The Future of Education: A Reply to Sugata Mitra’s Research
“I told my students ‘you can go to another group, peer over their shoulder, see what they are doing, come back to your own group, and claim it as your own work. And I explained to them that, you know, a lot of scientific research is done using that method.’” – Sugata Mitra
I have been studying videogame influence in language acquisition since 2003 and publishing / presenting about it since 2005. My work, when narrowed down to its simplest form, works as follows:
Education practices and, quite often, content has been stagnant for decades. New teachers are trained by mentors who follow obsolete philosophies and teach with obsolete materials. This makes students lose interest in the content.
If we use new teaching strategies and content to teach skills students will become interested. The new strategies must focus on interactive, hands-on practice rather than traditional lectures. The new materials must be relevant to the students’ daily lives; perhaps even come from their own interests.
Some videogames allow for heavy reading and, because of the dialogue-heavy plots, listening practice. When applied to the classroom, their narratives could serve to spark discussion and allow for writing.
We should do it.
By following this idea I have, thus far, be able to integrate new technologies in traditional classrooms and design game-based activities that allow students to enjoy themselves. It worked pretty well for all my ESL students, and it was, it can be argued, “step 1” in the much needed “education reform” – don’t lecture with old stuff, allow for practice with new stuff.
I think that Sugata Mitra, a prominent educator from India, may have, to some extent, stumbled unto the next step. *If you haven’t watched the video yet now would be a good time to do so*
In his research he found that the most uneducated children in the most rural of areas can learn, at their leisure, about anything they like. This is the example of the 8 year old teaching the 6 year old to browse. He found that, when given a task and motivated, children can master skills without supervision. This is the “make yourself understood to the computer” example. He also demonstrated that when given appropriate materials, an appropriate learning environment, and appropriate motivation, children will learn virtually anything, as exemplified by the “apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule produces genetic disease, we’ve understood nothing else” example. The obvious implication is that we don’t need teachers, we just give students Google and learning will happen. However, while this is certainly an almost utopian ideal, when one takes into account the very nature of our society, this is an impossibility. The way that he is going with his experiment, I think, is more along the lines of the “teacher as facilitator” notion. This is, where the instructor shows the student the way and gives them materials and lets them explore on their own.
I think this is part of an ideal educational model. First, there should be an exposition / modeling, followed by a guided practice, followed by the exploration. That is exactly what Mitra does when he asks the students “who was Pythagoras and what did he do?”
His efforts to (finally) document the effects of the instructor as facilitator paradigm, a notion that has existed for a few decades but has not been thoroughly tested, are indeed needed. I commend Mitra’s goal of testing his ideas with 1 billion children, I applaud his methods, and, once I finish writing the article I’m currently working on (a year long study tracking the effects of videogames on over 300 ESL students’ academic competence, possibly my last ESL and videogames research piece) I will be sure to look for ways of integrating his educational paradigms into my curriculum.