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With a little help from Jatinder, a kindred soul in the making of simulators that happen to attract Brandon Hall Awards, I tried to visualize a model of PLEs operating in a connective environment. It started with a reply I made to Janet and Carmen on what I think should be:

…let us contrast the MOOC environment with an LMS. Can we think of this environment as self configuring instead of being configured by an administrator. How about when a person wants to join a “course”, she gives rights to the MOOC server to “pull” content she wants to share in context of the course into the course environment…the content stays with her, but instead of (or in addition to) the LMS “pushing” some general stuff, it configures a learning space based on the expertise and contributions of its members?

Like if I join a space or a conversation, I bring not only my personal self but also my blog, my Zotero collection, my Diigo links, my tweets, my network etc., but also decide to bring in a relevant “slice” of these and other influences to the course or research I am taking on. Maybe such environments understand a shared semantic vocabulary for the subject so that they can quickly organize the combined course network without my explicit instructions. Wouldn’t this be a self-organizing, emergent ecology more in line with Connectivism and a way to differentiate against an LMS?

The first visualization I thought of was that of puddles and rain. Simply put, when the rain falls, puddles of water form. Some puddles mix with other puddles, self-organizing, to form streams, some stay quietly content to stay aloof and disconnected. Depending upon how much it rains and what the surfaces are that receive the rainfall, we will see patterns. There may be a point of bifurcation when the entire surface gets covered. When rain stops, and puddles start drying, a pattern of decay forms quite unlike the pattern of growth which was an emergent, complex pattern to start with.

So replace puddles with PLEs, the surface and environment with the network (a super-PLE?) ecology and the rain with a certain eventedness (a MOOC?) and you have my picture of what goes on in connective learning. Weird idea? I sincerely hope not.

So I thought I would bring about a better visualization with Jatinder’s kind help. Picture this (disclaimer: not to suggest any connection between the names of various people in my network on the visual and social connotations of the word butterfly, more from the effect of a butterfly flapping its wings….):

(Images courtesy various artistes on the web, but in particular for the incredible post here – did you know the Fibonnacci Sequence appears in the sunflower!)

This could be an environment unlike the above, with cacti and barren deserts instead, a metaphor perhaps for rigid institutional environments. The point is that each of the elements will feed on each other in complex ways, uncontrollable, still with distinct patterns. Of course, Stephen invoked that knowledge as a plant, meant to be grown metaphor when talking about connectionist networks. I am not suggesting that one plant is altogether separate from the other and knowledge is silo-ed, they will have dependencies and some common roots. But each plant will have a tapestry of complex patterns to reveal, strands of knowledge and butterflies will cross-pollinate.

But it is a picture where PLEs are an extension of the self, disembodied but in many ways a natural extension, making us a distributed entity operating as a singularity(?). I like this way of thinking (although the quickly engineered visual may not make the grade). And I think this way of visualizing gives us credible alternatives to the way LMSs are built today.

As always, would love to know what you think!

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In this post, I would like to propose some new models/directions for Indian Education by addressing some core problem areas that I have been able to identify. I would like to focus on, in particular how some strategic new models could change the way we are addressing the huge scale and diversity in India.

The underlying realization is since we are a nation with huge disparities and diversity, there is no one size fits all solution, despite vast proclamations for the following (witness strategies like lets build the network and the content and we should have addressed the equity issue, look anyone can access and learn from high quality content prepared by the best minds). And the scale of issues is magnified many times as compared to any other country with perhaps the exception of China.

Democratizing Education

In such a situation, let us think of a model that truly democratizes education. By democratizing, I mean make it by the people, for the people and of the people.

I know that one of the ways to handle scale is technology. Another is a weighty institutional structure designed top down by the government. But I think a powerful way, is to meet scale with scale – to empower local communities to meet educational needs while at the same time being connected to national and global networks of practice. This is a sustainable strategy. But it means that power needs to be devolved in a strategic manner. Loosen some control and let local communities do the job – however, make sure we empower them with the skills and the perspectives of the planners. Use technology and bureaucratic structures to engender creation spaces (as John Seely Brown and co-authors argue in The Power of Pull) or Learnscapes (as Jay Cross would suggest).

