Monday, December 10, 2007

ISTD-Vivekanand National Award

I am happy to share with the readers of this blog about the ISTD-Vivekananda National Award for Excellence in HRD and Training 2006-2007 received by me (the author of teachknowlogist) on 8th December 2007 at the Satyam School of Leadership, HiTech City, Hederabad in the concluding session of the 38th National Convention of Indian Society for Training and Development (ISTD) from Sh. S.K. Joshi, IAS, Secretary, Dept. of IT, Govt. of AP. The award is given to recognize young trainers with at least 5 years of experience in conducting/organizing training programmes. ISTD, established in 1969, is the national professional agency to promote human resource development and training. It also offers an 18-months Diploma in Training and Development through distance mode. The award is instituted in the memory of (Late) Brig. Inder Sethi, AVSM.

An award is a ‘Reward’ and ‘Recognition’ that brings in more ‘Responsibilities’. I am humbled by the choice of the ISTD and its honourable jury members; and would like to take this opportunity to thank them all. I would also like to assure ISTD and the training professionals that I would continue to do my best in the interest of the training profession, and strive to meet/ exceed the expectations of the professional peers.

Thank You.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Virtual Open University of Orissa

From November 24-26, 2007 I attended the 13th Annual Conference of the Indian Distance Education Association (IDEA) at Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India. The Directorate of Distance and Continuing Education (DDCE), Utkal University, Bhubanesar organized the conference. Bhubaneswar is a city of temples that houses numerous monuments of the era of King Ashoka. The Khandagiri and Udayagiri caves, Sun temple of Konark, Sri Jagannath temple of Puri, and Chilka Lake are also some of the important places adjoining the capital city of Orissa, which is also one of the modern planned cities of the Independent India. The conference timing was also during the Puri Beach Festival organized to promote tourism in the state. The weather was good, and the atmosphere right for academic deliberations (See Orissa tourism site for more info on tourist interest in Orissa).

The host, Utkal University, is one of the oldest universities in the country and first university of Orissa, was established in 1943. With a sprawling campus of more than 400 acres of land, and 28 postgraduate teaching departments, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), Bangalore accredited the University with B++ Grade in 2004. The University Evening College established in 1962 was converted into Directorate of Correspondence Courses in 1975, which in 1996 changed to DDCE. It offers a wide range of programmes at graduate and postgraduate levels in both liberal and professional areas.

Prof. V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai, Vice Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and Chiarman, Distance Educaiton Council (DEC) inaugurated the conference on 24th November 2007. Dr. R. Sreedhar, Director of the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA), New Delhi delivered the Prof. G. Ram Reddy Memorial Lecture. On the first day of the conference there was a session on “Open and Distance Learning in Orissa and Orissa State Open University”. Prof. Susmit Pani, Director, DDCE, Utkal University presented a theme paper and emphasized the need to have Open University in Orissa to promote ‘Open Education’. On the invitation of the organizers, I served as a discussant and panelist to comment and reflect on the thematic presentation. I would like to share my views here with a wider audience on the topic.

Prof. Pani deserves to be congratulated by all to have brought a much forgotten dimension in his theme paper -- the issue of open education in open universities. While there are large number of dropouts at the school level and +2 level, and in most degree colleges a large numbers of seats are vacant, there is still need for having Open University in Orissa. Prof. Pani also deliberated on the models that could be followed to start such an initiative, and gave the example of Karnataka State Open University, and Tamilnadu State Open University as examples. However, he probably favoured that the Orissa State Open University may be started by converting the existing DDCE into a full-fledged university and by merging the distance education activities of other universities in Orissa. Interestingly, except Utkal University, other DDCE do not have full-time staff.

