Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Story Behind Sugata Mitra's Hole in the Wall project

This talk is about Sugata Mitra's research work in India for NIIT. He was part of a research department in India too, when the idea of the whole in the wall project came to him.

Notes from The INK Talk – My Journey to Re- inventing Education

PHD Student in Delhi – his PHD mentor left for the UK, for some years, when he joined his phd program in delhi. So he had relative independence to study on his own at that time. It was in the 1970's and computers were still large machines placed in the basements of select universities at that time. To write code, he would have to note it all down on round white paper and then would go to the basement and give it to an operator there. He made a mouse program, where when the code ran on the computer, a mouse like sound would come. He completed a PHD thesis in theoretical physics at IIT Delhi.

Inspiration from Science – Blue Dye was a chemical molecule from the phthalocyanine family of dyes. Blood (haemoglobin) is another molecule that has similar properties as a phthalocyanine. The only difference is that in Blue Dye there is copper in between the Phthalocyanine structure and in Blood  (Haemoglobin) there is iron in between the phthalocyanine like structure. Sugata thought about what would happen if you took a haemoglobin particle and removed the iron in between and put copper in between the structure instead. He proposed that it would become blue dye or so. He published a paper related to this. This fascination with structure helped him come to the conclusion that the shape of things determine outcomes more than the content. What I put in is not the right question, how it is shaped is important. At the end of the talk he described how his research work in Science inspired his Hole in the Wall Project. He also mentioned how in particle physics, there is a theory where the observer changes the observed, so don't go near the object, just leave them alone.

First Learning Experiment and First Job – His First job was as a teacher at NIIT and he had to teach 30 students code. He did not know how he got himself into this situation as he was not a teacher or anything of that sort. So when he went to class. He brought the code of the Hangman game with him and ran it on a projector and pc for the class. The students were amazed that the code could create the game. A few seconds later, he put a bug in the program. Then he left the classroom after telling the students to find a way to make the program work. When he came back the next day, the Program had started working. The students found the bug and fixed. He published a paper about this experience. Motorola's testing team found out about this and often did similar debugging exercises for their testing team to check their capabilities.

Second Job and work in the Technology Field – He worked for a delhi based newspaper, The Patriot for many years. He headed the technology division there. Using LAN he created yellow pages like directories for various cities. Indira Gandhi found out about his work and send him on a round the world trip to observe how international newspapers transferred data and news digitally. He did so, but when he returned Mrs Gandhi was assassinated. He had submitted a report about how data is transferred through telephone lines based on his research work in the period.

Part of the Research Department at NIIT – He lead the creation of a research department at NIIT. At this department, they would do several out of the box projects. Like remote controlled cars controlled by the internet, how to stick electrodes in your head and see how you could move mouse curser with your thoughts alone. Over the years, over 30 million people went through NIIT and many of his students landed up in silicon valley and he often meets them there.

The Hole in the Wall Project – He went off to Newcastle in 2006 to continue his research work at a university there. He started working in the Primary school at Gateshead, which was across the river. He worked with a school teacher in the primary school to design the idea of a Self Organizing Learning Environment. This was a long name for doing the Hole in the Wall Project in the classroom. He found out that putting one computer in a class with several children. He states how this is far more powerful than one computer and several students. He published his findings and several teachers did similar projects around the world. He also worked on another project, called the Granny Cloud. He defined this as a loose group of people who were interested in children, and they would come in over Skype and work with Children. The School in the Cloud Project he thought up, was a combination of the Granny Cloud + The Hole in the Wall Project

How does Sugata define the Hole in the Wall Project - 'It is a chaotic, unsupervised exercise with restricted resources. One computer and lots of children'

Thank you INK,
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