Finally got the video recording for a really interesting session that I had the privilege of steering at the FICCI Higher Education Summit in November, 2012.
Archive for the ‘Education Policy’ Category
Democracy requires intellectually armed political activism to succeed. MOOCs (cMOOCs) provide an unprecedented occasion to demonstrate the power of connective learning for democracy, just as much as they demonstrate the democracy of connective learning.
The four letters that make up the MOOC abbreviation are as apt as a stage for political protest as for our education system. The Massive, Open and Online aspects of the MOOC lend themselves well to democratic deliberation. It is the “C” which provokes this post and fuels my hopes of leveraging MOOCs as instruments of democracy.
The C in MOOCs stands for “course”. It is rather loosely and controversially defined, because the MOOC looks nothing like its traditional namesake – the closely bounded, rigidly structured component of a curriculum. Perhaps that it why it requires the first three letters to qualify it. Of course, there was much deconstructive debate about this in 2008, particularly around the notion of the “un-course” which did gain some momentum.
What if democratic debates were structured as MOOCs? So far, most democratic conversations end up as inaccessible and lost footnotes to a blog post or a FaceBook like. Frequently they are tokenised into signature campaigns or opinion polls, as a measure of democratic discourse.
Most of the current instruments suffer from severe deficits. They do nothing to promote connectives of citizens who engage with vast linked networks of “knowledge”. They do not allow sustained, visible conversation. Nor do they allow citizens to build the necessary level of competence to understand the complexities of any issue being discussed. They do not scaffold citizen learners in ways that promotes their own learning. And they certainly do not reflect much more than the immediate, surface reactions in any debate.
MOOCs as political instruments would overcome deficits such as these and promote democracy. They would act as opinion-shapers, citizen-competency builders and massive hubs that collate the huge amount of information being generated today by individuals and the mass media.
The mechanisms of the MOOC will ensure that the networks these MOOCs create will result in credible outputs – something no xMOOC or traditional course can ever dream of achieving, placed as they are in the traditional system of education.
What will these credible outputs be? Firstly, any one passionate or interested in building an independent thought-competence over an issue will instantly be exposed to networks that has diversity of thought, opinion and conversation. Next, these networks will allow smaller networks of people to coalesce based on their thinking and capabilities, leading to cohesive multi-faceted thinking and learning on various aspects of an issue. Thirdly, and most tangibly, these networks with their (ideally) open nature, will not sport specific political agendas, making them a strong force within democracy.
And why stop here? Why not consider MOOCs for health, poverty and many of the ills that surround us today, locally and globally? Thoughts?
I just visited StraighterLine, got a demo login and went to the course demo. The name StraighterLine suggests that it is a more direct, efficient, economical way to get to what you need – a degree credit. The website has great messaging, good graphics and a slew of the mandatory big brand names as partners, and an impressive array of subject coverage. Do not miss the money back guarantees.
But take a look at the content, please. Take a look at the learning experience. Do people, in this age, really think that good packaging is more important than learning outcomes? When do we wake up and realize that we need to evolve learning experiences so people actually learn effectively online? And build a business plan around that.
It is the same with the (now boring and regular) announcements in the xMOOC space. Every new announcement (witness the last one on student verification/credentialing services by Coursera), seems to be extending the state of art in a revolutionary manner. All it is, is an extension of business models for revenue making opportunities. When was the last (or first) time you heard the xMOOCs making an important pedagogical announcements – “we have built an ABC engine/technique/interaction that ensures XYZ learning skills are encouraged in students”?
The trends for monetization in this “industry” are so boring to watch evolve, that I am tempted to write my own list and watch it pan out over the next two years. There are 7 players – student, teacher, institution, government, employer, providers and for profit company. These 7 players each need a variety of services based on the interactions between them.
A large part of the services are entrenched in offline ways in the existing system and need to be converted online (for a fee mostly). Some of the services that are monetizable are because they exist as part of the new online space itself (i.e. they would not have existed if the medium was offline).
It does not need a rocket scientist to figure out what services can be digitally automated or created anew, and it does not require more than a board room confabulation (with accompanying opportunistic or trial and error based thinking) to figure out which service to monetize first in a disaggregated (and later consolidated) fashion.
Yeah, right. Learning innovation will be counted in terms of business metrics – on how many students placed, on how many dollars made and saved by universities, of how many numbers of people you aggregated on your site so you could monetize irrespective of whether you contributed to learning (apparently Facebook is now charging to send targeted messages, so may be the xMOOCs should learn from them). No wonder the universities are frightened and want part of the bull-rush.
And as Joshua Kim states, providing a more holistic perspective, “Simply grafting a MOOC or an online program or online course on to the existing structure of course development and delivery will prove to be an inadequate an ineffective response to the changing higher ed market.” Like this post on Adjunct Faculty.
I am swiftly coming to the conclusion we are creating a monster. This is our second monster, the first being the current industrial age education system. Except that this new monster will reach a phenomenally large number of people (some of who, from less advantaged groups and countries will have no choice but to accept a lower quality alternative) because of the same reasons it will be made powerful – open-ness, cost efficiency and accessibility. Even in India, we seem to moving policy towards (ahem) institutionalizing this new monster.
Much of the discussion I am involved in (I am lurking here) with some senior education leaders from industry, government, academics and NGOs here is revolving around issues such as:
- The Regulatory aspect: In India, with its regulatory restrictions, is it possible to find a parliamentary/administrative way to foster a marketplace (euphemistically called an exchange) for education – a place where service providers utilize content and technology to service the needs of students and teachers; enable companies (should we privatize?) to start online degree providing universities not subject to territorial restrictions of state boundaries; enable an equivalency between modes and types of education (online, distance, regular) in terms of status of the degree; define a framework for such service providers so that we can mandate a level of quality and fair play/ fair use
- The Technology aspect: The much touted national network (to every student’s home or millions of public hotspots) and the Aakash tablet in the hands of every student and teacher backed by an online marketplace
- The Content aspect: What content do we need? What do we have already? And how can we leverage the power of open education resources?
- The Student and Teacher needs aspect: What challenges and aspirations do students and teachers have? This is the focus of the group I am supporting – we need to determine the exact nature of the problems and expectations from education technology that they face at different levels, before we can suggest possible directions for enabling policy. We have launched a survey (to start with, for teachers) that is helping us pinpoint some of the real issues.
A few years ago, I was naive and impassioned enough to ask some leading educational leaders at a conference the source of their knowledge about Indian education. Did they really understand what the core problems were? Did the mantra of equity-excellence-expansion really cover the aspiration of the nation’s education system? Did blaming the regulatory restrictions and asking for change really solve core issues? And so on. I was assured that they knew what they were talking about when they referred me to the scores of reports that government and companies had generated.
Many reports and meetings later, it is, however, pretty clear to me that this may not really be true.
I suspect the reason is tunnel vision. When you are speeding, the landscape around you blurs and obfuscates. The focus that you have obscures the fact that the high speed highway that you are building has fewer exits and consequently bypasses a large part of the problem you were supposed to solve.
Let me explain.
When we are talking content, content taxonomies, sourcing & integration, creation, quality, delivery, consumption, metadata & semantics and tracking – both online and offline – are all key aspects of a content strategy. However, the conversations I have witnessed focus on catchphrases like open education resources and the whole challenge of using public funds to create and deliver traditional content (mainly inspired by Khan to include videos). The target is clear (and debatable) – we need a large electronic repository of content that can be consumed by everyone. But is bypasses almost everything we have been talking about with respect to content in the past few years worldwide. Take for example, gamification. This is a term that our experts are blissfully unaware of (one of them asked how to spell it!). My guess is that if I ask them what a learning content management system does, they would have similar reactions. Forget Web 3.0, semantic and augmented web.
When we are talking about technology, the buzzword is social media (Facebook and because our new minister of state uses it to political chagrin, Twitter), classroom clickers, smart board led classes and our favorite, ICT. The conversation is blissfully aware of most of what is happening out there – networked learning, curation, the power of user generated content, adaptive learning, learning analytics, learning architecture, location awareness and education networks. Even the conversation around the MOOCs centres on the hype created by the Coursera and Udacity phenomena, blissfully ignorant of Connectivism and the paradigm shift that it brings to teaching and learning.
When we are talking about vocational education at scale, we are blissfully unaware of the power of simulations to deliver real world training to an audience that has no alternative (at scale). In fact, we are even unaware of the low level of respect that VET courses have in the minds of our students and their families that aspire for degrees and unaware of the fact that employers are not willing to either provide the respect or the working conditions that VET students aspire for.
When we are talking institutions and regulations, it gets even worse. Today’s news is that the AICTE, the body regulating professional and technical education in the country (with an avowed allergy to distance education) has approved the distance mode with respect to management and engineering courses, subject to the student having already procured a classroom degree at the Bachelors level AND gained 5 years of work experience before applying for an entrance test. Not only that, the student has to qualify a national level exit test, ostensibly because the exit and entry mechanisms in Distance Ed do not ensure quality. Now how impenetrably stupid is that?
Furthermore, policy recommendations are being constructed for new (private/Sec 25) online universities without a care in the world of how they are going to deliver an educational promise. eLearning does not scale. We have found that out after years of experience. Now we have mechanisms (at least some) that will predicate a bit of quality of learning experience in online learning, but our mindset (witness the NBA accreditation guidelines) is based on old page counters and clicks mechanisms which are vastly inadequate to determine outcomes. We are in the precarious position of using old tools to guide new technology and practice!
And then this whole notion of services. Ostensibly, empowering any organization to come up and deliver an educational service through the marketplace (hate that word now) is an enabling policy measure for innovation and competition. However, this is yet another way of letting the big players market their wares – why, because of their brand and existing track record in the regulated space. If the empowerment was for any teacher, as an individual, that would stand a much better chance (you have to only looking at the unorganized coaching segment). There is also the conflict – the subtle and insidious greed of private agencies to leverage public content and infrastructure for private gain. More than anything, it is just wishful thinking that this is an equitable and high quality way of ensuring that our scale gets addressed.
The one thing I am happy about, though, is the efforts of Surbhi, Atul, Anirudh, Amruth and Manish, to help me put together and translate into multiple Indian languages, the teacher survey. We believe that this is a step in the right direction. To really uncover the problems and opportunities through these surveys and focused discussions, will perhaps, backed by the work of many committed people in the sector, provide us the insights necessary to take a stand on what needs to get done. We will make the survey results open and accessible as we go along.
In summary, I don’t really understand where we are headed in Indian education or how we will solve the systemic issues at the policy and expert levels. But I am hopeful that unlike 2012, this year will find a lesser cynic in me!
I had a chance to review E&Y’s latest report – EY FICCI Higher Education Report Nov12 released at the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2012. I have reviewed their past reports here. The report leverages the UGC report, HE At a Glance Feb 2012.
Broadly, the report shows a picture of growth as a result of the capacity building in the Eleventh Five Year Plan. We now have 659 universities (152 Central, 316 State and 191 Private), 33,023 colleges (669 Central, 13,024 State, 19,930 Private) together serving 18.5 mn students. and 9,541 diploma granting institutions (no Central, 3,207 State, 9,541 Private) serving 3.3 mn students – a staggering total of 46.430 institutions and 21.7 mn students, not including the 4.2 mn students being served by 200 Open Distance Learning / Distance Education institutions (largest individual player with 1/6th the market is IGNOU). Private institutes (about 30,000) comprise 63.9% of the total HEIs and 58.9% of the enrolments. Our GER is now 17.9%, a big jump from the 12.3% reported last year.
General courses account for 2/3rds of students. Undergraduate degrees comprise 84.9% of the total. In fact, there is a dramatic decline as the degree level progresses – from 16.2 mn enrolments in UG programmes, to 2.2 mn in PG and a measly 0.1 mn in PhDs. Diplomas are sizable at 3.3 mn enrolments. Demand for professional courses (as compared to general courses), and the number of private institutions seem to be increasing faster.
The report is centered around an analysis of the three pillars of our policy – equity, expansion and equity. It does a post mortem (rather just lists the achievements) of the 11th Five Year plan, and proceeds to list the initiatives and critical bottlenecks facing the 12th FY Plan. I would specifically like to call special attention to what is perhaps the first ever public acknowledgement of MOOCs on p29 of the report. Under the title of a meta-university initiative, the report states:
Establish meta university framework to promote inter-institutional collaboration and designing of innovative interdisciplinary programs. This framework would encourage the use of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and access to content, teaching and research support for all the members of a network.
True to style, the report looks at some key levers for enhancing the quality of India’s higher education institutions, namely merit-based student financing, internationalization of education, enabling research environment, high quality faculty, improved technology for education delivery, and employability. Collaboration between industry, academia and government is a unifying theme.
I get really anxious when I see these (like when they called them Game Changers). For example, how does merit based financing through which MIT, USA provides multiple financing methods, assured (?) placement outcomes and scholarships through alumni contributions, really enhance the quality of India’s higher education? In fact, how does taking an MIT example help us at all?
Nor does internationalization of education mean much to me. What if this became a condition for excellence? Amrita University has a tie-up with 50 international institutions – does that make it excellent. Why say MOOCs on one end at all then? Perhaps we are gearing up to internationalize the Coursera kind of MOOCs through institutional collaborations next as I have heard talk on already. But besides that, how is internationalization, as represented in the report (exchange programs, dual degrees, research collaborations) really going to help anyone except the guys who are already at the top? The same holds for “enabling research environments” – true research will happen in India when the entire system is empowered and not just when a few hundred teachers/researchers are involved.
High quality faculty – we are talking of an exemplar here – 150 teachers at ISB of which 100 are visiting faculty from abroad!!! The report also equates technology with tablets. That is a first for me, with examples given of B-schools in USA and Canada. Next in employability, there is no mention of mass employability initiatives. The same comments hold true for the examples of collaboration that they have presented.
The target enrolment by the end of the 12th plan is 35.9 mn students. The report sees critical bottlenecks. It argues for the lowering of barriers to entry by domestic and foreign players, equal opportunity to the private sector in all government programs (now that government seems to be increasing funding avenues), freedom for private players to operate, resolution of conflicting regulations for distance education (which has some valid concerns like territorial jurisdictions) etc.
The report does not see teachers (and students themselves, or edu-leaders) as key levers. It does not call out the fact that we have a crisis of educational leadership that report after report sponsored by the government has emphasized. It ignores the fact that critical bottlenecks arise out of India’s sheer diversity and scale, not from restrictions on private players. It does not mention, except in passing, that the Higher Education and Research Bill plans to cut bureaucratic paralysis, perhaps giving the system a chance to shape up. It mentions once that learner centric approaches need to be followed and teachers need to develop, but does not talk about pedagogy/education technology initiatives, nor about the critical bottlenecks in teacher education so evocatively brought out by existing reports.
