MOOCs in India

Sui Fai John Mak explores, “Why c and x MOOCs are attracting different number of participants?” We’ll come back to this in a while.

In another very interesting article that lays out MOOC Student Demographics, by The Augmented Trader, I was looking at what’s happening with the MOOC with Indian learners.

In this article by Tucker Balch, looking at Country of Residence, Indians were ranked #3 for course completion, and interestingly, were ranked #2 as far as students who did not complete the course. Of course the gaps in the numbers will also have to be considered. However, various other reports will tell you that MOOCs are popular in India.

What does this mean for MOOCs that originate in India? Does it seem like a good time for Indian institutions to get on to the MOOC bandwagon? (In-spite of the below-average access infrastructure in the country)

Let’s come back to Sui Fai John Mak’s article on the success of c and x MOOCs. (You need to read the full article, linked above), but let me look at three of the success factors mentioned in the article. (In the article, these factors are regarding xMOOCs; for the purpose of this post, I am thinking of a MOOC without any prefix)

Branding: Which Indian educational institute is the strongest brand to attract students? Especially if you have to compete with the likes of Stanford, MIT and such. And then, it’s not just brands, it’s the “super-professors” that Sui Fai John Mak’s refer to in the article.

Well-established Resources: I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but Indian institutes do not make a conscious effort in developing good content and the necessary support structure around them.

Assessment and Certification: This is where things really fall apart, I suppose. Formal online assessment is not allowed in the country and if you cannot certify students without formal assessment, what do you do? And here, it’s not just the institutes who are failing, it’s the industry too, which insists on formal certification from “well-known” institutes.

A MOOC-education should mean more than just knowledge-acquisition; it needs to be recognised, endorsed and accepted. And this will require a strong participation of the industry in developing a MOOC that makes sense in the crazy-assessment-oriented educational society that we are.   If we consider the three factors that help MOOCs become successful, then:

  • Branding issues can be overcome by well-define University-Industry Linkages (UIL). The UIL could be with a group of companies in a sector or an industry association. Industry usually understands branding better than the university, this is where they can help. Industry finds a source of well-educated, employable human resources, which reduces their recruitment cost.
  • Industry can provide requirements and support resources in the form of digital and interactive content, faculty support, best practices and management support to work with academia to design contemporary and current curriculum.
  • If the industry is willing to forgo formal certification from well-known institutes for well-trained resources who have been taught a curriculum that the industry has endorsed, the obstacles by the meta-educational organisations in the country are easily overcome. Innovative practices in assessing student performance enables industry to identify employable resources easily.

The time for MOOCs in India has come, the right partners have to join in.

Better Future for a MOOC

Audrey Watters recently wrote an “introductory” post about the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

The acronym MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. The meaning of “massive” is obvious; a MOOC can range from several hundred to several thousand participants. But it isn’t just the size of the classes or even their location — online — that make MOOCs different.

MOOCs redefine academic courses in several ways. They are open, for one, which means that anyone can participate. The content of the course — readings and so on — is freely and openly accessible. The content that participants create is also open. Students blog, for example, and share their learning with one another.

via Are MOOCs the Future of Online Learning? | MindShift.

Having participated in a MOOC, recently – Learning & Knowledge Analytics – LAK11, (which, I admit, I have yet to complete – and that is the beauty of it), I can tell you that the experience is enriching. However, as Audrey Watters rightly says, there needs to be a “strong commitment” to learn.

The one major advantage of a MOOC, to my mind is the accessibility of the course. Learning content that would have been otherwise unavailable to people around the world is now on your screens and at your disposal in a way that you could not have imagined. A very recent example is the MOOC being offered by Stanford University on “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” A free course from Stanford University, yes you read that right. But here’s something that may not completely be wonderful about a MOOC. According to the info pagefor this course:

It is their objective to offer identical homework assignments, quizzes, and exams in both versions of this course. Students taking the online version will therefore be graded according to the same grading criteria as students taking CS221 at Stanford. However, to receive Stanford credit, the course has to be taken through Stanford; and students have to be registered at Stanford University. Online student will only get a certificate in the name of the instructors, but no official Stanford certificate.

That is the logic of free. I have yet to see a MOOC that offers any kind of certification. If you have read Audrey Watters’ article, you will have seen that a MOOC is necessarily an informal learning. So you’d participate in a MOOC more for the love of learning than certification itself.

A few thoughts on the way forward for MOOCs:

  • It would be nice for MOOCs to have industry participation. For all the cries of talent shortage that the industry makes, it is ironic that would not want to participate in such a progressive and contemporary learning initiative.
  • It would be even more worthwhile, if they endorse such courses. It would help provide additional motivation to the participants to take up MOOCs as supplementary qualifications.
  • MOOCs use well-developed technology platforms for delivery; an ePortfolio would be helpful, something that the participants can carry in lieu of of a formal certificate.
  • Since MOOCs usually have thousands of participants (not all of them quite serious learners), a method of filtering folks that you would like to follow and engage with. Also, a method to identify and discover folks who are actively engaged in the course.

These notes, to an extent, invalidate the very idea of informal and open learning. However, I believe the MOOC has the potential to address some of the gaps that education needs to fulfill.

Finally, the one irony of a MOOC, I cannot but help noticing, is the accessibility of a MOOC. By virtue of it being an online course, those who could be best served by the value of a MOOC, are the ones who do not have access to the Internet.

