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School in the Cloud is learning at the edge of chaos; a place to come together to discover and explore self-organised learning (SOLE).


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A great Big Question will get your SOLE off to a flying start, but deciding what to ask is the hardest part! Children love questions with no easy answer.


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India can't get enough of the Granny Cloud


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: India



One of the grannies remarked to me that it wasn’t like travelling with a group of people you’d never met before – more like friends you’d known for years.  At times the bus resembles a raucous out of school trip, with much laughter, leg pulling and tall tales being told.

Everywhere we go we’re bowled over by the warmth of the welcome and the effort that the children, co-ordinators and local communities have gone to. There have been beautiful dancing, origami creations, thoughtful presentations by the local co-ordinators, and even magic tricks!

In Chandrakona we ate the best meal I’d had since coming to India –

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One of the grannies remarked to me that it wasn’t like travelling with a group of people you’d never met before – more like friends you’d known for years.  At times the bus resembles a raucous out of school trip, with much laughter, leg pulling and tall tales being told.

Everywhere we go we’re bowled over by the warmth of the welcome and the effort that the children, co-ordinators and local communities have gone to. There have been beautiful dancing, origami creations, thoughtful presentations by the local co-ordinators, and even magic tricks!

In Chandrakona we ate the best meal I’d had since coming to India – simple, fresh produce perfectly cooked from vegetables that came from a plot just behind the lab with eggs from the chickens who roamed freely around the buildings.

I also have a feeling there might be a mind reader living near the Korakati SOLE lab. As we bounced along the track I looked up at the huge coconut palms whizzing by and remarked to Mousumi next to me that I would quite possibly give my right arm for some fresh coconut water right now. We were barely past the welcome line when that’s exactly what we were all handed. It was quite possibly the best thing I have ever tasted.

This is no luxury tour of India. Every day we’ve been heading off the beaten track, eating as the locals do and often travelling that way too wherever possible. However, a few hours in a ramshackle bus with fans serving as decoration rather than any practical use made us truly appreciate the  luxury of the air-conditioned version!

Korakati was always going to be the most adventurous of all – a bus, boat crossing and then a bumpy ride along a track on a van rickshaw through villages for half an hour to reach the lab.

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Granny Cloud

SOLE inspires teenager to follow her dreams


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Mumbai



Gouri Ajay Chindarkar was one of the first children in India to experience SOLE, in her village in Maharashtra. Seven years later, she’s studying for a degree in Computer Engineering at Mumbai University.

The 19-year-old says SOLE has played a ‘big part’ in making her life easier. Researching and quickly understanding any subject comes naturally to her and she is also able to communicate confidently with people from all walks of life. “In my opinion it is a better way to learn,” she says. “SOLE gives us very practical knowledge which can be used for our day-to-day life.

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Gouri Ajay Chindarkar was one of the first children in India to experience SOLE, in her village in Maharashtra. Seven years later, she’s studying for a degree in Computer Engineering at Mumbai University.

The 19-year-old says SOLE has played a ‘big part’ in making her life easier. Researching and quickly understanding any subject comes naturally to her and she is also able to communicate confidently with people from all walks of life. “In my opinion it is a better way to learn,” she says. “SOLE gives us very practical knowledge which can be used for our day-to-day life. It is the perfect place for those who want to learn in their own way and better their understanding.”

Gouri is in the 2nd year of her degree, which she tells me is ‘going very well’. She’s not sure exactly what career path to take when she graduates yet, but is considering working as a developer, testing and designing programmes.

Unlike in the UK, where recent figures show just 14% of students on computer engineering degrees are female (there are similar issues in the US), on Gouri’s course it is nearly a 50/50 split.

“I was interested in computers from my childhood and very early I decided that I want to become a computer engineer – when I was about 12/13-years-old,” she says. “SOLE is the main platform that helped me a lot to come close my dream.”

Granny Cloud sessions

The first SOLE at Shirgaon was set up in 2009 with the main emphasis on Skype sessions with e-mediators – the newly formed “Granny Cloud”. The main problem the children faced initially was language, as all their lessons were in Marathi but the Internet and the Granny Cloud sessions were in English.

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Computer Engineering | Granny Cloud | India

Korakati - feature Korakati: where learning happens against the odds

TED Lab - Korakati

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TED Lab - Korakati

Korakati: where learning happens against the odds


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Korakati

  Location: Korakati



Korakati is well off any popular tourist trail: to get there you have to spend many hours on the road, take a boat up the Ganges and finally, a very bumpy van rickshaw up a dusty track passing huts, chickens and children along the way.

