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School in the Cloud opens - and in a North Tyneside classroom

A leading Newcastle professor has unveiled the world's first online learning suite in a Tyneside classroom.

George Stephenson High, where the learning environment was an immediate hit with the children

The world’s first online learning lab has been unveiled in a North Tyneside classroom.

Professor Sugata Mitra, who specialises in educational technology at Newcastle University, has designed a “School in the Cloud” - made up of Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) - where schoolchildren can explore and learn from each other by tapping into online resources.

Now, the first of these has opened at George Stephenson High School, in Killingworth, as part of a project funded by the $1m he won from the TED Foundation.

Prof Mitra said: “If you take any of the classrooms in this school and if you had a time machine and went back 2,000 years and showed it to a teacher, he would say, that’s a classroom.

“I think it’s ridiculous that the classroom hasn’t changed for thousands of years.

“But if I took a picture of this room and took it back just 15 years, a teacher wouldn’t recognise it as a classroom. That’s how far we’ve come in just two months.

“From research we’ve already seen that reading comprehension is likely to improve in the children taking part in these activities but we do not know what else might happen in the process.

“I will visit this school over the next three years to see the changes. We’re launching five SOLEs in India in both deprived and middle class areas.

“What we’re aiming to do is level out the playing field between schools in underdeveloped areas and those in more affluent areas. If we can do this, then that will be revolutionary in terms of education.”

Prof Mitra was joined at the Killingworth schools by teachers, pupils and, from India, via Skype, a research director for the School in the Cloud project.

The children who helped design the SOLE suite gave tours of the new facility.

Jude Duck, a pupil in George Stophenson’s Year 8, said the SOLE was better than the conventional classroom.

“It’s really good,” she said. “It’s a fun environment compared to sitting in a classroom which is boring.

“Instead of being sat on a hard chair, the chairs are soft and you’re sat in groups which is much better. I feel I get lots more done than I would in a regular lesson and I like being able to figure problems out for myself.”

Amy-Leigh Dickinson, head of design at George Stephenson High School, was inspired by Prof Mitra’s approach two years ago and after discovering that his self-organised learning methods had not been tried in secondary schools before, she set about testing them in normal classrooms.

She said: “From the outset, the children’s love of learning came through and there was a fantastic buzz in the classroom.

“We’ve always been a school about creating independent learners and that’s certainly what this is all about.”

Prof Mitra’s self organised learning methods are now adopted in classrooms around the world, but their beginning are in fact rooted here in the North East.

He said: “The whole concept was actually invented by myself and Emma Crawley at a primary school called St Aidan’s in Gateshead.

“I’m proud to say something so progressive and, I hope, life-changing for children came from the North East.”

From Delhi to Felling: interview with Sugatra Mitra, J2, page 41.

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