Archive for August, 2012

The discussion on what is a MOOC or how do we classify MOOCs is gaining momentum. First we had George explaining the difference by saying that there are xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Now Lisa Lane has come with a different taxonomy (network/task/content based) with some interesting distinctions. Dominic came up his own understanding of the “features” of a MOOC. See also Gordon Lockhart’s Super-MOOCA MOOC by Another Name and a brilliant post by Doug Holton, where he makes many insightful remarks including what could be necessary and sufficient conditions for learning to occur or to be “caused” (don’t particularly like that last word).

Taking Doug’s cue, we should perhaps be talking of massive in the sense of the quantum of connected-ness or connection-richness, or in terms of the widespread nature of the learning need or motivation, rather than looking at it from the point of view of number of learner enrolments.

That said, I would reiterate that we are comparing apples with oranges, and despite the “mania”, there is no reason why we should be forced to compare these different initiatives in the first place. MOOCs (cMOOCs) will have a plethora of possible implementation strategies and techniques. For example, I love what the folks at the Mechanical MOOC are doing (Audrey covered them here).

In my opinion, it makes more sense to focus on the platform rather than the tool, the rubric rather than the assessment and the DNA rather than the you or me.

A video, by Prof. John Holland (University of Michigan) speaking on Modelling Complex Adaptive Systems, is a must view (rather long, but worth it) for a large number of reasons. I find this CAS video (and generally the complex systems area) appealing because it makes more sense to me than engineered closed systems like we have in education today.

I am intrigued by the emphasis in the talk of building blocks, signals, interactions and boundaries within an overall approach of risk taking innovation. I think that fundamentally describes the platform I am referring to. Let us look at that process.

When a learner first starts out, certain pre-conditions exist. These pre-conditions are what makes a person a learner – whether it be out of curiosity, awareness, context, a need and/or some other kind of motivation trigger. At this point, the learner understands little of the network of knowledge, and perhaps may also have a sense or purpose or general idea of outcomes from the forthcoming experience. The platform will have to recognize this initial state.

Next comes a series of interactions in and with the network. This is where the accessibility, quality and depth of the network (in terms of coverage, accuracy, engagement, open-ness) and the contained boundaries play a big role in facilitating or obstructing discovery, experimentation and conjecture – viz. sense-making.

The network really is two things – one, an explicitly curated or visible set of people, content and tools, and two, a vast hidden implicit network intimately connected with the first but not explicitly visible at first.

Interaction in the network will be governed by signals – actions by the learner, actions by others and changes in the network itself as it evolves and adapts. The learner will interact to implicitly or explicitly “produce” or “engineer” make visible or personal, a set of connected nodes in the network (which shall be her curation arising out of her discovery, experimentation and conjecture).

The visible and invisble impact of her sense-making and of others will generate fresh signals in a non-linear manner. Over time, some of the network constellations will get broken to form new bonds (or connections) as the process will be usually far from equilibrium. Visible parts will become a part of the network thus changing the network maps of sense-making of others and in turn generating new innovations and experimentation.

Again over time, feedback from these interactions or signals will reinforce collections or patterns of these nodes of sense-making and new building blocks of comprehension and sense making will emerge. This is turn will affect boundaries of interaction and reduce impedance caused by them, so that new constellations are created.

The platform will have to recognize this elaborate dance of sense-making, the signals, interactions, boundaries and complex adaptation. It will have to provide for this complexity and it will need to allow for contextual influence to align towards certain constellations (and it will do so in many ways, giving us the agency). 

The platform will have to recognize and help resolve multiple trails that coalesce into a conception, parallelisms or multiple patterns of building blocks that converge into a model (a thought, an idea). And the system will have to recognize transition or inflection points, when existing models are questioned and new trains of thoughts emerge, just like in this post.

The platform has to provide for this emergence, chaos, self-organization and adaptation. Something that is spectacularly different from what Khan Academy or Coursera or other non-MOOCs are attempting to do. And in doing so, it will forge a new understanding of what an educational system ought to be.

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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.

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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.

  1. 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)
  2. Learning As a Platform rather than a preset configuration of pedagogy, content and technology (the primacy of the interaction)
  3. The learning network itself
  4. 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)
  5. 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.

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It gives me great pleasure to formally announce the formation of the National Association for Simulations and Serious Games (India).

NASSG is an attempt to get together stakeholders and entrepreneurs in the SG&S industry in India. The objectives are: 

  1. To create awareness about the potential of serious games and simulations to help solve large scale learning and training challenges
  2. To create and facilitate a community of stakeholders actively engaged in raising awareness and extending the state of art
  3. To promote programs that build talent in this space
  4. To provide a mechanism to formally interact, both within the community and across communities, nationally and internationally

Our charter members include pioneering Indian companies (Atelier Learning, Indusgeeks, Sparsha-Learning, Vitabeans and KnolSkape) that create simulations and serious games, as well as develop supporting tools and technology. MindTickle has joined in as well.
Membership in the NASSG is open to organisations, developers, artists, programmers, publishers, faculty, middleware and tool companies, service providers, researchers, analysts, marketing, advertising, consultants and students connected with Simulations and Serious Games. Do sign up if you are interested!

We have also established a LinkedIn group. Twitter presence is at @nassgindia. Facebook group is here.

Delegates from NASSG are also presenting at the Serious Gaming and Social Connect Conference in Singapore from Oct 4-6, 2012.

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