There’s an ‘other worldly’ feel about the place, which adds to its remoteness and is one of the reasons Sugata Mitra chose it for one of the TED Prize research labs. He knew just how hard it would be to create, but also just how much untapped potential there was here.

One person who probably questioned Sugata’s sanity on more than one occasion was project manager Ashis Biswas,

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Korakati is well off any popular tourist trail: to get there you have to spend many hours on the road, take a boat up the Ganges and finally, a very bumpy van rickshaw up a dusty track passing huts, chickens and children along the way.

There’s an ‘other worldly’ feel about the place, which adds to its remoteness and is one of the reasons Sugata Mitra chose it for one of the TED Prize research labs. He knew just how hard it would be to create, but also just how much untapped potential there was here.

One person who probably questioned Sugata’s sanity on more than one occasion was project manager Ashis Biswas, whose job it was to sort out the logistics involved in constructing the building and getting it up and running. For example, when you look at the glass sides of the lab and then back at the only track they could have come along, it’s nothing short of a miracle that they got here in one piece!

The children at Korakati use the Internet to learn many things: for example, we were presented with beautiful handmade paper boxes topped with a rose when we arrived last month and inside were an origami flower and a jumping frog! The children had taught themselves how to make them using YouTube, with a little help from granny Jackie Barrow.

Natural challenges

There are, however, times when nature gets the better of this lab: the Internet connection, which is made possible thanks to a large bamboo pole erected on the roof, can be unreliable due to the distance from the hub, so a dongle has to be used instead, dangled from an open window. Water is also often scarce, and when there isn’t enough,

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Ganges | Granny Cloud | India | Origami | TED Prize | Tourism

Video in Kalkaji - feature image VIDEO: In Kalkaji SOLE, it's all about earning respect

TED Lab - Kalkaji

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TED Lab - Kalkaji

VIDEO: In Kalkaji SOLE, it's all about earning respect


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Kalkaji

  Location: New Delhi



It may be a tiny research lab, but Kalkaj in Delhi certainly packs a lot in. There are almost daily Granny Cloud sessions and a seemingly endless stream of visitors since it opened two years ago.

Located in a government girls’ school just a stone’s throw from the original Hole in the Wall, this lab is helping to give young people the opportunity to aim high.

Sometimes I find it’s better to leave others to say the words for you and when that individual is Jaya, who has firm views about how she wants to change the world,

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It may be a tiny research lab, but Kalkaj in Delhi certainly packs a lot in. There are almost daily Granny Cloud sessions and a seemingly endless stream of visitors since it opened two years ago.

Located in a government girls’ school just a stone’s throw from the original Hole in the Wall, this lab is helping to give young people the opportunity to aim high.

Sometimes I find it’s better to leave others to say the words for you and when that individual is Jaya, who has firm views about how she wants to change the world, it’s a no-brainer.

This short interview above, taken from footage by filmmakers Dan Oxenhandler, Will Sloan and Alfred Birkegaard, perfectly illustrates how much a SOLE lab means to children like Jaya, who are inspired to aim high thanks to this interaction.

And it’s not just the children who have benefited from this experience over the past two years, many members of the Granny Cloud also Skype in regularly and love taking sessions here. “From the very beginning they were a bubbly, enthusiastic group displaying a lot of confidence,” says ‘granny’ Edna Sackson, who is based in Melbourne, Australia. “They were able to understand my English and my accent and many responded well in full sentences. It’s great to see how they work collaboratively and offer each other support.”

Sunita Lama, who is based in Dubai, echoes these sentiments. “The Granny Cloud session is always such a boost for a teacher like me and the reason is the innocent effort of each child to participate,” she says. “Though they are young minds, I like to challenge them because critical thinking and analysis are important skills and with so much knowledge available, I personally feel there should be no limitations drawn,

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Comprehension | English Language | Filmmakers | Granny Cloud | Learning | Reading | Skype | Socio-economic | SOLE

Grannies on tour: India


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Chandrakona



“It is only years later that people will realise the effects of the Granny Cloud on the lives of children. It will be a story of patience and unassuming achievement” – Professor Sugata Mitra

The Granny Cloud is going on tour this month to India. On February 13 2016, a number of these dedicated volunteers are flying out to meet the children and co-ordinators they have been talking to via Skype for years. Only a handful have ever actually met face-to-face.