In being driven by private diktat, the report pays scant attention to the real problems and needs of India’s education system. Somewhere we need to wake up and realize that the problem of capacity and the problem of the market, is not India’s issue at all. Somewhere it is our inability to accept that we do not understand the problems we face, and therefore continue to drive solutions that ill-serve our system.
Recently (Nov 6), I had the opportunity to convene a session at the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2012 titled Powering the Higher Education System through Information and Analytics. Please also see the pre-session page on this blog. A summary presentation is provided below.
I had a really interesting panel reflecting government and corporate interests with people like Pankaj Jalote (IIITD), H A Ranaganath (NAAC), Deepti Dutt (UIDAI) and Sudhanshu Bhushan (NUEPA) [government/education] and Milind Kamat (Ellucian), Trey Miller (RAND) and Ambrish Singh (shiksha.com), and there was huge load of audience participation.
My research for this session (co-instigated by Pawan Aggarwal at the Planning Commission and Shobha Mishra at FICCI) has been extremely rewarding. The two committee reports that I leveraged heavily were the Yash Aggarwal Report and the S Sathyam Committee Report (more recent) that summarize the progress since 1872 in how India has handled data regarding school, higher and vocational education.
The pattern that emerges is no longer surprising. A plethora of data collection & reporting initiatives working sometimes at cross-purposes, led by different government agencies and with no coordination, lack of effective leadership, incorrect/inconsistent/incomplete data coverage, no unifying taxonomies (no international alignment to standards like the UNESCO ISCED), lack of (!) analysts to analyze existing data, centre-state coordination challenges, insufficient attention paid on analytics and proposals that ask the government repeatedly to increase funding, staffing and level of centralization.
Most of all the lament that things are really broken, that previous committees have been either defunct or dysfunctional or completely ignored by planners. A similar pattern can be seen in reports that I have covered in my blog earlier (Teacher Education, Open Distance Learning).
The fact that educational data is a challenged notion in India, does not augur well for stakeholders who need transparency and accountability in the education system. The fact that, as a corollary, research on education analytics is prominently absent in the country (while the world seems beset by it), is curiously anachronistic.
It is also frightening because for us as a nation to rely on such data, ignore recent developments and plan the future of half a billion Indians is suicide. It behoves us to pay heed when people such as Sathyam remark (Sec 7.1/7.2 of the report) that they hope that their findings and recommendations will not fall by the wayside (and they indeed do).
Sudhanshu Bhushan of NUEPA, in a pre-conference discussion, stated correctly that these analytics need to be seen in the perspective of the political economy that they operate in. We agreed that it is not so much of a crisis of intellectual capacity, but that of effective leadership. On the other hand, H A Ranganath, was of the opinion that the change must come from within the system, at the level of the individual, rather than dependence on government initiative while Pankaj Jalote made the important point that data cannot be collected, it has to be provided.
Deepti Dutt, who with UIDAI, has experienced the pains of collecting and organizing unique identification data for what is now 0.2 bn Indians, had her experience to share on large-scale data management processes. Ambrish Singh brought in special insights into what students are looking for when they compare educational options. Milind Kamat talked about how to use information as a lever to promote institutional viability, effectiveness and quality. Trey Miller talked about performance measures in the context of practices worldwide.
Madan Padaki pointed out the need for the industry/employer as a major stakeholder that needs to be factored in. Another participant from Pearl Academy raised the bar by isolating the creative tension between the tyranny of data and the power of individual intuition.
I would hope that these discussions continue, in the interest of millions of Indians who live in the hope that there is some intelligence in the way we are operating today. I also hope they result in something, some day.
In an interesting article in Forbes India by Joshua Kim titled 3 Reasons why India will lead EdTech in the 21st Century, Joshua argues that the next big thing in Education is going to be India.
Josh believes that, firstly, “(T)he reason that the next technology revolution will occur in India is the degree to which the culture prizes learning and scholarship.” The statement does not necessarily hold true because merely having a “culture that prizes learning to a degree” is insufficient to predicate that the culture prizes learning through technology. Also, if other cultures also prize learning, then it automatically does not mean that they will encounter revolutions in technology. In India, it is a great leap of faith to even assume that people (“at every income level”) will pay for educational apps or platforms in any large way, or that there will be any large population that is able to access technology based education solutions like these in the near future. Furthermore, look at the entrepreneurial activity in EdTech – not much to talk about in terms of investment capital or ideas. Perhaps more damning is the realization (at least mine), that faced with lack of choice and awareness, students make choices based on brand, placements and costs, rather than on learning pedagogy or the institution’s use of EdTech. Paradoxically, our culture is also indicative of our democratic inertia and the ability for the vast majority to believe in Destiny.
Secondly, Josh believes there is incredible demand just given the demographics. The Indian projection of HE students is 40 mn by 2020 which will take the creation of 33,000 new colleges. I think we all know the low probability of that supply side infrastructure (physical or virtual) being in place by then or of ramping up in time. Add to that regulatory mechanisms for promoting use of EdTech is going to be severely limited in the near future because of systemic issues, and we simply do not have mechanisms to ensure the supply of critical resources (such as skilled teachers) in the chain. Even from the demand side, we are fast learning that ability of learners to pay is severely limited and the ability of the government to subsidize education at that scale is severely constrained. What will end up happening is that existing institutions will cut quality to accommodate additional capacity (actually that is happening even as I write this), low quality and higher cost private and public-private institutional alternatives will start emerging and that the progression will be ad-hoc and skewed to meet only a subset of needs.
Thirdly, Josh believes that mobility will drive the vision of classrooms of the future. This presupposes that content exists in 28+ national languages, across all (or major parts) of the curriculum, with skilled facilitators/teachers manning the endpoints, and among other things (not even looking at the abilities of these ubiquitous devices, most of the 850 million are plain text based low cost and low end phones – IBEF estimated smartphones to be 6% of the total in 2011), and degree granting capabilities of institutions leveraging these mobile technologies. This is not even considering that the pedagogical practices based on mobile technologies are, even now, in infancy.
Given all that, and I don’t mean to be pessimistic about the vision of India being an EdTech leader (which I would perhaps like to see happen more than anyone else in India), I think the three reasons why India will NOT live up to that vision are:
1. India has no concerted strategy to build capability, all its focus is on capacity
This is a showstopper for all EdTech in India. We do not have enough resources (or plan to develop enough resources) that are skilled in building that vision for India, far less for executing any of it. We have very little research in EdTech and very little awareness of what is happening worldwide (particularly in experiences of countries like Africa, who are next in line to gear up to face the impending young, working population boom). We do not have any consolidation of existing EdTech expertise and platforms. Somewhere along the line, I think we are saying (at the Policy maker level) that we have thought enough, and that it is time to execute.
2. We are not leveraging our scale to meet the equally large scale of the challenge
All our approaches are more or less centralized and policy driven with little or no thought given to how we can turn scale to our advantage. In a country of over a billion people, we have just a few million teachers, very few really skilled educational administrators or planners and no online educational infrastructure worth talking about. There are simple ways to enable local level participation, to decentralize and to even achieve higher quality outcomes.
3. The Leadership DNA is missing
We don’t have it in the education space. It starts with Policy makers and planners, then with educational administrators, then with academics and goes all the way to the students themselves. The DNA that creates the necessary ecosystems for innovation, invention and implementation is almost absent.
While these three reasons may seem pretty damning, the solutions are equally obvious and straightforward. They are also easy to implement and will enable us to meet our challenges and fulfil Josh’s shared vision. We have to build capability, decentralize & democratize the education system and create an ecosystem that enable us to take the leadership position. We have that potential to be the leader. It just remains to be seen if we shall be able to exploit that.
I had a good time at the Serious Gaming and Social Connect 2012 Conference organized by Christopher Ng and Ivan Boo in Singapore between Oct 4-6. Kudos to the organizers and their terrific effort at getting so many different stakeholders in one place. It was also great to have NASSG members Amruth (Vitabeans), Rajiv (Knolskape), Inder (Wisecells) and a bunch of people from India there. I presented a India Country Update as well.
There were quite a few takeaways for me. There were a lot of different interpretations around definitions – Serious Games, Gamification, Simulations, AR Games, Virtual Worlds and Social Network based games (no mention of Alternate Reality Games). These are different genres with different points of relevance.
The conference was not limited to use of these genres in education, but took wider perspectives from other industries such as healthcare and governance, although I have not seen genuine examples of serious games in healthcare and governance yet, and I believe that applications in healthcare and public safety often are mistaken for serious games, when in fact they should fall under the simulations genre.
I gradually realized that Singapore, really all of South East Asia, is really way ahead in terms of games. They are riding on the immense video game and entertainment industry in the region and game makers are slowly exploring the role of these technologies in K12 and Higher Education spaces. Governments also recognize the power of serious games, and edTech infrastructure in solving their educational needs. In fact, Singapore has a target to convert 20% of the curriculum using these approaches by 2015.
There were sessions and discussions around monetization and business models around serious games. In the panel I was on that discussed this issue, I flipped around the question of monetization, especially for the education space, and asked instead what could create value in the mind of the student and the teacher (which in turn will create value for the entire ecosystem). Turns out that it was not an easy question to answer!
We discussed standards as well, in that context and later (in my presentation).
My belief is that we are fast approaching a point where we need standards to be conceived of for this industry. There are obvious benefits (as are there obvious tensions) in this quest, but at some point there perhaps needs to be concerted efforts from a group of stakeholders across the world to put standards in design, development, use and marketing of serious games. Some participants discussed game abuse & psychological problems and suggested a separate rating/certification mechanism for educational games.
As we reach the next inflection point (the industry is already supposed to be USD 3 bn worldwide, some estimates put it at USD 10 bn), accompanying standards will make the key challenge of adoption more tractable and will provide an ecosystem in which production will thrive.
Perhaps even more interesting are initiatives to make game authoring accessible, in an open manner, to educators. Sid Jain from Playware Studios made an impressive case for this. Learning Analytics for games and adaptive learning through game technology also were part of the focus of some of the presenters. A lot of the work happening in the USA was presented by Aaron Walsh @ Immersive Education and Sue Bohle @ The Bohle Company who also leads the Serious Games Association in the USA, who are collating and publish a load of examples and research evidence about the benefits of these game genres.
India has to take a deep look at these genres (so does China, really). Recent experiences with people leading the edTech panels that advise policy makers (and the latter themselves) have shown to me the lack of awareness and appreciation of these genres. Without these, the nascent serious games space will not make much progress.
I came away with the belief that NASSG, the association we have formed for Simulations and Serious Games, has a responsibility and a pivotal role in making this happen. NASSG is now part of a council of South and South East Asian country representative that will contribute to greater collaboration and sharing between countries such as Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore and India. There is also now an agenda to hold monthly meet ups across Indian cities and also to host the 2015 Serious Games Conference.
I had the occasion to put some thoughts into what a national policy for Education Technology/ICT for the XIIth Plan (2012-17) should look like. This is purely a personal effort at visioning, planning, putting an operational plan and budgets in place. I am hoping that the EdTech community will want to contribute to these ideas (or suggest alternate approaches).
In summary, the main areas of the document are as follows.
The approach to any policy on EdTech should, IMHO, embrace the following key principles.
- Democratization of Education: In addition to thinking of Education as for the people, a democratic view of education also considers education to also be by the people and of the people
- Leverage Scale to meet Scale: Rather than trying to impose more structure, we should invert the challenge and allow our very large and diverse scale to meet its own challenges through the power and scale of a very large number of intersecting networks.
- Dis-aggregation and Decentralization: The need of the hour is to unbundle the formal constraints of the educational system by dis-aggregating its tightly packed structure. The need of the hour is also to decentralize, in a manner that is integrative – aligns to local, regional and national goals – and in a manner that respects autonomy and individual creativity.
- Capability not just Capacity: At the root of any system lies capability, not just capacity.
- Glocalization – Go Local, Go Global: Our educational system must understand and adapt to local conditions while staying connected with global networks.
The Vision Statement
Educational technology must enable in every Indian who wants or needs to learn or teach the capability to shape and be shaped by the Education System. This education system must be democratic, equitable, scalably networked, dis-aggregated, decentralized and glocalized.
The achievement of this Vision will require:
- Infrastructure: Provide energy, network and computing infrastructure, access and support at scale to all stakeholders
- Community: Enable every stakeholder with the capability to build their network of people, information and resources
- Content: Strategic identification of content and digital formats to be developed, instead of a blanket approach to content development (all courses, all subjects).
- Education Technology and R&D: Create the technology systems for extremely efficient creation, integration and deployment of learning resources
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Engender the growth of micro to large scale entrepreneurs and NGOs to support the mission and generate employment opportunities
- Policy: Create structures and accountability mechanisms to support this vision
Goals, Outcomes and Budgets
The rest of this document outlines the major goals, expected outcomes, an operational structure and a summary of possible budgets for the XIIth plan. It is important to call out my recommendation to set up a National Learning Corporation head by a Chief Learning Officer for India.
If you are interested in contributing, please let me know and I will provide access to the Google Doc for your comments. Thanks!
The Indian government has allocated USD 1.15 bn or INR 6,308 crores for teacher education in the 12th Five Year Plan under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Restructuring and Reorganisation of Teacher Education. Approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in March, 2012, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) formally approved it this month.
The 11th Five Year Plan had allocated INR 2500 cr or about 0.45 bn USD out of which we were able to spend only INR 1600 crores or USD 0.29 bn.
The approval was almost entirely based on the report created by the National Council for Education research and Training (NCERT) almost exactly 3 years ago in August, 2009. This is incidentally a report that I have reviewed and critiqued earlier.
The 59th CABE Meeting at New Delhi in June, 2012 devotes a significant chunk to deliberations on this scheme under the heading “National Mission on Teachers and Teaching”. As the CABE notes suggest, this National Mission will be a focal point for all things related to teacher education and would focus on issues such as improving supply gaps, working conditions, remuneration, professional development, recruitment, institutional quality and use of technology.
It is proposed to launch a National Mission on Teachers to address comprehensively all issues related to teachers, teaching, teacher preparation and professional development. This will be one of the major thrust areas of action during the 12th Five Year Plan. The final contours of the Mission and its operational features are under discussion. The Mission, however, would address, on the one hand, current and urgent issues such as supply of qualified teachers, attracting talent into teaching profession and raising the quality of teaching in schools and colleges. On the other, it is also envisaged that the Teacher Mission would pursue long term goal of building a strong professional cadre of teachers by setting performance standards and creating top class institutional facilities for innovative teaching and professional development of teachers.
