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There have been many ways of looking at content that have emerged from the discussions in #rhizo15 week three (and some prior cMOOCs). Some of them are:

  • Content as beacon
  • Content as authority
  • Content as conversation
  • Content as message
  • Content as goals
  • Content as object
  • Content as commerce
  • content as network
  • content as people
  • content as experience
  • content as stock
  • content as flow
  • content as influence

Content in these interpretations can be essentially classified or differentiated on the following dimensions.

  • as constituted (form, format, mode of authoring, instructional design, reviewed, curated, open, emergent, distributed) – books, blogs, videos, people
  • as communicated (medium, packaging) – web, TV, teacher, community/network, retweeted, liked
  • as intended (purpose/objective, outcomes, commerce)
  • as consumed (learning, entertainment)
  • as extended (repurposed, reused, recombined, contextualized, value added, interpreted)

What most people are concerned with is its quality – the net impact of content on the receiver (which could be a network). Other assessments include factors such as its development or delivery cost, coverage and ease of use. It also predicates a level of competency of the receiver(s) to be able to “effectively” consume that content.

The fact is that content is really some of all these things, not just any one. Nor are people the only way “stories” are created or transmitted (or there would be no history or even lived experience). Nor are they the only starting point. The fact is that we learn also from nature, interactions with machines and man-made processes & objects.

In sharing openly what we have learned, we personify that content or our interpretation of it. Others may then consume this personified content to (as Dave said) function in the field.

Perhaps if we think of content as people, we may also be susceptible to the mind as machine metaphors. Would we rather think of content as network as a more appropriate metaphor?

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In this introductory presentation for Amrita University’s T4E Conference this month, here are a few thoughts on differentiating between Gamification, Serious Games and Simulations.

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In the Oscar-winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire, the main protagonist manages to answer very difficult (to the common person) questions to win a jackpot. People are quite unsure how he did it and he becomes the object of an intense investigation. While providing explanations for how he answered each question, it was found he could answer it because he experienced it in some way. He had never gone to school, where presumably you learn the answers to difficult questions, and therefore his feat was questioned all the more. His experiences (and luck that each of the questions aroused a connected memory deep inside him) enabled him to answer the questions.

Spread around us are slumdog graduates going to the slumdog university that is our combined living experience. Rather than being handcrafted by some elaborate educational system designed to produce certain deterministic outcomes, these graduates are a product of their own epiphanies and will and courage and perseverance. While we spend a good part of our lives imagining change that can be structured through formal education, many of these graduates are continuously shaping and reshaping the world around us.

To call them “graduates” of a “university” is to succumb to tradition, though. And calling them “slumdogs” is itself not free of a certain bias. Let us call them “makers” and “thinkers” of a new world, unfettered by the trappings of our formal conception of education. They do not require the education we “provide” to them or the elaborate restrictions we build around who is learned and who is not. They are not guinea pigs of theory that serves capitalist and edu-casteist practice.

For we keep beating into submission every new innovation and change agent. MOOCs become xMOOCs, monologous extensions of traditional lectures, with the hilarious debate being just exactly how long should each video be (hey, statistically the eDX folks proved that it should be closer to 8 minutes and hey, look again, there is a growing cult that likes the Green Tick Mark that signifies they got something right).

But I am not laughing. There is something very wrong with a system of thinking that precludes change, that feeds carnivorously upon itself only to continuously grow new offspring. Don’t like the UGC, create a super commission. Don’t like the DIETs, reform them and add BITEs. Cry about inadequate teachers, but continue to train teachers the same way our students learn. Feast on your self and cry wolf. Centralize everything and create new systems of governance, but never realize that the world is now distributed.

What we need is to build alternate capacity to think and innovate. Like get a separate booster shot or something, right away.

Immediately, we should design and implement an ecosystem where innovators, educators, edu-leaders should be able to learn and craft distributed systems of learning that empower a whole new generation of makers and thinkers. They should permeate not just the formal regulated sectors of learning, but also address the much larger segment outside this sphere, making it possible to truly reshape the human potential of this country. More on this soon…

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I just came across a new biometric+ device called Nymi. It is a wearable bracelet that captures your unique heart rhythms and provides a unique identification for you. Obviously, the most powerful feature is the authentication. But by adding an Internet dimension to it, the Nymi can be used not just for authentication but also alerts and notifications. By adding a gyroscope and an accelerometer to it, the Nymi can catch your motion. Nike FuelBand helps you do something similar with motion. And LeapMotion seems to be another technology that can do some cool things with motion. Additionally, by using Bluetooth Low Energy, the Nymi can detect proximity to other Nymi devices.