The Orissa State Open University (OSOU), if at all comes up, would have the distinction of being the University with longest time in making! In fact, on the invitation of the Govt. of Orissa, A team led by Prof. Ram Takwale, the then Vice Chancellor of Orissa prepared the blueprint in 1997. It is now more than 10 years that the University is still being discussed! That blueprint may not work for Orissa now, but what is important is --providing better access to educational opportunities to the people of Orissa. The biggest problem in the state is high dropout rate in schools and colleges. The unsuccessful may be given a second chance through appropriate open educational opportunities. In fact, Open Universities, as the name suggest should have programmes that offer open learning opportunities. Interestingly, Open Universities in the country are closed with so many rigidities of the face-to-face teaching universities. Any new Open University in Orissa should have more of open learning opportunities – provide access to the disadvantaged, economically poor, marginalized groups, school dropouts; and also improve the quality of education through the rightful use of educational technologies. Therefore, in the new ever-changing societal environment, it is important to re-think Open University in Orissa. A conventional Open University may not be sustainable in the state without closing down other so-called distance education provisions. This is a difficult concept, as other universities may not like to forgo their revenue-generating unit. With Orissa being a leader in technology use (Country’s first Cable Internet was probably available in Bhubaneswar), is appropriate to advocate for an Open University that is virtual in nature and operates heavily on technology and through collaborations of existing institutions.

The Virtual Open University of Orissa (VOUO) would be successful, if it is more open and offer programmes across boundaries through e-learning mode. The University should be a facilitating agency to provide e-learning opportunities to the existing institutions, and collaborate with them to offer its programmes, besides planning for more open learning, vocational courses and programmes for the needy and poor. In order to develop a learning society, we need educational institutions that promote and foster open learning, and it is in this direction all concerned must think of Orissa Open University as a platform to provide open education. However, there is always the question of Govt. funding and whether the state Govt. can start another university with low funding. The VOUO may be started as a new Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, and being technology-driven many private agencies would be interested to join hands with the Govt. to start a new enterprise that can change the educational landscape of Orissa and may be the whole of the Nation. However, it is important that this should happen as fast as possible.

Postscript: While in Orissa, I had the opportunity to reflect on the distance education development in the province. The three old universities (Utkal, Berhampur, and Samblapur) and the two new universities (Fakir Mohan, and North Orissa) are having distance education units as Directorate of Distance and Continuing Education (DDCE). This gives some non-traditional opportunities to these universities to provide some interesting educational provisions that can’t be explained by conventional knowledge of distance education. The students of DDCE, Utkal University are mostly young and fresher. Number of seats is fixed, and they do not have study centres. They have outsourced some of the study material development to private publishers. On the other hand, DDCE, Sambalpur University has tied-up with a private agency to provide all its educational services and only acts a curriculum setting and certifying agency. The programmes on offer are called off-campus programmes and thus, classes are held in study centers regularly. The Fakir Mohan Univesity has acquired some of the materials of IGNOU to kick-start their programmes, but are also in the process of developing their own courses and programmes by involving subject matter experts and distance education specialists. They have been conducting workshops on distance education regularly, and are more serious about quality of educational materials.

These practices are quite different than what is considered to be a true distance education provider. The use of ‘continuing education’ in their nomenclature enables these institutions to offer ‘off-campus’, ‘evening’ face-to-face teaching and learning. The current text-book knowledge about distance education would reject all these as probably something other than distance education. However, these educational offerings are meant to increase access to education. Quality may be questioned, but who cares as long as Universities operate these under their legal framework, and as long as Distance Education Council certifies them. There are more inside stories that need critical examination in Orissa, whether it is outsourcing of textbooks from private publishers or making whole educational offering through a private partner. Intellectuals of the state need to think on the current practices, and take decisions that are in the best interest of the State, Nation, and the Learning Society.

