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SOLE-searching questions

SOLE researchers and practitioners are taking to the stage at the UK’s largest educational research conference  (15 Sept) to look at how self-organised learning has moved on.

The self organised concept, instigated by Professor Sugata Mitra over a decade ago, has gone viral in recent years.

Today’s symposium at BERA (British Education Research Association) brings together the findings of case studies in England at two schools and a university where SOLE has been put to the test. In doing so, it asks whether SOLE can really provide a solution to the future of learning in the 21st century classroom or is it, in fact, still in search of pedagogy.

The papers go beyond the ‘what worked well?’ formula of classroom-based research and use Action Research (AR) approaches to engage with critical reflections of design for learning with SOLE.

Using AR, practitioners have sought to improve educational practice and find solutions to localised teaching and learning problems in three different learning environments: a secondary school, university and a music classroom.

Self-organised learning environments across the key stages: an exploration of the impact of a new pedagogy looks at how far a SOLE can improve students’ learning by changing the balance of responsibility between the teacher and student. ??

Stef McElwee and Amy Dickinson, from George Stephenson High School in Tyne and Wear (where one of the seven School in the Cloud labs is based) and Sally Rix, PhD Student at Newcastle University will share their observations from cross-school evaluations. Their findings are beginning to show that collaborative practices embedded in SOLE are improving students’ ability to make and develop links between different concepts; empathise more clearly with different contexts and develop learning breadth.

In Cooking up the perfect storm: A SOLE approach to re-design for learning in Higher Education, Dr Anne Preston, Prof Sugata Mitra, and Dr Mei Lin, of Newcastle University report on a case study which took place during a UK university semester.

Internet access was introduced as a consistent and key part of a module during timetabled teaching time. The SOLE approach was used to re-design a traditional module set-up of lectures and seminars with more than 50 mostly international post-graduate students.

The final paper in the symposium in Belfast looks at how SOLE can be used to improve the nature and quality of group composing. Self organised learning environments in music at Key Stage 3 by Dr Catherine Preston, Independent Education Consultant and Katie Hall, The Hermitage Academy, County Durham used the SOLE toolkit as a basic to ask Big Questions about how music was created. The outcome was the students performing a piece of music based on their findings.

In the closing keynote address at BERA 2014 last year Professor Mitra and Professor David Leat asked three leading questions. The first two came from Mitra: 'What is the future of learning?' and 'What are we preparing our learners for?' These two questions served to contextualise his well-known work around Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) and the School in the Cloud.

Professor Leat’s question ‘How are Mitra’s ideas on the future of learning made material in local contexts? provided the background to his more critical stance which focussed on ‘bringing the cloud down to earth’. In doing so, he argued for further exploration into what SOLE can actually offer learners and practitioners and the importance of research partnerships.

This symposium looks to answer some of those questions and is part of ongoing research by SOLE Central at Newcastle University, a global hub for research into self-organised learning environments (SOLEs).

published on: 15 September 2015