The Nymi, in other less physically intrusive form factors (perhaps a finger band or behind the ear) perhaps, and at much lower cost factors (at $79 today, it is more expensive than our Indian tablet, Aakash), may be an interesting piece of technology.

Also interesting are SmartWatches. The Galaxy Gear can take photos, run apps, and send & receive messages and calls. Apple is reportedly working on using curved glass (Corning Willow Bendable Glass) in its products, perhaps even making smartwatches.

Obviously Google Glass heads the pack with its potential and sophistication. Features include voice commands, apps, digital overlays, sharing & collaboration, and many other affordances. Perhaps it could be tied with behind the ear biometric devices or with motion sensing devices such as the Kinect.

Also, there are some existing technologies that all these can leverage and add-on. Take for example location services with GPS. And there are some important concerns that they solutions need to address, such as Privacy and Data Security.

What do these augur for learning?

Right off the bat, any biometric device is most useful in tracking and authentication scenarios – examinations, attendance and so on – where it is critical to check identity, location and presence.

With these technologies, for proctoring as an example, scientists could probably track differences in body internal or external indicators (heart rhythm, looking away from the exam paper or screen, pausing between writes etc), tracking an audio conversation, sensing another human or digital presence, that could pretty much alert/signal cheating, thus possibly making large scale proctoring possible.

Access to knowledge and services is another aspect that these devices can provide on the go in many new ways. For example, these devices can sense or take more as an input than simply text or voice search. But like TinEye, they can perhaps take complex, contextual (and personal) data to determine what knowledge is required or what service is desired. For example, a stroke patient unable to dial 911 or press a button, could have these devices signal for help; or a student’s level of enthusiasm in a class or while learning could be correlated; or if a student is stuck, it could trigger a mentor service.

Easier accessibility to device functions, such as in sending a message or clicking a photo, will make the uptake of these solutions higher and higher. Add to this the ability to collaborate through existing social networks and the Internet will further enhance the usability of these devices for all activity, including learning.

I think the proximity function (pairing, detection) can be extremely useful in physical settings, and new patterns can emerge if one looks at who we students hang out with and how they all learn and share.

Exciting possibilities emerge for merging learning experience around concepts. Let me explain. Today the workhorse is the human mind that is trying to connect, for any single concept, various learning experiences. So if  I want to learn about thermodynamics, I will read the concept on my reader or from a textbook, discuss it in class with my teacher, clarify with my fellow students and experience in multiple real life situations. Each of these are disconnected from the other, except being chained by myself or through the facilitator. What is we could remove this isolation and really bring connectedness? Like what happens when I see a truck on the road – how can I get connected to what its relevance for me is if I am studying engineering, or if I am studying law, or if I am studying civic administration? This would enhance learning to a really high degree by making the entire world a LAB or a playground.

And then, feedback. These devices can signal digitally or physically, when something is right or when something is wrong. This could be enhancing the body’s signals or by inducing an externally generated signal. What if I am think/enacting the wrong solution to a math problem? Can the device vibrate in a manner that tells me I am doing it wrong? Or (for an easier scenario), can it tell if I am holding a teacup right?

I think these technologies have the potential to go far in education! Perhaps some day we will see some of these ideas come to light.

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Sometime ago, I gave a TED Talk. The extended transcript, by way of blog posts formed a six-part blog series, and the video was upload recently. The theme of the talk was essentially that we have become used to thinking of the educational system as a system to produce the learned rather than a system that fosters learners, and that scale is our biggest challenge today.

As always, would love to hear your comments!

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Educational systems do not scale well. We see that all around us. At smaller scales, these systems are far more effective than at larger scales. At larger scales, several constraints emerge rapidly – shortage of qualified teachers, lack of infrastructure, equitable access, degradation of learning experiences – that are primarily impacted by vision, capability and level of investments (government or private).

Since the educational system is, like Healthcare or even the government itself, primarily driven by the expert capability of human resources, there is even more pressure if we use the same systems to train/educate future human resources. Even with the promise of tools such as eLearning, intelligent tutors or e-tutoring that help reduce load on critical teaching resources, which is really a mode to reduce the adversity of scale, this primary capability is paramount.

I find this in my research over USA-India educational systems. The startling insight is that while there may be operational differences (learning autonomy is higher in the USA, teaching system is more transparent/accountable), fundamentally both countries are facing the same challenges (employability, access, equity, infrastructure, pressure on government funding, thrust on vocational training) despite there being a multiple of 4 in enrolments at school and projected multiple of 2 in HE enrolment (by 2020), if one was to compare the student population statistics (India has 4X school and will have 2X HE students as compared to the USA). We have 6 times the number of colleges. And so on.