The intention in this postscript is not to be judgmental, but to be reflective. Readers are welcome to share their views further to debate on the current developments in the state of distance education in Orissa.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Open, Distance and Online Learning Curriculum at Master’s Level

I am conducting an international Delphi study to outline a curriculum for a Master’s level program in “Open, Distance and Online Learning”. The idea to conduct such a study came from the fact that there are considerable variations in the programs offered by various universities around the world on distance education. The curriculum for IGNOU’s masters program on distance education is very different from UKOU, Deakin University and Athabasca University. If distance education is a discipline worthy of systematic study and research, the contents of such programs should be more or less similar with minor variations to accommodate contextual, and cultural requirements. This study is a three phase one, and at the end of the study it is expected to have a consensus list of content areas that could be developed in detail to include in a masters level program. In the phase one, I requested a large group (above 500 persons) of experts to list at lest 10 topics of their choice to be included in an international masters in Open, Distance and Online Learning. The results of phase one shall be subjected to a web-based survey. The list of topics generated (with multiple responses) is as follows:

  1. E-learning (13.84%): Includes virtual learning environments; learning management systems; learning objects; computer mediated communication; open educational resources; e-learning standards; online facilitation; online assessment; designing online learning; online communities; computer supported collaborative learning; online tutoring; web-authoring; web accessibility; digital divide; web 2.0, mobile learning, etc.
  2. Material Development and Production (I3.29%): Including writing aims and objectives; preparing activities; converting materials to online; editing; printing.
  3. Instructional Design (10.1%): Includes theories of learning; pedagogy vs. andragogy; self-directed learning, autonomous learning; learning styles; models of instructional design.
  4. Learner Support (9.67%): Includes understanding distance learners; academic advising; retention; mentoring; building relationships; types of learner support.
  5. Foundations of Distance Education (9.2%): Includes theories of distance education; philosophical, psychological and sociological foundations; history, growth and developments; distance education and national developments; distance education in the developing world, models of distance education; globalization and distance education; distance education for special needs.
  6. Educational Communication Technologies (7.69%): Includes technology integration; synchronous and asynchronous technologies; emerging technologies; satellite communication; Interactive technologies; radio, TV.
  7. Research Methodology (7.47%): Includes research in distance education, research as reflective practice.
  8. Management of Distance Education (6.81%): Including change management; policy development, leadership, marketing; resource sharing; project management.
  9. Assessment of Learner Performance (5.93%): Including feedback to learners.
  10. Quality Assurance and Program Evaluation (4.83%): Includes quality standards; benchmarks, performance indicators; national and international scenarios; quality assurance agencies; tools of quality assurance; evaluation of programs.
  11. Curriculum Design and Development (4.39%): Including course design.
  12. Staff Training and Development (2.85%): Including competencies of distance educators, online teachers; supporting tutors; training techniques and approaches.
  13. Cost and Economics of Distance and Online Learning (2.63%): Including budgeting, economies of scale.
  14. Educational Multimedia (2.19%): Includes audio, video preparation; interactive multimedia development.
  15. Project Work (2.4%): A research report/ dissertation on a topic/ problem.
  16. Copyright and ethical issues (1.97%): Includes copyright laws; digital rights management; ethics in distance education; open source and open content issues.
  17. Case Studies (1.53%): Includes application of distance education in various levels such as Open schooling; open basic education; technical and vocational education training; tertiary education, non-formal education, corporate education.

In the web-based survey, it is now being requested to all the agreed respondents to validate the topics by scoring on a three-point scale (1= It is not necessary to be included in a curriculum of an International Masters level program in Distance Education; 2= It is useful, but not necessary that this topic be included; 3= It is essential to include this topic in the curriculum). Results of Round 2 will follow after the survey.

