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Posts Tagged ‘connectivism’

Our classrooms are digitally isolated by their very design. It is a distortion of our bureaucratic education systems wherein, on the one hand, grade levels are broken down into separate groups/classrooms, insulated from each other, while each group is encouraged (or mostly not) to independently interact with the outside world.

As a result, students learning the same concepts (from perhaps the same teachers), cannot break the confines of their own classroom group, to celebrate their own local diversity, far less the diversity offered by classrooms worldwide doing almost exactly the same thing, separated by time and space.

This distortion is brought upon us by our approach to managing scale in the education system. Although at one end, developing nations like India still see a significant number of one-room schools (multi-grade single teacher classrooms; in India the figure is around 10%), the vast majority of our classrooms at any level of education stand singularly insulated.

Is this distortion healthy? It is not. In an inter-connected world, fast augmented by accessible technology, our research shows us that increased diversity in the classroom leads to more tolerance, better thinkers, stronger communities, more successful employees and happier lives. It improves the self-efficacy of learners so they become exponentially better performers for the long-term and not just at a particular grade level or assessment. By also co-operating and sharing, they increase their own capacity to learn – a skill that is severely under-rated by bureaucratic systems of education, leading to reflections such as Do Schools Kill Creativity. Clearly, group wise insulation implies a loss of shared experience, so vital for individual sense-making.

This distortion permeates other aspects as well – for example, teacher performance is measured group-wise and in isolation from teacher performance elsewhere. Even for teachers, there is this near-complete isolation between the classrooms she teaches and what others teach, in the same location or worldwide. Thus this impacts teacher self-efficacy as well – her ability to evolve and grow. The same could be said for school leaders.

In a system so shorn of collaboration, we cannot celebrate the benefits of diversity and connected-ness. The distortion in the system ensures greater isolation, thereby lower levels of efficiency for all stakeholders. So far, this distortion is likened to commonsense, with increased diversity desirable but deemed impractical at scale. As a result, very little, if at all, of our education system is geared towards connection-making (in the Connectivist sense) for teaching and learning.

It behoves us to step outside the frame. By looking at increasing connected-ness and diversity in and across our classrooms, we can generate more opportunities for achieving high levels of quality in our systems of education.

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Let us for a moment imagine a future where schools are run by teachers’ cooperatives. That is, instead of an administrative and financial superstructure of wealthy philanthropists or businesspersons or trusts, political muscle, non-academic leadership and all the trappings of modern world schools, teachers would cooperate to teach, learn and administer the school.

The Amul cooperative in India posits a model for cooperatives in the Dairy sector.

The then Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri decided that the same approach should become the basis of a National Dairy Development policy. He understood that the success of Amul could be attributed to four important factors. The farmers owned the dairy, their elected representatives managed the village societies and the district union,  they employed professionals to operate the dairy and manage its business. Most importantly, the co-operatives were sensitive to the needs of farmers and responsive to their demands.

In Education, this is not new (Avalon, SUPAR, Woodland Park). In Can Teachers Run Their Own Schools, Charles Kerchener talks about how such schools lack closed structures, promote open-ness and put greater responsibility on students to manage their own learning.

Advisor Kevin Ward, writes that students who come from a traditional school think, “that an open environment is
the equivalent of an unsupervised study hall and act accordingly. They wait for bells and whistles and detentions and plenty of assignments.” “Parents may expect to see immediate success,” but “learning to become an independent learner takes not only time but a good measure of failure.” These students become successful over time, Ward asserts, because students create their own rules. That struggle can take a long time, sometimes two years before a student understands that success is primarily a function of what they put into it as opposed to how well they play by someone’s rules. Contrast this with scripted teaching, frequent teacher-led drills,
and frequent testing that characterizes some charter schools recognized as successful.

…But regardless of the hours put in, students must design projects that meet all the state standards.

…The credit system—perhaps the most enduring structure of American high schools—is relegated to a bookkeeping function

It is interesting how these cooperatives are organized and how do different stakeholders react to shared leadership and open ecosystems. It is important to note that the exact shape and form for these cooperatives is not something that is designed. Rather it is emergent, based on the dynamics of the people, context and tools.

In India, I have yet to come across a similar vision. Doubtless, there exists someone doing it, but it is an idea not yet discussed or explored in policy or other academic circles, at least from what I know.

However, there is merit in discussing this model if it leads to increased stakeholder trust & respect, higher quality learning, diversity and autonomy. What if there were a significant proportion of cooperative schools in India catering to local needs, responsive to local community, and creating environments where students could really take responsibility for their own learning? Such cooperatives could be served by other cooperatives as well – for needs ranging from administrative/professional services to even needs such as teacher education and leadership development.

