A question

What would happen if we combined Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours installation with Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall project?

In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

In the following years they replicated the experiment in other parts of India, urban and rural, with similar results, challenging some of the key assumptions of formal education. The “Hole in the Wall” project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who’s now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it “minimally invasive education.”
(listen to Sugata Mitra on TED)

By the way, in one town the students were even learning English…without a teacher.

Now instead of computers, what would happen if we substituted pianos?

Touring the globe since March 2008, ‘Play Me I’m Yours’ is an artwork by Luke Jerram.

Street pianos are appearing in cities across the world. Located in parks, squares, bus shelters, train stations, outside pubs and football grounds, the pianos are for any member of the public to enjoy and claim ownership of. Who plays them and how long they remain is up to each community. The pianos act as sculptural, musical, empty canvas’s that become a reflection of the communities they are embedded into. Many pianos are personalised and decorated. ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ provides an interconnected resource, a blank canvas, for the public to express themselves and share their creativity. (more)

(listen to the 21 Piano Nocturne played outside the Guildhall, London this past June.)

So anyway what would happen if we combined Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours installation with Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall project? Just asking.

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3 thoughts on “A question

  1. The internet-connected PC experiment sounds as if it is exploring the kinds of learning Montessori noticed when working with very young Italian children in the early part of the 20th century…. Children are wired to learn, explore, discover and share.

    Appropriate support for these natural behaviours results in the best kind of learning outcomes. But of course, appropriate support looks nothing like that institution of industrialisation, the school. Thirty children all doing the same thing irrespective of their interests and their personal sense of intrigue…. Mind you, classroom learning is nothing much like the one-on-one piano lesson either.

    I imagine that people left alone to discover how to play pianos would turn out pretty much the way it does when people have a piano in their home with every opportunity to explore it all on their own. And the 20th century has given us swathes of individuals who participated in *that* experiment. The bulk of them learn to play the pieces all the other kids at school can play (that are ‘cool’) and never learn much more than that.

    The part that’s interesting here to me is that the PC was connected to the internet, and the internet is constantly expanding and refining, and much of what one can find on the internet does not rely on linguistic literacies, but on a practical gestural familiarity (which action produces the desired result).

    There are obvious links to piano performance (practical gestures on the part of the individual enable their connection to the possibilities of the web) as well as marked differences (literacy of any kind is an add-on, not a co-requisite). And certain social performative differences – only one individual can ‘play’ at the internet at a time (unless we are talking gaming, and not of the gambling variety), whereas deeply fulfilling musical experiences are achieved when playing with (many) others.

    Play Me I’m Yours came to Sydney a while ago, and while many different kinds of piano playing took place on these pianos there was no reportage of people wanting to experiment-learn publicly; the playing was more of the ‘performance’ variety than anything else. This probably speaks of the many opportunities many people in a western country like Australia have to play keyboard instruments every day; it would be fascinating to know if different responses occurred in cultures where pianos are (comparatively) rare.

    • Good points Elissa. It’s sad that all too often the piano becomes just another piece of furniture in the household. And even when they were placed in public places (Play Me I’m Yours) they were used mostly for performing…not for experimentation.

      But it would indeed be fascinating to see what would happen if a piano were placed in an area where they are seldom seen.

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