Along with a conference in Phaltan where educators, children and grannies from all over the world will be sharing their expertise and stories,

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“It is only years later that people will realise the effects of the Granny Cloud on the lives of children. It will be a story of patience and unassuming achievement” – Professor Sugata Mitra

The Granny Cloud is going on tour this month to India. On February 13 2016, a number of these dedicated volunteers are flying out to meet the children and co-ordinators they have been talking to via Skype for years. Only a handful have ever actually met face-to-face.

Along with a conference in Phaltan where educators, children and grannies from all over the world will be sharing their expertise and stories, they will also be touring four or the five Indian TED SOLE research labs – Gocharan, Korakati, Chandrakona and Phaltan to find out more about what happens behind the scenes.

Professor Sugata Mitra will join Dr Suneeta Kulkarni and colleagues in welcoming these amazing individuals to India, where they are sure to go down a storm with the children and teachers they meet on their travels. Look out for updates on the blog, Facebook and Twitter during their trip!

And for everyone’s viewing pleasure, a film some of you may have seen before, but Liz Fewing’s ‘jelly moment’ went down in history so we thought we’d share it again! Liz is already in travelling in India and she’ll be one of the grannies sharing their experience with us.

Thanks to Jerry Rothwell for his kind permission to use this video.

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Grannies | Granny Cloud | Skype | TED SOLE

Long distance friendship is the perfect medicine


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Hyderabad



Most trainee doctors are driven by a desire to help others, but for Shahrukh Khan, his motivation is also deeply personal.

He was just six-years-old when his father died of a heart attack in India. Many years later, when he had only just begun his degree studies in the Philippines, he lost his mother in the same way. It was at this point that Shahrukh decided to become a surgeon or cardiologist.

It has been a long and complicated road to reach the point he is at today – just two years away from becoming a qualified doctor.

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Most trainee doctors are driven by a desire to help others, but for Shahrukh Khan, his motivation is also deeply personal.

He was just six-years-old when his father died of a heart attack in India. Many years later, when he had only just begun his degree studies in the Philippines, he lost his mother in the same way. It was at this point that Shahrukh decided to become a surgeon or cardiologist.

It has been a long and complicated road to reach the point he is at today – just two years away from becoming a qualified doctor. When he was just 13-years-old, he met someone who, although neither of them knew it at the time, would change his life. That person was retired teacher Liz Fewings, who was Skyping in from her home in London, UK to his school’s new computer lab in Hyderabad, India.

Eight years on, she can still recall their first meeting. “The Granny Cloud session had been arranged through Suneeta (Kulkarni) and I was expecting a group of kindergarten children,” she explains. “I had prepared to read Jasper’s Beanstalk and had my trowel and seeds and everything ready when suddenly in walks a group of teenagers! Suneeta was laughing like a drain but I went ahead with it anyway – they seemed quite happy!”

Shahrukh was put in charge of organising his 9th grade group, which didn’t really take off, but he and Liz continued to talk to each other. He made the most of any opportunity to be part of this early self organised learning environment (SOLE) to improve his English and general knowledge skills.

medium_c954397b-38bb-4e36-8e65-c28a60d93376Shahrukh in the Philippines today

When he was looking to study for a degree,

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Doctors | Grannies | Granny Cloud | India | Medicine

Walking out of the forest into a new world


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Mumbai



SOLE is touching parts of the world that few ever get the chance to experience. One such place is the remote tribal regions of Maharashtra in India.

It took over three years to get Internet connectivity to SOLE Wada so children here can participate in Granny Cloud sessions, but they’ve been making the most of the opportunity ever since.

For some of these children, just getting here is a major feat: those living in the tribal villages travel for miles on foot with a schoolteacher from their homes in the forest. They chat with the ‘grannies’ and explore the world through the Internet every week,

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SOLE is touching parts of the world that few ever get the chance to experience. One such place is the remote tribal regions of Maharashtra in India.

It took over three years to get Internet connectivity to SOLE Wada so children here can participate in Granny Cloud sessions, but they’ve been making the most of the opportunity ever since.

For some of these children, just getting here is a major feat: those living in the tribal villages travel for miles on foot with a schoolteacher from their homes in the forest. They chat with the ‘grannies’ and explore the world through the Internet every week, staying overnight at Wada afterwards.

