Archive for the ‘Teacher Education’ Category

Massive Open Online Courses  (MOOCs) and OERs have captured the imagination of our polity.

The new Government’s election manifesto clearly specifies MOOCs, although not under school or higher education, but under Vocational Training as a means for “working class people and housewives to further their knowledge and qualifications”. Further, there is a firm push, although under the section of School Education, on establishing a “national eLibrary to empower school teachers and students”.

Although, framed under different heads and not explicitly and universally correlated with the underlying issues facing our education system, these two are important areas of focus for the new HRD Minister, whose own enviable background in Media and Communications provide her with some of the necessary insights into how to create engaging media based experiences for our students. I do sincerely hope that this background also translates to many of our teachers who need to enhance their communications effectiveness as also inspires more teachers to use popular media or innovative performing arts led approaches to education (e.g. Theatre in Science or dance in Mathematics education).

National eLibrary

A high quality national eLibrary backed by the right capability, technology and open-ness, can dramatically transform both teaching and learning effectiveness. If these are accompanied by permissive Creative Commons licensing terms that make it possible for any entity to use these materials (like for the NMEICT materials), then this will act as a great stimulant for uptake of these resources.

School OER initiatives such as the National Repository on Open Educational Resources (NROER), NIOS, Karnataka OER, Gyanpaedia, TESS and other national/international OERs like Gooru and MERLOT can be aggregated in the eLibrary. On the other hand, similar OERs for Higher Education and Vocational Education sectors through the MHRD NMEICT projects (NPTEL, CEC-NMEICT, ePG Pathshala and many others across the world like Saylor and edX) can also be combined into the same repository.

Along with these, as NROER and Gooru are fast demonstrating, external data from agencies like NASA or the Indian national archives can really add tremendous value if they are made publicly available.

However, we will suffer since there is no underlying content management architecture or content development (including metadata) standards framework at all. Ultimately, these different initiatives may not be able to inter-operate, quality will not be uniform and scarce expert resources will not be efficiently utilized. Both are solvable existing problems, but need urgent and immediate attention if the national eLibrary is going to succeed in intent and execution.

We shall also suffer if we are unable to decentralize content development and quality review across the board, training both teachers and students to contribute high quality instructional content. We shall also start feeling the pinch very soon for skills such as Instructional Design, which are scarce in the country.


On the MOOC front, we clearly are at a precipitous juncture. On the one hand, the focus on MOOCs and the intent to spread them across sectors makes me really feel that we are on the right path. But, on  the other hand, we need to appreciate the transformative potential of MOOCs as originally conceived.

Also called cMOOCs, these original MOOCs were started in 2008. The term MOOC was coined by Dave Cormier during the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008 (CCK08) MOOC. CCK08 and subject cMOOCs were based on the theory of Connectivism coined by George Siemens and of Connective Knowledge posited by Stephen Downes.

These experts believed that eLearning was at an inflection point – that traditional online learning had utterly failed because of it’s design and execution and that we needed a new way of thinking about eLearning. So they forged a new path that would help learners and teachers to revisit their roles in the context of fast changing information and social landscapes.

It is a path that the later MOOCs (like edX, Coursera etc.; also called xMOOCs) have not leveraged, being content to perpetuate the ills of traditional elearning. Only this time, the scale is massive and that has reflected in the massive dropout rates and low engagement ratios on these platforms. In fact, they simply seem to have missed over two decades of insights from the evolution of open & distance learning and e-learning.

In India, we can still make a more informed choice and perhaps evolve our own MOOC methods and models. Hopefully  they shall be ones that are based on learning from the mistakes the world has already made, rather than porting models from the West as-is.

MOOCs and eLibrary – Connecting the dots

These two initiatives – MOOCs and the National eLibrary (or OER) are more deeply connected and pervasive than is generally realized. A strong and efficient eLearning system is one where the content management process connects seamlessly with the learning delivery systems using standards based inter-operability and metadata.

This inter-connnection helps in many ways. Predominantly, it enables resources to be published and re-purposed into multiple formats for different devices & form factors – mobile, tablet and PC. But it enables production and delivery efficiencies to the tune of almost 30%. At scale, this translates into savings of hundreds of crores of rupees. Significant thought must go into designing these systems and their inter-relationships.

In Conclusion

The focus on technology enabled education is indeed extremely good for India. Going forward, we should fill the obvious gaps in capability, technology and pedagogy, so that we are able to fully leverage education technology for the nation.

