The Online Teacher

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Could the answer be in ‘The Cloud’?

My #ETMOOC reflections of the week

This week’s #ETMOOC discussion asked, “Who owns our student/education data” and what is happening to our personal data when we use apps, search engines, etc.?  Also, why does this matter, and what should we be doing to ‘protect’ our data? A live Collaborate session with Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) addressed these tough, important questions and offered some very insightful comments and dialogue on a few more specific questions from #ETMOOC-ers – i.e., on policy and privacy laws in specific regions such as BC, Canada (session archive). However, it was a video posted by Mary Jones(@Mj0401Mary) of Dr. Sugata Mitra (@sugatamitra), Professor of Educational Technology and TED Prize Winner, that prompted me to the following reflections and questions.

Self Organised Learning Environments

Dr. Mitra’s TED presentation, Build a School in The Cloud, is powerful and thought-provoking. The question, “Could we be heading toward a future where knowing is obsolete?,” supports the views of Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist, who emphasizes the need to teach students to actively seek knowledge and to question (Michael Wesch on Knowledgable vs Knowledgeable), rather than provide them with the answers. As the saying goes; “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

Dr. Mitra suggests SOLE, or Self Organised Learning Environments – which include the need for broadband, collaboration and encouragement – could be the way to make learning and education accessible and meaningful to all. Dr. Mitra’s views remind me of my late grandfather, a principal for many years in Bangalore, India. During my grandfather’s years as a principal, I remember him speaking about the masses of children not receiving an education. He would have loved to have seen The Hole in The Wall Project, and more than likely, he would have supported the implementation of more than a few holes. However, at the very centre of this project is the need for technology, which leads me to reflect on the role of technology in collaboration and learning.

Children in IndiaPhoto Credit: Yorick_R via Compfight cc

Should there be a one to one technology ratio?

Watching video clips from The Hole in The Wall Project, one notices that children by nature want to learn. The new technology that Dr. Mitra places in the hole necessitates working as a team to problem solve. Therefore, is it a disservice to offer a one to one technology to student ratio (a ratio I advocate), thereby perhaps allowing less opportunity for collaboration? Or, can students collaborate as effectively using a one to one ratio and working with collaborative tools (using text, voice, real-time and threaded discussion, etc.)? Personally, I feel a one to one ratio can be just as collaborative, or more so. However, digital fluency, I believe, can optimise the collaborative outcome. Furthermore, are the sciences, or certain branches of science, more conducive to collaboration? For example, when I was at university, completing a six-hour physiology lab or a four-hour biochemistry lab (with meaningful results) meant working as a team, trusting your partners, and dividing and conquering to finish in a timely manner. Ironically, it was only when I entered the field of education that I realized that collaboration wasn’t always the rule. At this stage in my career, I firmly believe that any subject or lesson, given the right mindset and framework, can be collaborative. So, can we ensure a collaborative approach, by looking at how we use technology and building a learning environment like that found in the TED talk video or the science lab, or does this depend on other influences around us? Often there is the desire to keep classes and schools “quiet” – viewed by some as an indicator of good classroom management. However, by nature, collaboration often requires discussion, and hopefully excitement, thereby a lively yet contolled classroom, not a silent classroom (as Dave Cormier points out, Rhizomatic Learning can get ‘messy). As observed in Build a School in The Cloud, discussion and collaboration, and indeed a little ‘noise,’ equate to learning. So, perhaps the desired result can be achieved in more than one way (with a variety of technology ratios), as long as we implement the rules to ‘play nice’ (as Robert Fulghum states, “ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN“) and watch out for the ‘rules of the road’ (Internet safety). But what about privacy?

303619456_8a3be074fcPhoto Credit: via Compfight cc

Is privacy a concern for all?

The natural response to this question seems obvious, but is it? Watching the TED talk above, one realizes that protecting one’s data is only important if one has data to protect. If one’s main concern is getting a meal and education, privacy probably isn’t high on your priority list. It’s highly unlikely that the children in the video had any data at all. Documenting the birth of children in India is a feat in itself, let alone maintaining accurate records and stats. So, this leads me to ask, will the privacy and protection of one’s data be only for the educated or ‘privileged’? I feel, if we want change to occur on a global level, change needs to be implemented by governments and those providing the services, and not just by the classroom teachers and individuals accessing the services. Sure, the more we do to protect ourselves and our students the better off we are, and that means keeping track of what is happening to our data. However, as a society, I feel we have a responsibility to advocate for change and accountability by those in power, whether it be political or corporate. At this point, it seems like an impossible task because the field of technology is changing so quickly. I wonder, is it really possible to control one’s data, and to what degree?

The world will always need grannies!

Personally, I think the ‘granny approach’ to encouragement outlined by Dr. Mitra is brilliant. After all, wouldn’t we all like a granny in our corner cheering us on and encouraging us to take a risk and learn? Perhaps if we involve more grannies we might help to bring about change. Maybe the answer is in the cloud, and perhaps we need to be in the cloud, as are Dr. Mitra’s grannies, to arrive at a solution to protecting the privacy of our students’ data and educational information. Of course, the cloud is also at the root of the dilema we are facing.