Although Wada is only 120 km from Mumbai it’s in a tribal region and they struggle with resources – this is the only place QUEST Wada could get connectivity in the area.

Most of these children, who are between seven and 14-years-old, attend local Marathi medium schools. In each group there are also a couple of children who live in Wada and have learnt basic vocabulary and computer skills at their English medium school so can help the other children.

Pralhad Kathole co-ordinates SOLE Wada from his home using his own laptop. His aim is for the children to learn English by immersion in the language rather than through fee-paying English medium schools.

Pralhad says he’s already seen a difference in the children’s English skills since it started a few months ago and that although the tribal children were reluctant to come at first, now they love it!

‘Joyful’ interaction

One of the ‘grannies’ who has been chatting with the children since last October is Sheilagh Guthrie, who lives in France. “It is truly joyful interacting with these children,” she says.

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Grannies | Granny Cloud | India

Greenland: the land where snow and SOLE come together


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Greenland



It seems fitting that in the lead up to Christmas we should take a visit to the most northerly SOLEs we know: in Greenland.

Nestled just beneath the Arctic Circle where spectacular Northern Lights displays are a common occurrence, children in two villages – Atammik and Kangaamiut – are learning more about the world beyond their classroom through the Granny Cloud.

These remote Inuit communities rely on fishing and tourism and the region is sparsely populated – each school has only around 20 children. It’s a very different environment from the usual Granny Cloud locations and as a result a ‘granny cluster’ of four volunteers was created to Skype in each week from all over the world to talk to children from Grade 1 upwards.

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It seems fitting that in the lead up to Christmas we should take a visit to the most northerly SOLEs we know: in Greenland.

Nestled just beneath the Arctic Circle where spectacular Northern Lights displays are a common occurrence, children in two villages – Atammik and Kangaamiut – are learning more about the world beyond their classroom through the Granny Cloud.

These remote Inuit communities rely on fishing and tourism and the region is sparsely populated – each school has only around 20 children. It’s a very different environment from the usual Granny Cloud locations and as a result a ‘granny cluster’ of four volunteers was created to Skype in each week from all over the world to talk to children from Grade 1 upwards.

I spoke to Anna Bolethe Rakel Heilmann, who originally brought the grannies to Greenland, via Skype from her workplace in Maniitsoq, a haven for ski enthusiasts. The snow there is currently about half a metre thick, with skiing now possible on the small fjords inbetween the islands. Usual transportation, however, is by boat, plane or helicopter.

Last week Anna set foot on the sea ice for the first time this winter, an experience she says always makes her a ‘little nervous’ as she’s about to cross, especially when she can hear the ice cracking beneath!

While we were speaking she had to shed a layer of clothing, remarking that, at -15 Celsius, it wasn’t really that cold (it can be more than -20 during the day at this time of year). It’s worth noting that they use the term ‘day’ loosely in Greenland this time of year as there’s not a lot of daylight to go round: in Anna’s hometown the sun rises around 10.30am and is on its way down again by about 1.30pm.

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Granny Cloud | Northern Lights

six_year_olds_india_feature SOLE comes naturally to six-year-olds in India

TED Lab - Phaltan

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TED Lab - Phaltan

SOLE comes naturally to six-year-olds in India


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Phaltan

  Location: Phaltan



Non-digital natives never cease to be amazed at how quickly small children learn to interact with technology, especially since many of us hadn’t even encountered computers until we were in our teens or older.

And at Area 4 Phaltan SOLE lab in India researchers are seeing first hand just how naturally this comes to very young children just six and seven-years-old.

Phaltan is an important research centre for SOLE. It is one of two School in the Cloud labs created inside a school and here Grades 1 to 7 are all involved in self-organized learning. Not only did the children help design the lab,

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Non-digital natives never cease to be amazed at how quickly small children learn to interact with technology, especially since many of us hadn’t even encountered computers until we were in our teens or older.

And at Area 4 Phaltan SOLE lab in India researchers are seeing first hand just how naturally this comes to very young children just six and seven-years-old.

Phaltan is an important research centre for SOLE. It is one of two School in the Cloud labs created inside a school and here Grades 1 to 7 are all involved in self-organized learning. Not only did the children help design the lab, they also take responsibility for it and have participated in many different kinds of ‘experiments’, including connecting with George Stephenson High School in the UK for joint SOLE sessions.

