The Role of Teachers in Technology Education

I’m a fan of TED talks. In case you’re not familiar with them, here is the description from wikipedia:

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading.”

TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event and the conference was held annually from 1990 in Monterey, California. TED’s early emphasis was largely technology and design, consistent with a Silicon Valley center of gravity. The events are now held in Long Beach and Palm Springs in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming of the talks. They address an increasingly wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture. The speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, educator Salman Khan, Googlefounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners. TED’s current curator is the British former computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris Anderson.

Since June 2006, the talks have been offered for free viewing online, under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license, through TED.com. As of November 2011, over 1,050 talks are available free online. By January 2009 they had been viewed 50 million times. In June 2011, the viewing figure stood at more than 500 million, reflecting a still growing global audience.

A while back I was watching Sugata Mitra give a talk about his “Hole in the Wall” experiments. In a series of real-life experiments from New Delhi to South Africa to Italy, he gave kids self-supervised access to the web and saw results that could revolutionize how we think about teaching.

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Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest.

The “Hole-in-the-Wall” project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge.

In my first class with Jeff Utecht he would give us a brief intro into say, Google docs, and then tell us to “dabble” and learn for ourselves. This left many in the course thinking “if we’ve gotta teach ourselves why do we need you?”. Why indeed… According to Mr. Mitra’s research the learning is happening without instruction. So, what’s the teacher’s role?

Well, I think Mr. Mitra himself takes on the role of teacher in several of his experiments after the Hole-in-the-Wall project. What Mr. Mitra does, is he gives the children a challenge. He directs their learning. Such as “Teach the computer to recognize your voice”. When the children ask him how he says “I don’t know”, and leaves it to them to figure out. He returns to amazing results. So, teachers need to provide children with the tools to find the answers, pose the question, and then let the learning happen.

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be rather a sort of amusement.”
– Plato

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