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Archive for July, 2012

Audrey is grumpy and unhappy about the massive dropout rate vs. the hype of the open courses. She writes:

I’m starting to get more than a little grumpy about MOOCs, what with all the hype about the revolutionary disruptions and game-changing tsunamis. I’m tired of the mainstream media punditry and their predictions that Stanford University’s experiments with online education (and by extension now Coursera and Udacity) will change everything; I’m tired of Silicon Valley’s exuberance that this could mark the end-of-the-(academic)-world-as-we-know-it – a future that its press, its investors, and its entrepreneurs are all invested (sometimes literally) in being both high tech and highly lucrative.

And she goes on to say:

While aspiring to learn is, indeed, worth celebrating, I can’t imagine anyone seriously argue that aspiring to learn is sufficient. Yet The Atlantic suggests the low success rates are “a sign of the system’s efficiency.”
 
And perhaps as these MOOCs are all just experiments – hyped experiments, but experiments nonetheless – we can shrug and say it’s great folks want to learn and, alas, it’s a pity when they don’t. Perhaps. But when we praise the failure to complete a class (a failure to learn) as “efficiency” and simply stop there, then I’m not sure what we’re building with MOOCs even rises to the level of what Dean Dad calls a “useful extra.” I’m not sure we can even know that it’s useful at all.

This is symptomatic of the adaptation the MOOC idea has gone through. Where many people are amazed (including George who says “I can’t recall a time when universities at one moment have responded en masse as aggressively and as collaboratively” ) at the response in  the past few months, and others like Audrey mix scepticism with an open-ness to engage with the medium, I want to take a step back and talk about some of the major learning from the MOOCs starting 2008.

For me, and many others in CCK, the question of comparisons between existing systems and the MOOC model did not really exist – it was like comparing apples to oranges. There isn’t anything like the existing system (no vocabulary) that exists in a MOOC (except for the name, which has “course” in it).

We were witnessing the emergence of a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. New catchphrases – “Learning is the process of making connections”, “Knowledge is the network”, “to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect” – emerged out of these original MOOCs.

The MOOCs taught me to appreciate emergence, complexity, self-organization and chaos in my learning, both at an individual level and at a group level. Perhaps the most difficult for me to “learn” was the absence of determinism in learning, except that negotiated during the process.

Learning then became something more than the sum of its parts. I have not seen a connectivist implementation of a learning experience that can stand against the traditional LMS and social collaboration add-ons (although George has been working on such an initiative) based learning experience, which focus on the parts rather than the whole. And there exists no pedagogical or andragogical recipe for a MOOC the way Coursera and others may want to advertise.

The vocabulary elements that indicate accomplishment and learning have not been been conceptualized for MOOCs. That is an important thing to remember (and Stephen could have something with his chess game analogy). Neither, more than conceptually, have we talked of the notion of competency. We are at a state of the art in Connectivism today that, in my opinion, defies implementation to any significant degree, for if we had, Audrey would be less grumpy.

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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:

  1. The Scheme has been unevenly implemented across various states of India
  2. There have been funding anomalies (in terms of money reaching the need on time and in full)
  3. Lack of adequate physical infrastructure and learning conditions
  4. Weak inter-institutional linkages
  5. Lack of proper direction by SCERTs
  6. Almost negligible effort at building capacity and leadership capability
  7. Huge shortage of skilled professionals
  8. Inimical/low pay structures and lack of status a big deterrent and demotivating factor in this sector
  9. Lack of appreciation of institutional role in the employees and leadership
  10. Extremely deficient implementation of NCF 2005 , the guiding light of Indian Education
  11. No consistent or widespread internal monitoring or performance measures
  12. 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.

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Unflipping the flip

I have been really curious and a little wary of the “flip” (flipped classroom, flipping the classroom) kind of frenzy recently. Basically, it seems to mean that we flip:

  • Students into teachers
  • Homework into Classwork
  • Classwork into learning by self or network, guided or unguided
  • Hallways and Social spaces into Classrooms
  • Closed curriculum to open
  • Degrees to badges
  • Fixed learning periods to flexible learning time, anywhere
  • Fellow students into collaborators

Doubtless, there will be more interpretations, each taking a part of the fabric of conventional education system and creating delightful flip variations. Perhaps one day, there will even be a few frameworks and associated evangelists that will claim to be the experts on flipping the classroom, and people who will ask “How do I flip the lesson on Newton’s First Law”.

