In Education

Three weeks ago, John Andrew Williams sat down with Natalia Arredondo, a PHD student and researcher for SOLE Central at Newcastle University. Natalia began her PhD studies under Professor Sugata Mitra in 2013, when she became interested in the Self-Organized Learning Environment method. Since that time, her research with The School in the Cloud and Mitra’s work has uncovered some exciting new ideas and challenges for education.

Education is Changing

Natalia’s current work is focused on The School in the Cloud and how SOLEs are changing the face of education around the globe. Educational methods and the face of education are already changing, and the increased availability of technology around the world has made it possible for people to access information in places that we never thought possible. “Technology has put us in a new paradigm that we are trying to figure out,” says Natalia.The future of education is one of BIG questions

From a practical perspective, this increase in technology increases the flow of information and provides new learning opportunities everywhere. It also generates the possibility of new jobs within the education sphere, and the challenge is to uncover what those are and where educators fit into this new system.

From a research perspective, there are new challenges headed our way also. “The theories that we currently have are not useful for the new challenge,” says Natalia, and this is why Professor Sugata Mitra’s groundbreaking work is so important. The various components of Mitra’s work, and Natalia’s research, are all part of figuring out what the future of education looks like and embracing the new opportunities technology has given us. Granny Cloud, which connects grannies to kids around the world; SOLE Central,the global hub for research and practice into self-organized learning environments based at Newcastle University; and The School in the Cloud, a platform that connects people who have started their own SOLEs around the world, are all different components of their work.

The future of education, according to their work, is one of big questions. Today, “we can answer many questions, that before we had to memorize, in two seconds.” There is no need for memorizing information, and that is no longer what education is about. Now, it is about the questions and the curiosity that comes from the kids.

The Power of SOLEs

With SOLEs, students are prompted a question and given the opportunity to find the answer on their own and by working with the other students in the SOLE. While setting up a new SOLE lab in Harlem, New York, Natalia experienced the power of simple questions and the new opportunities they give students for learning. “The ah ha moment comes when all of the things you set up in a lesson plan to teach, [the students] are already trying to figure out, “ says Natalia. This is a huge breakthrough for educators.

From the research perspective, Natalia has also seen some amazing new things happening. “The kids who are not reading on level figure it out through reading together. They are reading at a much higher level than expected.” SOLEs set the stage for students to be active, rather than passive learners , and “all of the things that we hope will happen in schools, are happening with asking just one question, making sure they have internet and are working together. I have not found a kid that cannot thrive in this environment,” says Natalia.

This is because when you send kids out without limited rules and restrictions for their learning, they are always going to thrive. The boy in the back of the room who looks unengaged may actually be learning as much as the girl who is telling everyone what to do. They simply have different learning styles.

SOLEs celebrate every single child for who they are.

This is why research around SOLEs and The School in the Cloud are so important. Education is in in flux, and there are countless opportunities to improve the way we educate young people. As technology improves and becomes more widespread, so do the chances for change.

If you are interested in learning more about The School in the Cloud and Sugata Mitra’s work, visit theschoolinthecloud.org.

Meet Natalia Arredondo

Natalia Arredondo received her bachelor’s degree in Special Education in Colombia and later migrated to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies in Special Education at Columbia University. From 2003 to 2006, she worked in Pittsburg Public Schools and later moved to New York City to work as a special educator for the Public School system up until 2013. While in New York, she piloted the Nest Program and Intensive Kindergarten to integrate students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome into general education. As a results of this endeavor, she published the article, “When New Things are Exciting” for Asperger’s Digest.

Natalia also served as a lecturer at Hunter College in New York City, where she provided professional development to graduate students. In 2012, Natalia piloted a Dual Language classroom in New York City in PS 112. As part of an inquiry-based approach, Natalia applied Professor Sugata Mitra’s Self-Organized Learning method. In 2013, Natalia began her PhD studies under the mentorship of Professor Mitra.

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