The SM Debate

Wow, this Hole-in-the-Wall lark is DULL!!  Image from ELTpics, but currently anonymous.

Wow, this Hole-in-the-Wall lark is DULL!! Image from ELTpics, but currently anonymous.

Since Sugata Mitra’s rumble-n-thunder-inspiring plenary at last week’s IATEFL 2014 conference in Harrogate, there has been a considerable amount of online debate about his stance on learning, on teachers et al. I have to say I think that he was an odd choice of speaker for a language teaching conference (despite the positive connotations of provoking such a passionate reaction from various corners) – the previous two years saw wordsmiths take to the lectern, which made sense – as, as teachers, I feel we should be encouraging our charges to increase the amount of face-to-face, quality human communication they indulge in, not reduce it via yet more screen-mediated transmission (whilst children do not have the same amount of XBox / whatsapp exposure in New Delhi as they do in, say, Paris, they certainly do in Mitra’s current hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne). If you look at ‘world internet access geography’, our planet is loosely divided into ‘little internet coverage plus minimal access to any kind of technology or even (reliable) electricity’ versus ‘overexposure to all things screen, and not enough personal, face-to-face, human voice interaction’. In parts of the world, the whatsapp text-based chat has replaced the (stretched-out-curly-cable) phone conversations of (some of) our youth, facebook is taking over from chats over coffee or hanging out in the town square and online, headphones-&-mic Play Station is replacing inviting pals over for the afternoon / evening; as LANGUAGE teachers in these areas, I feel we should be supporting the learning of a basic life skill – genuine, human interaction, y’know, that stuff called communication (written and spoken, and regardless of what language it’s in). In the other areas, replacing teachers with computers is a bit daft anyway in practical, electrical, electronic terms, let’s face it, and is simply exposing yet another part of the topography to banal advertising (for it will surely come…), as has happened to any other ‘free access’ resource online (check out the cr** adorning your FB page or the bottom of your blog, on occasion), and reducing even more young people’s human connections. As LANGUAGE teachers in these areas, I feel we should be supporting the learning of a basic life skill etc etc etc.

All that said, I wrote about Sugata Mitra’s hole-in-the-wall experiments back in 2011, giving my take on what we language imparters CAN take away and use from them and there are a few things. The article is here on Henrick Oprea’s great blog, and I also expressed (and techno-drew) my take on the need to up the amount of human interaction in classrooms and down the amount of technology here in macappella. If you’re interested. And if you’re not, well, I hope to be back n blogging ‘properly’ in the next few days. Bring it on.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The SM Debate

  1. Come on, Fiona, let’s not exaggerate ‘genuine human interaction’ and ‘real communication’ also happens over the Internet and using mobile phones. Sending emails and social networking are two of the main uses for the Internet and much computer gaming involves playing in real time with friends (and communicating with them at the same time) – as for life skills, take a look around you and you’ll see that the ‘life skills’ this generation need are somewhat different to past generations. Many future jobs will rely on skills that kids are developing now while they are growing up and using computers – making complicated decisions in real time while playing games, connecting with people all over the world and working out how to make and sustain friendly relationships at a distance, etc. To deny kids this would be to do them a disservice.

    • Yes, but it’s like slow food versus fast food, slow thinking versus fast thing; you can’t just pump up on one and knock out the other. You need ‘traditional’ or ‘slow’ communication too. Do you whatsapp your wife ALL the time? Or do you make time to sit and speak face to face sometimes?

  2. Pingback: IATEFL Harrogate 2014: Mitra having a jelly good time | EFL Notes

  3. Pingback: #ELTchat summary on Sugata Mitra and 25 Questions He Needs To Answer | TheTeacherJames

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