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News and Thoughts

The Big Ideas Global 1:1 Summit

This past June, over 80 policy makers and educators from around the world gathered in Maine to participate in the Big Ideas Global 1 to 1 Summit, hosted by AALF, the Maine International Center for Digital Learning (MICDL) and IdeasLab of Australia. The Summit brought together people involved in city, state or national ministries of education in more than ten countries, who are planning or already have 1:1 initiatives. It was a unique opportunity to share knowledge and tackle issues that were surprisingly similar despite the diversity of the group. A main goal of the Summit was to create connections and build strong networks so we may all learn from each other.

Information on the Summit is included in this newsletter, but I think it worthwhile to single out two participants whose research and visionary ideas provide unique perspectives on how children learn, technology’s place in this process, and the role of teachers and schools.

No one would argue that Seymour Papert is not a true visionary. It was he who insisted, in the late 1960’s, that the computer was not just a tool for scientists and mathematicians, but rather one for learning. In his view, computers provided an environment in which even young children could explore ideas previously believed to be too abstract or difficult for them to understand. In developing the Logo language, he helped create one of the first tools that anyone, even young children, could use to create environments in which to explore ideas using the computer. Early on in his work with children and computers he had the idea of developing a small, portable computer to be used by children for learning, an idea which provided an early prototype of today’s laptops. He talked of the “children’s machine” and the idea that every child should have her own laptop, ideas which lead to the first 1:1 initiatives in Australia, the Maine laptop initiative, and the creation of AALF. …Ideas that caught the attention of Professor Papert’s colleague, Nicholas Negroponte and evolved into the One Laptop Per Child initiative. The OLPC’s XO showed the world that it was possible to develop a low-cost, light weight computer that could be a powerful educational tool, leading to the development of a whole new category of laptops - the netbook. The list of Professor Papert’s contributions goes on and on. Many of his ideas were seen as too radical to ever come to fruition and many people laughed at them saying he lived in a world of tomorrow but was disconnected from today. Interestingly, most of the people who made these comments have long since disappeared from the learning forefront, while the impact of Prof. Papert’s ideas continues to grow around the world. Delegates at the Summit were thrilled to be able to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to Professor Papert for his lifelong efforts on behalf of children and learning, efforts that have profoundly shaped our vision of what education should be.

We were also very pleased to welcome, from the other side of the world (India to be exact), Dr. Sugata Mitra. Best known for his “Hole in the Wall” experiments, Dr. Mitra talked about his research into how children self-organize when it comes to learning. Dr. Mitra has captured unique videos of how children who had never been exposed to computers, children living in the slums and small villages of India, reacted when a computer and mouse were literally placed in “a hole in the wall” without any instructions or any teacher. Children not only learned how to interact with the computer, browse, and play games, all in a language other than their own (English), but they taught each other what they knew and established a system to organize and manage access to the computer and the sharing of knowledge. Dr. Mitra’s work sharply calls to question the role of schools in learning. His research is frequently cited as being the inspiration behind the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire. If you haven’t heard of Sugata Mitra or the “Hole in the Wall” initiative, take the time to check out his web site and his presentation on TED.

The research and ideas of each of these men have given us a radically different understanding of how children learn and the need to re-conceptualize the role and design of schools. Interestingly enough, though Dr. Mitra’s work was very much influenced by Professor Papert’s ideas, and Professor Papert has been following with great admiration Dr. Mitra’s work for many years, they had never before met. The two held a private conversation and one couldn’t help but feel that out of this historical moment, something extraordinary would develop: a shift in thinking, a new vision that could dramatically change how we view learning.
We’ll be sharing more on this historic meeting and other Summit conversations and presentations in upcoming newsletters and on the AALF web site.

Enjoy the newsletter and please share your ideas with the AALF community!
April 6th, 2011 @ 3:07PM