29 Jan 2015

SOLES for English language learners

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IH London are trialling Self Organised Learning Environments for English language learners, in partnership with Newcastle University.

Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLES) were developed by Professor Sugata Mitra as a place for children to work in groups, access the internet for activities or projects or simply to follow where their interests led them.

The project that was to become SOLES began in locations around India as a series of “hole in the wall” experiments. This involved placing computers in villages and communities with low literacy rates for local children to access the World Wide Web. Within three months of launching this experiment Mitra found that the children were speaking to each other using English words and had developed a greater understanding of computer technology.

Professor Mitra’s award winning TED Talk on the School in the Cloud project

Since taking up his current role as Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, Mitra and his team have further developed the SOLES programme and embarked upon a series of research projects on the use of SOLES in schools around the UK.

Professor Mitra’s ideas came to the attention of the global TEFL community at 2014’s IATEFL conference in Harrogate. His plenary, “The Future of Learning”, divided the audience and the debate continues on the blogosphere and beyond.

Whilst few of those attending the IATEFL conference disagreed with Mitra’s general critique of how education is designed and delivered in the school system, some believed he was implying that teaching itself may, and even should, soon be obsolete.

Mitra himself has never explicitly stated this and his department at Newcastle University primarily work with teachers in secondary schools, encouraging and enabling educators to use SOLES as a compliment to regular structured syllabus whilst the research team monitor, learn and develop the programme.

Varinder Unlu, IH London’s Director of Studies, said: “The story of how SOLES began, where they are now and the potential for the future is fascinating. Here at IH London we are particularly interested in testing the relevance for adult learners generally and language learners in particular. Although we are not making any assumptions about what we may or may not discover through this process, we certainly do not expect to find that it leads to the end of language teaching as we know it, but we are very excited at the prospect of exploring and testing additional learning techniques and teaching methodologies”.

James Stanfield from Newcastle University said: “SOLE Central at Newcastle University is very excited to be working with an organisation as prestigious as IH London on this project. Our work to date has focused on children under the age of the 16, so to see how adult learners adapt to SOLES and if it is an appropriate platform for language learners is an intriguing prospect”.

IH London’s SOLES experiment began with a group of 19 mixed nationality and ability English learners on 19 January. The sessions take place five days a week for two hours each day. This first stage of the trial will end 13 February, after which both the IH London and Newcastle University teams will review, analyse and report on the first stage before stage two gets underway.

You can keep up-to-date with the progress of the experiment and read reflections and reports from those involved on the IH London blog and follow the hashtag #solecentral on Twitter for daily updates.

Self Organised Learning Session 1

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