In 2010 I showed an undergraduate class in instructional technology I was teaching Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk The Child Driven Education .  As we finished, I asked them to develop questions for our next  seminar on new learning ecologies and opened the floor to immediate questions and discussion.  Though a blended class, I had shown this film face to face so that I might see the reactions of these soon to be minted teachers. They were silent until an older student in a midlife career change asked the critical question…. “what did he mean when he said ‘if machines could replace a teacher’ they should?” From there, the discussion flowed beautifully.  That conversation persisted for the rest of the course and, I hope, beyond.
In that class and many others, I have tried to guide deliberation with big questions about humans, design and practice– not offering technology as some cut away all powerful and intervening point of its own. Technological tools in the hands of humans can be used to innovate, expand and open our social economic and environmental frontier. An iPad used by a second grader to answer the questions she has co-developed by collecting participatory data for a global & multi-sited project on water quality is powerful.  Crowd sourcing people (student partners, mentors, etc. . . ) to support the learning process via the vast landscape of the internet is powerful.  Focus on the action, the social construct, the learning involved, not the structures of “school” or “positions” and you have the aims of education alight and aloft–in practice. That said, technology today is being used to replicate the 20thcentury models of education anew.  The replacement of textbooks “online”, the “flipping” of didactic instruction to the web and the adaptive learning wave seem to inflame institutional immunity to change, not reflect what is needed in our rapidly changing world.  I will admit that technology, used to replicate 20th century teaching challenges the salience of teaching–a very stark realization.  Enter Sugata.

Sugata challenges, inspires and infuriates the educational community.  He is an educator and a futurist who, through his design research projects, has created a series of design fictions, described by Bruce Sterling as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.”

Take a look at his TED Wish again:


Sugata is not advocating that technology replace humans, rather that humans use technology  to envision, design and practice within new ecologies of learning. He posits that the teacher’s role today is to “set the learning in motion” and that “educational self organization Its not about making learning happen its about letting it happen.” He also asks a  wondrous question in the Ted talk… we “want to be spare parts for a massive supercomputer in the future?”.  Sugata is challenging us to a global deliberation, to join a global research project, to observe, question, experiment, network and associate.  To me, this is the way human agency is embedded in technology and innovation.  Deliberation, decision making, prototyping, iteration all involve the designer and end user to be involved as active and connected agents in learning–if not this, what is the aim of education?

Sugata recently headlined The Oppi Festival with a host of others I respect dearly including Yong Zhao, Tony Wagner and Doug Belshaw. According to this post, Sugata continues to ruffle feathers in certain circles of education while according to this post he continues to inspire.  Sugata is doing exactly what he set out to do, and he is doing it well.

Are you engaging with Sugata in his research, incorporating his ideas into your design and practice as an educator?  I would love for you to leave information on your project, commentary and links.


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