The model will scale. It will recognize local constraints, indigenous capability and meet the aspirations of local communities. It will be sustainable since it is bottom up instead of top down. It will adapt faster to national planning needs. It will create opportunities for innovation and growth.

The motivation for this model arises from the fact that we have an over-weight bureaucracy and fragmented educational intelligentsia and polity. It also arises from that fact that people are disenfranchised from the policy-making or educational planning or quality assurance dimensions.

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 facilitated, trained 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.

Make Education a social business

By social business, I mean the kind of change brought about by Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2006) and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Yunus showed that it is possible to lend to the poor and in doing so, he managed to create a new way of doing business – a kind of “not-for-shareholder capitalism”.

The social business would be one that is a partner to  the local needs of the region. Maybe defined outside the legal frameworks that are in use today for profit and non-profit organizational forms, the social business, for example like Grameen Bank, could be owned by its customers. Of course, it would need to be supported (and there is plenty of scope for private and public partnership to make this work) by R&D, finance, support centers etc.

Its an intriguing idea. Can we make students, parents, teachers, educationists and administrators actual stakeholders in a social enterprise? Can we think of a network of such businesses working together to meet national level planning goals? I think we can, but it will require a major shift in perspective.

Such a model will leverage local resources to the maximum, thus alleviating the need for massive and centralized planning and execution of schemes for scholarships, disadvantaged sections, setting up infrastructure etc. The opening up of scale would render these businesses attractive for not only social investment but also for private capital and R&D.

Bring down barriers

For these to be successful, we must bring down a lot of barriers. Let us take, for example, the issue of having enough skilled teachers (not only new recruitment, but also in-service teachers). Models which can leverage existing skills such as the Teach For India movement or the Teach India movement by the Times of India are important movements that seek to break down the barriers with clear empowerment of a specific class of people. I think we are ignoring the informal coaching/tuition sector massively too. What if we strategically empowered this segment, which has a lot of skill and experience and reach, to be counted as regular teachers in our system through a process of certification and training?

Could we lower barriers elsewhere? John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid suggest an interesting model in The Social Life of Information. They suggest that we democratize the degree granting function itself. Typically universities and special institutions are degree granting bodies (DGBs). Suppose we were to enable the local art and craft guild to also take on a degree granting role? Further these DGBs could empanel local scholars/formal teachers certified to teach students as per the needs of the guild.

Faculty could find their own facilities, whether for teaching or for research. Technology, libraries, LABs and classrooms could all be pressed into service with this model. Further, private investment could be welcomed to set up, say, 2000 K5 libraries in a specific region. And remote scholars could become consultants for students, teachers or the DGB itself.

The other lowering of barriers is in the flow of information and the connectedness of communities. In India, the networks of practice do not have a strong digital presence. As a result, thinking at all levels cannot leverage collective insight, serendipitous combustion of ideas and all  the other benefits of social media.

This kind of a distributed and democratic system will benefit from the lowering of traditional barriers in accreditation, teacher certification, number and type of certifications/degrees etc.

Summary

Models such as these could be made to work in my opinion and more effectively than we are doing today. As always, would invite critical opinion.

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There are doubtless many models put into use to try to analyze the working of the education sector and there is significant interest in this space. Here are my initial thoughts on how we could create a useful analytical model. I consider three dimensions to be vital for this model.

Infrastructure
This first dimension concerns the level of development of infrastructure that includes:

  • power,
  • provision of minimum needs (health, nutrition, sanitation, food and shelter),
  • connectivity (transportation, economic activity and integration with other regions)
  • technology (including but not limited to information technology)
  • law and order (both internal and external facing)

The government plays an important role as a provider whose responsibility is to maintain and coordinate the growth of this infrastructure. But there are many examples of private or public private infrastructural initiatives basically because the government needs expertise and investment sharing partners. As a result, policies (politically biased or not) and their implementation have a direct impact on infrastructure and its evolution in a particular region or country.

