Information Scarcity vs. Universal Information Access

Embedded below is a very thought provoking video from a TED talk given by Dr. Sugata Mitra detailing some of the details of his recent work.


A few discussion questions to get you started:

1.  It is really the presence of the web and universal access to information that makes this type of learning possible.   How have you seen this type of learning or these strategies impact the world of education?  Or have they?

2.  Dr. Mitra has very persuasive words regarding the power of social learning.  How true do you find this to be and in what way does it challenge some traditional pedagogies in American education?

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19 thoughts on “Information Scarcity vs. Universal Information Access

  1. “If children are interested…..EDUCATION will happen” was one of the many insightful quotes made by Dr. Mitra. I am fascinated by the research and data that was presented in this video. I believe this quote is so very true. I often find it easy to fall into the trap of thinking that kids can only do so much due to their age and experiences. This video is the perfect example as to how this is WRONG. Whether teachers are present or not, given the appropriate tools children will utilize them. This goes to show that our old fashioned ways or teaching are truly out of date. We need to be creating students that WANT to continue learning out side of school. This won’t happen unless we model how to do this appropriately IN school.

  2. I think this video illustrates some major key points. One being that since we do have this information so readily available to us, this type of learning is quite possible and is illustrated in these experiments. The one disadvantage of this information could be that without the proper teaching, students will not know how to determine if the information they are receiving is valid. This could become a problem with this approach. With that being said though, I think this type of learning can work and can be very powerful. Not only do we need to encourage student collaboration and social learning but we also need to provide students with the proper skills to become self-motivated learners.
    This may challenge traditional American pedogogy but with the balance between this social learning and traditional learning, I think students can benefit from both. Traditionally, the teacher models how to do something or how to learn something and then we see if they master these skills through modeling and practice. This approach almost works in the opposite way where students are teaching each other. This could also be an example of the flip approach.

  3. Wow – powerful and persuasive discussion topic! I think this is absolutely true – My personal pedagogy is grounded deeply in Vygotsky’s social constructivism perspective and Bandura’s social learning theory. In the 1960s/70s the world of education began to understand the power of social interaction during learning. This is a HUGE transition for many traditional instructional teachers… however, if given the opportunity to observe, most teachers would embrace its value.

  4. I love the quote, “If children are interested then education will happen.” This is true in many different ways. If teaching is interesting then they will listen and learn. If the conversation is interesting then we will listen and learn. This is really common sense! As educators, we sometimes forget what it was like in school as the student……worksheets, reports, and lectures. Why would we do the same to a new generation? We now have the resources available to keep our students interested. We need to trust our students and their way of learning. It is time to let go of tradition!

  5. I believe the web and universal access to information has greatly impacted the world of education. As a 2nd grade teacher, I have witnessed more and more of my students coming into the classroom with more science content knowledge than ever before. The availability of the information and the desire of students to want to learn more about specific content areas have increased the amount of knowledge students have. I have found that the information that I use to cover doesn’t need to be covered because most students know it already. This has allowed us the opportunity to dig deeper into content areas which is a benefit to students.
    There is also some truth to the power behind social learning. It goes back to collaboration. When students can put their minds together to learn they can and will be successful. The challenge with social learning is that it is totally opposite of the traditional teaching/learning model. For the longest time now, teachers have always been the source of information. Teachers knew everything and you had to learn through your teacher. Now with the availability of information on the web that information is readily available to students at home and/or school. So as teachers we need to shift our thinking and become something other than the usual “sage on the stage.”

  6. The saying “children’s minds are like sponges”, especially the ones who crave that knowledge and opportunity to learn new things. Many of us who were granted with a free education may take that for granted. I think the children in those villages had a thirst for knowledge and it would not have mattered if it was a computer or a person they would have gained something. But on the other hand as educators we know that technology can have a huge impact on learning. This study and Dr. Mitra’s observations are a prime example of this. It contradicts our traditional views on education in the sense that there are really no teachers there teaching. In some cases there are teachers there facilitating but not the traditional- “I give the knowledge and you receive the knowledge”. I believe that this type of learning is what children need today in order to be successful in our world today. We need children working together in groups to solve problems, many of which they initially have no guidance to solve. I was impressed with this study and I wonder if this is an example why India is a leading country in education and the US is not?

