Archive for October, 2015

Exploring a future without textbooks

Let us imagine a future. In this future, textbooks have been removed for students. The only people that have to use them are teachers.

This has solved many problems.

No longer do children have to carry heavy bags to school.

It discourages rote learning from a single source.

It forces certain habits of learning to be acquired by students. Students now have to pay attention in class and personalize their class notes. They have to be able to find content from different sources, including their own fellow students and peers. They have to start asking questions and being more engaged in class because there isn’t a fallback authorised expert true source.

Teachers on the other hand, can no longer rely on the textbook being available to students at home. They must choose other means to educate them. For this they have to provide alternate means or references that can act as starting points. They have a greater responsibility to ensure that students actually learn.

Publishers are forced to get creative because their staple business has just been disrupted. They start pushing resources in small chunks,  creating libraries online and offline. In general, books that students decide brings more value to them, if used at all, actually will get consumed.

This has also created many change issues. Teachers and students have to find new ways to negotiate the syllabus. They no longer have the comfort of a set collection of text and images to build a common experience around. It forces them to be innovative, exploratory and collaborative, skills that were in short supply earlier. Parents don’t have a single frame of reference either. To get around it, some teachers have started subverting the system by pointing the students, unofficially, back to the textbooks.

There is absolute chaos in the beginning as everyone in unprepared to learn. As days go by, people find ways to adjust and adapt. Some figure alternatives that perpetuate the old system while many others try out the new modes.

What if such a future was here?

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India’s MOOC strategy is turning into the ephemeral. From the initial heady days of EdX to fragmentation between the IITs, to not so secret ambitions of ‘make in India’, first with CDAC and now it seems a more formal platform development agenda, MOOCs seem to be a buzzword that is losing steam because of both policy/execution lapses and a fast emerging online courses and certification (with/without credit) paradigm that is ‘nano-tizing’ the world right now.

Both the paralysis of Indian EdTech and the subsumption of MOOCs into the old paradigm of elearning, are leading to a situation where a cutting edge learning paradigm that could benefit us immeasurably, is being laid to waste.

Of course, another way to look at it is that it is a good delay, perhaps one that will give pause enough to expose the chinks in the new non-connectivist xMOOCs. But I know that our delays will give us more time to fail rather than succeed.

In the seven years since MOOCs first emerged (CCK08), India has had lesser to do with EdTech than ever before. The sad fact is that a revolution in online teaching and learning with a maximal potential for India, has gone unheeded.

The MOOCs as originally envisioned, meant questioning the existing paradigm from the perspective of a digital age, scale and effectiveness. Rather than treating the Internet as a broadcast mechanism, Connectivism looks at learning as a process of making certain connections and knowledge as a distributed network. It meant that,  at a personal level, we would get equipped with how to teach and learn in a digital, social world, not in archaic environments of school and class.

My tryst with MOOCs is certainly not India’s tryst. Perhaps it is never to be.

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