It’s time to ask SOLE-searching questions

SOLE researchers are getting ready to ‘hack’ the largest education research conference in the UK.

As far as we know, this is the first time that self organized learning has been integrated in this way and it’s likely to come as a bit of a surprise to many delegates at the BERA (British Educational Research Association) conference in Northern Ireland this week.

Gone will be the traditional conference set-up of an attentive audience listening to an authoritative speaker, replaced instead with an audience-led exploration of the technology/pedagogy divide.

Getting down with the kids: a self organized conference session is being led by SOLE Central research fellow Dr Anne Preston.
 Participants will be choosing one of three Big Questions put forward on social media in the lead up to the conference. “Who knows what might happen?” says Anne. “It’s likely, in true SOLE style, to descend into total chaos for a while, but hopefully something meaningful will emerge by the end of it all.”

The idea for this session originally stemmed from the reaction to a keynote given by Sugata Mitra last year at the IATEFL conference. Many English language teaching professionals in the audience notoriously walked out when he suggested that in future teaching would be redundant.

“While we have readily embraced most of what the Internet has to offer with hardly a murmur of dissent, when someone suggests it can also be used to help children teach themselves, it causes a lot of soul searching (no pun intended!) from a fair few educationalists,” says Anne.

So who is right and who is wrong? The indignant teachers or the professor who leads SOLE Central at Newcastle University, a team dedicated to bringing together researchers, practitioners, policy makers and entrepreneurs to expand upon his original research?

Anne says there are plenty of challenging questions around SOLE at the moment, such as how its outcomes can be tested and evaluated.

“Sugata has spoken on numerous occasions about the science behind SOLE, which is based on the notion of a self-organising system – a concept that comes out of maths and physics which is that if you allow a system to be chaotic then, under certain circumstances, you get spontaneous order,” she says.

“One of the problems with researching a self-organising system is that it doesn’t actually exist in a state that can be ‘empirically’ probed,” explains Anne. “This becomes clearer by comparing the self-organising system of a SOLE to the study of systems in the field of quantum mechanics, where it is impossible to measure a system without disturbing it. Even when disturbed, it’s hard to locate the point at which this occurs.”

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Many schools are struggling with issues around whether technology or pedagogy should take the lead in the creation of the 21st century classroom. From a personal viewpoint, Anne’s keen to use SOLE as a basis to investigate the role technology can play to spark deeper discussions about the pedagogical implications of digital technology.

Those attending the conference are being given the chance to add to the debate on Thursday 17 September when practitioners and researchers from SOLE Central will be initiating the audience-led innovation session, SOLE style.

You may have already seen some of the traffic on our Facebook and Twitter channels to decide on the Big Question up for debate and it has been narrowed down to these three, with one being chosen on the day:

  • Should we give children access to the #internet during examinations?
  • How can we ensure student’s and teacher’s right to privacy when expanding #edtech in #education?
  • What could #edtech offer to children and communities in a time of global refugee crisis?

Why not join in the debate on Twitter with the hashtag #BigQuestionBERA ?