Can such a future be?

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A rather belated post on #rhizo15 week 2! How do we count or measure learning in our networks or learning rhizomatically? How do we begin to “grade Dave”?

“Counting” evolution of our learning networks is very important. How does a network or community form? When does it acquire critical “mass” of conversation? How does it sustain? And when does it wither away and perhaps die, only to come alive again in the future, like a raw nerve left exposed?

The months before CCK08, then during CCK08, and Change11 and many of the early cMOOCs afforded great opportunities to discuss a multitude of ideas.

I think Stephen sparked it off by talking about Learning 2.0 in an early article. Then came a series of posts around how I viewed collaboration and evolution in networked learning (starting here). Essentially power laws were well in evidence when we looked at conversations – a small number of conversations were held together by many people and these threads were reasonably long (if I remember correctly, this was the pre-‘like’ era), while a majority of conversations were ad-hoc and short lived.

The pattern was not unlike what you would expect on the Internet prompting discussions on the long tail or that the world wasn’t flat, it was rather spiky. It also was scale-free in the sense that it could observed in small classrooms as well as the rather large learning networks of these cMOOCs.

This pattern also prompted me to think that the goal of such educational networks should be to flatten the power law, leading to a more participatory, equitable and democratic system rather than the ‘rich get richer’ bias that we have now (and Stephen writes eloquently about this, especially towards the end of that post) in his recent dialogues with George when he talks about the University system).

Which is why counting is really an important subject. We cannot continue to count the way we have been counting. But we cannot change unless we also redefine what we are counting and how we are counting it. In fact, for cMOOCs to be counted as a credible alternative (and not just a supplement like the xMOOCs), we have to devise a friendly and intuitive mechanism for counting learning in these networks.

This type of counting is necessary for people to be able to share a new common vocabulary for representing and differentiating levels of competence or progress. Unless this new vocabulary emerges, we will not have a way to transact within it, to generate economic and social choices of human capital using it and to create policy around it. It will also be difficult to get any adoption at scale.

This, in my opinion, has been the biggest block to making cMOOCs mainstream as well as the biggest reason that xMOOCs have been credible. xMOOCs have taken the same counting terms from the traditional system which is widely understood – institutional brand, expert professors, certificates and degrees, price, blended learning – which makes them intelligible to the world. cMOOCs don’t yet have a vocabulary to do that.

It is not just the vocabulary though. The vocabulary will only emerge through research and compelling evidence. It will need new tools and techniques for measurement. It will need to be able to fit in the modern world and the needs of the people. If we do not evolve such measures, cMOOCs will be marginalized as hype.

The need of the hour is for such learning networks to analyze what constitutes learning in the network and how to count it. It is easy to say that these learning networks are only suitable for certain domains or for certain types of people. But it is more difficult to believe they are a credible alternative to traditional education systems without the accompanying quantifying justifications that make the educational, economic and social value intelligible and visible to everyone.

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In a Big Think article, Why Technology Won’t Save an Inefficient Education System, with Dr. Madhav Chavan, and in several other similarly argued contributions, particularly like the ones from Sir Ken Robinson (read a critique here) or Sugata Mitra.

Education over that past 200 years has been fashioned like an assembly line. Children get placed on a conveyor belt that carries them from grade level to grade level. At each stop on the way they are receive the same knowledge as everyone else. Rather than become intuitive problem-solvers, students are expected to simply absorb the facts provided to them.

The argument that the educational system is a machine built for another age implies that the classroom is itself a machine and the teacher an automaton carrying out procedures that fill student brains with knowledge.

I had a group of educators look at me with alarm and disapproval the other day when I dared to suggest that the classroom was anything like a machine. For them, a classroom was an area where each student is different, has different learning styles and demands, and where they work hard to meet the demands of the curriculum (not enough time allocated to complete the syllabus). Challenges faced in each classroom were unique, although some best practices could be arrived at through experience. Similarly no classroom is the same as any other one in terms of its constituents, its infrastructure, its language and so on. The sheer diversity at the classroom level defies machinistic interpretations.

If the classroom is not a machine, the school as a factory analogy should break down here. Why? Because the classroom is the fundamental unit of the assembly process of schooling. And if that is not a machine, then school likely is not.

Similarly, if the counter to everyone being a dumb receptacle for knowledge, is that everyone becomes an “intuitive problem-solver”, we are talking about another kind of deterministic and linear process, another kind of factory that produces a different kind of student. This was exactly what 21st century skills framework in the USA or our Indian Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system has turned out to be – an addition to the curriculum that tries to generically create certain skills and orientation in students, commonly, across the board.

