Sugra Mitra
Sugata Mitra

There is a buzz in education around Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs). The term was coined by Sugata Mitra, a Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University in England.

[Image from Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0]

Through his The Hole-in-the-Wall projects, Sugata and his colleagues spent 13 years conducting experiments to explore the nature of self-organised learning. In a nutshell, Mitra discovered that if you put children in front of a computer, they can teach themselves and each other, without supervision or formal training.

“Education-as-usual assumes that kids are empty vessels who need to be sat down in a room and filled with curricular content. Dr. Mitra’s experiments prove that wrong.”

(Searls, 2002)1

TED Prize

In 2013, Sugata Mitra won the first-ever $1m (£658,000) TED Prize award (TED Prize, 2013)2. Mitra pledged to invest the money to construct a ‘school in the cloud’. On Friday 22nd November 2013 Mitra opened the world’s first new state-of-the-art SOLE learning space at Stephenson High School in Killingworth, England (TED Blog, 2013)3. The school is the first of seven SOLEs to be built (two in the United Kingdom and five in India).

Sugata's TED Prize wish

Mitra uses a simile to describe the behaviour of children in a SOLE: “If you put a computer in front of children and remove all other adult restrictions, they will self-organise around it, like bees around a flower.” Following the bee analogy, the content is the pollen, the class is the hive and the collective knowledge is the honey. All students benefit from the honey (Kenna, 2013)4.

SOLE Toolkit

An excellent SOLE Toolkit is available to download for free from the TED website, which provides a framework for primary school children between the ages of 8–12 years old. A SOLE learning journey is fuelled by “big questions, self-discovery, sharing and spontaneity”. The basic parameters of a SOLE session are:

  • Pose a question for learners to consider
  • Learners choose their own groups of four
  • Learners can change groups at any time
  • Learners can look to see what other groups are doing and take that information back to their own group (cross-pollination)
  • Learners can talk with each other and discuss with other groups
  • Learners can move around freely
  • Participants have the opportunity to tell their friends what they learned after the SOLE

A SOLE session is divided into three distinct stages:

  1. Proposal of a question (~5 minutes)
  2. Investigation (~40 minutes)
  3. Review (~20 minutes)

Some example questions given in the SOLE Toolkit:

  • What is a soul?
  • Can animals think?
  • How does my digestion system work?
  • Was the colour “orange” named after the fruit or vice versa?
  • Did dinosaurs really exist?

SOLEs in Further Education

Teachers have a tendency to ‘stick with what works’ and can be reluctant to accept change or experiment in the classroom. Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery”. (BrainyQuote, 2013)5. Educators must embrace change and technology, not hide from it. If we stand still and fail to evolve, we will die.

I have spent the last two years working as a trainee teacher in an FE college and in my experience, many students lack basic research skills. In the connected world of today, we are exposed to a tsunami of information. It is therefore imperative that we teach students how to quickly locate relevant material on the Internet. I think online research skills should be treated as equally important as English and Mathematics skills.

If students are to survive and thrive in the competitive and uncertain world of today, they need strategies to help them quickly find imformation. The SOLE method encourages students to take ownership of their learning and think for themselves. SOLE sessions enable students to hone their research skills and encourage them to become independent and confident learners. SOLEs can benefit all students (regardless of age) and they should definitely be used in further education institutions.

Computers vs. teachers

SOLEs demand just one computer for every four students. Could Mitra’s work usher the beginning of a new era, where computers replace teachers? Science fiction writer and futurist Sir Arthur C. Clarke said to Mitra: “any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be!”. (IZ Quotes, 2013)6. Mitra believes this is absolutely untrue: “We have curricula, we have examinations, and children desperately need their teachers to handle the system. Until the system itself changes, there is no question about the teacher’s role”. (Ward, 2011)7.

Further reading


References

  1. Searls, D. (2002). Natural Forces - Linux Journal.
    Retrieved from Linux Journal: http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/5682

  2. TED Prize. (2013). School in the Cloud - Sugata Mitra.
    Retrieved from TED: http://ted.com/sugata

  3. TED Blog. (2013). School in the Cloud - Sugata Mitra.
    Retrieved from TED: http://blog.ted.com/2013/12/16/the-first-school-in-the-cloud-opens/

  4. Kenna, P. (2013). Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) - Interview with Facilitators.
    Retrieved from YouTube: http://youtu.be/Cc9h-D2hmmY

  5. BrainyQuote. (2013). Harold Wilson at BrainyQuote.
    Retrieved from BrainyQuote: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/haroldwils104500.html

  6. IZ Quotes. (2013). Arthur C. Clarke Quote.
    Retrieved from IZ Quotes: http://izquotes.com/quote/219626

  7. Ward, H. (2011). ‘Teachers not required? Absolutely untrue’.
    Retrieved from TES Connect: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6133917

Inspired by Jakob Lægdsmand’s fantasic how to get an awesome looking terminal on mac os x blog post, I switched my OS X Terminal from the humble Bash (Bourne Again SHell) to the Zsh (Z shell). I also installed Oh-My-Zsh, an open source, community-driven framework for managing Zsh’s configuration.

Before

A Bash OS X Terminal with Homebrew theme
A Bash OS X Terminal with Homebrew theme.