The same section also had a mention of the report of the Kakodkar Committee, which essentially made a case for increasing Ph.D output from our engineering and technology institutions (new buzz is 10,000 PhDs by 2025). Left me a bit puzzled why it was mentioned under the National Mission for Teachers and Teaching. Perhaps our engineer PhDs from the IITs will re-engineer our teacher education problem. What about getting more PhDs in education in a concerted manner? Similarly, the Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative 2012 also gets a mention.
Under the thrust on technology enabled learning, network facilities (under the National Knowledge Network, NKN) and the work of the National Mission on Education using ICT (NMEICT) that focuses on content creation for both under- and post-graduate courses including the provision of Virtual Labs, gains centre focus. However, no mention of using the NMEICT to generate teacher education resources is specifically made, which is extremely vexing.
I wish the planners and the experts the very best for the implementation in the 12th Five Year Plan. They are going to need it.
Carlos Salerno over at Inside HigherEd wrote a piece on the Bitter Reality of MOOConomics. The major point he makes is that because students need to acquire credentials from top universities/colleges for better employment prospects whereas colleges are loath to provide these credentials through MOOCs because they have no barriers to entry (in terms of student proficiency or past credentials), what incentive does the student have to participate in MOOCs?
Inaccurately suggesting that the MOOCs were born at “two of the nation’s most elite colleges” and suspecting that the MOOCs, rather than being “evolutionary equivalents of modern-day humans”, are more equivalent to Neanderthals, Carlos makes the following conclusion:
Still, what our elite higher education institutions have produced in the MOOC looks and feels like one of Ford Motor Company’s futuristic concept cars – something that provides a vision for how tomorrow might look, or which includes niche features that may be built into near-term models, but in its current form is simply not road-ready.
I don’t quite understand the parallel and I sincerely hope that no MOOC be ever considered a product that can be “road-ready” and sold/operated like that. It is a testimony to our current trying times that we are looking at these college MOOCs as being representative of the Connectivist philosophy, as a recipe that solves the problems of employability or of student choice and as an evolutionary development in educational systems (rather than a transformative one).
Jeffrey Young has a great article over at The Chronicle where he analyzes the Coursera contract and possible business models around MOOCs. Essentially Coursera and other private companies are following the model of getting to market quickly and then adapting to “consumer” demand quickly, rather than a deeply thought model for solving our current challenges.
My belief is that there are operative (business and non-commercial) models here. However, we need to recognize the potential for transformation. This potential cannot be realized unless we leverage the power of connective learning.
At the heart of such a MOOC model are a few things.
- A Connectivist way of being (learning as a process of making connections, knowledge as the network, changing roles of teachers and students, critical literacies, learning analytics)
- Learning As a Platform rather than a preset configuration of pedagogy, content and technology (the primacy of the interaction)
- The learning network itself
- Acceptable methods for measurement of proficiency (this is as yet largely unsolved at scale; and there may be instances where that measurement is totally unnecessary)
- An emergent operational system that is driven and designed keeping in mind that learning is a complex adaptive system (as experimented with in CCKxx)
If we are able to keep these principles in mind, business and operative models will follow. The challenge is now more to understand that the college MOOCs are not representative of these principles. Rather, they perpetuate (riding on the brand equity of these colleges), an existing system – which is also why companies like Coursera will benefit.
I have no words to describe the contents of this report, Comprehensive Evaluation of Centrally Sponsored Scheme on Restructuring and Reorganization of Teacher Education, NCERT, 2009. It is a must read for those involved in Teacher Education in India.
The Scheme was initiated in the 8th 5-year Plan for India (1992-97). It was from this plan that District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), Institutes of Advanced Studies in Education (IASEs) and Colleges of Teacher Education (CTEs) and later, Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs) were established. Currently, 571 DIETs, 104 CTEs and 31 IASEs have been sanctioned (most have been funded). The report reviews the impact and functioning of these entities, particularly in the context of the State Councils of Education Research and Training (SCERT).
The report has to be seen in context of the current developments as well. The focus on the Right to Education, the growing numbers of students from Grade 1-8 (195 million), the current imperatives of teacher education, the state of the economy and pubic attitude towards education, are all factors that need to be kept in mind.
The report sampled 61 DIETs, 45 CTEs, 22 IASEs and 24 SCERTs on various parameters:
- availability, adequacy and utilization of physical infrastructure and staff,
- pre-service, in-service programmes, research, innovation, development and extension activities,
- adequacy and utilization of financial assistance (central and state)
- monitoring and evaluation procedures followed for ensuring efficiency and
- effectiveness of the institution and networking with national, regional, state, district and sub-district level institutions/organization involved in school education and teacher education.
The report outlines a grim story. My key takeaways:
- The Scheme has been unevenly implemented across various states of India
- There have been funding anomalies (in terms of money reaching the need on time and in full)
- Lack of adequate physical infrastructure and learning conditions
- Weak inter-institutional linkages
- Lack of proper direction by SCERTs
- Almost negligible effort at building capacity and leadership capability
- Huge shortage of skilled professionals
- Inimical/low pay structures and lack of status a big deterrent and demotivating factor in this sector
- Lack of appreciation of institutional role in the employees and leadership
- Extremely deficient implementation of NCF 2005 , the guiding light of Indian Education
- No consistent or widespread internal monitoring or performance measures
- Multiple authorities to listen to
Largely speaking (and there are exceptions), real aims (as I see them) have been impacted. Creation of content, research, teacher training, leadership development and other important imperatives have largely been left as expert words on policy and vision documents.
The reality is that we are an under-staffed and under-funded, not very competent, confused and over bureaucratic bunch of people in teacher education today. The report ends with recommendations that are true to form (my take):
- Consolidate under one authority, but decentralize responsibilities
- Strengthen existing institutions, and create some more institutions (BITEs – Block level IETs)
- Absolve responsibility by asking NGOs who are doing “innovative work” to take up training
- Increase funding, number of employees and scale/coverage/quality of training, by essentially reiterating the objectives with which the scheme was designed in the first place
The report is a must read – all 114 pages of it – for all those who are interested in transforming the educational system. Start with teachers. They are your best bet in our context.
(Following is a paper I wrote a few months ago. The conference where I submitted it perhaps did not think much of it, but I hope you will!)
Worldwide, there is immense concern on how we will meet the educational needs of a rapidly growing young population. The challenge is compounded by many other trends – growth of infrastructure, gender disparities, growing inequality, changing student needs, rapid technological change and the challenges of economic globalization. Current educational systems are based on an imposition of structure and the belief that scale challenges can be efficiently be met by imposing more order and structure, rather than a realization that a shift to more self-organized and adaptive systems may be more desirable. This paper argues that we must leverage scale to meet the challenges of scale.
There are some important challenges that need to be studied in order to understand the contours of the problems we are presented with.
Reports show that the young populations (5-24) are expanding rapidly in developing and less developed countries. Not only that, the base of the pyramid (primary school enrolment) is expanding very fast and Gross Enrolment Ratios (GER) at each stage up the pyramid are also increasing rapidly.
The 2009 figure for the number of students pursuing tertiary education was 165 mn, up from 28.6 mn in 1970. Sub-saharan Africa has the highest average regional growth rate. But their numbers are still behind the rates of growth experienced in China and India. 
In India, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is extremely low (12%), even as compared with other BRIC countries (Brazil is at 34% and China at 23%), despite having the third highest number of students in the world. In the last 25 years, Higher Education enrolments have been growing at a CAGR of 6% with the current tally of 16 mn students expected to be 40 mn by 2020. 
In more developed countries like the USA, GER is high (82% in 2007) and the number of students in higher education reached around 19 mn in 2009. So these countries are reaching their upper limit in terms of GER for tertiary education. They also have a much smaller young population (30%). In contrast, the population in the developing and less developed countries is very young. For developing countries, this figure stands at 48% (0-24 years) and for the less developed countries, this stands at 60% [3-4].
This poses severe stress of traditional investment driven educational systems – both from funding infrastructure and from the challenge of recruiting skilled teachers. In particular, as infrastructural and social conditions worsen going down the scale, the problems are exacerbated.
Gender and Income Inequalities
Gender disparities have also played a major role. In North America and Europe, the balance has shifted towards females whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia, the balance goes the other way. One of the factors is definitely the pressure to earn a livelihood which is perhaps greater for males than for females in these regions .
Economic disparities are known to be wide between the developed countries and the developing and less developed countries. What is worse is that models that have created havoc in developed countries such as student debt programs (the next bubble) and ad-hoc privatization, seem to be making their steady way into the much larger scale of developing and less developed countries.
Changing Student needs
The needs in developed countries have changed towards greater use of technology . Learners are changing from passive receptors of information and training to active participants in their own learning. This is a viral change, so it is really fast. Today’s digital learners are part of communities. They share their interests with members of their community. They twitter. They blog. They rake in RSS feeds and bookmark their favorities on de.li.ci.ou.s. They share photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube. They share knowledge on Slideshare and Learnhub or Ning. They share ideas. They grow by meeting and engaging peers and gurus alike using the LinkedIn or Facebook. The collaborate using their laptops and on their mobile phones.
This change is sweeping across to the developing and less developed world depending on what kind of information, network and other resources they have access to. For these regions, the pressure is on being able to earn a livelihood and to do it from an institution that is of value when seeking employment.
Rapid technological change
Technology is proceeding at a rapid pace too. Joseph Licklider wrote about man-computer symbiosis in 1960 , extending from Norbert Weiner’s work on Cybernetics. Licklider wrote on the Computer as a communication device in 1968  where he saw the universal network as a network of people, connected to each other, and producing something that no one person in the network could ever hope to produce. Lick’s efforts led to the creation of the first Internet.
The rest is history. The ARPANET emerged in 1969. By 1990, Tim Berners-Lee had created the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) which marked the birth of the web, and the internet started growing exponentially.
By 2005, Tim O’Reilly had marked another phase of the evolution of the Web and called it Web 2.0 . While the earlier web was about connecting people to resources, this web was about people being able to create their own content, search it, share it and digitally collaborate around it. It was about harnessing collective intelligence ushered in by services such as Amazon and its recommendation service, and the rise of social networks such as Facebook.
There is an even greater change that is looming on the horizon – that of the Semantic Web. Web 2.0 is collapsing under its own weight. The gigantic amount of information that is being created every day is burying search. So instead, we are moving towards Web 3.0 – the promise of a ubiquitous, semantic, location aware and contextual web – one that Tim Berners-Lee originally envisaged and is working towards with his concept of Linked Data .
The implications for education are enormous. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, opine that institutions need to reinvent themselves stating that these technologies “offer new ways to think of producing, distributing and consuming academic material” .
Order vs. Chaos
We all like order. We love order. Order means getting dinner on time, flights without delays, people not jumping the queue, police to keep criminals in check, doctors to give the right medicine, politicians to govern responsibly, teachers to teach well….the list is endless.
On the other hand, we all hate chaos. Chaos is messy. It is unpredictable. It cannot be controlled. It creates confusion.
In the face of scale constraints, there are some vast over-simplifications that are made during the entire design process. We conceive of a “design” process that has the stereotype of a student, teacher, educational environment and process. We then proceed to hammer out a unifying certification and assessment system that actually drives all learning.
Why do we make such assumptions and over-simplifications? And, incidentally, these are not only found in education, these are everywhere.
My belief is that rather than wanting order from chaos, it’s time we started wanting more chaos from this order. I am not saying we address deficiencies in the system we have conceived. Rather I am saying that we ought to question our conception of what our educational system is and investigate alternate educational futures.
In fact, by the early 20th century, people started looking at phenomena that could not be described by this classical, ordered view of a system. There were many phenomena, they argued, that did not fit into this classical notion of order – there was an element of probability that threatened the concept of order and predictability.
It has become apparent that closed-loop systems like we have in education are just one form a system that exists in real life. All around us we have systems or models that are complex, open and distributed. They are made up of networks of elements that have strong relationships with each other and with the environment in which the system exists. Like the weather.
Fritjof Capra writes that “[T]he emergence of systems thinking was a profound revolution in the history of Western scientific thought…The great shock of twentieth century science has been that systems cannot be understood by analysis . The properties of parts are not intrinsic properties, but can be understood only within the context of the larger whole.” This kind of thinking has caused a shift from analysing “basic building blocks” to understanding “basic principles of organization.”
These behaviors are in evidence when we think of education. As knowledge expands, as technology improves, as data becomes bigger, as problems become more complex, the system needs to adapt. Initial conditions have changed. For example, the number of students that the traditional systems need to “process” has increased exponentially. When we give our children the right to participate on discussions on what they want to learn and how, new behaviors do emerge. Not only that, based on events in the environment, for example the need to speak a particular type of English with the BPO boom, systems do tend to self-organize.
These systems exhibit certain very interesting phenomena. It is not possible to look at any one element in the system and make assumptions about the behavior of the system itself. For example, a gas particle is defined by its position and velocity. However the gas has properties like temperature and pressure. Not just that, under different environmental conditions, the gas may exhibit entirely different sets of properties i.e. new behavior may emerge.
Secondly they exhibit self-organization or the spontaneous emergence of order – “new structures and forms in open systems far from equilibrium, characterized by internal feedback loops and described mathematically by nonlinear equations.” Look at the behavior of a flock of birds. You must have noticed how beautifully they fly in a self-organized formation even though there is no one bird that acts as the head.
Thirdly, scientists also found that very small changes in initial conditions for these systems could lead to very large differences in outcomes. This was first found when Edward Lorenz studied weather patterns and gave this phenomenon a new name – Chaos.
Fourthly, these complex systems are also adaptive. They change and are in turn changed by the environment they belong to.
Capra points out his synthesis of the three essential characteristics of a living system – pattern of organization (Maturana, Varela), dissipative structure (Prigogine) and cognition (Gregory Bateson, Maturana and Varela) as the process of life. In my opinion, education is just that – a living system.
Since the elements of a system are networked, there is a huge value in deciphering patterns of behaviours in a network. For example, organizations are built hierarchically. But the way work gets done in the organization resembles a network. Stakeholders are connected to each other in multiple ways spanning across traditional silos in an attempt to get the job done. We observe that information has many cores of distribution, not just one. We observe that an individual when replaced in an organization changes the network structure and consequently some of the efficiencies in the system, especially if she is a link between multiple sub-networks.
Research into these patterns of relationships between elements in a network has also covered significant ground. Stanley Milgram, in 1967, undertook a project to research the quaint expression “it’s a small world”. His research proved that it was possible for one individual to connect to anyone else in the world in an average of only a few steps – popularised as the six degrees of separation .
Sociologist Mark Granovetter introduced the concept of weak ties – the conclusion that occasional interactions and loose connections between individuals are sufficient to generate strong social outcomes . Social network theorists and analysts have extensively researched the form, structure and cognition (or dynamics) of networked structures. Not surprisingly, they have found a great deal in common with the work done in systems thinking.