Click Here to take survey of Phase 2

Sunday, September 30, 2007

IMPACT Framework for Media and Technology Choice

Choice of media and technology for distance education delivery has always been a matter of great interest and concern for policy-makers and scholars of distance education. This is so from two angle: one that is purely from the viewpoint of learning effectiveness through specific media use, and the other from the pragmatic viewpoint to manage learning environments. Though there are enough studies showing on "no significant difference", this is also a debatable issue on account of the methods utilized and the data on which the conclusions are based. Some recent works in this field also demonstrate that there exists some "significant difference" in learning from different technologies and media. In distance education, "use of technical media" is a basic component of the whole delivery system. Because of this, often decision-makers jump on to use technology without thinking of the contexts of the use of technology. In such a situation, technology use policies are ad hoc, and any generic policy without taking into the context only adds to poor implementation and high level of dissatisfaction and criticisms. We can see many examples of it in India.

For sometime now, the Bates's criteria for decision-making on use of media and technology have been in use in many institutions. The A(ccess), C(ost), T(eaching function), I(nteractivity), O(rganizational issues), N(ovelty), S(peed) framework (called as ACTIONS) is highly useful. I propose a similar media and technology choice framework (called IMPACT) for insitutions to take course-wise/ programme-wise decision on deployment of technology.

Interaction: Does the technology/medium provide interactions of different kinds (asynchrnonous/synchronous; learner-learner/learner-content/learner-teacher, etc)?

Motivation: How does the technology/medium motivate the users (students, teachers, administrators)?

Pedagogy: How does the technology/medium amenable to different pedagogical designs (case study, collaboration, learning by doing, self study and discovery learning, etc.)?

Access: Is the technology/medium accessible to the target group of learners?

Cost: How cost-effective is the technology/medium? Is it affordable to the learners?

Training: How much training does the technology/medium require for the students and teachers to use it effectively? How steep is the 'learning curve'?

The IMPACT model analysis will help us to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a technology/medium, based on which we can take appropriate decisions. In each of the category of the IMPACT, we can add additional questions to make it more robust. This model is just an idea and definitely needs research to prove its utility.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Commensalism in Open and Distance Education

The Open and Distance Education (ODE) system in India and elsewhere works as a system supported by the existing educational infrastructure of the country. The cost-effectiveness of the system is due to less investment by the ODE institutions in infrastructure development and dependency on the conventional educational institutions for organizing support services. From my experience, I tried to analyze the current practices in collaboration with various types of institutions by the National Open University in India.

The Study Centres of IGNOU, by and large, are in the conventional face-to-face institutions that provide a few rooms within their premises to run IGNOU activities. The head of the institution is provided with some remuneration, and all the staff members of the Study Centre are normally drawn from the host institutions, and are provided remuneration for the part-time services rendered. Besides, there are Programme Study Centres, where specific services are offered to IGNOU students and the host institutions are reimbursed on per student basis. The faculty strength of the University is less in comparison to the number of centres and the student strengths. The courses are developed with the support of University and College teachers in other institutions. Mostly, these teachers are experts in their specific areas and are considered national resource. In percentage terms a significant proportion of the learning materials are written by outside experts. They are also compensated for their efforts. The academic tutoring activities are taken place at the study centres, where approved academic counsellors provide subject-specific guidance and assess student assignments. The tutors are also drawn from the conventional system and are part-time staff. They are also separately compensated for the counselling and assessment of the student assignments.

As a student of Biology in my college days, I recall the relationships between living organisms and try to apply the same to the institutions that are live according to social systems theory. There are three types of relationships in the living organisms: Symbiotic, Parasitic, Commensalism.

A symbiotic relationship is one where both the organisms of different species mutually benefit from the relationship.

A relationship in commensalism category is one where two organisms remain together but only one benefits and the other is neither harmed nor helped.

A parasitic relationship is one where two unrelated organisms co-exist together, one benefits from the relationship, while the other is harmed.

What is the type of relationship in the inter-institutional relationship between IGNOU and the other institutions?