The point to be understood is that we are still thinking deterministically. In the article, Chavan talks about employing technology in an appropriate manner – not as subservient to the linearized school system, but as a tool to collaborate in order to solve problems. Technology enables a non-linear curriculum, emphasizing problem-solving over rote memorization, Chavan says, but impossible to implement under the traditional education system.

I think he has got it mixed up. Firstly, there is nothing intrinsic to technology that promotes any one way or form of learning over another. Secondly technology itself is not monolithic. Thirdly technology is not all pervasive enough to be a systemic component of learning. Fourthly, there is an implicit assumption that we want everyone to be great at problem solving and that there is this one giant universal conception of problem solving, irrespective of domain. Fifthly, non-linearity is a rich feature of existing classrooms, with or without the intervention of technology, in the sense that the classroom is a complex organism.

I think what they all mean to say, is that the traditional system suffers from certain constraints and obsolete practices that are making it very difficult to “enforce” alternate practices and conceptions. Let us look at some of the real constraints – the underlying causes.

Teachers are still learning the way they teach – To innovate the existing paradigm from the inside, teachers must start learning differently. If teachers start learning and using technology-enabled learning methods on their own, it will be a matter of culture for them to start using them in the classroom.

Teachers need to learn – Largely, teachers are like any other adult, and their motivation and ability to learn are immensely important to address. Mechanisms that reward professional and personal learning are largely absent in our system, and for the teachers in the public system, not integrated with career progression and salary increments.

Syllabi are too extensive – Syllabi are following their own inflationary trends. As the volume of knowledge has grown, topics that were earlier taught in higher classes, have been added to the load of the lower classes. The density and complexity of content to be taught/learned has increased significantly. The duration of time remaining the same, teachers have increasingly lesser time to focus on teaching core concepts. As one teacher explained in an alternate manner, “the syllabus is alright, it is just that the system that enforces an end date to the syllabus is wrong!”.

Technology is not ubiquitous – the availability of technology (and electrical power) itself is a core problem. Technology for computation, for storage, for protection against virus attacks, for connectivity and Internet access, for mobility – all these are real challenges in schools (and at home) today. Over time, these will hopefully get addressed by policy thrusts and reducing costs.

Constraints of the system – everything has to be taught in school, there are rigid enrolment schedules, each grade/class is divided into isolated and insular groups or sections in some arbitrary manner creating limitations on collaboration and sharing of knowledge – and many other structural components of the system. In fact, these constraints are the ones that are closer to the industrial age-factory analogy in the sense that they are the pillars of educational management in schools.

For example, putting children into groups and assigning them teachers is an operational decision – one that promotes manageability of the education process primarily. Many people say it is also logical to keep class sizes low to promote greater collaboration (and perhaps, control) and ability for teachers to address individual learning styles. But I believe that the two are different problems – there are many ways to adapt, blend or flip learning emerging now that need not necessarily force us to enforce these structures and ratios.

In summary, I think it is perhaps wrong and naive to treat classrooms as machines and teachers as automatons. Classrooms are complex organisms and don’t easily fall into the determinism of the factory analogy. However, classrooms and teachers operate under a system that tries to enforce determinism and linearity through some of the constraints discussed above.

If we want to change as a system, we need to extend, enhance and celebrate the complexity in education.

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The interesting MOOC on MOOCs conducted by Dr. T V Prabhakar from IIT Kanpur and Dr V Balaji from Commonwealth of Learning is in week 3. The theme itself is reminiscent of the CCK MOOCs, which did a deep dive into the Connectivist origins of the original MOOCs. It is timely also because India is really on the verge of something special in this area.

Sir John Daniel, one of the experts in Open and Distance Learning, has the following points to make in his video lecture contributed specially for the course.

  • Open and Distance and Online learning did not start with MOOCs or even the Internet.
  • Putting courses online does not automatically improve their quality.
  • MOOCs are a good example of how computers and networks have increased the power and possibilities of ODL but they lack some of the vital ingredients of a good learning system. Many do not include Holmberg’s “guided didactic conversations” between learners and teachers and most do not include student assessment and certification.
  • Everything depends on the design of the teaching learning system around the students’ needs.That must be the next step in  the development of MOOCs.
  • In most cases, MOOCs are still simply information distribution systems
  • Why have MOOCs been so slow in tackling the challenges of interaction and assessment? Because early 2012 MOOCs were by exclusive universities.