There are also valid voices that question the flip. I would add that a whole lot of teachers may just not be able to deal with the flip – it places a great pressure on teachers to…actually teach. Jay is right in worrying about the flip faring the same way as eLearning did. The fact is, like anything, we will do well to ignore the hype and concentrate on the core learning from these flips.

The core learning is not that we have a found a presumably efficient way of utilizing classroom time, or that we have found a great way to bypass degrees as credentials for jobs we aspire for, or even that we have just realized how good it is to have high quality online material and great classroom engagement.

The core learning, at least for me, at a systemic level, is that we have relaxed the boundaries of the conventional system without breaking them. We are still inside the box. This is not a disruption (or transformation George would say), it’s  a distortion of the contours of the educational system – an internal shift or re-arrangement of factors, perhaps even an innovation.

The clearest evidence of this is that the flip is not able to do away with the vocabulary of conventional systems, nor is it adding any new vocabularies that did not exist earlier. A test is a test. A group project is a group project. Hallways are still in a school. Content is online or mobile instead of in a book or through a projection device. Competencies are still defined and used the same way. Badges are mini-degrees (if backed by MIT and Stanford?).  As George says, “the difficulty is that you can’t have structure leading.”

Furthermore, it would do well for someone to ask whether the conception or the implementation failed of the traditional system. After all India flipped from an ancient gurukul system to a British system not too long back. It would make sense to delve into the flip and see whether it will share the same fate.

But then, perhaps, it will be enough to just distort and not transform.

The MOOCs that I have attended aren’t anything like these flips. They add vocabulary. They do not take an existing model and rearrange it or make it more efficient. They are not definitive recipes for change-mongers. They are complex, adaptive, emergent, chaotic systems. As Dave Snowden wrote to us during EDGEX, “you can design something that will manage process, can’t define outcome”. That approach is transformative, because then you are looking at the core issues that an educational system is expected to address – not outcomes, but process.

George provides a set of 8 distinctions between the MOOC model and the model that is being implemented by initiatives such as EdX and startups like Coursera. The vocabulary of the MOOC really emerges in these distinctions. The belief that these initiatives follow a MOOC model are misplaced (perhaps because the phrase Massive Open Online Course has been literally implemented by a few).

At present, these initiatives are nothing more than extensions/combinations of the self paced elearning and instructor led virtual models, automated assessments in some cases, with the added spice of learners being able to collaborate online and being promoted by individual and institutional brands (acceptance) – hardly a disruption. In fact, the reason such flips will continue to attract students (even though a meagre percentage would actually certify), is because a brand pull exists or marketing dollars will be spent.

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(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!)

Introduction

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.

The Challenges

There are some important challenges that need to be studied in order to understand the contours of the problems we are presented with.

Demographic challenges

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. [1]

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. [2]

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 [4].

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 [5]. 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 [6], extending from Norbert Weiner’s work on Cybernetics. Licklider wrote on the Computer as a communication device in 1968 [7] 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 [8]. 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 [9].

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” [10].

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 [11]. 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.”[11] 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 [12].

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 [12]. 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.”[13]

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 [16].

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.”[17]

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.”[18]

In this context, let us identify what DES would have as essential components.

Dis-aggregation

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.

Decentralization

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 [19].

Distributed 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.

Conclusions

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.

Acknowledgments

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.

References

[1]        OECD (2011). Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, 2011

[2]        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

[3]        Press Release. World Population to exceed 9 billion by 2050, UN Population Division/DESA, 2009

[4]        UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Global Education Digest 2009, UNESCO, 2009

[5]        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

[6]        Licklider, J.C.R.. Man-computer symbiosis, 1960

[7]        Licklider, J.C.R. and Taylor, R.,The Computer as a Communication Device, 1968

[8]        O’Reilly, Tim. What is Web 2.0, 2005

[9]        Berners-Lee, Tim. Linked Data, http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/LinkedData.html, July, 2006

[10]     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

[11]     Capra, Fritjof. The Web of Life – A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter, Harper Collins, 1996

[12]     Watts, Duncan. Six Degrees – The Science of a Connected Age, Norton, 2004

[13]     Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society, Harper and Row, 1976

[14]     Siemens, George. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, elearnspace, http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm, December 12, 2004

[15]     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

[16]     Wenger, Etienne. CoP: Best Practices, Systems Thinker, http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml, June, 1998

[17]     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

[18]     Siemens, George. Time to end “courseocentricism”, elearnspace, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2009/01/14/time-to-end-courseocentricism/, January 14, 2009

[19]     Wellman, Barry. Little Boxes, Glocalization and Networked Individualism, http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman/publications/littleboxes/littlebox.PDF

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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.

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