How do children learn in places so remote there is no formal access to teachers or schools? How do children with learning disabilities prosper? How do children with a passion to learn more than is expected in class, stay inspired and engaged? Do children learn more working in groups or working alone? These kinds of questions have been asked by researchers and educators for decades. Hypotheses are tested every day throughout the world, and thanks to innovation, philanthropy and technology, great progress is being made. Today, children are learning in ways they never could before.
A new tool has entered the sphere of innovation around learning. It’s called School in the Cloud and was created by Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University in England. It is a free web platform where groups of young children join volunteer educators via a Skype video call to find the answers to “big questions” by using the Internet and their own collective brainpower. Educators, called Skype Grannies, are there to encourage curiosity and give support, but not to teach. The children teach themselves. Sugata calls it self-organized learning.
Sugata started testing this approach in India nearly 14 years ago, and with Newcastle University has continued researching its effectiveness around the world. His work has shown that learning happens and literacy improves for children in a variety of demographics, setting a path toward a better future.
In 2013 Sugata won the TED Prize to build seven research labs to further his research. Microsoft and the Skype Social Good team are partnering with Made by Many, the product design company behind Skype in the Classroom, to build the web platform that will connect Skype Grannies and children. Building off the early research at Newcastle University, together they are helping to turn Sugata’s vision into a movement. Our support is part of the Microsoft YouthSpark commitment to empower 300 million young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship.
A School in the Cloud can be set up anywhere: in a community center, library, classroom or a home where families or neighborhood children gather. All it takes is a computer, a camera and a connection to the Internet. The program is designed to complement learning in schools or offer learning where there are no schools. The only investment is time – by volunteer Skype Grannies, the facilitators who help set up School in the Cloud sessions and the enthusiastic students searching for answers to questions that quickly grow by number and complexity.
Every day we hear from thousands of teachers in over 200 countries and territories how Skype is being used to inspire and deepen learning in their classrooms and that the impact on student engagement is significant. Skype Grannies are now part of the growing community of educators using Skype. The only difference is, they won’t be in a classroom.
Educators everywhere are welcome to be part of this global research project to understand how children learn together in new ways. And, while you allow the Skype Grannies to take over for a bit, you’ll have a moment to schedule your next Skype in the classroom session.