Friday, July 29, 2011

SOLEs for Adults

It seems pretty clear that what kids need for learning and what schools can provide are often at odds with each other. Ted Sizer calls this Horace's Compromise. It is at the heart of the difference between what we call learning and what we call schooling. It is the source of frustration behind much of what is driving this weekend's #SOSmarch in Washington DC. It is also why I believe many good teachers leave the classroom. This compromise creates a barrier between the educator and the child development psychologist. It is also why I believe the work of Dr. Sugata Mitra is so captivating right now. What he is doing in Gateshead ought to be a wakeup call to all sleeping constructivists that we can still fight this fight. Perhaps we can reject this compromise.

The video above is a longer version of the talk Dr. Mitra gave at TED. In this video there is a Q&A after Mitra's talk where the question is asked, "Can this method (SOLEs) be used with adults?" to which Mitra replies that he thinks it can but it will be difficult because adults have the "problem of the ego." Being a technology integration specialist tasked with teacher professional development this dilemma is incredibly interesting to me. First, Mitra's methods are ones I want to promote with teachers. Teachers, who according to this "Ego" problem can't experience learning the way the children in the SOLEs are nor did they experience it in their own schooling, Horace's Compromise prevented that. Second, I want to find the same kinds of results with adults I work with that Mitra finds with the children he works with. Kind of a dilemma on two fronts.

Then today I read this article in the Huffington Post that Stephen Downes wrote last December that got me rethinking some things. Downes describes 23+ roles of the teacher and reflects upon what he has observed through all of his involvement participating in, designing, and studying online learning in various forms over the years. He proposes an interesting theory about what a student needs with regard to the role of the teacher(s). Rather than classify teachers according to subject areas, he classifies them according to the nature of their teacher-student interactions. He says that right now we are expecting all teachers to perform all of these roles but when you study learning environments that are essentially self-organized teachers tend to specialize in only one area.

When I read this article I started to think about Mitra's self-organizing learning environments. A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a self-organizing learning environment and a PLN (or PLE) is the primary source of Downes' observation about role selection in the learning environment. This completely overlaps with Mitra's work on SOLEs. Mitra's method in many ways relieves the teacher from needing to play all of these roles by sourcing some to the Granny Cloud and others to the students through their peer-teaching. Then it struck me: Edcamp, Edubloggercon, and other unconference formats as well as organized online PD events that utilize the networks people have created for professional learning to add value such as #edchat, the Reform Symposium, or the K12 Online Conference act as SOLEs for adults. This works only when we apply Downes' roles theory to Mitra's SOLEs.

Downes proposes that we need to start thinking about education along these lines of redefined roles for educators. Mitra has defined one possible redefinition for the future education of children as SOLEs and SOMEs. Maybe we should call the future education of adults ROLEs and SOLEs.

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