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There are many positives happening in EdTech in India. A government led mission called the National Mission on Education using ICT (NMEICT) has created massive amounts of content for engineering, arts and humanities, social sciences and natural science. It has also delivered the under 50 USD tablet, Aakash and a slew of innovations including Virtual LABs and the A-View web conferencing tool (that seems to work better than Skype). The school sector is running alongside nicely with initiatives to build content (NROER, K-OER) and delivery systems (Virtual Open School, NIOS). Teacher Ed is also getting the necessary focus from a content perspective (though the technology pieces are still being conceptualized). The Vocational Ed sector is running behind yet (although I have word of some level of content development), but one hopes it will catch up sooner than later.

The writing on the wall is pretty clear – India seems to be moving quickly towards a blended learning strategy that relies on platforms such as edX, existing physical infrastructure & “facilitator” faculty, and video lectures. Learning Analytics and Badging seem to be getting a mention (only just).

It seems an obvious response to scarcity of quality teachers, also exacerbated by the remoteness of interior locations. But interestingly these seem to ignore some of the learnings of the past 20-30 years and even some current work such as Sugata Mitra’s SoLE research and pilots in government schools.

Carefully crafted models of blended teaching and learning can definitely impact the system. However, systems designed to “spray and pray” will cause more harm than good. The current approach to virtual schooling seems to be to provide technology to broadcast lectures by the expert teacher and leave the local facilitator to do the support job. Blends are far more involved than that simplistic view.

Blends place a larger demand on students capability to learn with the help of technology. Learners need to build the capability for self-discipline, self-motivation, self-organization, peer learning, higher levels of exploration & discovery and even how to overcome technical constraints of under-reliable hardware, software and connectivity. 

Blends also place a heavy demand on the local facilitators of such instruction. The “distance” between the teacher and student needs to be filled by the facilitator. This distance is on the emotional plane as well as on the planes of knowledge, coaching, mentoring. contextualization and organizing the process of learning. In that sense, the facilitator needs to work very closely with the remote teacher and needs to understand the very intent and idiosyncrasies of the remote expert.

On the other hand, the remote expert needs to understand the limitations imposed by “distance”, and work to the capabilities of the facilitator. The expert also needs to cope with diversity, since it is obviously a much larger class than before and very diverse. The expert needs to be able to design learning paths that the facilitator can effectively implement. Especially in cases where the facilitator is also a competent and experienced teacher, the expert must allow for some level of creativity & local insight to be exhibited by the facilitator. Additionally, the remote expert must learn how to leverage data – about classrooms, facilitators and learning patterns – to make the blends iteratively more effective.

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FICCI held its first school conference at New Delhi on March 10. I was helping facilitate a session on Teacher Education, which has perhaps become one of the really important challenges of our education system. The NCF 2005, NCFTE 2009, the Justice Verma Committee, the Centrally Sponsored Scheme, the new Teacher Mission and the RTE Act provide the backdrop against which the discussions are happening.

As per Dr. Amarjit Singh, AS, MHRD, lots of great things are happening:

  • Focus has been on quality of teacher education, program and curricular revisions. a new model curriculum and various short and long program formats have been designed
  • The CBSE has set up a Centre for Assessments, Evaluations and Research
  • The NCERT is building learning indicators – a set of “common core” learning outcomes
  • NUEPA is building school standards
  • The Open University, UK partnership is underway with 3000 teachers being trained across 150 teacher development units
  • North east state open universities are starting MOOCs
  • The CIET has built a semantic content store called the NROER
  • The Delhi SCERT has actively introduced the flipped classroom and shared curriculum practices
  • Various examples of digital content and community based programs across K12 and Teacher Ed

Prof. MM Pant gripped the crowd’s attention by invoking John Daniels’ solution of training 10 million teachers by flipping pre- and in-service education. Dr. Anjlee  Prakash talked about the role of the teacher and her professional development in the context of a connected, networked and technologically advanced world (FICCI School Conference_LLF_2014 for FICCI), and the role of MOOCs & blends thereof in Teacher PD.

A few other takeaways from me:

  • We need better technology to aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward content and conversation to ever-growing networks
  • We need design and development of systems that engender network formation and scale
  • We need interoperability with the myriad tools and systems being developed
  • We need better technology and processes to capture and analyze interactions of teachers and students with the OER created by different initiatives; need learning analytics systems in place quickly
  • We also need to raise heutagogical capabilities in a concerted manner, perhaps with a set of coaches or mentors that we actively support

It was a packed conference session with many other speakers including Prabhaav, TESS India and Microsoft. And we obviously ran short of time (my apologies to the speakers, especially Anjlee and Lokesh!).

And yes, I am building up a repository on teacher education. Please do send me your links!

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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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