If we look at the study centres of IGNOU, what benefits the host organization receives from IGNOU? Virtually nothing. IGNOU is benefited tremendously through the support of its part-time staff. There is no mutual benefit, but there is also no harm to any party. Thus, we can categorise it as a case of commensalism. If we look at the process of course development at IGNOU, it is a mixed relationship ranging from symbiotic to parasitic. The course writers are paid for their efforts and they also get credits. The University gets the course developed at less time and cost involving only a few course coordinators. To this extent it is symbiotic. However, if we look into the amount of dependency on the conventional face-to-face system for course writing work, it is clear that the relationship is parasitic. The compensation given to the course writers are not adequate and timely. The University gets the bigger share, and sometimes runs a course/programme without having sufficient expertise. The University is at loss for not being able to develop its own expertise, and remain dependent on outside expert for a long time, making itself a parasite on the other system. One may argue that there is no loss/harm to the conventional system, and therefore there is no parasitic relationship.
In order to make a collaborative system work better and effectively, it is necessary that the inter-institutional relationship is symbiotic. Both the institutions should benefit from the relationship. If that does not happen, the system is only used to gain individual benefits. So far, we work on a system that behaves in a pattern of Commensalism.

Other Resources on Collboration:
Institutional Collaboration in Distance Education Development and Delivery
Collaboration in Distance Education

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Staff Training and Development in Open and Distance Education

I have written a small handbook on "Staff Training and Development in Open and Distance Education", which is available at IGNOU website:

There are PDF links to various sections and the full handbook that you can download and use.

This handbook has been designed as a guide to personnel involved in Design, Development and Delivery (3Ds) of training programmes in distance teaching institutions. Using the numerous cases and examples in this handbook, readers should be able to organize effective training programmes at their own institution and for other institutions. At the very least, working through the various sections of this handbook will probably sensitize readers and prepare them to think positively about staff training and development in Open and Distance Education (ODE).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ten Mistakes Programme Coordinators Do in Distance Education

Distance education uses various models of course and programme design, development and delivery. It is also believed to have the ‘economies of scale’, because not many full-time teaching staffs are involved. Thus, distance education faculty members coordinate large number of courses and programmes. Sometimes, they are also expected to coordinate programmes where they do not have subject expertise! Such a thing can only happen in Distance Education.

The role of the internal faculty and instructional designers in distance education is very critical, as majority of the course writers are drawn from the conventional system with no or little training in preparing self-learning materials। Thus, the Programme Coordinator and/or the Instructional Designer have to do many tasks that could be really avoided, if taken care at the right time. From experience, the following ten mistakes of Programme Coordinators are listed below:

  1. Plan for large number of courses and programmes without considering individual workload.
  2. Request experts to write lessons for distance learners without specifying the “learning outcomes”.
  3. Request experts to write lessons for distance learners without specifying the “target group” and their profile.
  4. Request experts to write lessons for distance learners without specifying the “course objectives”.
  5. Request experts to write lessons for distance learners without specifying the “workload” in credit hour terms.
  6. Request experts to write lessons for distance learners without specifying the “instructional strategies” including learner support, assessment, etc.
  7. Work under pressure to finalize courses and programmes compromising quality.
  8. Plan and coordinate courses and programmes without having domain expertise and thereby depend on others.
  9. Serve as a “Post Office” without applying his/her own knowledge and experience.
  10. Follow an unquestioning non-reflective approach to teaching through distance learning.

If you do any of the above mistakes, the result is very clear. Your courses and programme quality as well as your reputation as a professional suffer to a great extent. Your course writers would not write lessons as expected by you, you will write and re-write the materials again, you will have to give undue credit to others who have not contributed satisfactorily, you will feel burnt out, and your student would not get materials as promised. At the end of it, your course will be ready, but without much help to the learners. But there is one satisfaction; you may be promoted to the next grade!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Social Bookmarking

If you do a lot of search on the Internet, you know the problem of keeping track of what you visited last. Finding information on the net and saving the sites for future use is very important to save time and efforts. We use the web browser’s favourite function to save such sites that we intend to visit later. But, when we use another computer we do not get access to the favourite sites listed by us, and again we have to do the search.

