Friday, 17 June 2011

eTwinning and professional development

“Make it as free as you can.”
This sentence was one of the turning points in my growth as a teacher. With these words Professor Sugata Mitra ended his speech at the eTwinning Conference 2008 in Bucharest. After this speech I actually was a different teacher – I had a different perception of myself in my job, of what I was supposed to do, and how.

Through Professor Mitra’s words, I realized the link between social inclusion, education, and remoteness. He was talking about Indian slums, and his famous “Hole in the wall” experiments, proving that children in groups could self-instruct themselves via the internet. Soon I realized he could as well be talking about students anywhere in the world. A child doesn’t have to be born in a slum to experience remoteness.

In the exciting environment of the Conference, with enthusiastic teachers, awards, experts, futuristic ICT projects, Professor Mitra suddenly shifted the light from “teacher” to “pupil”. He introduced us to a situation where a teacher was barely needed: children, left alone with a computer, could learn by themselves, via a self organizing learning environment. I have a vivid memory of the audience being shocked. Is the internet a “better” teacher? Is the teacher useless? Or do we have to think of a different role for the teacher?

When I say I’m different since then, it doesn’t mean I do anything new. I just try to do it better.
I’m striving to change the pupils’ perception of who I am as a teacher – I’m accompanying them in their learning, not leading them. My eTwinning projects are flexible, no musts, no set pathways: our goals are fixed, but students are free to proceed at their pace and explore alternative ways. An already arranged project, where students are actors in a predetermined script, may give you a sense of success, but it’s fake, and above all boring. You don’t need an award to prove you succeeded in your job: sometimes the smallest steps, that won’t earn your project any prize, will be the most rewarding for your students. Now I run the risk of meeting the new and unexpected in my job. I work with my students, not have them work. And I just make it as free as I can.

Laura Maffei
Voices of eTwinning


  1. Dear LLT Friends,
    I think, we were really lucky because we had the possibility to hear Sugata Mitra's speach a Bucharest.
    I have never heard about "The Hole in the Wall" before. It was very interesting and very different, a great experience.
    Very different, for example from what we heard at the university about the role of teacher,or what I lived as a student in the classroom. (Even if I met some very good teachers.)
    I enjoyed a lot to see the video about the children in India. They really challenged to use computer without any teacher, and they learned by themselves. And at the same time I had so many questions and confusion too in my mind. The "traditional teacher" was schoked.
    I thought about so many things..children need me/need teacher in the classroom? What's the role of teachers?
    Now I think, maybe I can show a possible way to my pupils, but there isn't only one right way. And it happends time to time when I learn from children a lot. For example in eTwinning, we tried out a new ICT tool, but were they to show me a really creative possibility to use it. But it doesn't happend only with ICT tools, but in more situation. One of my most beautiful experience in the classroom in this school year was when a little girl who has difficulties in speeching learned a poem, and recited it o other pupils. They applaused her, and told: it was great to hear you. I was very touched, and I think, children sometime are more sensible as we adults.
    And learning together is a challenge to all of us.

  2. Your post intrigued me and after searching the web I found this video where Mr Mitra explains his experiment. As a spun of that search I also found this other interesting video about why and how we should change the Education paradigm: I hope you like them.

  3. Dear Laura, Monika and Elena,
    I've found your entries and videos highly interesting.
    Actually I feel that deepening the reflections you've made upon the new ways of conceiving our job in order to fill the gap between us and our kids is the right way to follow to give sense to it.
    Thank you!

  4. Dear Elena,
    thank you for sharing the video and presentation about Education paradigm.
    Talking about the could be very interesting to know your opinions too. I work in a primary school, which is not specialised in sense that there is a "normal curriculum". And the school is not in the centre of the town. We have many pupils from families who have social problems or live in a disadvantaged environment.
    At the same time in the town there are some schools (maybe 2-3) which -as I think- are like a factory: there are too many children, it's a kind of prestige to study there for families, children have many time private teachers just to be able stay at school and learn at the highest level...and families think-to study in these primary schools is for the future of their children.
    I think different- for me seems better if children are happy and have really time to be children (to play for example..).

  5. Elena, I liked the video so much I decided to post it so that it has more visibility. Thank you so much for finding it: that's a similar speech to that I attended. Great !!!
    Thx again

  6. You are welcome,Laura. It's a pleasure to share it with you.
    And for Monika. I'm not sure how can I apply these ideas to my own teaching and I think that certain guiding in the content of formal education is needed, but at the same time I agree that we can't give all the pupils the same and that it's very important we don't forget that every person has a different potential and different needs . It is very important to give pupils occasions to explore,to work on their own and to do it their way and of course, especially for primary school children, to play.I am not a primary school teacher myself but I can't imagine a good school that give no place to play and games. What you say about the parents worried about the best education to their children reminds me of my own concern when I see some pupils overloaded with extracurricular activities . I find some parents want their children to get their own unfulfilled aspirations. They want them to learn foreign languages, be the best at sports, and so on, whereas when they were in their teens they did have a much more free schedule and of course never achieved such great goals as they are estting for their children.

  7. I met Sugata Mitra in Madrid last 22nd of October. It was really a wonderful experience. If you want to listen to him again, here's his speech: