There has been much interest in Sugata Mitra’s TED talks about The Hole-in-the-Wall Project where kids in remote areas learn a bunch of stuff when computers are dropped on them with no instruction but some video or CAI (“Computer Aided Instruction”) multimedia lessons and tools are provided.
But read below and click thru to this researchers (Payal Arora) publications page and you can read her peer-reviewed criticisms from 2012. LINK
The results of these experiments are not terribly surprising. In addition to the objections raised by Payal Arora (that the experiment actually failed completely in many locations; that there is only anecdotal evidence of it working, not real empirical statistics; that it ultimately is still tutoring, mentoring, etc.) I would add the following:
1 – Using/learning computers is easy. Toddlers use tablets with ease. My kids figure out complex video games without even reading the instructions. A well-known Computer Science professor (Joseph Weizenbaum) questions the use of an undergraduate degree in CS in a well regarded book. LINK This idea of “Digital Natives” I don’t buy. I’ve seen too many people of all ages adapt easily. A great blog post (among many) from James Hague LINK in which he argues eloquently (as elsewhere) that for most creative uses of computers, the issues are not technical. We effectively have “infinite computing power” (and bandwidth).
2 – Novelty Effect in action. It’s not the whole answer, but probably some.
3 – Also in play is what I would also call “screen seduction”. People are generally more enamored of doing things that are multimedia — moving images and sound — rather than not. This is not news.
And just general curiosity. If some strange installment appeared in my town/village, I would be curious too!
4 – In various TED talks I actually found Sugata Mitra to be vastly *underestimating* the abilities of kids — being amazed at what “10 year olds” could do on the computer with using google, wikipedia, etc, etc. Come on! (See point 1)
5 – I am sure any gains in learning (if any) are very short-term. Not a meaningful result.
6 – Reliance on volunteer tutors (“SOLEs” acronym in Hole-in-the-wall) via internet/Skype? This is not practical nor sustainable. And it seems to devalue direct experience (vs the “expert” exposure via global telecommunications) though I can’t say whether this perception has empirical backing.
7 – I can’t find the quote now, but somewhere I read an interesting quote from a partner at an architecture firm who was looking for excellent new hires and had no interest in the computer experience they had because he recognized (correctly I would imagine) that teaching someone to use complex CAD and 3D modeling software was not difficult in comparison to the artistic and creative and technical knowledge and experience needed in an architect. Draftsperson, maybe.
The same goes with companies looking for long-term hires in software. Yes, in the short term it is very useful to have someone who is up-to-speed on your programming language of choice, but longer-term there are more important issues.
I guess much of this boils down to the “tyranny of technique” (Jaques Ellul) as well as the concern that the computer is now “deskilling” us mentally now in the Information Age, just as the physical was deskilled in the Industrial Revolution. More on this in the book “Abstracting Craft” LINK.
8 – Has Sugata Mitra heard of Sudbury Valley School? It invariably comes up in the comments section in related videos. He probably wouldn’t like it because there aren’t teachers and curriculum — structures he clearly supports.
9 – The takeaway/the things this project makes me think about are:
- Globalization vs local (internet vs place) and effect on work, school, family, friends, happiness, the environment
- “Limitations of the personal view” (Jerry Mander) — the idea that even if a technology might be personally beneficially, it might be having larger negative impacts on your life via it’s influence in the business, political, military, media worlds.
As usual, education is a window into issues affecting all aspects of society.