A key focus of research at this lab is to see what happens with the younger children. While early intervention is effective in most educational circumstances, School in the Cloud research director Dr Suneeta Kulkarni and one of the grannies, Prasanna Hulikavi, (now on a break to work on her doctoral research) were particularly keen to see how SOLE would impact Grades 1 and 2.

“We realized straight away that they had none of the inhibitions of the older children,” explains Suneeta. “From their very first day in the lab they just rushed to the computers to try them out – they had no worries about breaking anything or doing it wrong. The teachers were amazed how quickly found Google and began searching without anyone telling them anything.”

Suneeta told me how the teachers at A4 Phaltan have embraced SOLE even though they don’t completely understand it, instinctively recognising that it’s working for the children. “There was one teacher who was very strongly against it and was very angry with me the first time we welcomed the children to the lab and told him he should ‘stay away’,” explains Suneeta.

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Digital Technology | Granny Cloud | Technology | WhatsApp

One small step for a frog, but a giant leap for Cambodia


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Cambodia



Have you heard the story about the frog in the well? Well, for Chantha Poeng this Khmer proverb perfectly illustrates why School in the Cloud is so important for Cambodia.

The Frog in the Well (Kong Keb Knong Ondong) knows nothing of great oceans and has a very narrow view of the world. He is king of all he sees and never jumps out; the well is ‘good enough’ for him.

“I want these children to stop being that frog – to get out and experience what life is like elsewhere,” explains Chantha. “This is a chance to experiment,

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Have you heard the story about the frog in the well? Well, for Chantha Poeng this Khmer proverb perfectly illustrates why School in the Cloud is so important for Cambodia.

The Frog in the Well (Kong Keb Knong Ondong) knows nothing of great oceans and has a very narrow view of the world. He is king of all he sees and never jumps out; the well is ‘good enough’ for him.

“I want these children to stop being that frog – to get out and experience what life is like elsewhere,” explains Chantha. “This is a chance to experiment, to know and learn new things and have a conversation with the outside world.”

Chantha is the teacher at the School in the Cloud just outside Battambang. It’s the first time we’ve ‘virtually’ met and yet we spend a lot of our time laughing on Skype like we’ve known each other for years. It’s easy to see why the children are so keen to learn with her.

But she has a serious side too: she challenges the young people who come through these doors, encouraging them to be more than they ever thought possible. This approach is a sharp contrast to the country’s traditional, authoritative teaching methods which focus on teachers giving the answers and students learning by rote.

The School in the Cloud, which is run through the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT), is based in a fantastic recycled classroom which includes glass bottle walls and painted tyres and is designed to inspire children to think differently about their education.

medium_6eb66ca2-b592-4282-9540-0df1120d5be3

Just two weeks ago the Granny Cloud started to ‘beam’ into Cambodia for the first time, bringing much excitement and confusion along with it. Chantha tells me how the children ran to the wall,

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Education | Granny Cloud | Skype

mexico_feature SOLE translates into a better future for Mexico

SOLE Mexico

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SOLE Mexico

SOLE translates into a better future for Mexico


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Mexico

  Location: Mexico City



My grasp of the Spanish language is limited to ‘hola’ and a few rusty phrases leftover from travelling many years ago, so it was a bit of a shock to suddenly find myself in the middle of a Spanish-speaking classroom. 

‘How would you like to join a SOLE in a few minutes?’ SOLE México co-ordinator Oscar O’Farrill typed on Skype as we were about to start the interview.

I was prepared for asking the questions, rather than being on the other side, but when you work with self organised learning environments you have go with the flow from time to time!

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My grasp of the Spanish language is limited to ‘hola’ and a few rusty phrases leftover from travelling many years ago, so it was a bit of a shock to suddenly find myself in the middle of a Spanish-speaking classroom. 

‘How would you like to join a SOLE in a few minutes?’ SOLE México co-ordinator Oscar O’Farrill typed on Skype as we were about to start the interview.

I was prepared for asking the questions, rather than being on the other side, but when you work with self organised learning environments you have go with the flow from time to time! Naturally, it was complete chaos, but the smiling, excited faces made it clear from the outset how much SOLE means to these children.

Oscar has been running SOLEs since 2013, initially in a community centre in Tres Marías, Morelos, and for nearly a year in a public school in San Luis Potosi, a small rural community about four hours from México City. Despite many ongoing challenges, SOLE México is going from strength to strength, with exciting plans on the horizon.