After

A Zsh OS X Terminal with Solarized (Dark) theme and Oh-My-Zsh eastwood theme
A Zsh OS X Terminal with Solarized (Dark) theme and Oh-My-Zsh eastwood theme.

Oh-My-Zsh is a thing of beauty. My shell and I are in a very happy place indeed!

Welcome to the future of CSS layout: The CSS Flexible Box Layout Module (or Flexbox for short). It is a powerful new CSS box model optimised for user interface design. Look how easy it is to implement a Holy Grail page layout.

The HTML

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
<title>A Holy Grail Flexbox layout</title>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="normalize.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" href="holy-grail.css">
</head>
<body class="holy-grail">
    <header>
        <h1>Header</h1>
    </header>
    <div class="holy-grail-body">
        <main class="holy-grail-content">
            <h2>Content</h2>
        </main>
        <nav class="holy-grail-nav">
            <h2>Navigation</h2>
        </nav>
        <aside class="holy-grail-sidebar">
            <h2>Sidebar</h2>
        </aside>
    </div>
    <footer>
        <h2>Footer</h2>
    </footer>
</body>
</html>

The CSS

body {
        background: #c4d1d1;
}
.holy-grail {
    display: flex;
    min-height: 100vh;
    flex-direction: column;
    width: 80%;
    margin: 0 auto;
}
.holy-grail-body {
    display: flex;
    flex: 1;
}
.holy-grail-content {
    flex: 1;
    background: #ffc94e;
}
.holy-grail-nav, .holy-grail-sidebar {
    /* 12em is the width of the columns */
    flex: 0 0 12em;
    background: #c9ea5d;
}
.holy-grail-nav {
    /* put the nav on the left */
    order: -1;
    background: #85d6e4;
}
header
{
    background: #92e4c9;
}
footer
{
    background: #f7846a;
}
* {
    color: #333;
}

Which yields the following:

A Holy Grail Flexbox layout
A Holy Grail Flexbox layout.

For more information about Flexbox, check out the comprehensive A Complete Guide to Flexbox article on CSS-Tricks.

I’ve grown to love Google’s note taking service, Google Keep. It provides a simple, fast and convenient method for taking notes and boasts excellent cross platform support. The killer feature for me is the ability to access my notes on a multitude of devices, quickly and easily.

In my opinion, there are two reasons this works so well: simplicity and design. The app is simple. It does one thing, very, very well indeed. A key part of the design is the beautiful colour palette that Google have chosen for Keep. It is vibrant and fun, but not too bright to distract you from taking notes. You can assign each note one of eight different colours: white, red, orange, yellow, lime, green, blue or grey.

Taste the rainbow

Hex

background-color: #ffffff  // white
background-color: #f7846a  // red
background-color: #ffc94e  // orange
background-color: #f1f14e  // yellow
background-color: #c9ea5d  // lime
background-color: #92e4c9  // green
background-color: #85d6e4  // blue
background-color: #c4d1d1  // grey

RGB

background-color: rgb(255,255,255)  // white
background-color: rgb(247,132,106)  // red
background-color: rgb(255,201,78)   // orange
background-color: rgb(241,241,78)   // yellow
background-color: rgb(201,234,93)   // lime
background-color: rgb(146,228,201)  // green
background-color: rgb(133,214,228)  // blue
background-color: rgb(196,209,209)  // grey
Google Keep White Google Keep Red Google Keep Orange Google Keep Yellow Google Keep Lime Google Keep Green Google Keep Blue Google Keep Grey
An array of eight beautiful colours.

GIMP palette

When it comes to image manipulation, my weapon of choice is the formidable GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). It’s a fast, free, cross-platform equivalent to Adobe’s Photoshop. Like any decent image editor, GIMP allows you to create a custom palette containing various combinations of colours. A palette is essentially a plain text file with a Name at the top, followed by a list of colours. On Mac OS X (10.9.2), the default palette files for GIMP (2.8.10) are saved in: /Applications/GIMP.app/Contents/Resources/share/gimp/2.0/palettes/ folder. I created a new palette file called Google_Keep.gpl and saved it in the respective palettes folder:

GIMP Palette
Name: Google Keep
#
255 255 255  White
247 132 106  Red
255 201  78  Orange
241 241  78  Yellow
201 234  93  Lime
146 228 201  Green
133 214 228  Blue
196 209 209  Grey

My students have access to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 to execute C applications. Creating a new project for each exercise is time consuming. Here is a simple method to allow the user to select which exercise they want to run. The caveat is that all the exercises have to reside in the same file. But it’s easier to do this once per week than once per exercise.

/*
 =======================================
 Name        : main.c
 Author      : Michael Park
 Version     : 1.0
 Copyright   : noseyparka.me.uk (2013)
 Description : Simple menu system in C
 =======================================
 */

#include <stdio.h>

void exercise1()
{
	// Exercise 1
}
void exercise2()
{
	// Exercise 2
}
void exercise3()
{
	// Exercise 3
}
int main()
{
    int choice;

    puts("Choose an exercise between 1 and 3:");
    scanf("%d", &choice);
    switch (choice) {
        case 1:
            exercise1();
            break;
        case 2:
            exercise2();
            break;
        case 3:
            exercise3();
            break;
        case 4:
            exercisen();
            break;
        default:
            puts("Please enter a number between 1 and 3!");
            break;
    }
    getchar();
}