Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Considering Teaching with SOLE Approach

| 3 Comments

It just so happened that three entirely different people mentioned SOLEs to me within a short 2-month period. They are Sean Michael Morris, Jonathan Worth, and an educator here in Egypt. SOLEs are Self-Organized Learning Environments (check out this toolkit) and it occurred to me that this approach (I’ll explain in a second) really fits my teaching philosophy and style, even though I have problems with Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiment. What’s cool about the SOLE approach is that it’s meant to be used in what are traditionally formal/structured learning environments, so there IS a teacher in the room (not just in the cloud). It’s just that the teacher’s role is modified to:

  1. Asking big questions
  2. Allowing students to use the internet in groups to work together to answer the big questions
  3. Facilitating a debriefing at the end where students share what they learned and reflect and connect

What I have believed for a long time (and that’s not just me of course, it’s a pretty common belief) is that information is findable; what teachers need to do, instead of disseminate information, is to facilitate learners’ ability to find information more quickly, and to evaluate the credibility of information and synthesize it in useful ways.

So even before I heard of SOLEs, I was considering modifying my Twitter Scavenger Hunt activity and my blogging activity about designing educational games. Instead of asking students to “find an article about educational games” and do specific tasks for a Twitter Scavenger Hunt, I was planning to:

  1. Ask students to ask their OWN questions about educational game design. That would be the beginning of my first or second class. When they heard they were going to design educational games, what did they want to know? Which parts of that phrase do they need to explore?
  2. Ask deeper questions about educational games, and let students discover answers to them (based on #1, or add a few of my own if students don’t come up with ones that are deep enough, or are too easy to find)
  3. Give students time in groups during class  time to work to answer the questions. My addition to the use of internet in general is to encourage those who are on social media to use Twitter (and instead of what SOLEs call “grannies” I could give students a list of my own Twitter friends who know about edu games who might be able to help share resources or answer questions on Twitter). Students would document what they find on a Google doc (or paper) which they’d share with everyone else
  4. Possibly have time at end of class to debrief OR have students work on their own afterwards, and blog their own reflections, possibly doing some more individual investigations in between
  5. We would debrief again as a full class the next time we meet

Or something like that. What I liked a lot about the idea of SOLEs is that the suggestion is to allow students to both choose their own groups (something I like) and to flexibly shift between groups so it’s not a fixed group working together all the time.

I have other ideas for the class, but for now, this is the one I wanted to capture. It’s just an idea for one class session, but I have a feeling I could modify the approach to different things.

Other class sessions I have planned include:

  • A class session where students bring in their own favorite games and we play a game of games (like I do every semester; I just modify it each time; so last semester each student wrote the name of their game in a little plastic egg, and in groups, they picked one randomly and tried to have other students in their group “guess” the game by one of several modes: charades, pictionary, 5 words and… I can’t remember the other one haha but just different modes of playing)
  • A class session where students “hack a game” – they learn about what learning outcomes and multiple intelligences are, and they hack an existing game to make it more educational to meet a learning outcome designed by other students. Basically, I could make this class session more student-driven by letting them discover on their own what learning outcomes and multiple intelligences are (not a very “big” question, but still) and driving the choices of which games to hack for which outcomes… then again, maybe the big questions here relate to what makes a game educational; and what makes a learning experience valuable/engaging?
  • A class session where students play a couple of Egyptian-designed games by a guest speaker who is an educational game designer herself
  • Class sessions where my students play games designed by previous students (will select a few) and assess them
  • Students this semester will get an opportunity to visit an NGO that uses repurposed/recycled material to create useful things. They will hopefully come up with their own designs of games (or maybe just educational material and not necessarily games?) for the NGO to use, or to use with the community they serve, etc.

Not yet sure how to incorporate SOLE methodology to all of the above. It’s already quite student-centered and inquiry-based, but maybe I can create more room for students to have choices and design their own pathway through all this?

NOTE: I think using SOLEs with college kids shouldn’t be as challenging or as big a leap as using them with school kids; I also think with independent learners who are adults it should be a no-brainer and possibly as a general philosophy not that different from heutagogy… which reminds me – why again do we do workshops for faculty?? This reminds me of an #olc15 talk I attended yesterday…need to blog about it later.

NOTE2: Asking big questions is going to be the biggest challenge. So maybe instead of asking direct questions about edu games (well I could start with those, as well as ones like the difference between games and play) I could ask “what is learning?” and “how do we know someone has learned?” and “how do we design a learning experience that addresses the needs and interests of different people?” and things like that? Not sure. I also like having students individually reflect on their own learning experiences that they enjoyed and what was special about them; and about games they enjoyed and why, and whether those could be educational as they are, or modified to become more educational. I want them to question the values behind game mechanics and dynamics and aesthetics. It’s something that comes naturally to me now in a lot of contexts, but may not for them.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Maha,

    I came across this too a couple of years ago. I quite like MITRA and his ideas really resonate with me. The problem we face is that our students come to us with an embedded culture of learning that is often at odds with self-organized learning in all its forms: they have been stripped of all agency and often, all curiosity. This may be why SOLE begins with this:

    “Students *are given* a big question or *challenged to think on their own*… ”

    So, in fact, students are assumed to be incapable of supplying a “big question” of their own, or of thinking independently without an explicit dare to do so.

    I taught for many years in the environment you describe – teacher in the room is a fly on the wall: Asking big questions;
    Allowing students to use the internet in groups to work together to answer the big questions; Facilitating a debriefing at the end where students share what they learned and reflect and connect. That was in Saudi Arabia where I could get away with such things. Students responded very well to it and also learned something – though they didn’t always like my questions: Is Bigfoot real? How should we prepare for the Zombie apocalypse? Forget women driving, ban men too – the future is self-driving cars….

    But I would not like your class. I do not like games and never have. Nothing bores me like a game. To me, all games are bored games. So, how would I fit into your class?

    • U should see what my students create. Some of em don’t like games either. One of my fave “games” is a set of trash material and the game is to create a toy out of repurposed material using what is in the box or outside it. They called it Recycled Legos. So it’s not really a game – they made it gamey by having two teams of players do it. Another game was a non-competitive game that has one player blindfolded and tge other ear-muffled and cooperate as a deaf-blind team in a treasure hunt. Two of my fave games. I do want them to focus more on educational experiences rather than the game aspect itself. I do think learning should be fun, but fun and play aren’t necessarily games

    • And i agree – i wanna let students ask their own questions. That is in itself an important process for the future outside the class

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