Now, web applications like ‘social bookmarking’ allow us to have our lists created on the web and share it with others. There are many social bookmarking options. One with a simple interface is Register for free and see the advantages for yourself. Those of you who are interested more on the topic may like to see the MasterNewMedia page on “Social Bookmarking Services And Tools: The Wisdom Of Crowds That Organizes The Web”.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Have you ever faced the problem of long web page address that breaks in your emails? I know this is a common problem for many of us. In my blog post of 26th May 2007, I used the service of to shorten the link of a page there in. Well, this is an excellent free service and I recommend you to use it. Here is the link for you to try:

Enter a long URL to make tiny:

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Odiogo for Bloggers

Recently I came accross the website that helps Bloggers to create podcast of their RSS Feed, and help increase accessibility of their sites, and content. I tried the service, which is free, and here follows the link to my blog contents in audio (mp3) format.

As an explorer, I am trying new technologies... and bring to you results...

Subscribe to the Odiogo podcast.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Interview with Dr. Pankaj Khare

The Indira Gandhi National Open University is offering its programmes outside India through its International Division. I came across the YouTube and TeacherTube recently, and thought to use it in my blog. I requested Dr. Pankaj Khare, Director of IGNOU’s International Division to give me an Interview for my Blog. He very kindly agreed to my request, and I even used his digital camera to record the video in his office after the office hour. We switched off the Aircon, and also put the fans to low speed to reduce noise. Here goes the question in text, and the responses in video…

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-1
Q.1 Introduce yourself, and tell us about your work.

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-2
Q.2 What’s the international reach of IGNOU in terms of student enrollment and number of countries covered?

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-3
Q.3 What is the objective of IGNOU going international?

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-4
Q.4 What are the most popular programmes and from where you get the most number of students?

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-5
Q.5 How does the International Division operates?

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-6
Q.6 How one can start an IGNOU centre outside India?

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-7
Q.7 What are the achievements of International Division?

Interview with Pankaj Khare Part-8
Q.8 What is your vision for the International Division?

Thanks Dr. Khare for sharing your views with readers of TeachKnowLogist. I hope readers will like this. More interviews in future to come...Bye...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Quality Assurance in Distance Education

I participated in a 2-day National Workshop-cum-Roundtable on Quality Assurance in Distance Education on 16-17 April 2007 organised by my institute. I served as a discussant in a session entitled "Towards Qulaity Assurance Mechanism", and presented my views in a short presentation entitled "TOWARDS A QUALITY ASSURANCE MECHANISM FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION: NEED FOR CLARITY AND CONSENSUS". Here follows the text:

Quality in open and distance learning has been a matter of concern from the beginning. This is particularly so, because of the need to have parity of the graduates of the two systems. Moreover, it emanates from the assumption that the face-to-face method of teaching-learning practiced in most of the institutions is of high quality, and this is the only way to provide quality education. There is also no definite clarity on the meaning and definition of quality, and its assurance. Quality in open and distance learning in India is a matter of IGNOU Act, and thus, within this framework, the Distance Education Council (DEC) was established in 1991. Ironically, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), which is the agency to assure quality in Higher Education in India was established in 1994. The NAAC now has a clear set of guidelines on method and criteria of assessment for the higher education system in India. The mechanism for the open and distance learning is still developing. This is probably due to two reasons: lack of Clarity and Consensus; and therefore the sub-title of my presentation. I would like to argue for having these two essential elements within any mechanism for the open and distance learning system. I propose some areas of concern that need clarity and consensus for deliberations in this Workshop-cum-Roundtable.

There seems to be confusion over the use of these two terms in practice. However, both have different meaning and connotation (see ):

Recognition: the explicit and formal acknowledgement of a government as stamp of approval
Accreditation: to certify (a school, college, or the like) as meeting all formal official requirements of academic excellence, curriculum, facilities, etc.

As for the academic process, recognition is given to an institution by virtue of the ‘legal process’ applicable in a country. According to the UGC Act, 1956 “22 (1) The right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act or an institution deemed to be a University under section 3 or an institution specially empowered by an Act of Parliament to confer or grant degrees”. Thus all universities are recognized entity to award degrees. They need not seek recognition from another agency, unless otherwise, there is provision to the effect that education and training in specialized subject areas and/or methods be recognized by special agencies. For the open and distance learning, we are concerned with the mode of teaching, and thus, the IGNOU Act says “it shall be the duty of the University to take all such steps as it may deem fit for the promotion of the open university and distance education systems and for the determination of standards of teaching, evaluation and research in such systems, and for the purpose of performing this function, the University shall have such powers, including the power to allocate and disburse grants to Colleges, whether admitted to its privileges or not, or to any other university or institution of higher learning, as may be specified by the Statues”. This does not give any power to recognize or not any already recognized institution. However, the scope of the IGNOU Act for promotion and maintenance of standards of distance education system, cover any institution beyond recognized universities. Therefore, the mechanisms of accreditation should follow both ‘recognition’ and ‘accreditation’ approach – ‘accreditation’ for already recognized institutions of higher learning and ‘recognition’ and ‘accreditation’ for other institutions.

What should be the unit of assessment? The NAAC follows the institutional assessment practice, and also has provision for specific programme assessment. Other national agencies responsible for quality in various areas/ subject disciplines primarily focus on programme as the unit of assessment. However, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) follows both institutional recognition and programme accreditation. In open and distance learning, this is a critical issue as in one institution, there may be different programmes of varying quality particularly because of the fact that distance learning is a method and technology dominated system. Ideally, the practice should be programme assessment in open and distance learning. However, institutional assessment can also be used particularly for institutions that are not within the UGC parameter.

What should be assessed? This is a bigger debate. What is a product in higher education is not clear. To many of us this approach itself is not acceptable as the term connotes the market driven approach to teaching and learning. Nevertheless, in open and distance learning, there are various products in the form of teaching-learning material in print, audio, video, multimedia, webpage, etc. These can be assessed for quality. However, the claimants of the process assessment emphasize that without a good process, we can’t have a good product. If we want a good product, then we should have good process in place. Thus, the process of quality assurance in practice in an institution should be subjected to assessment as in the case of the Australian Universities (see AUQA). The ISO 9000:2000 also is a model of quality assessment that ensures an ISO certified institution is able to meet the needs and demands of its customers in a planned and controlled manner. So, we can consider process quality as a means of assuring quality.

What should be the nature of quality assurance mechanism? Should it be voluntary or mandatory? The NAAC model is so far a voluntary approach. However, Govt. also wants it to be made mandatory. Ideally, the practice of quality assessment should be left to the consumers to decide, and therefore, a voluntary approach would lead to efforts towards quality improvement by open and distance learning institutions. Quality can’t be ensured by forcing institutions or programmes to be subjected to assessment. Quality is something that come from the within.

What should be the way to describe quality? There are various practices in India. Some follow a grading pattern, and others either accredited or not accredited type of categorization. A yes/no pattern is rigid in its depiction, and therefore, we may use a grading pattern. However, the grades should also have explicit descriptors to convey qualitative meaning.

It is important that we get into consensus in all these issues, and devise a systematic mechanism that can provide us a set of guidelines to undertake external monitoring of open and distance learning institutions in India. However, that does not preclude self study and continuous improvement model for quality assurance. I would like to emphasize at the end that educational institutions (including the national Open University) should be ethically and legally stopped from running courses and programmes in which they do not have core faculty. The use of teachers as ‘academic managers’ and hiring of part time consultants has been helping many to generate resources, but quality is definitely being compromised. There should be some minimum deterrence in this respect to ensure quality. Running a programme without core faculty in that domain knowledge is like ‘quack’ treating patients.