Oscar, whose eclectic career includes working in human resources for Coca-Cola and representing his country in ice hockey as a teenager and later as a rugby player, is at the heart of plans to expand SOLE across the country.

A back injury cut his sporting career short and he turned to coaching instead, but always had an interest in psychology, which he went on to study at degree level. “I’ve always been amazed about learning processes,” says Oscar. “Every day I think ‘how does learning happen and how can I make it better?’. My mind is 100% thinking about how the mind works. It’s my passion and I want to find out more.”

For Oscar,

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Granny Cloud | Language | Learning | Skype | Spanish

go_for_song_feature Grannies go for a song

SOLE Central

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SOLE Central

Grannies go for a song


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



When Sugata Mitra gives you an assignment, you can be pretty sure he’s not going to be impressed with a cut and paste from the Internet.

But it’s not as daunting as it might seem: students report that you simply have to think for yourself, look at things from a different perspective and the rest just fits into place, SOLE-style!

Hilary Meehan, who has just finished a Masters in International Development and Education at Newcastle University, knows this first hand. When asked to tell the story of the Granny Cloud as part of Sugata’s Future of Learning module,

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When Sugata Mitra gives you an assignment, you can be pretty sure he’s not going to be impressed with a cut and paste from the Internet.

But it’s not as daunting as it might seem: students report that you simply have to think for yourself, look at things from a different perspective and the rest just fits into place, SOLE-style!

Hilary Meehan, who has just finished a Masters in International Development and Education at Newcastle University, knows this first hand. When asked to tell the story of the Granny Cloud as part of Sugata’s Future of Learning module, she knew she was going to have to push the boundaries a little. “Sugata said he didn’t want a traditional write up,” she says. “He simply told us ‘don’t make it boring’, and didn’t give any more guidance than that.”

She realised most of the students were either doing videos or voice-over slide shows and wanted to do something different, so decided to “go for it” and record a song instead.

Fortunately, her boyfriend is a musician and just happens to have a recording studio in his house. Once she’d bought the rights to the backing track,the lyrics and melodies soon fell into place.

There should be a bit of prior warning, however, before you listen to the track below. “The tune gets seriously stuck inside your head,” says Hilary.“One of the tutors on the course loved it but said he couldn’t shake it for the rest of the day. I hadn’t thought about it in ages until just now and I’ve realised it’s still in there, going round and round!”

Listen to Hilary’s song here.

The 25-year-old used information from the Granny Cloud blog,

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Granny Cloud | Music | Skype

Being a ‘granny’ is not as easy as it might look


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: India



The Granny Cloud has been up and running since 2009 when Sugata first put out an appeal in a UK newspaper for grandmothers with a spare hour a week who would like to talk to children in India and help them with their English skills.

There are a handful of loyal stalwarts still remaining from those early days, many of whom form a self-organised core team to help to recruit, interview and advise new recruits.

But there are far more who have fallen by the wayside, often daunted by the prospect of actually being a School in the Cloud granny once reality sets in.

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The Granny Cloud has been up and running since 2009 when Sugata first put out an appeal in a UK newspaper for grandmothers with a spare hour a week who would like to talk to children in India and help them with their English skills.

There are a handful of loyal stalwarts still remaining from those early days, many of whom form a self-organised core team to help to recruit, interview and advise new recruits.

But there are far more who have fallen by the wayside, often daunted by the prospect of actually being a School in the Cloud granny once reality sets in.

Dr Suneeta Kulkarni, research director for School in the Cloud based in India, says she can completely understand how they feel. “It can seem completely overwhelming to start with,” she admits.

“There’s a lot more tech available now than when we first started and I know that can put some people off, but this is not the crux of the interaction. If you’re comfortable with it, then use it by all means, but it may actually hinder the process if it’s a brand new group not used to computers or the English language.

“It’s really just about chatting with the children about whatever takes your, and their, fancy. When you start with a new group you need to get a feel for their environment, who they are and what they like. I’d always say don’t go in with a plan – just go with it. Just say ‘hi’ and take it from there. At the end of the day, the primary aim is to have fun, and that goes for the granny as well as the children!”

Suneeta often advises new grannies to think of those initial sessions as a bit like turning up at a family gathering where there just happens to be a group of children who are really keen to talk to you!