  7. While I found it difficult at times to understand, I find it amazing that these kids can pick up on the technology so quickly. These kids had no directions on how to use a computer, but they taught themselves how to use the computer and Internet to find all different sorts of things. There no doubt was also teaching involved with the kids. When one of them found out how to do something, or if they saw how someone was doing something on the computer, they would then teach the other kids how they did what they were doing. All of this comes back to the students trying to do something, and then learning from what they did previously. It really is amazing that these kids could teach themselves and each other how to use the computer and Internet with no previous experience with technology.

  8. Very interesting video. I liked sample groups showed a range of students. At first I thought it was going to primarily apply to impoverish children with very little backgroud knowledge but toward the end he moves to classroom that look more like ours in the US. I really like the thought of discussion and communication being necessary. It is not just one kid in front of one computer learning on his/her own. They are communicating and colloborating, making connections with the content and with each other. As a science teacher I would be interested in how they perform when hands-on activity or more application is required. As the instructional method changes I would be interested to see how assessment would change.

  9. This video was very insightful on how poor other nations are when it comes to education, but yet how willing the students are to learn with any opportunity. Like Dr. Mitra said in the beginning of his lecture, about drawing a map and making circles where the most help is needed, but good teacher’s won’t go. This is true on many levels. Look at us. For example, why would we choose District 150 over a district like Dunlap? Dunlap has hundreds of great applicants for one job opening, while District 150 won’t nearly draw that type of attention.
    I personally have not seen these types of learning or strategies impact the world of education. Give it I am still early in my career, but from my experiences the large majority of instruction involves teachers guiding the students to a certain outcome. In these strategies in the video there are no teachers. The students are solely responsible for any learning that takes place, and I don’t think we trust our system enough to take the back seat in a student’s education and let them discover an outcome on their own. The pressures of being a teacher in today’s society take away our risk taking when it comes to giving students a topic and taking a back seat for two months. What about our evaluations, an administrator’s thoughts, parents’ feelings about their tax money being wasted, and the list could go on? It would be great if teachers could since the outcomes seem to be amazing with these students in India and Great Britain in learning new languages, cultures, and solving what seem to be outrageous problems for twelve year olds!
    I would think the pedagogy of American Education will change due to this research. The educational limits to web-based instruction are limitless, and with the demographics and culture changing in America so rapidly today. These strategies for ESL students or English speaking students to learn a new language could help in the everyday classroom.

    • I’d like to think this type of research and other brain research would pressure the pedagogy to become more student centered but until we wrap our minds around the futility of NCLB and that constant mantra of accountability and standards I’m not too sure. Almost all classroom observation tools focus on evaluating only direct instruction and this type of student centered learning has the ability to agitate parents. I fear the arrival of senate bill 7 and the transformation of administrators into accountants coming up with formulas to mathematically express a teachers competence or lack there of won’t be helping the matter much… at least in Illinois. But all that being said the first step is creating a culture within schools that is open and reflective about pedagogical choices that often go without analysis. We tend to teach the way we were taught and without focused high quality professional development it doesn’t tend to change. If there is a silver lining to the accountability movement perhaps in our dire efforts to keep squeezing every subgroup into the AYP safe harbor we’ll find something of true value.

  10. It’s amazing to me what technology and social learning can do. I don’t know how any teacher could argue with Dr. Mitra’s message. I think sometimes we are guilty of wanting to have complete control over our classrooms. It is so important to let go of that control and allow your students to take control of their learning through technology and the power of their peers. By doing this we are preparing our students to become productive members of society. They will be able to problem solve with others and become technology capable creators.

  11. “If children have interest, education happens.” This is so true!

