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.

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English, in India

Saw this article in the ToI. Again, good scores are not a perfect representative of proficiency. A very well-defined and a standard definition of proficiency is long due.

“Toefl provides accurate scores at the individual level; it is not appropriate for comparing countries,” clarified Walt MacDonald, ETS executive vice-president and chief operating officer.

“The differences in the number of students taking the test in each country, how early English is introduced into the curriculum, how many hours per week are devoted to learning English, and the fact that those taking the test are not representative of all English speakers in each country or any defined population,” Said MacDonald.

via ‘Toefl score comparison unfair’ – The Times of India.

This was really my primary crib, when I wrote about the Proficiency Debate.

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.

The India/China Language Proficiency Debate

Make the Shift

Henry Foy, in the Reuters blog, asks if India has squandered its English advantage?

But, as Asian rival China surpasses India’s English proficiency rates for the first time, that advantage over other developing economies looks to have been squandered.

China was ranked one place above India in Education First’s 2011 English Proficiency Index, released last month, the first time India has been beaten by its neighbour and fellow BRIC economy in the international rankings of foreign countries English-speaking abilities.

(Via Has India squandered its English advantage? | India: A billion aspirations | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters.com)

Mr. Foy uses the EF EPI report (PDF) to ask this question. An interesting question and a topic for debate, given the great English leaps that our eastern neighbour has initiated for the last few years. And an important point for all Indians; except, Henry Foy misses out mentioning a few important factors in his article. However, I do not intend to single out Mr. Foy – other magazines and newspapers have taken the same stand.

For one, while this is an index, there is no attempt at defining proficiency. Here’s what I found on Wikipedia

Language proficiency or linguistic proficiency is the ability of an individual to speak or perform in an acquired language. As theories vary among pedagogues as to what constitutes proficiency, there is little consistency as to how different organizations classify it. Additionally, fluency and language competence are generally recognized as being related, but separate controversial subjects. In predominant frameworks in the United States, proficient speakers demonstrate both accuracy and fluency, and use a variety of discourse strategies. Thus, native speakers of a language can be fluent without being considered proficient. (Via Language proficiency)

But since we do not know the parameter(s) that EF EPI (English Proficiency Index) defined for this test, it anyway doesn’t matter. The report itself seems to be quite unsure of this: “Within the English-teaching community, there is no consensus on the best ways to evaluate English proficiency, or indeed on the ultimate goals of English study. While most English teachers and students agree that communication is the primary objective, more work must be done to define target competencies and how each competency can best be evaluated.“.

The report also mentions the shortcomings of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) for Languages):

However, the CEFR is only a first step towards standard-setting in language education. More detailed definitions of finer-grained skill levels and accompanying evaluative tools are needed, particularly those which take into account current thinking on communication as the primary goal of English study. The most widely-adopted English competency tests today are still heavily weighted towards an older notion of proficiency, no longer in sync with the role that English plays in the world today as an international communication tool.

Secondly, in the Asia EF EPI section, these few lines caught my eye – and I wondered if I was reading it right:

Indeed, although it is very difficult to measure the number of people who speak English in each country because of different definitions of proficiency, the British Council estimated in 2010 that India had anywhere between 55 and 350 million English speakers while a report published by Cambridge University Press estimates that China has 250 to 350 million English learners.

You can see that the report sounds apologetic over the inability to define proficiency. But do read the quote again – if you missed it – India has up to 350million speakers while china has up to 350million learners. Now, the GER for primary and secondary in India has increased from 66% in 1999 to 84% in 2008. Also,

Official statistics on the number of children enrolled in recognised English medium schools in the country show that it has more than doubled within just half a decade from over 61 lakh (6.1million) in 2003 to over 1.5 crore (15million) in 2008.

[…]

In 2006, English as a medium of instruction was fourth — behind Hindi, Bengali and Marathi — but by 2007, it had climbed to second place and grew even further in 2008, beginning to eat into the Hindi numbers.”

(Via August, English, Nagarajan, Rema. The Times Of India. 27 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.)

Finally, Mr. Foy’s article fails to mention that the EF EPI test was an online test:

Only countries with a minimum of 400 test takers were included in the index. Countries with fewer than 100 test takers per test on two or more of the tests were also excluded, regardless of the total number of test takers.

We recognize that the test-taking population represented in this index is self-selected and not guaranteed to be representative of the country as a whole. Only those people either wanting to learn English or curious about their English skills will participate in one of these tests. In addition, since the tests are online, people without internet access or unused to online applications are automatically excluded.

Again, not necessarily a good or an accurate sample size. Most teachers or parents in India will not be aware of or have access to this test.

Coming back to the article, while there may be merit in being concerned about losing advantage in a certain skill, I found the ‘straight-line’ interpretation of this report very short-sighted. It is almost as if everyone has looked only at the list – and moved on to the now-fashionable bashing of India’s education problems. While we may have a real problem on hand, this report is no indicator of the problem or the extent of the problem.

Technology & Teachers

“The technology is simple, open source and so available for anyone who wants to make and sell it, which ensures that it is priced low. He says it will not make ‘one laptop per child’ outdated or irrelevant. A child can take it home. This complements it by introducing group learning, he says. Where does that leave the teacher? In the background.”

It’s the “In the background.” that I take exception to. The word background in this context is a bit vague and may mean many things. Especially if you are a teacher. There is enough scepticism from teachers (that it replaces them) about the use of technology in classroom.

Technology in education does not put the teacher in the background – it put’s them in better control to manage a class better.

Via Sreelatha Menon: The teaching table

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!

Creative Use of “Boring” Tools

Michele Martin, in her Bamboo Project blog, links to a great post from Sarah Horrigan and laments how instructors use learning systems, specifically VLEs.

It’s Not the Tool That’s Boring. It’s You.: “That’s the thing about technology and learning. People are quick to blame the tool, rather than looking first at their own behavior with it. It’s PowerPoint that’s the problem, rather than how it’s used. Or they hate web conferencing because it’s ‘dull.’ And don’t even start with social media–blogs, social networks, Twitter et. al are just a ‘waste of time.'”

(Via The Bamboo Project Blog.)

It may be a worthwhile debate to discover if most VLEs out there have somehow contributed to the boring aspect of online learning. Sarah talks of how we look at a box vs. how we would have looked at it when we were younger. There may be more to enabling engaging learning through VLEs — these systems (and the people who made these systems) will need to first engage with the instructors with a “map” of how interactive and engaging learning can be made possible — beyond PowerPoint and Lecture Notes. What were they (those who built the systems) thinking when they built the systems? What vision of online learning did they have? How would they like the instructors to make best use of the systems?

The onus, to create interesting learning online, I believe, is not just on the instructors.