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Education | Grannies | Granny Cloud | Language | Teaching English

turning_art_world_feature Turning the art world on its head

SOLE Central

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SOLE Central

Turning the art world on its head


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



It’s not enough to turn the education system upside down: SOLE is about to enter a world many of us consider off-limits.

Contemporary art is often portrayed as an elitist world full of large canvases with coloured dots and hefty price tags, but Helen Burns believes it doesn’t have to be that way.

The SOLE Central research fellow has spent her career helping children and adults explore their creativity through contemporary art and now she’s applying all she’s learnt so far to a new exciting project.

Gallery in the Cloud will give school children and other gallery audiences the chance to become curators of their own contemporary art galleries.

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It’s not enough to turn the education system upside down: SOLE is about to enter a world many of us consider off-limits.

Contemporary art is often portrayed as an elitist world full of large canvases with coloured dots and hefty price tags, but Helen Burns believes it doesn’t have to be that way.

The SOLE Central research fellow has spent her career helping children and adults explore their creativity through contemporary art and now she’s applying all she’s learnt so far to a new exciting project.

Gallery in the Cloud will give school children and other gallery audiences the chance to become curators of their own contemporary art galleries. Supported by the SOLE method of learning collaboratively in groups, they will create digital artworks inspired by their own experiences that will reflect their own individual identities.

The resulting art collection will be self-curated, using cloud-based technology to create an ever-evolving gallery.

“It challenges the usual conventions of a gallery space and turns the concept of an ‘art world’ on its head, focussing instead on the ‘experience’ of art, which is accessible to everyone,’ says Helen.

Turning art world on its head - robot

This dented war robot (above) is from one of Helen’s previous art-based learning projects. The child who made it said it represented their experience of learning as ‘battered, but not giving up’

Helen is focussing initially on children at transitional periods in their education, such as SATs. “These are tough times for them,” she says. “A combination of the skills and resilience gained through creating contemporary art using SOLE could have a really positive effect on their ability to cope when they’ve got a lot to deal with.

“SOLE pedagogy and contemporary art actually have a lot in common as they can both be good vehicles for developing your own ‘voice’ and there are no wrong answers.”

The artists will be able to constantly revisit their artwork over several years,

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Art | Arts | Baltic Arts Centre | Durham University | Education | Granny Cloud | Orkney Islands | Pedagogy | SOLE

Skyping with children - feature image Skyping with the children - Not always easy! by Jackie Barrow

SOLE Central

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SOLE Central

Skyping with the children - Not always easy! by Jackie Barrow


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



The Granny Cloud reaches out to groups of children across a range of different locations using Skype. It’s fantastic! If the connection is good, you can see each other, hear each other, send text messages, send files and links, share your screens with each other and take photos of each other. So the Grannies conduct sessions where they chat with the children, read stories, play games, make things, do quizzes, sing, dance, share jokes, pictures and video clips, search the internet and share findings. In fact all the sorts of activities that grandparents might share with their grandchildren or good teachers with their pupils.

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The Granny Cloud reaches out to groups of children across a range of different locations using Skype. It’s fantastic! If the connection is good, you can see each other, hear each other, send text messages, send files and links, share your screens with each other and take photos of each other. So the Grannies conduct sessions where they chat with the children, read stories, play games, make things, do quizzes, sing, dance, share jokes, pictures and video clips, search the internet and share findings. In fact all the sorts of activities that grandparents might share with their grandchildren or good teachers with their pupils.

NLSM 23Oct09 smiles all around

But what can’t you do over Skype? Well, you can’t always see how many children have joined the session. You can’t feel how hot, or cold or stuffy or dusty the room might be. You can’t sense the mood of the children or the group dynamics. You can’t know if they’ve been squabbling or joking before they came up to the screen.

You can’t judge the body language or the facial expressions with the same accuracy as you could if you were in the same room. You can’t tell whether the children are hungry or thirsty, tired, frightened, upset.

It’s difficult to assess over Skype whether the child who has just wandered away from the screen has lost interest because they can’t understand, needs the toilet, is feeling unwell or is feeling undermined by the bright, slightly pushy child who has taken control of the microphone.

You can’t always tell whether that long delay before any sort of answer to your last question is offered is because they have absolutely no idea what you are asking or whether in fact one of the children has gone over to another computer to search for the answer to relay to the child at the front.