In fact, the census (I am using this as a proxy for enrolment data which I have to find), shows that Finland, Denmark & New Zealand have a 05-24 years age group population of less than 1.5 mn people; and Australia has 5.5 mn in the same age group. But UK and USA have 15 mn and 85 mn respectively; while India has 451 mn! Finland, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia are the highest performing nations.

The UN Education Index gives these smaller countries the highest ranking in the world! Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Cuba and Australia shared the top rank, USA is at rank 20, UK at rank 30 and India at rank 145. Not too surprisingly, the GDP per capita index by the IMF (2010) pegs the USA at rank 7, UK at 21, Australia at 10, Denmark at 17, Finland at 22, New Zealand at 32, India at 129. This showcases that despite having lower per capita GDP, all 4 top ranked countries have a better ranking. This is despite the general high correlation between the two indicators of nearly 0.81 (I took 169 countries and compared them), as would normally be expected.

This sort of questions positions like in this post, How does Finland’s Education become the Best in the World?, which tries to take what is good in the Finnish context and tries to apply it in the USA context, something I advise against for the most part.

From the Huffington Post comes another reiteration of do what works well elsewhere, Lessons from Finland’s Educational System. There is an interesting insight into the way the Finns think from what Dr. Pasi Sahlberg says:

Finns don’t believe you can reliably measure the essence of learning. You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the United States it’s based on a belief in competition. In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth. 

Zaidlearn points to some interesting comparisons between the Finnish and Singaporean Educational Systems in The Finnish Education System rocks!. What is interesting here that Finland GDP per capita lags behind Singapore’s, but Singapore is 52 on the Education Index rankings.

I am basically trying to make the argument that traditional educational systems are unlike traditional industrial systems and cannot scale. In which case, international lessons could be learnt for micro-strategy or operational considerations, but perhaps not for macro, policy level changes.

More importantly, this is one piece that contributes to the thinking on alternate systems of education or to change discussions.

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In case you didn’t know, 3 Idiots is now a record-breaking Hindi movie, that explores and exposes the educational system. As of the time of this post, it has been released worldwide and is the highest grosser in Indian cinema history (about US$68mn in 19 days and also made 43 million pounds worldwide to date).

The movie is based in a “traditional” academic setting in an engineering college, reputed for its excellence and for its no-holds-barred-excellence-is-the-most-important thing principal. The story revolves around 3 students who get to live together in the college hostel and become lasting friends. The story tries to bring to the front the problems created by a severe focus on grades and book knowledge and essentially laments the restriction of freedom of thought and reflection that has become a hallmark of the educational system. The term “idiot” is used to refer to not someone stupid but to an irrepressible free thinker who follows his heart.

It has caught the imagination of an entire nation of learners. And that fact bears important testimony to the popular perception that the academic system discourages free thinking, diversity of opinion, creativity and innovation because of it’s over emphasis on grades, bookish knowledge, competitive spirit and teacher-centricity.

The main “idiot”, played by Aamir Khan, is, in my opinion, the only idiot in the film. Born to the assistant of a rich man, he proxies all the way through engineering college for the rich man’s son. As a result, he gets to go where his interests take him, to whichever subject and teacher that excite his imagination. He is naturally inclined to be curious, his questioning ways earning him the ire of his teachers and the ridicule of his peers. But he is brilliant and ultimately emerges as a scientist with a large number of important patents to his name.

Aamir believes in free thinking, of questioning the dominant paradigm. Ultimately he converts the principal of the engineering college, who is fanatically entrenched in the “traditional” mindset, to seeing things in a different light. The movie ends with shots of Aamir in a “school” in Ladakh doing what he believes – teaching kids to let their imagination, innovation and creativity take over.

But there is a bit of demagoguery here, with no clear indication that the ideas are as revolutionary as they seem. For example, a point of discussion should be what is exactly being proposed. The movie is not clear on what or how this pedagogy and system really to be made possible. If it is argued that ultimately it is a movie and not a research project, I would argue that it is not a trifling matter given the reach and success of the movie and its ability to shape popular perception.

The applicability of these ideas and their sudden, almost inexplicable shift from a higher education setting to a school, is a little puzzling too. There is no evidence of Aamir’s school principal having the same endgame delirium as was the case with Boman Irani, who played the engineering college principal. The dynamics are very different between the two scenarios. 

Also, there is little evidence that creativity, innovation and imagination does not at all exist in the traditional system -sometimes teacher-heroes led and sometimes with an organizational focus. It then begs the question – are we talking of a change from inside the box or are we talking about something revolutionary that is at odds with tradition. I don’t see that debate happening around me. Most of the debate seems to be around how the movie has borrowed more from Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone than anything else.

Conflicting verdict at the end for me, though. It leaves me wanting for more because it was hugely entertaining. And a trifle irritable because perhaps the matter should not be trifled with.

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