Leadership
This is the second dimension. Different countries in this spectrum will be at different levels (and different regions within these countries will demonstrate different levels) of development. A major challenge is to use limited funds and resources to remove disparities between regions as far as possible and the decision-making needs to be extremely strategic and planning – visionary. And it requires extreme focus on execution once plans are set. This is a key challenge for Leadership (government or non-government) which given political instability and external pressures, usually plays havoc with well-laid plans or well-conceived visions.

Leadership, though is not only from the government. It is usually also played out by professionals/experts from the domain under consideration. For experts to have a say in determining the vision and approach, there definitely needs to a participatory and responsive political and economic culture, but there also needs to be a certain amount of structured domain leadership, typically through established organizational structures, whether state or non-state. The two need to work in concert and that can be a delicate balance.

This is often cited as the major stumbling block or transformative agent in a country’s evolution. And the level and type of structures, organizational knowledge and collaboration very often will determine the quality of response to issues such as those in Education.

State of Art
The third dimension, the status of knowledge, the level of expertise and know-how or access to it, as critically defines future scenarios as does the provision of structures for leadership and collaboration. Leadership can make decisions based on available know-how and opinion. If leadership is not exposed to cutting edge thinking or technology, it will make less effective decisions. If the right structures do not exist for flow of information or for participatory opinion, the state of art stands diminished.

Society and culture, heritage, attitudes and values, social movements, religious beliefs, globalization – all also impact and are shaped by these three dimensions. They are intrinsic to understanding why a country is at a particular stage or has a particular pattern of evolution. But in my opinion, these three dimensions are the core dimensions shaping our educational futures at this time.

These dimensions are critical to our analysis. They not only describe the current state and constrain what can be achieved, but also point to what could be the primary agents of change for Education. Of course, change can be large-scale, outside the box and revolutionary too, but current state can provide a fairly good indicator of what that we can expect to see.

Tools

I see interventions such as the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTFCE), 2009 in India, as being tools applied on the current state to bring out certain desired outcomes. For the Act to be implementable, a certain set of tools would need to be put into action. For example, a tool could be a school building equipped with basic facilities within 1 kilometer of every child in the age group of 6-14 according to the provisions of the Act. Even assuming that this is feasible, the tool could be evaluated on the basis of certain criteria – capacity, safety norms, student-teacher ratio, library facilities etc. for a school building to be considered at all as a place of learning. Experts could set, validate and monitor the tool’s effectiveness. Teacher training institutes like the DIET (District Institutes of Educational Technology, all 541 of them in India) again are tools that are mandated with certain quality criteria. Under the RTFCE, as another example of a well-meaning tool, teachers, parents and local polity are expected to administer the school and participate in its success – however, who vouches for the skill of the local community council overseeing the school to be able to appreciate (say) inquiry based learning as an effective method for learning?

Certain tools may create conflicts in addition to some obvious benefits – for example, privatization. India has the lowest per unit utilization of educational infrastructure (581 students per college) as compared to US and China. Does it make sense to create more structures creating a new million dollar educational advertising industry for private players? Or does it make more sense for private players to start leveraging the existing infrastructure and bringing in new technology, trained teachers etc. into the mix i.e. rather than scavenging on an already low trained resource base, shouldn’t we be consolidating that base and building upon it? India’s first pure educational financing company hit the streets last month (Credila) just as the Ernst and Young/FICCI 2009 report wanted (financing of education is a game changer for them). But do we want retail financing on an over leveraged and low per capita base or should we figure investment solutions that can yield rich returns through mass enrolments?

Certain tools are completely overlooked. There exists a huge base of private tuition teachers. Anecdotally, half of them do not teach in the regular school/college system and half of them do. If we implemented a tool that was to just absorb the half that are in the informal sector, train this set of teachers and deploy them back in their own neighbourhood but this time with credentials that are standard and higher quality (actually some of these are already much higher quality than most others in the formal system), that would make a huge difference by itself.

