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“I fear that they learn despite us…”

Written by David on July 19th, 2010.      0 comments

collaboration station-1024x802(copy)

Slide 21 from David Jakes’ presentation “Would you want to learn here?”


The title of this post is a quote from a principal of a school that I used to work with many years ago.  His statement was voicing a gut feeling that he had about a sense of disengagement displayed by students from the learning environment he and his teaching staff were creating.  The integrated learning model he was developing was designed to to do the exact opposite and engage and enthuse his students.  At the TED Global conference in Oxford this week Professor Sugata Mitra would seem to give some weight to this principal’s statement.  Professor Mitra has been conducting experiments with students and computers in education for the last 10 years, working with porly educated slum children in India.  A report of what he shared at TED Global can be viewed here. In essence he has shown that when students are allowed to learn in a truly collaborative manner, they master computers and knowledge rapidly, without teacher input.  This has huge implications for education and e-learning.  Professor Mitra said that when a teacher was present, or if the students were in a traditional class setting, these inputs acted as an inhibitor to their learning, but when the students were free to collaborate without a teacher present and not in a formal class setting, they shone and solved problems collectively, quickly and with great success.

“I think we have stumbled across a self-organising system with learning as an emergent behaviour,”

If the above statement is true, then what are the implications for teachers in mainstream schools?  It would seem that genuine collaboration, focussed on what the students want to learn and discover is key.  We as educators have known this for a long time, but what do we do about it?  I love the image above, it could be seen as a metaphor for the average classroom set up in schools all over the planet.  One PC to cater to the needs of 30 plus children.  Conventional teacher wisdom says that nothing of any worth can be created with just a single PC in a class, the current trend is for small student to computer ratios and ideally 1:1.  But look again, this image oozes collaboration, the seating and layout is the key here and is a model that should, I think, be copied in classes everywhere.  Create collaborative learning spaces with the computer as the central enabling tool to facilitate this.  Interestingly Professor Mitra says that his project…

” …doesn’t work if you give them each a computer individually,”

The NZC states that students learn best through shared activities in an environment where there is a community of learning where even the teacher is seen as a learner.  Professor Mitra’s students succeeded because they wanted to work collaboratively to solve a goal, not becuase they had been told to do so.  The desk arrangement above would only be successful if the students were working on something that they had a vested interest in.  Ask yourself these questions:  Does your computer layout enable collaboration?    Does collaboration in your class mean that students work on the topics you set?  In New Zealand we are lucky the NZC has given us the lattitude that we need to address these issues, but how many of our colleagues are still frozen, possum like, in the headlights of tradition?  As I wrote earlier this year,” it is the pedagogy. Stupid” Classroom mangagement, and a fundamental shift in teacher pedagogy and not the perpetual search for the e-learning tool silver bullet is the recipie for e-learning success in a classroom.





David has been a specialist in the field of elearning for over 12 years. He has presented on elearning at conferences in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. His consultancy work includes education and business clients. READ MORE


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