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A School in the Cloud 126

gurps_npc writes "Recently there was a poorly designed study that claimed computers don't help teaching. Here with the opposing viewpoint is Sugata Mitra in his recent TED talk. He went to a tiny village in India and put a computer there with software about DNA replication (in English, even though they did not speak or read English). When he came back months later, a group of young children said, 'We don't understand anything — except that mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases.' At heart, his argument is that the old style of teaching derives from Victorian England's need for bureaucrats, so it creates minimally competent people that know how to read, write, and do math in their head. He wants to update our teaching methods with more creative and technological solutions." One of Mitra's main points is that given resources and a question to ponder, children will learn on their own. Interference and too much direction gets in the way of that. Mitra won the $1M TED prize this year for his work. He said in an interview, "We spent 7000 years debating this issue of how do we educate everybody. We have never lived in a world where one standard educated everyone. And given that we have failed for over 7000 years, perhaps we will never have one standard. Maybe the right conclusion is that we do away with standard education. Maybe the convergence of technology and curiosity will solve this problem."
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A School in the Cloud

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  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @07:02PM (#43029035)

    and porn

    Think of it as sex ed

  • Re:lol (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @07:10PM (#43029121)

    Arguably we still aren't trying very hard to educate everyone.
    Should we or are some people destined to do nothing with their lives?
    Additionally, it's arguable that most people will learn on their own given adequate access to resources and education.
    I know tons of self motivated people, but I also know tons that will not get off their butts.

    I tend to believe with a little encouragement that many people will learn on their own.
    Based on my own educational experience, I believe most teachers lack the ability to give the proper type of encouragement.

    The teachers excitement on a subject is usually the upper bound to the excitement level of the class and honestly with a few exceptions my public school experience was not full of many enthusiastic teachers leading to classes full of uninterested students.

    Public educational standards tend to leave schools with a very dry and boring curriculum which you couldn't make interesting to a high school student even if you tried. With that said it's a uphill battle against trying to develop an interesting curriculum.

    Many /. readers are engineers and probably would love the chance to incorporate engineering principles into classes. I've volunteered with a high school program with that very intent. The funny thing is that all the students are engaged and learning something, but it's a constant worry about trying to prove that what they are doing is meeting the educational standards. Fortunately the program is well funded and there are people willing to fight those battles.

    Centralized educational systems like those in the U.S. lead to stagnant educational models that don't evolve with new technology, information and educational needs of society. The skills and tools that students need to learn to succeed in the U.S. is different than those from even 5 years ago and it takes too long for these things to adapt in America. Students should be encouraged to decide what they learn and how they learn. Teachers should be responsible inspiring students and for insuring adequate progress in whatever educational goals students may have and not for dictating them.

  • by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @07:30PM (#43029261)

    It always annoys me when people claim to have discovered something new when all they're really doing is reverting to a past method that was recently discarded in the name of "new" and under the pretense of "better". It shows both ignorance and arrogance.

    For thousands of years, people learned through apprenticeship. People learned their trade from one person, and when they gained mastery over their craft, taught some small number of individuals who would hopefully go on to do the same, to varying degrees of success.

    Schools, where twenty to thirty students sit in a classroom and learn from some books and a teacher can only provide a baseline. The system is designed not at all to educate, but to make literate. And because of this, they tend to race to the bottom, especially if managed poorly.

    Today, the only place anything even remotely similar to a master-apprentice relationship could be found is at the doctorate level. One advisor, several candidates, and then they get their degree and become journeymen. Eventually, they may or may not become masters. This is the system that needs to be propogated back down to primary education.

    Yes, today's needs are different. There's a much greater emphasis on working with abstractions (oblig. xkcd []) than on developing skills. There are also a far greater amount of knowledge needed in far more disciplines to be considered marginally competent. But I'm certain that the tried and true model of master and apprentice can be adapted to today's quantity, quality, and societal requirements of knowledge.

    The only hindrance is the attitude towards school (especially teachers' attitudes towards school), and towards teachers. People go into teaching because they like working with children. This is already a failure. Parents see teachers as their daytime (or full time, in the case of boarding schools) babysitters. This is also another failure. If the parent does not respect the teacher, then the children will not. If the teacher does not have anything worth respecting, then there's no reason for the parent or even the children to respect the teacher.