But in our quest for order, we have consciously excluded precisely this kind of emergent, self-organizing, chaotic, adaptive behaviour. In principle, therefore, and we see enough evidence of this, we have managed to limit creativity and innovation and perhaps the birth of new knowledge.
Distributed Educational Systems
By Distributed Educational Systems (DES), I mean the ability of the educational system to distribute itself over its elements – students, teachers, content, technology, certification and placement.
Traditional educational systems have a tight integration of the components. Education policy sets down a certain set of powers and constraints for each and for the collective as a whole. When expansion is considered, these elements must move as a whole to a new setting. This is costly and time consuming.
Instead, what if these components were individually empowered? For example, could teachers also certify, like in the old gurukul system in India. The challenge would then shift to enabling teachers and providing shared infrastructure.
This poses grand challenges to policy makers because they would lose control, often couching arguments against such a system on grounds of quality and standardization. DES are anarchic in that respect.
Brown and Duguid discuss forces will enable DES. Their 6D notion has demassification, decentralization, denationalization, despacialization, disintermediation and disaggregation as forces that “will break society down into its fundamental constituents, principally individuals and information.” They suggest the formation of “degree granting bodies”, small administrative units with the autonomy to take on students and faculty, and performing the function of providing credentials (read “degrees”). They recommend that “[i]n this way, a distributed system might allow much greater flexibility for local sites of professional excellence.”
Ivan Illich, forty years ago, stated “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”
A significant development is the development of the theory of Connectivism as a new theory of learning for the digital age. Propounded by George Siemens (2004) with its epistemological roots in the theory of Connective Knowledge postulated by Stephen Downes [14-15], Connectivism stands contrasted to major existing theories of learning and knowledge by its emphasis on learning as the ability to make connections in a network of resources, both human and device and by the amalgamation of theories of self-organization, complexity and chaos as applied the process of learning.
Connectivism embraces and extends the following principles:
- Learning is the process of making new connections
- Connections are a primary point of focus and could be to people or devices
- Connections expose patterns of information and knowledge that we use (recognize, adapt to) to further our learning
- Networked learning occurs at neural, conceptual and social levels
- Types of connections define certain types of learning
- Strength and nature of connections define how we learn
- Networks are differentiated from Groups (by factors such as openness, autonomy, diversity, leadership and nature of knowledge)
- Knowledge is the network, learning is to be in a certain state of connectedness
- Chaos, complexity theory, theories of self-organization and developments in neurosciences are all extremely important contributors for us to understand how we learn in a volatile, constantly evolving landscape
Connectivism focuses on the distributed nature of learning and knowledge, the explicit focus on networks as the primary means of learning. As George Siemens states, “connectivism, as a networked theory of learning, draws on and informs emerging pedagogical views such as informal, social, and community learning.”
Over the past 4 years, efforts to test this theory has led to the emergence of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format. These are environments which are open, autonomous, self-regulated and adaptive. There are now multiple MOOC instances led by different communities (e.g. CCK, Critical Literacies, Educational Futures, LAK, eduMOOC and MobiMOOC). Thousands of people from across the world have joined these “courses”.
Other theories and frameworks such as Jay Cross’s Informal Learning, Lave and Wenger’s Communities of Practice (CoP) and Brown and Duguid’s Network of Practice build upon the networked and distributed nature of learning.
For example, defined by knowledge rather than the task, CoPs are different from social networks or teams because they are not only about relationships or tasks. Rather they are about the shared learning and interest of its members .
In Connectivism, learning becomes the process of making connections and knowledge is the network. As Stephen explains “Just as the activation of the pixels on a television screen form an image of a person, so also the bits of information we create and we consume form patterns constituting the basis of our knowledge, and learning is consequently the training our own individualized neural networks – our brains – to recognize these patterns.”
Connectivism applied to contemporary challenges facing educators creates nothing short of an inflection point. In an appeal to end course-o-centrism, Siemens writes “What is really needed is a complete letting go of our organization schemes and open concepts up to the self/participatory/chaotic sensemaking processes that flourish in online environments.”
In this context, let us identify what DES would have as essential components.
The first attribute of a DES would be its disaggregated nature. In the traditional system, we are used to the concept of courses – a slow evolving, closely bounded collection of resources, with a temporal performance monitoring and assessment mechanism built in. This format requires that there be a design process and the presence of experts who would provide authenticity. Courses are a hegemonistic element of the traditional system – the raw elemental form of structure upon which institutions are based. Associated with these courses are certifications or degrees – proof that students are performing or have performed. DES would move from courses to un-courses – loosely defined collections of content brought together and grown through participant activity to answer a competency need. This is not reusability redefined because the premise of design itself needs to be deconstructed in this new context.
The second attribute is decentralization – but not in the sense of delegation of a control structure – but in sense of agency to the decentralized entities. DES would empower and support agents of the system – teachers, students, experts and employers – to impart high quality learning at local and global scales. What DES will do is to allow units lesser than the institution, howsoever organized, to engage in educational activities. In this sense, DES could represent local networks of practice. Closely linked to decentralization is also the concept of disintermediation – the removal of administrative and legal/policy barriers in the operation and powers of such local networks.
The state’s role (or that of private education providers) would then be to provide these networks or clusters with adequate access to technology and shared infrastructure. It would also be to bring about cohesion in the interests of regional and national vision and goals.
Open-ness and Autonomy
The third attribute of DES would be its open-ness. The term open can have many connotations. It could mean transparency and accountability. It could mean adaptive to change and open to critique. It could mean barrier-less to different genders or income parameters. It could mean autonomous in the sense that they would be self-organized and self-regulated. Open-ness and autonomy are two crucial factors in enabling local networks to become self-sustaining and valuable.
For example, a local carpenter’s guild could potentially serve the learning and livelihood needs of the young to engender competencies enough to meet local needs and challenges, without having to go through legal structures of legislation or even the attitude of privatization. Similarly, information systems could record and share learning activity and resources globally across similar such guilds across the world. Units of the DES, howsoever defined, could act as curators of this information for their audience.
This is really a democratization of the process of and the systems for education by individuals and small glocalized networks .
This fourth attribute of a DES is its distributed networked nature. While going local, it is necessary to connect globally. Information access is the first enabler; infrastructure and resource availability comes second. When information flows seamlessly and without constraints, when networks become open to connections and collaboration, innovation allows indigenization and assimilation of knowledge. The challenge of DES will be one of discoverability – how does information travel to those who need it? – a reverse search of sorts.
These networks of education could be local, seeded by local communities, their skills and needs, at the same time could be federated to align with regional and national goals and connected with a global environment. We need to allow these networks to self-organize and self-regulate. Instead of funding centralized initiatives, we need to fund and empower local initiatives.
Instead of building cadres of educational bureaucrats and technocrats to staff superstructures, we need to invest in building an architecture of participation across these networks so that they are equipped to take decisions about how education should be.
The Road Ahead
What will this take? Firstly it will take awareness building. Secondly, it will take capability building (not only leadership for the community, but also the vital skills deemed fit to make education a high quality practice). Thirdly, it will take creation of formal structures or spaces where communities can be seeded and supported. Fourthly, it will take a shift of control and a corresponding alteration of the power structures. Fifthly, it will take the loosening of barriers – legal or procedural – to promote freer flow of resources through the local systems.
This would be a strategic shift in policy. From being responsible for implementation, to being responsible for coordinating, supporting and training local communities to support the national needs and vision.
And, of course, it will not happen overnight.
Change is inevitable. One possible alternative education future is described in this paper and many more need to be researched and evaluated contextually. It is my hope, that through the thoughts in this paper and worldwide research in alternate educational futures, policy makers, educationists, designers and entrepreneurs alike, will embrace change.
This paper would not have been possible without the insights of great thinkers referenced in this article and the support of the worldwide MOOC and informal communities from whom I learn every moment. In particular, I would like to profusely thank George Siemens and Stephen Downes for their support and continued inspiration.
 OECD (2011). Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, 2011
 Ernst & Young. Making Indian Higher Education Future Ready, E&Y-FICCI, http://education.usibc.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/EY-FICCI-report09-Making-Indian-Higher-Education-Future-Ready.pdf, 2009
 Press Release. World Population to exceed 9 billion by 2050, UN Population Division/DESA, 2009
 UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Global Education Digest 2009, UNESCO, 2009
 Lenhart, Amanda, Madden Mary, Macgill Alexandra R. and Smith Aaron. Teens and Social Media, Pew / Internet, http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/230/report_display.asp, 2007
 Licklider, J.C.R.. Man-computer symbiosis, 1960
 Licklider, J.C.R. and Taylor, R.,The Computer as a Communication Device, 1968
 O’Reilly, Tim. What is Web 2.0, 2005
 Berners-Lee, Tim. Linked Data, http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/LinkedData.html, July, 2006
 Brown, John S. and Duguid, Paul. The Social Life of Information, Harvard Business School Press, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Social-Life-Information-Seely-Brown/dp/0875847625/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1229549494&sr=8-1, 2000
 Capra, Fritjof. The Web of Life – A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter, Harper Collins, 1996
 Watts, Duncan. Six Degrees – The Science of a Connected Age, Norton, 2004
 Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society, Harper and Row, 1976
 Siemens, George. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, elearnspace, http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm, December 12, 2004
 Downes, Stephen. An Introduction to Connective Knowledge, Hug, Theo (ed.) (2007): Media, Knowledge & Education – Exploring new Spaces, Relations and Dynamics in Digital Media Ecologies. Proceedings of the International Conference held on June 25-26, 2007, November 27, 2007
 Wenger, Etienne. CoP: Best Practices, Systems Thinker, http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml, June, 1998
 Downes, Stephen. The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On , Half an Hour, http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2008/11/future-of-online-learning-ten-years-on_16.html, November, 2008
 Siemens, George. Time to end “courseocentricism”, elearnspace, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2009/01/14/time-to-end-courseocentricism/, January 14, 2009
 Wellman, Barry. Little Boxes, Glocalization and Networked Individualism, http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman/publications/littleboxes/littlebox.PDF
Education has always been considered by planners as being for the people. Consequently, a lot of effort by private and public entities have placed great effort and emphasis on just one aspect – how do we educate people?
This is not entirely democratic.
A democratic view of education also considers education to be by and of the people. This means a shift from centralized top-down standards based global approaches to local and indigenous, decentralized system of education albeit centrally facilitated and guided by national goals.
This means that we have to look at empowering local community and small scale industry/agencies to support and take ownership, directly or indirectly, reducing the dependence on large scale national players as the only option for public private partnership.
What does this imply? This approach is not in conflict with government controlled initiatives and structure. It is merely a different way of looking at the problem with a certain relaxation of control and greater autonomy to local stakeholders.
While a nationally centralized approach may mandate guidelines like the NCFTE (National Curriculum for Teacher Education, 2009) or the NCF (National Curriculum Framework 2005) , a centralized approach cannot work for implementation, given the kind of diversity that exists in terms of language, culture, economic, social & political barriers.
Which implies that if the approach changes from being a producer of education for a mass audience to a facilitator, guide and coach model that encourages local participation that is tuned with regional, national and global needs, then we have chance of meeting our needs quickly, affordably and reliably.
Imagine an ecosystem where the local community provides some of the necessary resources for implementation of NCF and NCFTE goals alongside the resources provided by the government through SSA/MSA (Sarva Shiksha and Madhyamic Shiksha Abhiyaan) and RTE (Right to Free and Compulsory Education, 2010).
The local community includes both the resources and skills to support many educational endeavors. Structured and guided properly, a small scale industry can emerge that acts as a supplier of low cost electro-mechanical kits, lecture-demonstrations, project work, experimentation, counseling and other products and services for the local student and teacher population.
Local materials (available in the location) would be used to create these resource materials and the SSIs could be trained to efficiently produce these materials or deliver expertise based classroom support.
Let us take an example. A teacher in remote Bihar decided to teach the archaeological process as an essential in History the Harappan Civilization). She did not go with a CBSE textbook in hand or a kit produced by a giant national factory, but instead took a few artifacts similar to what existed in that civilization, dug a pit, put the artifacts in and covered it back up. The next day, she asked the students to pick up their shovels and excavate the site. With each object discovered, there was excitement and curiosity from all the students.
On a local factor scale, the community could be relied upon to meaningfully create many of these experiences and innovate over time. This would be private local entrepreneurship generating employment and incubated at the grassroots.
Essentially, what we are saying that we should try and meet scale with scale, instead of centralizing and standardizing.
What we are also saying is go local, go global, which means that while we give greater flexibility to local ingenuity, we also connect them into a regional, national and international network that they can leverage and contribute to, as well as shape their efforts to meet policy level goals of the government.
We are also making a call for disaggregation or an unbundling of resources from the current suppliers of these resources, an unbundling of the professions from the skills and dismantling a mindset that only degreed educators can educate.
All that is good, but how does one operationalize it?
That is equivalent to asking how we would operationalize a massively parallel network. Models for these abound in the network and viral marketing world and is similar to how we would propagate virally – just that someone needs to seed the model with a structured set of products and services, provide a platform for awareness generation and seed the initial few initiatives to demonstrate effects.
There is lots of talk about de-commodifying education. I would like to talk about de-committifiying education. Or at least, giving a new terms of reference to committees. Perhaps the standard Yes Ministeresque response to this post, would be to set up a committee to study the proposal to de-committify, but I am hoping someone will listen.
With all this time, money and effort being spent in constituting and executing committees that produce voluminous and sometimes erudite reports on education, the time is perhaps ripe to argue for a more transparent, open and accountable system of committees. This starts from the point where the need for a committee arises, and does not stop past the report of the committee.
What would good committees look like? And how would they really help Indian Education?
Firstly, committees should be sparingly conceived of. There could be a cumulative body of work that exists that could be leveraged or there could be efficient use of relevant existing resources to answer questions (e.g. leverage crowdsourcing, national level databases etc). There is going to be fantastic national network of more than 30,000 colleges and over 600 universities (500 more universities and 30,000 colleges more will spring up soon), connected through the National Knowledge Network, which I am sure can be leveraged beautifully at very little, if any, cost for most of the work of a regular committee in background research, data collection and fact-finding. They should also be conceived sparingly because they entail cost and time of expensive resources (our experts), which could perhaps be spent much better elsewhere.
Secondly, committees must have members that have proven their credentials at making committees work, apart from their regular expertise. If Valdis Krebs was to do a social network analysis of the members who constituted committees in India over the past 20 years, I am pretty sure it would emerge to a be a densely packed network with very few outliers, indicating that neither do new people get in to committee work, nor is it representative in the face of a growing external network of stakeholders. There must be a way to engage with newer and diverse ideas, otherwise each committee ends up reproducing their un-knowledge for years at a stretch.
Thirdly, committees must execute their tasks with details on:
- How much my (taxpayer) money was spent – honoraria, travel costs, administrative etc.?
- How was the committee work planned and organized?
- How much time was spent by each member on the committee work?
- Did the committee operate in a participatory manner – what did they do to engage stakeholders?
- Did the committee make their deliberations open?
- Did the committee members record differences of opinion? Were there reasons recorded for not publishing an opinion or point of view in the final report?
Fourthly, the final report should have gone through a formal quality assurance process as well. A minor side-effect of these reports is that people like me read what they produce and actually spend endless hours analyzing them. Was the report concise? Did it address the brief/mission? Did it provide practical suggestions or accurate analyses? Are the recommendations feasible to implement? Was the report made public for opinion to be accepted from reviewers?
Fifthly, if it is an action oriented report, were the actions and recommendations carried through by the initiating body? If not, why not? If it is a research and information oriented report, did its data make its way a publicly accessible database?
Sixthly, what did the committee do to validate the report on an annual or periodic basis? Data changes and so do other things that affect the content of a report from the time of its issue.
If I was the government, I would perhaps suggest setting up a Committee to Review Committees that would result in the formation of a National Mission for Reviewing and Managing Education Committees. Or suggest that a new breed of committees be created that will cure the ills of the existing ones. But, I am assuredly not. My only point is that committees, task forces, focus groups et al are important. They are required. Time and money should be spent on them.
However, if we do not make them accountable, open and transparent, they are at best instruments of the state or predilections of the educationist voyeur. That is a cross that the Indian Education system should not be made to wear.
One of my favorite rants is that “you cannot educate teachers using the same methods you use to educate your students“. Teachers are going through no different a process than their students. The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education document states (quoting the National Curriculum Framework 2005 document):
Experiences in the practice of teacher education indicate that knowledge is treated as ‘given’, embedded in the curriculum and accepted without question; there is no engagement with the curriculum. Curriculum, syllabi and textbooks are never critically examined by the student teacher or the regular teacher.
The NCF 2005 document also calls for:
Reformulated teacher education programmes that place thrust on the active involvement of learners in the process of knowledge construction, shared context of learning, teacher as a facilitator of knowledge construction, multidisciplinary nature of knowledge of teacher education, integration theory and practice dimensions, and engagement with issues and concerns of contemporary Indian society from a critical perspective.
According to this press release, the NCF2005 document was built by the following process.
- Prof. Yashpal managed a steering committee of 35 members “including scholars from different discipline, principals and teachers, CBSE Chairman, representatives of well known NGOs and members of the NCERT faculty”.
- 21 National Focus Groups, chaired by renowned scholars and practitioners, built position papers on areas of curricular concern, areas for system reform, and national concerns. (Published here).
- “Each National Focus Group has had several consultations in which they have interacted with other scholars and classroom practioners in different parts of the country. In addition to the above NCERT has had consultations with (a) Rural Teachers, (b) Education Secretaries and Directors of NCERTs, (c) principals of Delhi-based private schools and KVS Schools. Regional Seminars were also held at NCERTs Regional Institutes of Education in Ajmer, Bhopal, Bhuvaneshwar, Mysore and Shillong. Advertisements were placed in 28 national and regional dailies to invite suggestions from parents and other concerned members of the public. More than 1500 responses were received.”
Of special interest in the position paper of the National Focus Group on Educational Technology. Members of this focus group include Kiran Karnik, Prof. MM Pant, Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Vasudha Kamat among others and invitees included Sugata Mitra.
In reading this paper and correlating it with what finally transpired as the NCF 2005, it seems that a pattern was repeating itself – that committees have not done a good job of representing the work done by sub-committees and taking some major recommendations into the policy documents. Perhaps it is more driven by individual proclivities than the mission itself. For example, the word Internet is used superficially in the NCF 2005 (you may not find more than a few occurrences of the term itself in that document!).
This focus group looked at Educational Technology (and much has happened since 2005 in ET) and states:
The Internet can be a sound investment for continuous on-demand teacher training and support, research and content repositories, value-added distance education, and online campuses aimed at increasing the access, equity, and quality of education.
It came to some important conclusions.
- Firstly, we must look at revitalizing what we already have. We should take our existing resources and network them into a potent driving force in education. This scale that we have can be brought to bear on the challenges that we have, if we have the intention to invest in capability building.
- Secondly, the Focus Group exhorts us to encourage system reform. It asks us to ”(C)ounter the tendency to centralise; promote plurality and diversity” and “Ensure opportunities for autonomous content generation by diverse communities.”
- Thirdly, we must look at ways of creating a system of lifelong professional development and support, especially for education leaders, as a focus in in-service training.
- Fourthly, for pre-service training, it demands that we “introduce teachers to flexible models of reaching curriculum goals”. It demands that we “(I)ntroduce use of media and technology-enabled methods of learning, making them inherent and embedded in the teaching-learning process of teachers.”
- Fifthly, in K12, we must “(M)ove from a predetermined set of outcomes and skill sets to one that enables students to develop explanatory reasoning and other higher-order skills.” and “(P)romote flexible models of curriculum transaction.”
- Sixthly, in research, focus on adaptive learning, mobile learning and building capabilities for core research.
The position paper is worth a read. And it is useful to see how much of it really translated into the NCF2005. My sense so far, and I could be inaccurate here, is that for the NCF2005 committee, the position paper could be summarized as an “appropriate use of ICT in education”. It would be useful to get inputs from the Focus Group members on how their recommendations were amalgamated into the NCF2005. Alas, there is no online forum where they are visibly present where I could raise this.
What would a position paper look like in 2012? And what would it look like if we future-casted it to 2020 and beyond? And is it at all useful to create such position papers if their recommendations do not see the light of day?
In my opinion, this should be an annual participatory affair. Each year, experts and interested stakeholders should come online and generate an open (un)consensus on what Educational Theory, Research and Technology augurs for our mission to democratize education. If not anything else, the network of interested people can be built, with potential future impacts on the way education systems progress. Interested?
The following is a brief summary of the Madhava Menon report on ODL in India titled “Report of the Committee to Suggest Measures to Regulate the Standards of Education Being Imparted through Distance Mode“. The report was released in 2010 it seems.
The report defines Open Distance Learning (ODL) as a term that encompasses the “open” and “distance”. “Open” means to the committee:
- the removal of constraints of face to face conventional classroom method
- flexibility for students who need an alternative to the conventional system
- scale with equality
The term “Distance” means to the committee:
- teacher and student have a space and time division/distance
- “also involves e-learning, open learning, flexible learning, on-line learning, resource-based learning, technology-mediated learning etc.”
By this interpretation, ODL in India should be:
- Asynchronous (time separation)
- Either correspondence (print) based or self paced learning, but no blend with physical face to face modes
- At par or better quality than conventional learning
- Automatically equally accessible
The definition conflicts with reality (we are employing synchronous learning, we do contact mode blends, quality of eLearning and correspondence is questionable, infrastructure and other constraints come in the way of accessibility) and I think more of an emphasis should be placed on what these terms mean. In fact, the report goes on later to state that conventional and distance modes should be blended.
In this report, it seems that their conception is that the Distance Education model has evolved from the stage of “print material oriented correspondence education” to “the stage of self-instructional packages with an integrated multi-media approach, and incorporation of interactive communication technologies, leading towards building of virtual learning”.
The failure to appreciate the nuances of open-ness and “distance”, especially in a networked, digital world, show downstream in almost all of our policy documents and vision statements. In fact, the term “social media” or the term “Web 2.0″ fails to find a mention in the report.
The report starts with a statistical picture of Higher Ed in India including stats on ODL from 2009. The statistics show:
- Amazing growth in numbers (quoting the UGC [University Grants Commission] Annual Report 2008-09) since Independence
- 3.6 mn learners in ODL, as compared to 13.6 mn in traditional HE; Technical and professional courses account for about 10%; About a half in undergraduate programmes, a third in certificate programs
- About twice the percentage of students enrolled in post-graduate programs in ODL as compared to traditional HE
- Apparently, the decision to allow Open Universities to enrol M.Phil/Ph.D. registrations was only taken in July 2011 subject to an 11-point criteria list (which I have not been able to locate yet).
- We will need USD 200 bn to ramp up capacity in traditional infrastructure if we are to meet demand in the conventional manner – also a cogent argument for ODLs [there are about 200 ODL institutions in India today (intake 2 mn students) and 13 State Open Universities (SOU, intake 1.62mn students) apart from the largest one - Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)]
The statistics are updated in the UGC Approach Paper for the 12th Five Year Plan.
The committee report also goes into some level of detail on:
- Guidelines for student registration (Sec 4.6), Learner Support Services (Sec 4.7) and Assessment creation (Sec 4.8)
- ICT use through radio, television, telephone, computer, Internet and satellite (Sec 4.8) [basically limited to an ancient understanding of today's digital world]
In Technical/Professional Education in areas like Engineering, Pharmacy and Medicine, the estimated capacity is about 2 mn students. The report details the role and structure of AICTE and other bodies and outlines initiatives focused on the technical education domain.
Section 6 details the recommendations.
- Given the huge cost of setting up physical infrastructure for conventional HE, the committee recommends more effective utilization of resources (physical resources to be made available to ODL community in multipple “shifts”)
- Removal of barriers and institutional (AICTE, DEC and UGC) that exist today for more ODLIs to spring up, serving many more domains, is going to be critical. DEC could take the lead in specifying a clear and unambigous high quality approach and regulatory framework, but it is not a statutory body. Therfore, a new statutory body called the Distance Education Council of India, which would be an “independent and effective Regulatory Authority on Distance Education”, should be created. All authority should be devolved to this new body. “It will be the duty of the proposed DECI to ensure that the nomenclature of the degrees proposed to be awarded through such programmes are approved by the UGC, the institute has the requisite recognition from the respective regulatory authorities, viz AICTE, MCI, DCI, etc. for the regular course in conventional mode, it is affiliated to a university, it has developed the self learning material of desired standards, it has a credible system of counseling, evaluation of assignments and examination, it has the necessary infrastructure including laboratories, library, class rooms, etc. and qualified counselors as per the relevant norms.”
- Sec 6.14 (ODL in Conventional Universities) did not make sense. It attempts to restrict ODL departments in conventional universities from offering any program not offered conventionally, to stay geographically within their governing Act’s jurisdiction adn to not franchise learning centres to “private unorganized colleges or organizations” – the last perhaps would a death knell for organizations such as Sikkim Manipal University, as this would apply to State Universities as well.
- While talking about Open PhDs, the committee states, perhaps very impactfully since UGC reversed it in 2011, “UGC’s decision not to permit Ph.D programme through distance education mode may be reviewed in the light of the National Policy on Education”.
- The DECI will not territorially limit programs that are totally online
- Perhaps the most interesting recommendation is on the equivalence of degree (albeit with a qualifying suffix – “through distance mode”) between conventional and ODL.
- The DECI is conceived of as being managed by the UGC and later subsumed into whatever overarching body the (proposed) NCHER bill brings in.
Reading this report leaves me fairly bewildered. I must apologise if I hurt any sentiments (as I know I will), but here goes.
First of all, we are saying that we really do not know what we are doing. With such an impressive state machinery, millions of committees and years of experience, we still do not know.
The second thing I understand is that we are not willing to learn. If one structure fails, we will create another bigger one to supersede it. Whatever happens in the world is not important, so long as we have not thought of it.
Thirdly, we will not allow others to learn. By perpetuating systems like these and holding these confabulations behind closed doors with the merry pretence of consultation with stakeholders, we will systematically eradicate the ability to learn in others. We shall perpetuate mediocrity in our thinking on education.
Fourthly, we will waste time in writing (and having others read) voluminous reports and recommendations that repeat facts figures and assertions made in numerous other reports.
In order to really meet our ODL challenges in an equitable and accessible manner, my recommendations are the following:
- Invest in enabling infrastructure so that digital technology and communications reaches every corner of India in affordable ways.
- Invest in cutting edge online techniques and research that will help meet our challenges
- Invest in creating and aggregating Open Content and tools
- Invest in building talent in Education effectively (maybe an Indian Educational Services without the bureaucratic trappings)
- Invest in building local, national and global communities and guilds that will build up expertise, generate employability and shape research for India
- Invest in data and learning analytics
- Deregulate the entire sector with the power to audit and shut down (if required) low quality providers or by imposing severe penalties of non-performance; regulate empirically rather than by design
- Focus government (yours and mine) funds in areas and sectors that have inadequate or none private focus (over time build these areas and sectors so that they start becoming self-sufficient)
- Educate consumers and give them adequate redress mechanisms
- Become open – don’t just solicit opinion from the same people, but actively reach out to community stakeholders and build the network
- Reward innovation and community contributions
Lastly. Get serious. There is enough talent and intellectual depth in India to solve our problems. Leverage that.
Less than two weeks to go for EDGEX2012!
EDGEX is conceived as a platform that would connect people with different passions for education to come together. There are plenty of disruptive things happening in education around the world and EDGEX aims to kindle some conversations within and across learning communities - whether they be organized in some way or not. Most of all, EDGEX aims at breaking the silos that exist and aims to allow discovery of shared passions and goals.
I have already talked about the speakers that are joining us, and they need no introductions! Alec Couros, Alicia Sanchez and Jon Dron could not unfortunately join us this year, but, like with Etienne Wenger, we hope there will be an EDGEX2013 where they could join the conversation.
It is the speaker list from India and their enthusiasm that gets me really excited too. There is Sahana Chattopadhyay from ThoughtWorks, who I have frequently encountered over the social web, but only got a chance to touch base with recently. I look forward to her sharing her thoughts on Communities of Practice and Community Management, as well as her experiences working and interacting with people like Jay Cross. Freeman Murray, who set up Jaaga.in, a network led approach to support and facilitate social learning paths for students, is a great discovery because he adds that layer of implementation that will manage and massage the learning network.
So many entrepreneurs will converge at EDGEX2012 including Dheeraj Prasad, from BraveNewTalent, who is building a community based platform for skill development; Rajeev Pathak from eDreams and Venudhar Bhatt from Learning Revolution, who are engaged in making learning personalized and adaptive; Girish Gopalakrishnan, from inSIRcle and Satya Prakash Ganni (who could unfortunately not come this time), from LearnSocial who are both engaged in ideas that will make a real impact on social, adaptive learning environment; Jagdish Repaswal from Mangosense, who wants to using his vision for mobile and social learning applications, to redefine learning - all people with disruptive ideas and a burning passion to make an impact.
Jatinder Singh, from Atelier, is focused on scaling simulations to enterprises, perhaps national levels and beyond through a set of ideas around frameworks and low-cost delivery mechanisms. Siddharth Banerjee, from Indusgeeks, is a great champion of virtual world based learning and play paradigms. I have had the good fortune of connecting with Rajiv Jayaraman (who unfortunately could not make it to EDGEX this year) from KnolSkape, an exciting company that is focused strongly on simulations and serious games, and to Debabrata Bagchi (of Sparsha Learning) who has come out with simulation based products for the Higher Education space, Prasad Hassan from RightCareer with his vision of building innovative game based psychometric assessments for both urban and rural students; and with Amruth BR from VitaBeans who is taking his efforts at creating behavior profiles through gaming. I would have loved to have folks like Vraj Gokhlay from TIS and Madhumita Halder from MadRat to have also been able to attend. But this gives me hope that the simulation and serious games capabilities in India are growing and there are more entrepreneurs and sponsors willing to invest time, money and effort into raising the quality of education.
Manish Upadhyay from LIQVID, who has forever engaged in being passionate about learning and technology, brings with him his experiences of building mobile, tablet based education systems for the K12 space. Anirudh Phadke’s enthusiasm in building BeyondTeaching with the slogan No teacher left behind, is at once provocative, relevant and intriguing. Surbhi Bhagat and her passion to make an impact in rural education through UnivExcellence; Rajeevnath Viswanathan from EduAlert talking about his concept of an Inclusive Learning Graph; Rajat Soni, from Eduledge with his learning platform called Eruditio; Satish Sukumar (the technology man behind EduNxt, SMU’s digital learning platform) and Shanath Kumar (who heads eLearning at SMU and is the learning guru shaping the development of EduNxt); Rajeev Menon from MeritTrac, who is forever pushing the boundaries of product development in the Assessments space are all entrepreneurs and passionate people intent on creating disruption in the way we do things in education.
Of course, Madan Padaki, my co-conspirator in creating EDGEX and the man behind the largest assessments company in India, MeritTrac, will also present his work with Head Held High, an initiative to leverage the power of education to transform lives.
A special thanks to one of our other entrepreneurs, Piyush Agrawal, who leads Aurus Networks, who with great enthusiasm offered to webcast EDGEX2012 live (details will be on the website soon). Also to Bakary Singhateh, who is coming all the way from Gambia where he researches Connectivism! The Entrepreneur Showcase on Day One of the conference will also showcase students from Manipal University, as part of MU’s Technology Business Incubation division, where Amruth and I went to learn from students what they thought would be potentially disruptive.
With over 35 speakers, the Entrepreneur Showcase, workshops on networked based learning, mobility and serious games, and plenty of opportunities to network with a diverse set of entrepreneurs, thought leaders, investors, companies and other stakeholders, EDGEX is going to be fun!
Posted in 3.0, Chaos, EDGEX, Education Policy, elearning 2.0, Instructional Design, Learner Profiling, Learning Theory, LMS, Network Analysis, Personalization, PLE, policy, Simulations, tLearning, Virtual Worlds, tagged Conference, EDGEX2012, New Delhi on January 7, 2012 | 2 Comments »
Over the next few weeks, as the countdown to the EDGEX Disruptive Educational Research conference to be held in New Delhi from March 12-14 begins, I hope to bring to you all news and updates about the conference and its themes.
The EDGEX 2012 Conference has been carefully and collaboratively constructed to bring cutting edge educational research to participants. There are two major themes – Learning X.O and Simulations & Serious Games. The Learning X.O theme essentially tries to synthesize the fairly amazing and disruptive research and experimentation around Connectivism, Informal Learning and Communities of Practice.
For something that I joined up in 2008 (with the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge [CCKO8] “course” led by George Siemens,Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier, featuring a unique open-ended format called the Massive Open Online Course – MOOC) to co-experiment with over 2000 people across the world, to have advanced so much and to have directly or indirectly inspired systems thinking on education (witness the Stanford AI “course” experiment and the recent announcement – MITx – by MIT) by traditional brick and mortar institutions, is no mean achievement over such a short period of time.
What makes Connectivism and all the associated themes so disruptive is just that – its potential to arm an entirely new generation of theorists, researchers and practitioners with the thought paradigm and tools to comprehend the impacts of disruptive technology, over abundant knowledge, demographic pressures and changing social relations among other important trends. Underlying it, in my own interpretation, is the tremendous principle of democratization - of education to be by, for and of the people. Though it is heavily steeped in technology, the essence of it is like “the principles behind the steam engine” as Stephen would say.
George and Stephen continue to raise the bar. Their continued work, and that of able partners and fellow researchers like Dave Cormier and Alec Couros, not only on the CCK MOOCs, but on various others, like the Critical Literacies MOOC, the EdFutures MOOC, Alec’s EC&I 831, the Change11 MOOC, the Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, Stephen’s technology development and many other initiatives, are inspiring thousands of educators worldwide.
Etienne Wenger, with his disruptive work on Communities of Practice, is one speaker who we shall miss terribly on this platform. We did not get his availability on the dates for the conference, and would have loved to have him, so as to, at least in my mind, complete the conversation. But I am fairly sure, his intellectual presence will be felt strongly through the themes of the conference.
Quick switch to Corporate Learning and the one name that immediately comes to mind is the person responsible for really starting it all – Jay Cross. In his work with the Internet Time Alliance, Jay, along with Clark Quinn (who we are honoured to host at the conference), Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings and Paul Simbeck-Hampson, are redefining the boundaries of what learning can be. Their work on Learnscapes as learning ecosystems that promote complexity instead of eradicating it, is path breaking because it offers another way for us to think about how workplace learning can be transformed.
Even as this disruptive research and experimentation impacts our conception of how learning will be and how learning systems will be, the work of three of the expert researchers at EDGEX2012 - Grainne Conole, Jon Dron and Martin Weller – is of crucial significance. Grainne is researching ways in which new pedagogies and approaches to design can harness the potential of social and participatory media. Martin is investigating the implications of scholarship in a digital world. Jon is looking at learning environment design and investigating the “shapes of online socially enhanced dwellings that are most likely to lead to enhanced knowledge and, in the process, uncover some of the nature of technologies and our intimately connected cyborg relationships with them”.
Meanwhile, the other theme, Simulations and Serious Games, is really a veiled approach to unravelling how rich digital media and delivery platforms can combine to produce rich digital learning experiences. The work of Clark Quinn and Alicia Sanchez, and other speakers such as Sid Bannerjee and Jatinder Singh will lay the foundation for rethinking digital media. Clark, of course, brings in a much wider perspective – he is rethinking our conception of learning and systems for learning and is investigating models such as spaced practice, social learning, meta-learning, and distributed cognition.
Les Foltos brings in focus to teacher education and how educator communities can use peer coaching as a technique to continuously learn and evolve. Shanath Kumar, Satish Sukumar, Rajeev Menon, Manish Upadhyay and Amruth B R bring in yet more perspectives on design, content, new age assessments, semantic web, mobility and technology, thus rounding off this theme.
And this is not limited to Higher Education alone. The principles and precepts are fairly universal, although the practice and implementation will definitely vary between contexts. K12 educators will find a plethora of disruptive opportunities in the conference.
The conference has one other dimension worth noting. We are inviting startups and entrepreneurs who believe that they are contributing disruptive innovation to education. You will see some of these entrepreneurs showcase their ideas at the conference.
I am hoping this conference acts as the melting pot for disruptive research and practice and marks the start of new level of collaboration between participants.
In my mind, all this research is connected by one common theme – we are looking the ways to change the dominant paradigm, because the dominant paradigm will fail (and indeed, is failing) to achieve a vision of a meaningful and capable system of education in the face of the challenges we face today.
Particularly for countries like India, the timing of these disruptions could not be more apt. And this is where we hope your vision and expertise at the conference and around it, will pave the way for open and concerted dialogue on how we can embrace change in our society.
The website for the conference is up at http://www.edgex.in. The website features speaker bios and a set of resources to get started on the many topics that will be covered in this conference. You can also connect with us prior to the conference through email or the links below.
Please do feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com if you are interested and I will get right back to you! We look forward to hearing from you!
Particularly in Higher Education in India, I have long been bothered by a systemic gap in Teacher Education. The gap lies in the preparation of teachers for HE. Today the minimum entry criteria for an Assistant Professor in HE is the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the State Level Eligibility Test (SET/SLET) [UGC Regulations 2009, and the most recent one UGC Regulations 2010], a good academic record and 55% marks at the Master’s level. PhD holders are exempt from the NET requirement.
The norms of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (faculties of agricultural and veterinary sciences), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (medicine, dentistry, nursing and AYUSH), National Council of Teacher Education (faculty of education), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE, Engineering and Technology, Pharmacy and Management) and the Rehabilitation Council of India (rehabilitation and special education) will supersede these regulations. Of these, the most striking exceptions are for education and those under the AICTE (which excludes perhaps 30% of the HE institutions in the country).
Essentially then, these regulations are majorly for Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, Commerce, Education, Languages, Law, Journalism and Mass Communication programs across HE in India, not really affecting professional education in most part.
The selection process include advertising at a national level and a Selection Committee that is formed on the basis of the guidelines laid down by the UGC (typically university nominees, college principal and governing body member, a couple of subject experts, college Head of Department and so on).
For the direct qualification at a Professor level, the requirements include 10 years of high quality work, atleast 10 publications, atleast 10 years of teaching/research experience including guiding doctoral candidates, (surprise) contribution to educational innovation (read innovation, design of new curricula and courses, and technology mediated learning process) and a minimum score in the Performance Based Assessment System (PBAS) indicator called Academic Performance Indicator (API) [must read: Pratiksha Baxi on Kafila : The UGC Dictates]. A Professor could also be directly recuited if her credentials prove that she is an outstanding professional with established reputation in the given field, having made significant contributions.
A college principal, on a side note, is expected to have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, must have been an Associate or Full Professor for 15 years and must have a minimum API.
An Associate Professor must have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, atleast 5 publications, atleast 8 years of teaching/research experience with evidence of having guided doctoral students, significant contribution to educational innovation and must have a minimum API.
Norms in the 2010 UGC regulations also vary slightly in other disciplines such as Music and Performing Arts. Regulations in professional programs like Management/Business Administration at the institution level include a focus on past work experience and credibility in the industry, but let go of the more rigorous requirement of being an educational innovator.
Which brings me to the subject of this post. What does it take to teach vs. what does it take to become a teacher?
I strongly believe that domain expertise is really crucial, but coupled with that must be some amount of knowledge/skill/passion for teaching. The regulations sort of assume that you are born a good teacher or that you have become one through experience. The regulations attempt to quantify in the PBAS what constitutes quality in research or innovation in education (but fail miserably, IMHO). For example, educational innovation is thought to be:
Participatory and Innovative T/L Process with materials for problem based learning, case studies and group discussions etc., with points given for interactive courses (5 points), participatory learning modules (5 points) and case studies (5 points). If the teacher uses ICT (Powerpoint/Multimedia/Simulation/Software) in addition to chalk and board, she is entitled to 5 more points.
The PBAS provides a maximum score of 20 for “use of participatory and innovative teaching learning methodologies, updating of subject content, course improvement etc.” in an overall score of maximum 125 and a minimum required of 125.
Similarly, if you look at Paper 01 of the National Eligibility Test, called General Paper on Teaching Aptitude and Research [samples here], there is some attempt to gauge whether the test taker is a good teacher or not (atleast in the limited manner of a multiple choice question diagnostic test). The test covers analytical reason, math, english, data interpretation, general knowledge, basic IT knowledge, and a bit of knowledge around education and our education system. I am guessing some intrepid test preparation institutes would have a good amount of printed course material and question banks already around these to help students get past this death-defying assessment.
And in typical style, someone in the bureaucracy decided they want a review and have posted an undated questionnaire online which seeks to “elicit the views of a cross-section of the society regarding utility, effectiveness and continuity of UGC-NET”. The questionnaire (and you will miss it if you don’t click on the link to the MS Word quiz labelled “questionnaire” in the last paragraph) is a multiple choice quiz of 4 survey (Yes/No) questions. There is no mention of the results so far though the NET has been running since 1989.
There are perhaps better ways to elicit views.
Directly impacting these issues is really the availability of technology (hardware, software) and content at the institutional level given the scale and diversity of the Indian HE challenge (now 33000 institutions, 600+ universities and about 20+ mn students). I am hoping that over time, these conditions will evolve and improve – the existing resources being Sakshat-NMEICT, InfLibNet, Journals access etc. – to embrace OERs and low cost hardware riding on the National Knowledge Network itself which is being now extended to private institutions as well. Infrastructure is required in order for a teacher to teach.
Other direct impacts are can be derived through focus on areas such as
- providing an ecosystem (and infrastructure) at the institutional (or group) level that encourages innovative practices,
- the building up of a community of teachers, facilitating their interactions through techniques such as peer coaching, peer conferences, awards and recognition
- devising a program for teacher educators for HE,
- devising programs for pre-service and in-service teachers that are embedded, not in the traditional system, but in precisely the new age education systems that they will seek to further
- embedding appropriate andragogical and heutagogical techniques in the curriculum and building teacher skills to adopt these in their own learning
- investing in open and distance learning at the institutional levels
- providing a more rigorous system of assessment and evaluation for teachers at the entry level without acting as a bottleneck
So what is the UGC doing in the area of HE teacher education and training. According to the UGC website, it has established 66 Academic Staff Colleges. It is interesting to read through the Refresher Course rules and regulations. They lay down career progression linkages through the Career Advancement Scheme which stipulates the number of refresher courses that must be taken in order to considered for the next higher level. At this point, it seems that they have to attend at least one orientation and 1-2 refresher courses.
The curriculum coverage is as follows:
The content of the Refresher course will have essential percentage of the core material in the subject discipline along with required percentage of areas of emergence and priority, (both national and global), essential laboratory and practical component, computer application and I.T. Contents, if required with relevant advancement to the subject discipline.
The Orientation Programme provides opportunities for newly appointed teachers as well as for in-service teachers to make them familiar with the use of tools (software) and “Internet Literate” as Orientation Programme has I.T. based contents and about one week time will be devoted to I.T. based contents and training.
The curriculum for the Academic Staff Orientation Course may have the five components with 144 contact hours, i.e., 6 hours daily for 4 week programmes and 3 week Refresher Courses may have a minimum of 108 hours as already communicated to the UGCASC/ RCC. In addition, computer awareness and application of computers in teaching and research in different areas as relevant for the subject disciplines. All UGC-ASCs and UGC – RCCs have been requested to take steps to implement the programmes/courses accordingly.
If you take a look at the responsibilities of the ASCs, the overwhelming focus seems to be on subject and (assuming very basic) IT skills. Teacher participation is all paid for by the government. The detailed list of Orientation programs in 2009-10 gives very little reason to cheer. Organizations like JNTU, Hyderabad and MANUU, Hyderabad are actually talking workshops on effective teaching and open source software in education, but the vast majority are definitely not. One thing that may be good is that I see a lot of focus on principals and administrators based workshops.
Of course, none of these are in any way open or visible. Like much of Indian education. Which is not to say that innovation does not exist, that there are not people with cutting edge thinking in education and that the future is grim – just that those dark corners need to be illuminated soon.
In school teacher education, however, the situation is richer with the National Council for Teacher Education (which has been although recently superseded by the government for 6 months on account of malpractice). NCTE has come up with many publications and I would suggest that they are worth a look, particularly the National Curricular Framework which has good ideas such as the Teacher Learning Centre. They have also got a Teacher Education Institute evaluation and accreditation mechanism.
It also has developed a Central Teacher Eligibility Test to select teachers fit to teach in schools for Classes 1-8 (essentially for BEd students). Please do look at the curriculum and sample tests – it will be an interesting exercise for teacher educators around the world to contribute and critique these.
Of related interested is how organizations like the Distance Education Council address the problems of faculty development and certification for blended programs and those offering academic (tutor) support online. This is something that is quite important to address as well.
In summary, it remains a challenge for us to figure out a more effective system for teacher education in HE today. The existing mechanisms need to be reviewed and the hidden dialogues around this issues needs to emerge.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce held a one day conference called the Assocham National Conference on E-Education & Distance Education – Innovative & Creative models in Higher Education on Dec 8, 2011. This conference was a small gathering of people from different parts of the education sector. I tweeted some of the proceedings with the hashtag #Assocham.
It was an interesting conference from many perspectives. Pavan Agarwal from the Planning Commission, which is in the final stages of formulating the strategy on Education in the 12th five year plan, made some important points. He talked about the need to align the economic structure and imperatives of the country with the educational strategy by putting focus on the main components – agriculture (which accounts for 50%), industry and the services sector. It is important because economic growth vision and educational strategy has to work hand in hand. The new figures for HE sector that are being finalized indicate that our GER is now close to 18% and total HE campus enrolment is set to reach 30 mn students by 2017 (with about 4 mn students currently in distance education over and above the campus estimates). It seems we now have 32,000 colleges and over 600 universities (200 of them in the private sector). While making the case that there can be alternative educational models and systems that will emerge (case in point is Sam Pitroda’s concept of a meta university which is really very close to what we have been discussing worldwide and especially in the MOOCs) in a pluralistic manner, his focus in the 12th plan was in the details. The principle thought was that while the 11th plan focus on strategy, the 12th plan will focus on the details.
Other interesting comments included revisiting the National Mission on Education using ICT which is being re-evaluated and re-budgeted in the 12th plan with many elements of focus – ensuring that the National Knowledge Network reaches even into private institutions, making sure that the 30% of the 32,000 colleges that do not even have a computer are equipped with the necessary infrastructure (Aakash tablets also to be provided), virtual LABs (as an offshoot of the NMEICT-IIT pilots over the last 2 years or so), the need to drum up inexpensive models for high quality content generation, leveraging technology to enhance instruction, creating our own variants of community colleges for short lifecycle education needs and establishing more communication channels including DTH (Direct to Home).
Of these, the most important in my mind was the thought, at least, that we need to attack scale with scale. Pavan talked about shorter lifecycle, affordable new generation colleges that go local – i.e. serve the needs of the local community, while hopefully being globally and nationally aligned. I think this is an encouraging shift to what I call as distributed educational systems that leverage scale to meet scale. The consensus is, however, echoed repeatedly through the conferences I have been to – it is alright to question the dominant paradigm, but don’t think it will be replaced.
There were many examples of best practices (and revolt against the ideas of best practices) bringing me to perceive a newer wave of more articulate ideation. The problems that exist in India are well known and poorly documented (also from lack of accurate data), but people have pieced together their interpretation through these debates and are proposing some interesting solutions There is definitely greater awareness, not only of what technology can do, but also of the options in educational systems that we can leverage. This is indeed heartening.
Of special interest was also Nandita Abraham (from Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi) who presented a working implementation of what technology can do (ePortfolio, wiki, blogs, collaborative projects/networks) in a nicely done presentation. When I questioned the scalability of the model, she was candid enough to admit there could be distortions at larger scales. Which is a problem we absolutely need to address, because traditional eLearning and non-eLearning systems have indeed suffered from lack of scalability and extensibility.
Another point. Existing assessment and training providers don’t seem to have envisioned an alternate future yet – it is more of the same focus on LMS, clickers in the classroom, smartboards and ICT. No one is yet talking about Learning Analytics, Semantic Web, virtual worlds, augmented reality, location awareness, connectivism and many of the things that are being discussed. There is very little thought about what happens when we start giving importance to the network beyond simply casting it as “leveraging technology/ICT” – alas, not a phenomenon restricted to the Indian mindset. There are no answers, for example, if one asks them “what’s next?”
What also emerges very clearly (and I will write my experience with the National Board of Accreditation shortly) is that these confabulations are personality driven, honours driven, position driven and not open and distributed. There are false calls to open-ness, but these are reactive rather than proactive.
It has become fashionable to say we want your opinion, but to either not respond to opinion or make summary judgements on opinions that emerge. There is almost a very visible effort to appear open, but no visible effort to create a network proactively. Education system confabulations happen behind closed opaque doors of bureaucracy and academia, both fairly well insulated from mere mortals like you and me.
Unless that changes, education in India will be undemocratic.
It gives me great pleasure to announce a unique conference on educational research and innovation called EDGEX, to be held at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi from March 12-14, 2012.
The two main themes of the conference are:
- Learning X.O - marking the significant and ongoing developments in learning and teaching, particularly in informal learning, connectivism & connective knowledge, the MOOC, Learning Analytics & BIG data, Digital Scholarship, Peer Coaching and Open Distributed Design.
- Simulations & Serious Games - A focus on scale and both the philosophy and practice behind simulations, virtual worlds and serious games, clearly one of the most articulate and cogent responses to skill development and joyful learning in the recent times.
What makes the conference unique is the sheer intellectual capital that will be leading the conference. These speakers certainly do not need an introduction:
- Jay Cross, Internet Time Alliance
- George Siemens, University of Athabasca, Canada
- Stephen Downes, National Research Council, Canada
- Dave Cormier, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
- Alec Couros, University of Regina, Canada
- Jon Dron, University of Athabasca, Canada
- Grainne Conole, University of Leicester, UK
- Martin Weller, Open University, UK
- Clark Quinn, Quinnovation, USA
- Alicia Sanchez, Defense Acquisition University, USA
- Les Foltos, Peer-Ed, USA
This conference is part of the EDGE Forum which is a group of leading educational institutions from public and private sector committed to promoting highest standards of education, value systems and governance in the field of higher education.
The EDGE conference, an anual event, addresses questions of improving the quality of education in several dimensions like education governance, human resource management, cutting-edge technologies, holistic approach to education infrastructure and above all adoption of best practices. It serves as an analytical and authoritative source for policy recommendations on higher education. The conference is well represented by reputed educationists, Higher Education administrators, teachers and high level policy makers, apart from representations from industry.
The EDGEX2012 conference site will shortly be live but if you are interested in attending, please do let me know through comments to this post.
Started off with a bang. Sam Pitroda struck the right notes by questioning the dominant paradigm. He pushed levers when he raised a lot of questions that we have been discussing online - teachers as mentors, need to look at different educational model, need to scale, need to question our view of universities, need to question the structures in education, need to connect and so on. He revealed that the Indian government is rolling out the National Knowledge Network which will the telecommunications backbone for Higher Education at a cost of USD 4 bn. Even more ambitious is a backbone to connect, at a cost of about USD 10bn, the rural network of panchayats. When I asked why we are not moving away from a production system, he replied that we do need to leverage these innovations. I think the major bottleneck is the open-ness of conversation around these issues which currently is really behind closed doors.
The session on Internationalization led by Anand Sudarshan from Manipal, was interesting because it took a good look at the major issues surrounding greater integration of Indian HE with the rest of the world. Understanding why we want to achieve this integration (enlightened self interest) is an important step in this direction. There also needs to be a focus on policies and support infrastructure (Rahul Choudaha and Kavita Sharma) that provides a cohesive and articulate framework for internationalization.
Deepak Pental, ex VC Delhi University, chaired the next session on Learning in Higher Education. Petra Wend from Queen Margaret University, Scotland made the distinction between teacher and learner centered education. Prof. Lakhotia talked about decompartmentalization and greater mobility between disciplines. In view of the scale of the problems in India, he asked if we really need a 3 or 4 year degree? He also focused on teaching quality. SS Mantha from AICTE harped on building upon the strengths of the existing system. I think what he is saying is that the systems are good and robust, but people have failed. He does acknowledge that scale poses a problem to existing pedagogy. He also said we need a focus on students who did not make it to college after grade 12. I am not sure what he was really saying though.
Nitin Khanna talked about the realities of the kind of students that come in to college and the kind of graduates that emerge – there being some fantastic diversity. To teach such people, Nitin started experimented with games, activities, storytelling, outside classroom activities etc. But these strategies were not scalable. Then he realized that education given is not education taken. So he is looking at a shift towards learner centered consciousness and greater bent towards what students want. Deepak Pental made the important point that structural changes are equally important to help some of these things come into effect. He also exhorted industry to come in and offer domain knowledge for courseware development.
Some action towards the end. Pental and Mantha expressed their disillusionment about industry participation and FICCI executives went to some pains to explain that there was a lot being done.
Dinesh Singh started in an iconoclastic way by demolishing the need to prescribe a research environment, citing examples in history who had no research environment or support (Bodhayan, 800 years BC devised a proof for the Pythagorous Theorem, Newton, Faraday etc.) and also to explode the myth that research should be exclusive of any formal teaching work. Seyed Hasnain was quick to retort and quote the need for people like Venky Raman and Gobind Khurana to leave India and move to environments that supported research. Seyed focuses on qualitative expansion that he considers more important. At the University of Hyderabad, he focused on this not to the exclusion of the social equity goal, and talked about the way the University has transformed itself, thanks to a large funding support. He also talked about how Cambridge has partnered in order to peer review and publish Hyderabad University’s research. Pretty impressive stuff!
Wendy Cuiker took a different focus by looking at research and innovation. So this is essentially looking at a different purpose for research – that which drives and is driven by community needs. Innovation and opportunities for research for young students is very important. This is an important look at research capability building and ties in nicely with initiatives many universities are undertaking in building up Entrepreneurship Development cells. She had an interesting video to back this story up. Pete Downes from Dundee talks about social impact in the biotech area that has directly resulted in employment and the growth of industry. There was no strategy, but really driven by opportunities and people. That is not to say that the culture is not important - it is critical.
Couldn’t stay much longer, but it has been a very interesting day! Thanks, FICCI for getting so many good sessions together!
At the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2011 today. Had an interesting first day yesterday. The highlights for me were the talks by Montek Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Mr Michael Russell, Member of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Prof. David Naylor, President, University of Toronto, Canada and Dr Daniel C Levy, Distinguished Professor, University of Albany and Director, PROPHE. In particular, Prof. Naylor stood out by envisioning a future for India that is extremely diverse in terms of structures, strategies and outcomes for education. He talked about differentiation, system design and many other interesting things India should look out or while planning and executing its strategy for Higher Ed. Dr Daniel Levy also tabled his research at PROPHE – very interesting analysis of types of HE models across the world.
All talks so far have focused on the core challenges of an ordered traditional education system. There are the challenge of scale, attendant challenges of resourcing, financing, quality and innovation & research. It was also clear, from the international participation, that India is being taken extremely seriously as a higher education market and research venue.
The discussions on ranking (as also the overall discussions) ranged from people who cautioned against the use of ranking as a tool because of some very valid issues (accuracy, coverage, limitations of a single index) to others who questioned the concept of a “world class” university to yet others who have spent a significant part of their working lives trying to devise ranking methodologies.
Prof. Shailendra Mehta presented his study on how alumni were perhaps the most important determinant of an institution’s success. Dr. Nikhil Sinha, VC, Shiv Nadar University, provoked much needed thought by suggesting we focus on an institution’s curricular and pedagogical prowess as an important determinant of student choice rather than just placements and rankings. This, I believe, is extremely important because students’ choices in Higher Ed today are not really a function of pedagogy. To this end, Dr. Sinha pushed for curricular liberalization, something that institutions struggle with in India.
The discussion around the ambitious National Knowledge Functional Hubs, a parallel initiative by FICCI led by Dr. Barun Chakrabarti (JGM & Head (R&D), L&T) and Dr Rajan Saxena (Co-Chair FICCI Higher Education Committee and VC, NMIMS), was interesting. I think it will have great impact if the team is able to identify metrics that will allow it to assess performance and progress. The initiative essentially envisages setting up hubs that will be responsible for many things – including the upgradation of teaching skills, academic-industry linkages, documentation, learning material creation etc. The apparent overlap with the National Skill Development Council has been resolved by a split in focus – NKFH will focus on ”degree” education and NSDC on the vocational stream. Of course, sector skills councils of NSDC will work closely with NKFH.
I missed the parallel session on the Unfair Practices Bill’s implementation challenges. The Indian education system is being massaged for change in terms of the regulatory frameworks and there are many such Bills that perhaps will see a transition to Law if approved by Parliament this year.
The next session was an open house on the 12th Five Year Plan approach. Dr. MK Sridhar (Karnataka Knowledge Commission) came up with an interesting analysis of student enrolment data. His major finding was that we are focusing on the wrong problem – it is not so much the rise in GER due to attracting more students than a problem of retaining students (high dropout rate triggered by financial (male), marriage (female) and career guidance reasons). This is an interesting, but predictable problem. The focus on the 12th plan seems to be on infrastructure, open content, capacity building and employment & entrepreneurship. The four pillars of the approach are:
- leading growth through higher demand for skills
- focus on unrepresented and under-represented sections of society
- significant focus on open and distance education
- focus on increased private HEI participation
The intention is to focus on not just expansion in terms of capacity, but also to think about equality in access and importantly, excellence. In fact, Montek pointed out that excellence perhaps needs to move beyond just improving quality to really creating high end research centres. Lokesh Mehra, Director, Education Advocacy, Microsoft talked about the A-G of education – Attract private sector, Balance liberal and professional focus, C – build a credit transfer mechanism, engender competitive funding across public and private sectors, build clusters of excellence; Distance Education focus, Efficiency, Faculty development focus and GDP alignment.
Nothing significantly different in terms of the shop talk. There is the same lack of research in education in general and the corresponding lack of influence/impact it can have on policy. As almost always, I am the lone tweeter (tag: #FICCIHES2011) and blogger which is never a comfortable thought because it shows the absence of an awareness in the education circles in India that there may be alternatives that may address the problems we face more adequately than simply replicating external experiences.
Over the past few months, I have seen the signs of what could be the next generation of teaching – learning experiences, the signs that show how traditionally accepted models and conceptions of tools are being superseded and are gaining focus and importance from education companies, vendors and users, not just innovator-entrepreneurs who have a good idea. It seems that the hype is over and there is serious enough interest to put money and focus into production from large players.
Let us look at the top challenges/needs that are being addressed by this serious interest.
Web 2.0/Web 3.0, Cloud computing, HTML5, Tablets and Smartphones have really evolved during the past year or so, with a lot of new products and platforms emerging that have a direct relevance to how content and collaboration can happen in the education context. Even as the world over people are predicting the death of the LMS as we have known it, the major objections to the shortcomings have been addressed by the LMS vendors.
Features such as the ability to integrate with social networks and media, the ability to use informal learning pedagogy within the structured confines of the traditional environment, the ability to apply traditional business analytics to the learning process, the ability to work with mobile devices for content delivery and interaction and the ability to be open and adaptive to learning needs, are now surfacing in products. One needs only to look at the change in platforms and products for companies such as Blackboard, SABA and Mzinga to witness the transition. Somewhere education companies are signalling their intent to provide, as George Siemens says, platforms for education.
While net pedagogy has made a tremendous mark with the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), there are other initiatives like the Khan Academy (which perhaps does demonstrate the power of a good instructional technique, but that is about as far as it goes), traditional open universities and the OER movement seem still to be lagging behind the change.
The struggle within traditional systems to embrace the newer and perhaps more relevant pedagogical modes will be shaped by the availability of tools and techniques that are simple to adopt and implement. That is, one of the important factors will be the availability of an institution-mindset compliant technology replacement for the LMS.
Assessment remains a sticking point – particularly for informal network based modes – that has not been fully resolved. Part of the reason why it is (and promises to remain) an unsolved challenge is the contradiction in terms with an entire process of accreditation and certification that is the foundation of the traditional system. Network based assessment places far greater responsibility of demonstrating and assessing competencies on the main protagonists – the learner and the employer (/task).
In the traditional scheme of things, however, I do see some interesting moves towards new assessment techniques. One is the evolution of standard forms to more complex forms of assessment – task based and even collaborative. The other is the use of immersive simulation platforms and serious games, not just for learning but also for assessments.
There has been sufficient movement around standards as well. With TinCan and LETSI, there are some interesting ways of looking at the learning experience. IMS is also evolving new specifications that accommodate the newer realities (Learning Tools Interoperability, Learning Information Services and Common Cartridge). There is hope that standards will support a shift to easier and more efficient creation of new learning experiences, assessment modes and administration support.
There is also the realization that costs must be contained/reduced (especially in developed countries) and this is placing great pressure on the traditional players in businesses such as educational publishing. And we see them responding to the challenge in a variety of ways – all digital. I think people do realize that these solutions may perhaps be one set of the solutions for the developing countries (over the next 10-20 years) and perhaps the only solutions for the countries that are going to contribute the bulk of our learners worldwide by 2050 – the less developed countries of today. But somewhere, I have felt that policy has been too slow to respond to these change trends and this is a missed opportunity.
I believe that we have crossed an inflection point over the past year and now it is a period of growth and consolidation. The contours of the next generation learning experiences are clear in intent, although there will be numerous successes and failures on the way. It is going to be an interesting time for entrepreneurs, because new ideas will find a playing ground.
Steve Jobs, S.J. and Jagjit Singh J.S. SJ and JS. Full Circle. Closed Loop. Rest in peace.
While SJ epitomised creativity and innovation in technology, JS did the same with Music. While SJ brought personal computing on its own, JS brought life to the dying art of the ghazal. Two people who were never formal teachers. Nonetheless, what we learnt from them is priceless and will continue to inspire us and future generations to come. And they were connected too. The ghazals that JS sang adorn many an iPhone or iPAD.
Since I am irreversibly Connectivist, I can’t help thinking that they were informal educators, teachers who taught without teaching, motivated with their words and actions, who could not be formal educators because perhaps the world was too big to fit in their class, and from who generations will continue to learn.
And there are many like them. Some resting in peace, some visibly our guides and some hidden somewhere off our networks. The skill we must imbibe is how to connect with them, learn from them, despite them not teaching us in an explicit classroom. The world then becomes our classroom, substituting formal teaching with guided collaboration and self-service. That learning is different from time bound, formally assessed mechanisms in ways that are fundamentally incomparable. It is chaotic, non-deterministic and complex and led by our own desires and skills.
The puzzle is in figuring if this is a new kind of education system. Not system, in the traditional closed loop sense, but a complex, distributed one with many cores – many distributed and disaggregated centres of learning and assessment. The puzzle is in the emergence not the making, because it can’t really be “made”. The puzzle is whether it will result in superior outcomes – better citizens, more informed decision makers, more democratic nations and more competent professionals.
It is a puzzle I love and hate to think and talk about. Hate because it involves letting go of structure, intermediation and control. Love because it is free and open, and perhaps has the best chance of helping our children emerge from the abyss of learning they are in today. It needs more people to experiment, play in local contexts, stay globally connected to an ever-expanding network of practice. It is a movement rather than a policy decision, a personal decision to play ball, rather than an imposed directive, an urge to change rather than a push to reform.
SJ and JS. Full circle. Rest in peace.
I have had the opportunity to interact with some school textbooks and instructional designers in my lifetime (and I am rediscovering some now). I have also had occasion to browse through India’s National Curricular Framework, 2005.
The puzzle that has confronted me has been that although there seems to be no dearth of good thinking around how curriculum should be designed and textbooks created, why did I feel challenged by the material and techniques that I see around me.
Case in point. The Grade 6 Civics textbook (they now call the subject - Social and Political Life) has for each chapter the following instructional strategy:
- Start the chapter with an interesting question or activity. Pose some questions; investigate with the help of more activities. Build conjectures, advise on what is coming ahead, raise curiosity.
- Share a fictional story that brings out an aspect of the topic. Frame questions and discussions around it.
- Seed a discussion in the classroom with an interesting question or throw a question for self-reflection, use of creativity and imagination. They call it in-text questions and exercises aimed at assessing understanding as well as contextualization by the child to her own experiences
- Build real-life contextual examples to explain concepts
- Provide interesting additional information & photographs about people, places and things; provide tables and figures illustrating and comparing facts
- Pose questions and suggest activities at the end of the chapter – recall, compare and contrast, reflect, imagine, visually identify
- Provide external references that children can refer to
If you were to look at the Grade 6 Textbook (or from NCERT), it is a fact that it is really a lot to learn. There are just too many facts to recall, too many aspects to understand and too little time available to students in the course of the curriculum. It is almost as if, despite saying that they do not want to encourage rote learning, they are leaving our children with no real choice in the matter. I don’t feel too confident I would survive too well an annual exam on the subject! Most definitely not even 10 years down the line, when the Grade 7 course material will shift downwards in large chunks into the Grade 6 course book.
Given the gravity of what is being taught, the basis of good citizenship, this is way too much of a sacrifice. This is the same for the other subjects too.
The foreword for the textbook owe allegiance to the NCF 2005 and discourage rote learning. They raise the bar by stating that they want to discourage “maintenance of sharp boundaries between different subject areas” – in itself a fairly vast enterprise that seems to permeate the shop talk of curriculum designers and policy makers currently (let’s create new knowledge!).
But this puzzle, the fact that “design” seems to have captured the NCF brief reasonably well, but has resulted in something that still will not serve its spirit (or for that matter, serve mine), seems to clear, more than partially, when I read the foreword of the textbook. It states:
The success of this effort depends on the steps school principals and teachers will take to encourage children to reflect on their own learning and to pursue imaginative activities and questions. We must recognize that by giving space, time and freedom, children generate new knowledge by engaging with the information passed to them by adults. …. These aims imply considerable change in school routines and mode of functioning. Flexibility in the time-table is as necessary as rigour in implementing the annual calendar so that the required number of teaching days is actually devoted to teaching. The methods used for teaching and evaluation will also determine how effective this textbook proves for making children’s life at school a happy experience, rather than a source of stress or boredom.
This commentary, in my mind, presents many consequent thoughts:
- There is a great chasm between what the curriculum designers design and what educational systems are. In fact, as the NCF Reviewer committee minutes show (an excellent set of critiques on the NCF which should have been made public in a big way), there is early debate on the framework’s implementability and whether it acts as a rule or merely as guidance. In my opinion, the designers passed the buck.
- As the committee minutes show, there is no dearth of good thinking and good questioning. Is it then more a matter of coherence and further debate? Can these questions be thrown open to a wider audience, in a more participatory manner? After all, we don’t have many unique problems. The dialogue exists, but is invisible, private, exalted and non-participatory.
- Did the NCF 2005, over the past 6 years, make a difference in teacher’s skills and attitudes, in functioning of schools and in reducing stress and boredom. If it did not, what did we achieve through it? If it did, what are the great examples and evidence?
- Most of all, did the curriculum designer and developer even know of these discussions, were they trained on the NCF, do they understand that every word they write in a textbook potentially spells agony for our children?
What I see around me, every day, is this great sea of platitudes, lip service of a disaffected and disenchanted class of educators to technology, pedagogy, systems and our problems of inequality. It is a self-serving mission, beaten by the same system into submission and conformance to mediocrity. Unfortunate, but true. And it has to change.
A chance conversation prompted me to think – why and how does a consumer student/learner decide on taking a course? The answers are many depending upon the stage in the student lifecycle, context and many other factors. So it is interesting to see how marketing and sales functions view the problem of student acquisition, how companies procure eLearning for their employees, how governments model the educational system and associated certifications mechanism, and so on.
The problem is that, in general (and I want to generalize based on the proportion of students affected), this conception of student choice is independent of student choice in the classroom. In fact, two things here – one, that student determination of an academic institution is largely independent of the considerations of the learning process (which is more determined by the prevailing educational systems), and two, that decisions to join a particular course/program/institution are fairly independent of learning methodology and pedagogy itself. This may not be true in specialized conditions – conditions where sufficient choice exists AND students have an opinion on how they should learn.
So it is only very natural that marketing functions should depend upon institutional brand, star faculty, a very agnostic feature-differentiator led approach to technology (and mobility etc.), certification value, alumni credentials and employability/placement potentials. I am fairly certain that nobody compares the levels of educational technology or pedagogic superiority (which gets subsumed under quality of star teachers).
For example, companies that buy off-the-shelf elearning from vendors for their employees do discern between levels of interactivity, multimedia and other factors, but employees don’t have that choice to make. Similarly, parents make decisions based on employability and brand, rather than on how well their children will learn at school. These decisions are, obviously, threatened when the outcomes are not as expected. That is when stakeholders start probing a little deeper, sometimes trying to make more informed decisions around choice in pedagogy.
There is partial student choice in select segments. Retailers in education are in the race for credentials and whatever adds to a market differentiation, helps student acquisition. But these choices are not generally (in large proportions) borne out of a need to use educational technology to its maximum.
This extends from students equally to teachers and researchers – two other consumers in the education space. But here the choices are more refined and the stakeholders generally more informed and discerning. Which is also why nobody overtly talks about teacher acquisition marketing campaigns (that’s just the internal referral, brand and networking).
This is disturbing for me. I want students to be more informed about the choices they have when they go to learn and to be responsible and skilled for creating choices for themselves in constrained environments. Unless this happens, there will really be no pressure on institutions to evolve pedagogy & technology in a concerted manner. Whatever pressure that exists comes from passionate teachers, students and administrators, who feel that they have a responsibility to learners once they enter the doors of the institution. Which is really the brand.
When I was building up the story for LearnOS, in my mind I had a mathematical model for how a complex of factors, assessed through various instruments (psychometric, inventories, observable analytics), could result in heuristics not only for content presentation, but also for collaboration, tools usage and learning process design. A Learning Weights Matrix mapped elements of the learning experience to learner, learning, media and organization indicators to arrive at an indication of design or experience. I tried this with research aimed at evaluating two courses offered by the British Council in New Delhi and got some interesting results.
However, my thinking has changed past that phase, based on a few key considerations.
This is not a machine. There isn’t a definitive set of factors I could use, there is probably not a definitive way of measuring and categorizing profiles and perhaps not a definitive way of mapping enumerated elements of the learning experience to profile information. I am not saying it may not be accurate, or adaptively so, useful, but that it is misdirected. It depends on thinking of students and teachers as finitely defined entities on a production line, programmable and predictable in the face of input.
We are trying to extrapolate from small instances to large scale systems using technology. That is not correct. eLearning as such does not scale well. The quality breaks with scale of any sort. Scale must leverage scale – have a large number of small learning clusters/networks rather than a small number of very large paradigms.
Research, especially around Connectionism (and more specifically Connectivism) indicates that we would be better off looking at focusing on capabilities/literacies rather than on learning styles, on networked behavior rather than individual unrelated atomic conceptions. Competency frameworks, career progression, and talent management as a whole, need to be re-evaluated in this context
How this emergent ecology will result in competencies bookmarked to real life skills is not altogether unknown. But it still requires structure and method that practitioners, who are currently trying to fit these new ideas inside dominant frames of reference (inside the box), can leverage. It has the promise to scale, much beyond the confines of current eLearning.
These thoughts pretty much redefine the state of art from when I wrote the initial draft for LearnOS and bear on me to remember that technology cannot play God, as someone in a recent conversation, tried to impress upon me.
Yet another example of a one size fits all approach has manifested itself recently. An excerpt from an article in the Indian Express on June 29, 2011 titled B.Ed. must, alternative schools weigh options reads:
At Rishi Valley School and Doon School, many teachers have been working for a long time without a Bachelor’s degree in education, though some have a Master’s and some even a Ph D from elite institutions such as the IITs in India and Harvard abroad. Now the government has asked these teachers to enroll in a distance learning programme, such as those offered by IGNOU, and get a Bachelor’s degree a diploma in education. With the government firm that a teacher’s qualification must be standardised under the RTE Act, bigger “alternative schools” have fallen in line with the NCTE’s prescription while the smaller ones are looking at the prospect of closing down.
This is quite ironic. Why make sweeping generalization that wilfully result in situations like these? Teacher education is an important issue involving not just the state of teacher qualifications like the Bachelor of Education degree, but also the working conditions, incentives, support, motivation and skill development of teachers in general. Not to miss the sorry conditions of para-teachers in India.
I have often said that we are making a mistake by arguing against the current exam focussed educational system, while at the same time putting our own teachers and future educational administrators through the same process. There is also the question of the relevance of the current curriculum itself. Interestingly, the Faculty of Education at Delhi University does not even have the syllabus online for its various courses! At some point, we will encounter the argument for more vocational based certifications for teaching given the large scale we face.