UoL Library Blog

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Learning Future Festival ’09: Hole in Wall Experiments

Posted by selinalock on 13 January, 2009

holeinwall1The conference was opened by the Vice-Chancellor; Professor Burgess and he mentioned the David Wilson Library in his address, including the fact that Librarian’s roles will change as more and more information becomes digital.


Professor Mitra talked about his “hole in the wall” experiments where he put a computer and touch pad into the wall in a slum in India to see what would happen. The initial experiment was done in 1999 and has been repeated many times since. The computer showed the alta vista search engine, and basically within a few hours of the computer being installed, a local lad of about 12 had figured out how to browse despite never having used a computer nor being able to speak/read English.

A later experiment, using the same concept, in a remote village where no-one could speak English, showed that within three months the local children had taught themselves English in order to use the computer. It’s all pretty amazing!


Professor Mitra terms this Self-Organizing Learning and more recent experiments in the UK suggest that children learn better when sharing one computer between 4 of them rather than one computer per child. He hypothesises that this is due to them having to discuss and collaborate when sharing a computer. He thinks this method of learning could be applied to undergraduate studies.


He also mentioned that once you move away from self-organised leaning and into a curriculum then doctrine starts to appear. Made me wonder if we, as librarians, were teaching doctrine – you need to know this because we say so, rather than showing why they might want to know the things we’re teaching. We can never predict what someone will take away from a session!


We did some self-organised learning at our table and found that the bright green liquid in an unlabeled bottle was undiluted lime squash – cue a slight bugging out of the eyes after the first sip and a rush to add water!

3 Responses to “Learning Future Festival ’09: Hole in Wall Experiments”

  1. I dunno, I always start any of my lectures/workshops with “Why is this useful to you?” Stems back to some feedback I had from students years ago which after what appeared to have been an excellent session said “All very interesting but don’t understand why we need to know it”.

    Just as well it wasn’t a large bottle of furan-2!

  2. selinalock said

    I think I tend to forget to do this and launch straight into resources that are available etc, so I need to review my practice.

  3. Oh and I forgot to add – how did they stop anyone nicking the PC? A bit of work with a crow bar and it’d be away…

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