These tools affect and change the three dimensions. But it often happens that there are either too few or too many, ineffective or redundant, less than permissible quality or unsustainable etc. What is required is critical analysis of what works and what doesn’t and making sure leadership has state of the art knowledge when it is making these decisions to implement certain tools vs. others. In other countries where such a body exists, perhaps there were other points of differences.

It is also critical to understand that the same tool will operate very differently depending what is the initial state. Lets take for example the proposal in India to create a central overarching body through the NCHER bill replacing or diminishing the role of the country’s flag bearers like the UGC and the AICTE. Except Agricultural education, everything else would fall under this new agency. But the Bar Council of India is in open revolt (ironically, as the education minister himself is a prominent lawyer) and have declared that Legal Education is also autonomous.

Each dimension can be broken down into specific detailed questions. For example, the DISE Flash Statistics provide a reasonable detailed view of some of the parameters of school education in India and they have also developed an Educational Development Index that ranks states on the basis of certain criteria. We can also qualitatively analyze existing leadership structures by asking questions such as “Does a central agency for teacher education exist?” and if it does we could ask “Does it run programs that trains teachers in emerging technologies?”. For State of the Art dimension, we could break it further down into categories such as Availability of data, Free flow of information, existence of communities of practice etc. Each question could have qualitative and quantitative scores applied.

Scenarios

Based on these, we could identify different countries or regions exhibiting similar patterns or question responses. Then we could identify each tool that is being used. There will be a great deal of similarity in the way different countries employ these tools at various stages of their growth. India is definitely not the first to implement the Right to Education, for example. Depending on each country’s own dynamics, there would be a different impact of the tools they use. This could generate scenarios like, if you do this it will most likely result in this and this which shall be invaluable to leadership.

For example, when country A started allowing foreign universities on a large scale, it was found that the nation’s top 10 universities and institutes, those that contributed to over 90% of all research, lost 20% of their teaching staff who left for more lucrative jobs and infrastructure. This resulted in decrease in the research output by nearly 60% compromising several key initiatives as well as transfer out of expertise.

Summary

These are initial thoughts and I hope to refine these as I proceed. A special thanks to George and Dave, and all the great participants in edFutures, who got me channelized into thinking in terms of these kind of models and methodologies! As always, feedback is more than welcome, especially critical feedback!

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I had not heard of  games of this genre before, but they are pretty exciting and I must thank Ulises Mejias for my first introduction to  this medium. There are many definitions including the one here where ARGs are contrasted with serious games.

Apparently, the first such “game” dates back to 1996! Wikipedia defines it as “is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions”.

Think of it as a dramatization parallel to the real world. The organizer, or Puppetmaster, starts by telling a story or leaving a cue, as in a puzzle. Real people and real technology are drawn in to real world dialogue and just like in real life, information is pieced together by the participants. The “game” word is a misnomer, really, because an ARG is very different than a game – in fact ARG creators follow the TINAG (This Is Not A Game) principle. Read about The Beast to get a deeper sense.

If you think of it, some aspects of the CCK08 course run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in end-2008 resembled an ARG, in fact, hold true to the concept of sense-making in connectivism. I think a new analogy/metaphor of an educator could be the puppetmaster.

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Our shame

Violence in the classroom. How many of us realize how unsafe our children are in their classrooms and schools? How many of us are still silent spectators to child sexual abuse, corporal punishment and all forms of safety violations for children going to our schools?

The recent horrifying stories of corporal punishment (15-year-old girl assaulted by teacher dies in coma, Delhi girl in coma after school punishment dies, Student abuse: School sacks teacher), sexual abuse (Teacher gets death for rape, murder of student, 10-year-old raped in MCD school) and the state of legislation/policy (Despite law, no sparing the rod, Finally, strict norms to curb child abuse, Teacher hitting child may become crime), leave me stunned.

In an environment where the child’s personal safety cannot be ensured, how can any learning happen?

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I thought I would take a stab at defining what connectivist metrics could include. Having read in Stephen’s post, Connectivist Dynamics in Communities, that connectivist networks produce connective knowledge and that four elements  (autonomy, diversity, open-ness and interactivity & connectedness) distinguish a knowledge-generating network from a mere set of connected elements, I thought it would make sense to start here.

