“Grannies” go global: Skype helps connect students and e-mediators

A couple of years ago, we introduced you to the School in the Cloud, a global experiment in self-organized learning. The School in the Cloud allows children from all social backgrounds and circumstances to engage and connect with information and the Big Questions through interaction with the “Grannies”—a group of 100 active e-mediators.

We recently caught up with Hasiba Haq, TED Prize coordinator supporting School in the Cloud, who gave us the latest on the project.

Children giggle excitedly as they surround a computer, each one peering into the webcam, hoping to be the center of attention when the conversation begins. They’re enthralled and giddy when a face finally appears on the screen from halfway across the world yelling “hello!” to these enthusiastic students.

Skype, the closest thing to magic for these little ones, isn’t just used for a regular video call; it lets them chat with School in the Cloud’s Granny Cloud, a group of more than 100 e-mediators from around the world. School in the Cloud is an education initiative that focuses on self-organized learning environments (SOLEs) and was established in 2013 after Dr. Sugata Mitra won the TED Prize. With a computer, Internet connection, and children ready to learn, a SOLE session can be conducted anywhere. Students engage in conversation and explore new worlds. Sometimes they ask and answer Big Questions, research and collaborate on the topic, and present their findings to the larger group.

The Granny Cloud was founded on fostering a “grandmother approach” to education. These e-mediators, male and female ranging in between the ages of 24-78, call into remote classrooms over Skype and provide unconditional encouragement to children while they learn. It’s widely popular in the School in the Cloud’s SOLE India labs where students have worked with Grannies to better their English, try out different science experiments, play games over Skype and exchange skills.

One of the Grannies talking to children on a Skype video call

Skype sessions with the Granny Cloud started over seven years ago, with a group of over 60 Grannies. The first few conversations on Skype were frustrating for a lot of the children due to the language barrier. For instance, Gouri, who is now studying Computer Engineering at Mumbai University, was an early user of the Granny Cloud at the first SOLE in Shiragon. She was excited to talk on Skype with her Granny but describes the first few lessons, as “horrible for the Grannies” since neither of the participants could understand each other. However, the Grannies did what they do best: provide encouragement. With that, the later conversations became easier, students learned to communicate through pictures, and eventually were able to learn a bit of English. Gouri believes SOLEs played a big part in giving her the confidence she has today to participate in conversations with people from all walks of life.

Gouri, one of the early users of the Granny CloudGouri, one of the early users of the Granny Cloud

The Granny Cloud was also influential for Sharukh Khan, who is currently studying medicine in the Philippines. He’d originally met his Granny Liz through a Skype call to his school in India. After participating in a few Skype calls and utilizing SOLE sessions to improve his English, Sharukh and Liz stayed in touch. She helped him apply to medical school and has been a mentor throughout his schooling. Sharukh’s parents sadly passed away when he was younger, but in Liz he has found a mentor who even plans to attend his graduation from medical school in two years.

These snippets of Skype stories are just a few among many wonderful moments. For many of these children, SOLEs and the Granny Cloud are an integral part of their education and something they constantly look forward to. The Granny Cloud has grown to over 100 active Grannies conducting sessions from Mexico to Greenland to India. Even though the Grannies have been leading Skype calls with their students for years, sharing stories, songs, languages, and developing lasting friendships, most had never met in person until this past February. A group of Grannies from the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Egypt among other countries, travelled to India for the Granny Cloud Conference—a week-long program that took the Grannies to visit four of the five India labs.

Children welcoming the "Grannies"

From the SOLE lab in Phaltan to the remote lab of Korakati in West Bengal, Grannies were welcomed with open arms, music, dance and warmth. The kids were delighted to see their Grannies in person, who travelled by bus, boat, planes and rickshaws to visit the children they’d so lovingly mentored. Families, teachers and students spent days preparing for the event, cooking sweets, practicing dances, and decorating the lab for the special visit.

One of the Grannies reading to children

The Grannies were blown away by the amount of love and warmth they received from the children and their families. Though they’ve always known how much the children cherish these Skype calls, seeing in person how grateful they were was very moving for all those involved. Sunita Lama, a Granny originally from India and now living in Dubai, said “Having met all the Grannies, coordinators, children, teachers and parents I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this opportunity. We are now a family nourishing and supporting each other. This I think is the best part. The love and affection that was showered upon us shows how great this project is and I’ve made up my mind to give even more.”

Learn more about School in the Cloud here.

Teachers: Find out about more ways to use Skype in your classroom here.