    This video offered some good examples of how technology can impact all learning, but most especially that of children. If putting computers/technology in areas where teachers are few helps educate, think what technology can do when accompanied by teachers/facilitators. I am always amazed at what young children can do with computers and technology.

    I also think an important point to keep in mind from the video was that in many of the examples there were “groups” of “students” discussing together. Working together is an important part of education today. Students working in groups and sharing are powerful learning tools – even without the use of technology. I also liked the note about the children continuing to discuss and research after the classroom visit – continuing to learn.

    Technology is changing the way children learn!

    Janelle Niemeier

  12. My first thought is that we teachers sometimes get in the way of student learning, simply by the rules that we are forced to work within. Some of the rules have very valid reasons to exist some do not. I believe that we have not seen this type of learning take place simply because it would take a different mindset from a community to allow teachers the flexibility to incorporate the freedom to learn within a course that you witness within the video. In this day and age of assessment, such a style of educating may be greatly benefitial, but is a huge risk to implement. A thought that has come to me in the past that I heard him mention is if its on google why do we need to stuff it in our head. Today’s students don’t believe that information is something that needs to be learned, as it is always at their finger tips. In actuallity this is true and blasts past teaching practices out of the water. This is not to say that knowing basics is not necessary, instead what we need to do is find a balance between teaching basic information and guiding the student to then learn how to learn further information on their own to become a lifelong learner.

    • Side Note: I just thought about what we are talking about I did three times during the video. He would mention something and I would pause the video to look it up. Example-Arthur C. Clark

  13. Children are natural investigators. New technology does not scare them; it only makes them more curious and determined. If we have the technology, we as teachers should be able to help construct the questions and facilitate the students toward an understanding. The second important idea from this video is collaboration. “Two heads are better than one,” still carries a lot of truth. As adults, collaborating with colleagues helps us to be better educators, expand our knowledge base, and experiment with new ideas and innovations. Students can benefit in the same ways. The world is changing and as we move our students to be 21st Century learners, we need to let them learn and practice the skills that will help them be successful.

  14. I found it interesting that Dr. Mitra expressed how important the social interaction component to this process was. The students seemed truly engaged in thier learning, which begs the question, “What do I need to do differently in my classroom?” We have technology available. We have many opportunities for cooperative learning. So, why do the social interactions of my students for the purposes of learning seem like an exercise in futility at times? After watching the video, the keypoint seems that the learning is student centered and student directed.

  15. I believe that there is great value behind social learning. I know that this idea is hard to implement because it takes a lot of planning and most of all a teacher “teaching from the back.” It was very insightful watching the students jump onto the internet and go searching for the information they needed. I catch students in my class sometimes just watching one thing I did on the Smartboard and the next day in Lexia Lab they are trying to do the same thing. These students in our classrooms want to learn more and more each day and sometimes I fear are they getting enough? With technology we have unlimited resources to fill their brains with everything they would want. Although, I do find my brightest students being the ones who are most scared to take a challenge in a project in fear of “getting it wrong.” Watching these students from other countries makes me want to push our students out of their comfort zone and experiment with the resources they have. Without this push I fear these students might be intelligent now, but will be surpassed in later years because of their fear to go out and find the answers.

    • I think Amanda has an excellent point. Students have more and more information literally at their fingertips, but they are afraid of coming to a wrong conclusion or a wrong answer. More and more research (including from Marzano) points to the fact that students need to make mistakes to learn from them. We need to encourage students to take risks into discovering knowledge, not just being able to Google it.

  16. I think this is a great way to continue differentiated instruction. The students are able to work at their own speed and progress. Like Lisa said, if the student doesn’t grasp a concept, they can review and watch the lesson over again. This new innovated way will save a lot of money in the classroom. It will be less paper pencil, and more electronic. This is what our students are doing when they get home from school and this is what attracts their attention. Some of my concerns are communication skills. Will students be lacking these communication skills? I think this is possible, and I think we are going to start to see more and more of it as technology continues to take off. It is going to take time and change in order to make it smooth for districts, parents, teachers, and students. This will be a great way to reach all students!

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