The metrics that are typically being suggested are metrics such as page views, new memberships,  number and type of new media contributions, number of discussion threads, ratings (satisfaction and post ratings), number of new topics, number of connections, social network tracking and number of posts/discussions etc.

I would venture some possible metrics for the four categories that Stephen outlined. Disclaimer: These are random speculations for now.

autonomy

  • Number of individuals who joined the network through invitation vs. requested membership/enrolled by their own agency?
  • Number of members who understand how to use tools that are engaged by the network to perform basic functions necessary to participate in the network?
  • Number of members who initiated a conversation that involved other people?
  • Number of people who participated in a learning activity initiated by others?

diversity

  • Number of times a member agreed or disagreed with an opinion expressed in the community?
  • Number of members belonging to distinct backgrounds (coud be multiple views here)
  • Unique resources bookmarked by the member?
  • Unique connections vs shared connections
  • How many unique conversations exist at any point in time?
  • Number of homogeneous or differentiated conversations, by context and by participation?

open-ness

  • What is the net flow of connections to and from the network? Positive/negative vs high/medium/low
  • Number of accepted/rejected requests to join the network

interactivity & connectedness

  • How many members are engaged in each conversation on average?
  • Per member, per background, per conversation statistics of participation
  • Trend analyses offered by SNA

Further, the RoI from the network would perhaps emerge if these metrics can answer the following questions:

  • Did the network generate new knowledge?
  • Did members who needed to learn in order to perform actually learn?
  • Were any members disadvantaged in any way and could not benefit from the interactions?
  • Did any innovative ideas arise out of the interactions?
  • Did nodes in the network become more connected?
  • Did members show an increased ability to manage new information and adapt?

More thoughts to follow.

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A recent set of conversations with customers and colleagues around communities of practice, networked learning, tools and platforms has provoked a lot of thought.

One perspective, that was heavily process oriented & steeped in real life experiences, argued that unless processes and workflows (and related metrics) were established, implementing these tools in the enterprise would be exhausting and with little return for the amount of effort it would take to manage and the money it would cost.

Then I came across (thanks Swati and Shikha!) this Defence Acquisition University (DAU)  Community of Practice Implementation Guide, which provides a 14-step, 3 phaseprocess for setting up practices that could contain CoPs, Shared Interest Areas (SIA) and collaborative workspaces. This document is very elaborate and covers processes, roles, permissions, workflow, engagement rules and metrics for setting up CoPs and community knowledge bases.

With true process orientation, this document provides a fairly detailed best practice for the DAU in its community development initiatives. What struck me, at second glance, was the fact that it leverages the same principles that we would use to create and manage an enterprise unit. 

The second set of comments was around how useful or participated in really are blogs and wikis. Talk CoPs or networked learning, and all that people think of is Web 2.0 technology and tools, the hype not really difficult to understand, given that major technology vendors are pushing for implementation of these tools in their recent launches.

The perception that the process and/or the technology are responsible for making networked learning happen is problematic. This is especially true given the power laws we have experienced in terms of community participation and effectiveness or the constant refrain that elearning is not, perhaps, living upto its potential.

Stephen explains in his post, Connectivist Dynamics in Communities, that connectivist networks produce connective knowledge. Four elements  distinguish a knowledge-generating network from a mere set of connected elements. These are autonomy, diversity, open-ness and interactivity & connectedness. There are compelling arguments that Stephen makes, as in the past, that we need to respect these elements if we want to increase the probability of generating new knowledge (and make sense of the current base of knowledge). These elements can also be the basis of metrics and tracking.

George laments the inadequacy of tools for sense-making. He also declares…But any view of society that does not start with the individual is disconcerting.

All these views, taken together, suggest that there is something more to networked learning than just processes and technology. It is a connectivist approach, a model that focuses on how we learn, that provides us a different lens through which to regard fundamental questions such as how do we learn to perform in a fast changing environment or how do we get incited to participate in a network to create new knowledge.

More concerted thoughts to follow in good time…

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