In his 2012 article, Making Sense of MOOCs – Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility, Sir John Daniel makes some important points:

We also agree with Bates that current xMOOCs pedagogy is pretty old hat but this will now change fast. Even if Coursera gave its partner universities great freedom in course formats in order to sugar the pill of signing the contract, this will quickly produce a great diversity of approaches and much healthy experimentation.

Placing their xMOOCs in the public domain for a worldwide audience will oblige institutions to do more than pay lip service to importance of teaching and put it at the core their missions. This is the real revolution of MOOCs.

In a more recent article for the Montreal Digital Conference to be held next month, Are MOOCs the long-awaited technological revolution in higher education?, Sir John Daniel makes some important points:

  • It is unlikely that MOOCs shall be considered a revolution in Higher Education unless they are also able to perform the core functions of that system – “the authority to award degrees, diplomas and qualifications”.
  • Quoting Laurillard who questions whether MOOCs are solving global education problems like access to universities, spiraling student debt and low graduate pay, he presents MOOCs as perhaps being more useful in professional and vocational development.
  • The viability of building and maintaining MOOCs for universities are also called into question. They do not represent a significant return on investment (like the UKOU’s tracking of students who enrolled revealed that 1500 students had prior contact with its free media implying an 8% return on investment in free media) if considered for student recruitment, nor are they likely to make as much money in services like proctoring and assessments as compared to private operators. He sees certification and employee recruitment as the most promising end-uses of MOOCs.

In talking about the legacy of MOOCs, he writes:

This transformation of the methods of teaching and learning will be the primary legacy of MOOCs. It will not be a revolution but it will have a long-term impact on the way higher education operates, much like the important evolutionary stimuli in the earlier history of universities that we examined earlier.

Talking about OERs, he states:

The creation and use of OER developed steadily, but without fanfare, for the next decade. OER were the long fuse that detonated the MOOCs explosion.

On why MOOCs will not be revolutionary for Higher Education,

MOOCs are not revolutionary, both because higher education develops by evolution and also because MOOCs mostly do not lead to formal qualifications. MOOCs are, however, the harbingers of an important transformation that will lead to much greater use of online technologies in teaching, research and academic service.

Not surprisingly, he concludes:

Quality and the quality assurance of ‘post-traditional’ higher education, like the certification of its outcomes, is one of the greater challenges of these new forms of teaching and learning...Our first conclusion is that we should not await a revolution but rather expect digital innovations to transform practice in an incremental manner...Second, the present disruption being caused by digital technologies is a constructive process. We shall see a flurry of evolutionary change as institutions adapt to the new niches that innovations are creating. Third, it is important to let experimentation continue so that the viability of various models for using technology in teaching, learning, assessment and certification can be tested. This is why it was dangerous to present MOOCs as the contemporary revolution in higher education. Fourth and finally, this exciting phase of evolution poses a special challenge for quality assurance, which is caught on the horns of a dilemma.

Daniel is trying to situate MOOCs (specifically xMOOCs) in the Higher Education context, terming them an evolution and not a revolution, experiments that need far more innovation, currently unable to meet global challenges like student debt, unable to perform core functions such as awarding degrees and a logical evolution of the open and distance learning, OER, digital innovations and online learning paradigm. I think Daniel is saying that the incremental innovations in teaching and learning of the xMOOCs will bring about the real revolution over a period of time.

There is also a fleeting aspiration in what he writes:

In the long run heutagogy and cMOOCs may have a greater impact on the evolution of teaching and learning in higher education in an information age than the more common xMOOCs, some of which learners can find trivial rather than confusing.

and from the Musings article:

We quote Illich to emphasise that the xMOOCs attracting media attention today, which are ‘at the intersection of Wall Street and Silicon Valley’ (Caulfield, 2012), appear to have scant relation to those pioneering (Ed: cMOOC) approaches.

As George Siemens writes while distinguishing between x- and c-MOOCs in What is the theory that underpins our MOOCs?:

As stated above, there is overlap between our model at that of Coursera/EDx. However, Coursera/EDx emulates the existing education system, choosing instead to transfer it online rather than transform it online.

Clearly, xMOOCs are an extension geared for the traditional system of education, where at University or online, open and distance. By his own admission, cMOOCs are pioneering approaches that may have a greater impact on teaching and learning in the long run.

The contention lies in whether Daniel thinks that the xMOOCs and cMOOCs are milestones on some kind of a continuum of evolution of higher education, or whether they are, as I firmly believe, two completely different systems altogether. In my opinion, we could better call the xMOOCs something else so that we are able to focus on the potential of cMOOCs in a better way – perhaps call them XBTs or eXtended-Web Based Training, just like the earlier generations were called CBT and WBT.