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Children | English Language | Granny Cloud | Internet | Language | Learning Styles | Reading | Skype | Stories

Phaltan School in the Cloud - feature image The 6th Learning Lab is Officially...Open!

TED Lab - Phaltan

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TED Lab - Phaltan

The 6th Learning Lab is Officially...Open!


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Phaltan

  Location: Phaltan



Today we are delighted to celebrate the opening of our 6th learning lab which is located in Phaltan, a small town in Maharashtra, India. Since Sugata Mitra won the TED Prize in 2013, 5 similar environments have been opened in both India and the UK as part of the global experiment in self-organised learning; the final flagship site is due to open in Gocharan early next year.

Initiated by Newcastle University and TED Prize, this lab is the first one located in a school where English is taught as a subject alongside all the others. The language used throughout the school is Marathi,

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Today we are delighted to celebrate the opening of our 6th learning lab which is located in Phaltan, a small town in Maharashtra, India. Since Sugata Mitra won the TED Prize in 2013, 5 similar environments have been opened in both India and the UK as part of the global experiment in self-organised learning; the final flagship site is due to open in Gocharan early next year.

Initiated by Newcastle University and TED Prize, this lab is the first one located in a school where English is taught as a subject alongside all the others. The language used throughout the school is Marathi, which is the official language of Maharashtra state. “Imagine using an Internet where there is hardly anything at all in your mother tongue – that’s what it’s like for these children,” says Dr Suneeta Kulkarni, Research Director for School in the Cloud.

The new learning lab is specifically designed to facilitate SOLEs, where children collaborate to answer big questions using the internet. These child-focused learning sessions are fuelled by curiosity and discovery, providing children with the space and freedom to explore. It is located close to the school gates and overlooks the playground and residential area, so is easily visible to the local community.

Many lessons were learned from building the other learning labs and these have been taken into account during this construction, including the glass windows stopping at eye-level. “That kind of design where the glass is up to the ceiling is fine in the UK but there’s much more light here and it makes it difficult to see the screen – it also gets too hot!” explains Dr Kulkarni.

Connectivity, as with many of the more rural School in the Cloud sites, is one of the greatest challenges here and so a back-up dongle is being used in case the regular broadband fails.

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Children | Comprehension | English Language | Granny Cloud | Internet | Learning | Newcastle University | Phaltan | Self-organised Learning | TED Prize

The Granny Cloud on tour: first stop, London!


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: London



“The Granny Cloud could become to learning what Skype is to instantaneous video-conferencing.” – Prof Sugata Mitra

Anyone accidentally stumbling upon a gathering occurring just off Liverpool St in London last Saturday could have been forgiven for thinking they’d walked in on a reunion of old friends.

In fact, most of the people in that room – who had travelled from all over the UK and Europe to be there – had never actually met in ‘real life’, but had shared many hours together online, as part of the Granny Cloud*.

The Granny Gathering,

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“The Granny Cloud could become to learning what Skype is to instantaneous video-conferencing.” – Prof Sugata Mitra

Anyone accidentally stumbling upon a gathering occurring just off Liverpool St in London last Saturday could have been forgiven for thinking they’d walked in on a reunion of old friends.

In fact, most of the people in that room – who had travelled from all over the UK and Europe to be there – had never actually met in ‘real life’, but had shared many hours together online, as part of the Granny Cloud*.

The Granny Gathering, organised by Liz Fewings, was a day filled with food, laughter and ideas and the chance to chat with Newcastle University’s Prof Sugata Mitra about the School in the Cloud and how the ‘grannies’ are a vital part of its future.

Technology – the most challenging part of making the School in the Cloud work on a daily basis – was even on our side as we managed to have an excellent Skype connection with Suneeta Kulkarni, research director for the School in the Cloud, who joined us for the entire session from India.

From hearing about learning hairdressing (with truly hair-raising results!) and construction via the Internet in further education from PhD student Cathy Ellis (who is researching the use of SOLEs in this environment), to how children in the USA and Ghana come up with the same answer to a Big Question, there was plenty to discuss.

For example, how YouTube is bringing about a revolution in how we acquire skills. Sugata was imagining a future where retired lawyers and plumbers could be called upon online and raised the question whether this could be a natural extension of the Granny Cloud.

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Big Questions | Comprehension | Grannies | Granny Cloud | Internet | Learning | Newcastle University | Pedagogy | Self-organised Learning | Skype | Sugata Mitra | TED Talk