SOLEs; are we asking the right questions?

Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) is a term coined by TED-talker Sugata Mitra. His very powerful (yet also hugely criticised) talk uncovers how children living in India (and often digitally illiterate) learnt how to use and programme computers that were installed into public places. These children were not supervised throughout the project. SOLEs fall under problem based learning, a derivative of inquiry based learning.

It is criticised that the ‘hole in the wall’ analogy would not (excuse the pun) compute in westernised teaching and learning. Children (and adults for that matter) are resource rich and time poor; we draw on the ability to pull information from smart devices at a swipe. I still meet an overwhelming amount of teachers who are terrified of their position with these pools of resources and question their role as an educator.

But of course we do need teachers; we need mentors to help learners safely navigate this information and how to curate and capitalise from it. We need teachers to ask the right questions, we need teachers to motivate us. I hope that everyone has been taught by someone passionate about their subject; so passionate that whom was being taught felt inspired.

One of Mitra’s criticisms is that the Hole in the Wall inspired SOLEs; but the whole toolkit of how to create a SOLE in the classroom is completely hypocritical. How teachers should be creating the questions for the students, when it should be the students dictating what they want to learn and discover. Less we forget that although there might not have been a teacher in India, there was the problem provider. The problem of there being something placed in a public space that nobody understood how to use. The real problem was to understand how the computer worked, the benefits of what else was learned, in my mind, is a bonus and a happy example of intrinsic motivation.

“The youth of today are not permitted to approach the traditional heritage of mankind through the door of technological awareness. This only possible door for them is slammed in their faces by rear-view mirror society.”

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage [pg 101]

I was speaking with  Ross Varney today about how we can build workshops for students to understand how art and publishing can be of value (both socially and commercially) online. Immediately, I slipped back into how we should get students to learn in and of the digital; if they are going to be using these spaces to publish their work, they need to understand how the network works. And what better way to do that than with hands-on problems which need solving? What are students worried about in terms of theft and plagiarism? And what does that mean online? Although we have the means to be able to teach all about this topic; would there be a greater impact on digital behaviours if students are tasked to learn for themselves and answer their own worries?

SOLE works when there is a problem to be solved; yes, it doesn’t always mean that we physically fashion issues into spaces, but we should identify real and current problems that face students. It is our duty as educators to ask these questions to help foster independent and inquisitive thinkers.

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