George Lucas Educational Foundation
Collaborative Learning

SOLE: Motivate Students to Teach Themselves (and Each Other)

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What if we asked our students questions (straight from our curriculum), and then we let them, in groups and with the internet, find the answers themselves?  That’s what Dr. Sugata Mitra suggests might motivate and inspire students to learn and teach one another on their own, without adult interference.  Winner of the 2013 TED Prize, educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra has shown with his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments that, “in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest” (http://bit.ly/N0esFy).  

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The Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) proposed by Dr. Mitra lets students organize themselves in groups and learn using an internet-connected computer with little teacher support. What would that look like in your classroom?

In my 8th grade Digital Media classes, creating a SOLE environment was easy: I built a website of resources and let them choose what they wanted to learn.  Movie making, 3D architectural design, animation, coding, blogging, infographic design, computer game design: a wealth of online tutorials allowed my students to pursue their own passions and teach themselves (and each other) whatever they wanted to learn.

But what would a SOLE look like in an academic course, like my English 8 classes? Could I motivate my students to read critically and write effectively on their own?

In November of each year, my students write their own novels (thanks to the support of the Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo). In the past I have spent September and October giving my students assignments to help them prepare for this writing project: plot outlines, character descriptions, setting details, etc. But what if I asked them to research how to write a novel on their own?  What if I let them, in SOLEs, search for answers to questions: how do I write a novel? How do I create complex characters? How do I plot my story?

I think the answers they find will be more powerful than the ones I spoon-feed them.  What about you?  What questions could you ask your students to find on their own? How could your students self-organize, with whatever tools they need, to learn the curriculum?

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.