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People keep on going on about there being so much shortage of good quality faculty. That, they bemoan, is the most important factor behind the problems that we face in K12 or Higher Ed today. It is definitely true to an extent.

I believe the bigger challenge is to find learners. Not students. But learners. Or capable students who take greater responsibility, initiative and interest in their own education as well as the education of their peers.

If we flip the problem, we can perhaps leverage the scale of learners to overcome most of the problems in education. To do this we have to break from the belief that students have to be led. They don’t. They need to be helped to become more capable of learning in an environment mediated by social and technological networks.

This can reshape how we think about teaching and learning. Teachers then need to make sure that students become more capable (instead of becoming more knowledgeable) and that they have help and facilitation when needed. Students have to acquire critical literacies (and heutagogical capabilities) to transform into Learners. The Government needs to reshape the ability of these new generation of capable learners to acquire credentials that can be interpreted (and later perhaps even replace) at par or higher (or differently) than existing credentials. Our institutions and employers need to reshape structures and practices to allow all this wonderful learning led by the ones that are most impacted by it.

This is why, in the FICCI Vision Paper on MOOCs in Higher Education that I co-wrote, my vision for MOOCs (and in general the educational system) was:

Learning through Massive, Open and Online courses (MOOCs) will enable all Indians who want to learn, earn, teach or innovate, the capability to realize their true potential and transform our country.

The vision talks about building capability, not creating trained engineers or research scientists. Replace “MOOCs” with “our Educational System” and the vision would hold, really.

Are we really chasing the wrong problems?

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There is a teacher in everyone of us. It is useful to acknowledge that a whole lot of things are learnt without someone actually teaching us, and that perhaps someone is right now learning from us without our even knowing it. On the Internet, this is possible at a very large scale. We learn from other people’s review of the computers we buy or the places we visit. We learn to dress by looking at what others wear and talk as we hear others speak. We learn from reading a blog post or the fact that a guru likes a particular URL or that an expert just followed an innovative startup’s twitter handle.

So when practicing teachers and real experts, who really do all of this teaching and coaching professionally, start making their actions, their learning, their idiosyncrasies public, a whole lot of people will end up learning even if they are not in their class. Perhaps their class will also learn much more if they share the guru’s network, the guru’s learning trails across the World Wide Web.

As teachers, it is really about how we learn and how we share how and what we learn. It is not learning how to use technology (which is an important enabler, but not an end in itself), but how to embrace a culture of open-ness, sharing and a much heightened consciousness that we are professional performers of a learning process; that as teachers we are actually enacting the role of expert learners.

For that, we have to re-envision the way we learn. We are a product of much the same system that we subject our children to. We bind our students by its same constraints. We are steeped in the routines that we have perfected in years we have taught the same curriculum again, again and again. We cannot change ourselves by thinking in the same ways the system has taught us. We must re-envision our own futures, standing outside the systems of today.

Why it is so phenomenally important to re-learn how to learn in today’s networked environments? Its possible because, invariant to scale, the network has opened up hitherto unknown opportunities to teach and learn. Not that you can now learn something that was previously hidden from you, but that you can now learn and teach in ways that may be much more than the classroom we are so used to. In fact the classroom analogy does not even exist in the networked environment (the closest it gets is “clusters” or “swarms”) – the network is not a class.

Since networks are not classes, you cannot apply traditional teaching-learning techniques to it (or atleast not as-is). So an entire paradigm becomes near-obsolete when one thinks of networked learning. Which is not what the xMOOCs would have you to believe, but that is entirely their loss.

If you can think network, you can break away from the traditional mode. It is what we must do. Case in point. If there is no class, who are you teaching? Answer: You are teaching a cluster of nodes (students) bound to you in some manner (through your institution perhaps), but they are really part of many different networks as well. By connecting to those students and promoting transactions between them, helping them add new connections to their network, and leveraging their existing networks, you will build upon a fabric of learning, much like a weaver or an Atelier. You will help them break away from the monotone of traditional systems, help them celebrate chaos and let them build their capability to learn.

When you become that networked teacher, you will contribute to a scale of learning that will be unbelievable. What you will do within your own small networks, may become amplified or contribute to global knowledge about learning and teaching. Just the sheer scale of your teaching and learning, your networks, the types of interactions, will fast transcend the power of any certificate or degree the traditional system may have to offer.

The revolution is here. It is you. Seize the day.

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