Home > Learning, Life > Fascinating… a hole in the wall.

Fascinating… a hole in the wall.

October 3rd, 2006

One of Protein Wisdom’s guest bloggers, Dan Collins points to an interesting article on “minimally invasive education.” The introduction to the article explains the premise (a fascinating skinner box experiment).

An Indian physicist puts a PC with a high speed internet connection in a wall in the slums and watches what happens. Based on the results, he talks about issues of digital divide, computer education and kids, the dynamics of the third world getting online.

more below the fold.

So the children living in the slums in India can teach themselves basic computer skills. Even to the point of using Microsoft Paint, and playing games at Disney.com or using the character map in Microsoft Word to spell, “I love India.” Amazing, really, but not unfounded, letting kids go wild on computers is something Xerox PARC* did back in the early days of the computers, and some of that research lead to graphical interfaces that the slum children in India are taking advantage of in this experience. Another usage of the “minimally invasive” was with middle-school aged kids.

Well, I tried another experiment. I went to a middle-class school and chose some ninth graders, two girls and two boys. I called their physics teacher in and asked him, “What are you going to teach these children next year at this time?” He mentioned viscosity. I asked him to write down five possible exam questions on the subject. I then took the four children and said, “Look here guys. I have a little problem for you.” They read the questions and said they didn’t understand them, it was Greek to them. So I said, “Here’s a terminal. I’ll give you two hours to find the answers.”

Then I did my usual thing: I closed the door and went off somewhere else.

They answered all five questions in two hours. The physics teacher checked the answers, and they were correct. That, of itself, doesn’t mean much. But I said to him, “Talk to the children and find out if they really learned something about this subject.” So he spent half an hour talking to them. He came out and said, “They don’t know everything about this subject or everything I would teach them. But they do know one hell of a lot about it. And they know a couple of things about it I didn’t know.”

Fascinating, but not surprising, the concept in the whole inner-tubes thing is that by design searching and linking can help to create knowledge. The idea that given two hours and a series of questions designed to be tested at the end of next year, shows that functionally literate kids can direct their own learning given a set of goals. Just a cool article to read, except when it came to this part:

Q: You say that only the children used the computer, not adults. What does this mean for adult education?

A: I’m not even going to suggest that we use this [technique] for adults. The only reaction we got from adults was, “What on earth is this for? Why is there no one here to teach us something? How are we ever going to use this?” I contend that by the time we are 16, we are taught to want teachers, taught that we cannot learn anything without teachers.

There are two points I’d like to make about the adults. One is that the adults asked the children to do things for them. For example, to read their horoscopes on the Hindi news sites. The second thing is the reaction of the women. I would ask them why they didn’t use [the computer], and they would say, “I don’t have enough brains to understand all this.” I would say, “What about your daughters?” And the answer was, “They have lots of brains.” So I said, “Do you think I should just remove this thing?” The answer was always, “No, no, no.” I asked why not. And they said, “Because it’s very good for the children.”

Now, if the mothers have realized that, I’m happy. I don’t care if they don’t come [to use the computer]. Because all we have to do is wait one generation. Not even that. In five years, a 13-year-old is going to be 18 and be an adult.

Emphasis is mine. The collarboration for adults, currently is that they’ve been ‘trained’ to expect a teacher to help them learn. The point made in the last paragraph is germane, in a generation, our kids will have grown up with a different paradigm, perhaps one like: “All I need to learn is a direction and the internet”

I’d also contend, that it isn’t a lack of ability in the adults, it is a social/cultural indocrination to learning that we were exposed to when we went to school. Something that if given a thought, we’d reject, but are comfortable enough with to embrace, because it is acceptable.

I’m reading the last volume of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cylce series of novels. It is an interesting look back at the beginning of the age of enlightenment particularly the beginning of the Royal Society in England and the life and times of Issac Newton. What I find tangential to what happened then, and what happened now, is a gentle pushback against the common forms of learning, to a more exploratory. Newton had no one to tell him about the workings of gravity, he theorized and developed his theories from his observations. Much like the children in India didn’t really have anyone to teach them about the inner workings of silicon based logic and microprocessors, but through their observations they can come up with their own, ‘functional literacy’ and learn more about this magical tool to which they’ve been exposed.

* I wrote Xerox PARC, based on a recollection of mine, but it is probably more correct to credit Constructionism, Jean Piget, Seymour Papert (and his development of the Logo computer language), Marvin Minsky, as well as the MIT Media Lab in this research.

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  1. Dan Collins
    October 3rd, 2006 at 09:24 | #1

    Thanks for the link, Jon. I knew that if I posted often enough, I’d get one.

    Are you de-linked from metacrawlers? I can’t raise you on my site aggregator.

  2. October 3rd, 2006 at 09:46 | #2

    erm… I dunno… what is a metacrawler…

    HELP… I need to be on metacrawlers, like NOW!

  3. October 3rd, 2006 at 09:56 | #3

    I contend that by the time we are 16, we are taught to want teachers, taught that we cannot learn anything without teachers.

    I learned to read when I was 3, and we had a full set of encyclopedias in a bookshelf at just the perfect level for a little kid to find and get the books out. By the time I started school, I had pretty much embraced self-guided learning — to the consternation of more than one of my teachers.

    So, when I got my first “real” computer at the ripe old age of 31…

  4. October 3rd, 2006 at 10:08 | #4

    The constructivist in me, McGehee, says that is true of all of us. The cynic in me says that we are the exception, not the rule.

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