    The teacher needs to be the third parent. This is the core of the master-apprentice relationship. At home, the child has parents. When in a place of learning, the teacher is the parent. Children actually want to see their teacher as a parent. But there are social elements that discourage this thinking. Changing teachers every year, for example (mostly because teachers competent at teaching first grade may not be so good at teaching sixth grade) is instability, and children are most comfortable when things are stable.

    Testing, especially paper-based, multiple-choice, sit-at-your-desk-and-don't-cheat testing, is also very bad. Current testing separates students from each other. If the teacher is a third parent, then students in the same class are siblings. But if they are separated from each other during a test, then they cannot form the sibling relationship properly. Tests also do not show competency. They merely show interest in taking the test and perhaps patience. Yes, abstractions comprise mostly what is taught today. But comeptency can only be shown in the doing. That is why to get a doctorate, the candidate must further the field.

    Technology plays very little role in education--in fact, the same one as a calculator would play. It does not solve the education problem. Culture does.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:09PM (#43030103) Journal

    You do not educate students - you share with whoever you want to "teach" what you know, show them (if it's possible) the process, and they pick up on that, just like they pick up, by themselves, how to walk, how to talk, et cetera

    But that is the very definition of education. Education is transmission of knowledge. Learning is its reception.

    Yes, someone educated me on how to walk. They held my hands, supported my weight, and wobbled me back and forth, transmitting to me the sequencing of walking. Yes, someone educated me on how to talk. They spoke to me and showed me pictures of things and told me the words that matched the pictures. Teachers educated me on how to form the letters, how to combine the letters to form words, and how to string words together to form sentences. Would I be able to speak, write, and type English if I were not educated in the language? Of course not.

    We may be excellent "learning machines", but we will only get so far without a teacher to teach us. Education is what brings us beyond simple grunts and gestures to poetry; and brings us from finger counting to trigonometry. Yes, some are better learners than others, and yes, some are better teachers than others, but make no mistake: education is vital to modern society.

  • DNA? I'm skeptical (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:10AM (#43031229) Homepage Journal

    He went to a tiny village in India and put a computer there with software about DNA replication (in English, even though they did not speak or read English). When he came back months later, a group of young children said, 'We don't understand anything — except that mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases.'

    I don't believe it. Young children can't understand DNA -- or even molecules. I particularly don't believe that young children from a rural village in India could understand anything meaningful about DNA. You might be able to teach them to parrot phrases like "mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases" if you repeated it to them a lot. But they won't understand what they're talking about. You could just as easily teach them to say, "Disobeying God causes diseases." It certainly has nothing to do with teaching science.

    I did some research into elementary and high school science education, and read what the teachers with hands-on experience said. A friend of mine had lots of stories about how he taught science in the Peace Corps in Africa.

    Surprisingly, even high school kids have a difficult time with science concepts that seem to be simple and basic -- for example, molecules.

    Think about it. Science is hands-on. The main lesson of science is that you make a hypothesis, and then test the hypothesis against the real world to see if your hypothesis actually works. How can you demonstrate to a high school student that molecules exist? I read in my history of science books the saga of how chemists finally figured out and proved what molecules and atoms were, starting in about the 18th century. It's a great story. It would be very difficult for high school students to replicate those experiments, and even more difficult to understand what they were doing. We don't have mercury barometers any more. How do you prove that atoms and molecules really exist? In my niece's middle school science class, it was an appeal to authority -- the book says so.

    I was particularly interested in the efforts to teach elementary school students about DNA. What's the point? You're not demonstrating the existence of DNA or genes to them. You're not showing them anything in the real, testable world. You're just showing them pictures and animations. The Harry Potter movies also have animations. Why should they believe your animations any more than Harry Potter movies? Or creationist Bible movies? The American Museum of Natural History had a show on DNA. They had exhibits for children demonstrating DNA. I asked the kids to explain it -- and they couldn't do it. They had a big, colorful, impressive exhibit for kids on DNA, and none of the kids understood it. Although you could get a grant for it.

    In the world of pundits and foundation grants, there are lots of people who make extravagant claims about what their thing can do, their technical trick or their computers.

    There are lots of things about science that you can teach kids, hands-on, starting as young as 3 years old. Seymour Simon [] had books for 4-year-olds that taught them how to discover for themselves principles of engineering using paper and clay to build arches. Science teachers take their kids out into the woods -- or a vacant lot -- and show them what you can find there.

    But teaching rural Indian children to understand anything about DNA? With materials in a language they don't understand? I don't believe it.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.