World’s First School in the Cloud Opened

World’s First School in the Cloud Opened

Professor Sugata Mitra, who is an educational technology specialist at the Newcastle University, has designed a School in the Cloud made up of Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE),

where students can explore and learn from each other with the help of a variety of online learning resources. A SOLE is basically an environment where students can work in groups, access the Internet, follow up on a class activity or project and work according to their interests. It is a minimally invasive education technique that lets kids discover answers to questions on their own, teaching each other in the process. This method if employed effectively can furnish remarkable results. The SOLE concept was popularized by Sugata Mitra. The School in the Cloud developed by Sugata, is built on the concept of SOLE and is a learning lab where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online.

Mitra hosted a TED talk in which he shared his visions of designing the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to explore their wonders and bring on their ability to work in collaboration, which would be made possible by developing the School in the Cloud. In this school, children would go on their intellectual adventures driven by the questions that their mediators put in. The motive of Mitra’s TED talk was to urge and encourage people to do SOLE at home, in the school and outside of schools with the help of his SOLE toolkit which depicts how to do it very easily. He wanted people to do it and then send the data to him so he could put it all together and move it into the School of Clouds to create the future of learning. Since this TED talk was posted online, thousands of people downloaded the SOLE toolkit to bring the method into their homes and classrooms. Mitra’s plans are even more ambitious, with his $1 million TED Prize seed money, he wants to open up a series of seven learning labs, two in the United Kingdom and five in India.

The first School in the Cloud has opened at George Stephenson High School, in Killingworth, on the 22nd of November’2013, as part of a project funded by the $1m that Prof. Sugata won from the TED Foundation. It is a one-room learning lab, the interiors of which have been designed by the students where colorful beanbags are provided for students to sit on and interesting designs of fluffy clouds are painted on the walls. The glass doors of the lab have the acronym SOLE written all over them reflecting the new vision of education that pairs the vast resources of the Internet with children’s innate sense of curiosity. Here, students start off by investigating a question by gathering around computers to begin their research. They are guided by an online mediator from the Granny Cloud, which skypes retired teachers into the lab, not particularly for instruction but to offer encouragement to students. Students unpack big questions, get engaged, inspire wonder and feel independent and self-motivated.

The main features of the School in the Cloud are:

  • These are hi-tech glass classrooms designed to enable students to communicate easily with the people around the world.
  • Students use secure Skype connections to speak to retired professionals on the cloud. These professionals are from a range of fields who have volunteered to share their expertise.
  • These experts nicknamed ‘Grannies’ suggest topics to the children, guide them to relevant resources and encourage them. On the whole, the learning is directed by the children themselves.
  • An adult is present to supervise students for health and safety reasons and not as a teacher.
  • There are no time-tables or curriculums and much of the learning is left to students.
  • The computers come with no instructions and are simply left for children to explore for themselves. This way they develop skills more effectively.

The Killingworth School in the Cloud is run and managed by a committee of 12-year-old students, who manage a schedule to let different classes and groups use the lab in time slots before, during and after school. The lab is provided with computers and touchscreen devices, as these are the tools students use to do their investigation and research work. This lab is the first live demo of the School in the Cloud web platform, which not only connects labs to the Granny Cloud but also serves as a community foundation for SOLE practitioners and contains an evolving library of guides and resources.

Microsoft and Skype are the core technology partners for the School on the Cloud platform; Made By Many is the co-designer and development partner; and IDEO assisted with design research.

Five more "School in the Cloud" learning labs of varying resources and bandwidth are scheduled to launch throughout India in 2014, and the second UK lab will go live in the Spring. All seven Schools in the Cloud will be directed by the School in the Cloud web platform and its community of Grannies. Beta testing for the School in the Cloud platform will begin publicly in March at the annual TED Conference in Vancouver.

Basically, a School in the Cloud is a school without physical teachers. It is very different from a conventional school and is a glass room filled with computers and with one large screen to allow moderators to Skype in and play a role in the education of the children. The moderators are drawn from Prof Mitra's ‘cloud granny’ programme, which is already up and running in the UK and India. The key part of the project is to let the children self-organize.

Do you encourage the concept of School in the Cloud and would you like to see more such schools coming into existence? Share your views in the Comment Box.

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About the Author
Author: Saomya Saxena
Educational technology blogger, loves to research and write about tools and tips for educators on how to integrate technology into everyday instruction creatively and effectively. Fond of reading and writing.

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