Not Disruptive Enough

In a recent post, Is Online Learning a Disruptive Innovation? by the Harvard Education Publishing Group, Peter J. Stokes says:

While some experts argue that online learning can and should be more cost effective to deliver than traditional classroom instruction, the reality for many schools is that they grow their online efforts alongside their classroom operations, and thus they see their operational costs increasing rather than decreasing. And students are often charged the same tuition—or even higher—for online programs as for campus programs.

This kind of online learning is far from being disruptive. Most organisations are using online learning as a supplement to the traditional format, or as Stokes says above, growing these alongside classroom operations. In effect, online learning is bound to the classroom process and is bound to the amount of disruption a classroom can offer, which is almost zero.

Online learning needs to be released from the shackles traditional learning processes – if we are to see any disruption at all. In doing this, online learning achieves:

  • Better costs: When online learning is not subservient to the traditional format, it becomes disruptive because it is not burdened by the cost-structures of the traditional format. As the author says in the post, disruptive products are not breakthrough products, they are “often inferior products. What makes them compelling is that they are cheaper and easier to use.” Stripping online learning of the burden of conventional cost and infrastructure makes them cheaper to use.
  • Teacher Focus: The traditional role of a class teacher changes with online learning. She is released from the burden of core instruction (which is taken on by online learning) and — becomes a facilitator to improve learning, is able to engage further with learners, can now provide better remedial learning, and importantly, have more time on her hand to improve her own skills.
  • Wider inclusion: Aligning the traditional format and online learning is a deterrent to a class of learners that are working, foreign or part-time learners. Online learning provides far more wider access than the traditional format could ever provide, without scaling costs.

Online learning needs a rethink of the process, rather than just having an offering online. That it is a better option for learner performance has been widely verified. That, is fairly beyond argument. Unless online learning is thought of as an alternative to traditional learning, it will continue to suffer the curse of not being disruptive enough.

No Next Button – Some Examples | MinuteBio

Having seen my share of eLearning courses, built a few, and reviewed quite a few, this link was interesting to read.

No Next Button – Some Examples | MinuteBio

The Back/Next navigation, which relegates interaction outside the content has been done to death, almost like PowerPoint. The learner is a passive consumer of the content – the said interaction is no interaction, but a chore to push the passive state of content from one screen to another. There is no excitement in the “interaction” and the said “interaction” is in a frame that contains the interaction.

Instructionally, this imposes a way of navigating on the learner, that leaves no scope for discovery or exploration. More often than not, moving media (animations, video clips) embedded in the content is often passed for interactive content. This is, at best, active content.

Not all samples in this link are the best in terms of instructional design, but they definitely make a case for breaking away from frame-based navigational interaction.

Hat Tip: Stephen Downes

The Teacher as an Editor

An interesting read today about the new dynamic nature of textbooks.

“Macmillan, one of the largest textbook publishers in the world, is introducing a new software for instructors that will allow them to change the online versions of textbooks that their students use.

According to the New York Times, with DynamicBooks, ‘Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations.’”

(Via Macmillan to allow professors to change textbooks online, on the fly: )

Yet another “path-breaking” initiative from Macmillan (I am referring to the Publishers’ Manifesto [Summary | Full PDF Download] that they came up with a while ago)

This is truly an interesting take on text books by Macmillan. However, as the article rightly suggests, it has it’s dangers about how the textbook may be used by a teacher; and the potential for misuse.

So, does a dynamic textbook have its place in education? I think it does. Only, however, if the delete action is restricted. It is one thing to allow creating context to the content; yet another to allow editing that can change meaning.

Also, I think it is better to leave the “editing” of a textbook to the publishers, who have been doing it well for years. How many teachers would really be qualified to “edit” content? The deletion part – then – is quite scary.

Finally, I wish it was clear how students would use these books. Would they also be allowed to make their own notes and pictures in the text book?

Talk of prosumer content!

About the Online Revolution

In an interesting article by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn, the authors make a strong case for schools to get their classrooms online and refers to the “Race to the Top Fund” that:

[...] provides competitive grants to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform; implementing ambitious plans in the four education reform areas described in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) [...]

As part of the conclusion, in the article, the authors say:

“Currently, student achievement data is represented by test scores—a limited prism through which to evaluate teachers. But online learning, coupled with robust data systems, could change this, as it would allow states to gain insight into the interactions between students, teachers, and the curriculum. It would also provide a robust and diverse array of measures by which to understand what is and is not working at a much deeper level—and in what circumstances.” Revolution in the Classroom – The Atlantic (August 12, 2009)

This is probably the most significant value in an education process that online learning brings to the table.

iNACOL Releases Report on Policy and Funding Frameworks for Online Learning – iNACOL

iNACOL Releases Report on Policy and Funding Frameworks for Online Learning – iNACOL: “The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) announces the release of a new report, Policy and Funding Frameworks for Online Learning. Susan Patrick, President of iNACOL, stated, ‘There is a tremendous need for policy leaders to understand policy and legislative frameworks that enhance and support online learning in their states, to expand access to high-quality online schools and courses for every child. This report decodes policy and practices to help state leaders understand how to be more effective in supporting online and blended school programs that offer more engaging, personalized learning with today’s students.’”

(Via Online Learning Update.)