Wired.com recently published a report that glorified the work of Sugata Mitra, a computer scientist who discovered a supposedly-powerful new way of learning. The article is worth reading, but here's the gist of his teaching method:
"He selected a small group of 10- to 14-year-olds and told them there was some interesting stuff on the computer, and might they take a look? Then he applied his new pedagogical method: He said no more and left."
He began creating schools in India and the U.K. built around the following philosophy:
There will be no teachers, curriculum, or separation into age groups—just six or so computers and a woman to look after the kids’ safety. His defining principle: “The children are completely in charge.”
While I am no advocate of our current Industrial Era school system, the idea that connecting kids to the internet and stepping out of the way is a pipe dream.
A quote by Michael Welsh, associate professor of cultural anthropology and digital ethnography at Kansas State University, emphasizes the reason why this "get out of the way" method won't work:
"We live in an age of almost infinite information and learning opportunity and so the key here is we have to inspire people to have a sense of wonder and curiosity and if we do that, they have what is essentially the world’s largest knowledge machine at their fingertips. If we fail at that they have the world’s largest distraction device."
Welsh's comment and Mitra's philosophy both call for a change from the status quo of education, but Welsh leaves the teacher in the picture, with the job of inspiring...and keeping students from being distracted.
I recently wrote a short paper for my Philosophy of Technology class that focused on the Mediated Learning Experience (MLE), where a teacher figuratively places themselves between the student and the environment or object that is being taught. In regards to modern information technology, the idea is that students experience the Internet, computers, tablets, smartphones, etc., through the guiding hand of the teacher.
Technology should change the way we teach, but it will not make us obsolete. We should be the content filters for our students, pointing them to quality information, keeping them focused and weaving our ideas, their ideas and the ideas explored online into a cohesive learning experience.