Week 1 – Do Mitra’s and Mazur’s methods transfer to other contexts?

Week 1 – For the first task this week, I have chosen Sugata Mitra’s keynote, in fact I think I may have been at that presentation, I have heard him speak and he is a very engaging and inspiring presenter. I think what he did in his work with children worked extremely well, and demonstrated a natural curiosity and willingness to learn in children. I wonder though if this is transferable to HE and even more pertinent to my role as Academic Developer, with professional adults? I run short training courses, usually about TEL. I don’t have regular classes with my participants, just a couple of hours, and I can’t really give them preparatory or follow-up work. So would Mitra’s methods work here? If I asked academic staff to huddle round a pc in groups of 4 to find out about the pedagogic affordances of blogs and/or wikis, would it have the same response? And how would they respond to being asked to do that? Also what has stopped them looking this up before if they are curious about it? Although we really try to approach our courses from a pedagogical perspective, we do find that staff really want the ‘how’ not the ‘why’. Similar with Mazur’s peer instruction, if I used that method with academic staff on a short training course, would that work? My guess is that it wouldn’t go down well. Has anyone tried these methods in short training course contexts, particularly with academic staff? Have they worked? I would be very interested in hearing other’s experience on this.


About Sue Folley

Academic Developer, interested in effective use of technology in teaching and learning, Web 2.0 and social networking. Just completed an EdD about teaching online.

Posted on April 18, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Donald Clark provides an interesting alternate view on Sugata Mitra’s work http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/sugata-mitra-slum-chic-7-reasons-for.html

    Regarding peer instruction. One of the issues/observations I had when trying to encourage staff to implement this technique is it works best when students know the drill. In the UK Jim Boyle at Strathclyde imported this technique and he made sure that even before day 0 students knew he was using this method and his entire class was built around it. So every day when students came in they knew they had to get their clicker, sit in their usual group of four and immediately start answering concept tests. So I think you are right in a short training course the time it would take to become accustom to the technology and method may be too much and you may be setting yourself up for a fall. It might be useful to consider the processes peer instruction is using and deconstruct it to fit your own setting. One way to do this is look at the principles of good assessment design and map across to a modified scenario. To get you going on this have a look at Example 2 in http://www.reap.ac.uk/reap/public/Papers/DNicol_Ascilite_26oct06.pdf


    • Thanks very much for replying Martin – and for links, I will certainly have a look at them. I agree it is harder to use some techniques with small one-off courses, though I am keen to model good practice to these staff, to demonstrate some alternative teaching methods. Thanks for the links and advice though :).

  2. Hi Sue, we’ve used Peer Instruction in a revision session, where it was pretty much sprung on the students, they weren’t warned it would be done that way (mainly because it was a last minute thing after a random conversation between me and the lecturer). The students didn’t take much time to get used to it.

    We’ve found that in some bigger groups getting discipline and getting students to do work out the answer and do the first vote on their own is hard work and difficult to do without losing students enthusiasm. Even so we’ve seen that it works where one small group talks to another group about their answers.

  3. Thanks for the reply Steve – and your insight. I think students would in general get used to the idea pretty quickly, and hopefully see the benefit even if not immediately. I am still wondering if it would work with a small group of academic staff though? Have you ever tried peer instruction in that context with a very small number (say around 6 people) that you only have for a couple of hours? Thanks for getting back to me anyway, I appreciate it – I will try and catch up with you to discuss in the near future :).

  4. Hi Sue, I would think the main problem you’d encounter with training a small group of academic staff using this method is the ingrained tendency for academics to work alone, and to build knowledge for themselves rather than ‘borrowing’ from other groups, as Mitra encouraged the school students to do. Six people is a small number – I’d guess you might end up getting collaboration within two groups of three, but not necessarily between them as Mitra encouraged. Maybe the groups could be encouraged to share and compare their ideas after doing their research, as a formal part of the task? Collaborative working (2 or 3 to a computer) is a good confidence-builder, as I used to find when teaching in the lifelong learning sector, but perhaps academics are less likely to feel out of their depth with online research than some of the adults I used to teach. I would anticipate that a good way to get them to engage with the task, rather than feeling patronised, would be to start by explaining the benefits of collaborative working to actively building, and thus retaining and being able to apply knowledge. Maybe also highlight that there is no single ‘right’ answer that you can give them on such a topic, and that their own insights are therefore important? It’s an interesting dichotomy that some of our leading educators are sometimes the most averse to new methods, but if they’ve come to the training there’s an indication that they are perhaps more open than some, so it might be worth a try, if only to gain their feedback.

  5. Thanks for your comments – I would certainly like to give it a try. I do agree with you though and think that many academic staff would actually very much dislike this way of teaching, which is why we often fall back to more traditional teaching methods in training sessions. Thanks for your advice and taking the time to comment 🙂

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