challenges of diversity and quality

Wonderful to see another legendary educator talk in person! But as you can see from my notes below this session presented several questions that need further exploration.

·         just 25% of uni students are recent school leavers
·         Aust youth unemployment currently 12% (one of the world's lowest)
·         OER came to be via UNESCO in 2002
·         only one uni getting ROI from MOOCS and open content: Open University UK (need to find out more on how they do this)
·         MOOCS are like battle suicide - only a few students survive/reach the end
·         MOOCS may be increasing gap in access to education (how???) and degrees
·         [see for slides - but out of date. Nothing from later than 2012 there.]

David Barnett (Pearson) - Higher Ed at the Crossroads

In the US the salaries of degree holders has decreased 14% while at the same time the cost of a degree has risen 72%. (The same is likely to happen in Australia if the current government's planned deregulation goes ahead.)

Ken Robinson  - the usual :) Creativity, the Future, Innovation, Education etc. Or more precisely: Learning to be creative: how to teach and lead innovation, identify talents and revolutionise education

He spoke for more than an hour so it was great value for money. It was entertaining - as are all his talks that many of the audience would have been familiar with via his TedTalks, but in truth it was a little light on substance. That often seems to be the way with keynote speakers these days. They are there more to entertain than inform. Sir Ken did both certainly, and much of the audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation but I had the feeling that it was just as much about acknowledging his contribution to educational debate over the years as it was showing appreciation for his address.

His book Out of Our Minds has been virtually rewritten.

New Technologies:

·         tools (technology) are neutral
·         but new tools and technologies allow you to conceive of things in new ways
·         there are always unintended consequences

In relation to the use of new technologies he made the point that
"If we can, we will." My explorations into cutting edge (and controversial) technologies has led me to the same conclusion. (See Where is the Internet Taking Us?) Consider drones, implanted technologies...

  • 10% of all humanity that has ever lived is alive right now. Most of the population explosion has occurred in the developing world. And for the first time in history the majority of the world now live in urban settings.

He bemoans the fact that contemporary educational administrators and policy makers are stuck on measuring outcomes to the exclusion of all else: "It's all about yield." Elsewhere he wrote:

"The dominant culture of education has come to focus not on teaching 
and learning, but testing...this...leads to a culture of compliance rather than creativity.“

Principles of Organic Farming:

·         culture
·         ecology
·         fairness
·         care

In organic farming the primary focus is on the soil. The educational equivalent for this metaphor is culture.

Children are borne as learning organisms eg witness the way they learn language. This can't be taught.

Cultural Filters:
When presented with a picture of a tiger in the jungle people from  Western cultures see a tiger (focus on individuals). People from Asian cultures see jungle (focus on relationship)

"The power is within our hands; we need to push back against those who wish to just measure yield."

He concluded with a wonderful short video of people in Paraguay creating musical instruments from rubbish.

Lovely to witness such a fine speaker ply his trade!

1 comment:

stoneTeacher said...

Expertly observed and analysed - thank you Michael for sharing your insights!

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