What I have presented above as ‘Versus’ actually demands that these be treated as ‘And’. In open and distance learning system, the mechanism of quality assurance in India should include recognition and accreditation, institutional and programme assessment, process as well as product assessment, voluntary and mandatory approach; and yes/no type accreditation followed by qualitative grading (if yes). The mechanism should be developed through a consensus approach after due deliberations at the national level.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The E-Learning Bandwagon: Politics, Policies and Pedagogy

I presented a paper entitled “The E-Learning Bandwagon: Politics, Policies and Pedagogy” (download pdf or ppt) in the National Conference on “Choice and Use of ICTs in ODL: Impacts, Strategies and Future Prospects”, 29-30 March, 2007 organised by the Prof. Ram Reddy Research Academy of Distance Education (GRADE) of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University, Hyderabad (the first Open University in India established in 1982) on invitation. As usual in many conferences, because of paucity of time, I was asked to present my paper in just 5 minutes. Obviously, I was not very happy because of time spent on the paper preparation, travel, two days spent at Hyderabad and above all the cost incurred to the institution is much more than the 5 minutes presentation. But, this gave me the idea of putting the paper to my website and link it in my blog for wider circulation.

The paper is focusing on the Indian context, and is based on my personal experiences and critical reflection. From the present scenario of e-learning, I present three proposition for discussion and debate:

  1. There are politics behind promotion of e-learning (I do not see politics as bad; but provide caution to take considered step towards e-learning);
  2. There are no policies to support e-learning (I urge the policy makers to put appropriate policies); and
  3. The pedagogies of e-learning are yet to unfold clearly (I emphasize on having appropriate pedagogical designs, though we are all in the process of learning and there is no definitive theory)

I also discuss some of the myths and lesson learned from global e-learning practices. At the end, I have suggested that in order to support e-learning in India, the following steps may be taken:

  1. Establishment of “Indian Council of Online Learning”;
  2. Online training of teachers on online technology through;
  3. Creation of “e-learning consortium” through participation of Open Universities; and
  4. A portal for teacher development of “Re-usable Learning Objects” as open content material made available to all.

powered by ODEO

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Colour in Distance Learning Materials

Colour is one of the things that human beings recognize in their very early stage of life. We find colour everywhere around us. Our capacity to identify colour makes us capable of interpreting the quality of the object we perceive. In fact, colour defines the character and shape of objects in everyday life. It is a well established fact that people prefer information presented in colour. Younger children particularly like coloured texts with pictures. There are a number of research studies that show the effectiveness of colour illustrations and visual displays in instructional materials. Colour also helps in drawing the attention of the learners to a particular section or part of a graphics in the learning material. In visual display containing figures of one colour, a figure of different colour attracts our attention. Also coloured pictures nearly represent reality than Black & White pictures. Colour helps us to recognize objects and relate them to some concepts, ideas, and other objects in the world. Research studies also indicate that the use of colour in graphics/ pictures facilitate learning if it is directly related to the instructional objectives. Thus, colour is used in distance learning materials for two purposes – to aid in the instruction and for aesthetic and motivational reasons (attention seeking).

Printing of any colour should have good contrast to have legibility. Black ink in white paper gives excellent contrast and legibility. Therefore, textbooks and self-learning materials are normally printed in black ink. Wherever pedagogically required, graphics/ pictures are printed in colour to facilitate learning. Sometimes a second colour is also used in the learning material, as it is useful to draw the attention of the learners to a specific part of the material that has pedagogic utility. Most of the time at IGNOU, the Self Assessment Questions (SAQs) are printed in a separate colour or a colour screen tint. Interestingly, research shows that highlighted colour has been found to be more effective in terms of recall and learning. Thus a second colour or its screen tint should be used in self learning materials to highlight the section of SAQs and important keywords in the text. It is also advised that colour should be used consistently to help the learner to recognize the importance of a particular section. However, recently the use of a second colour in the self-learning materials (except for graphics and pictures) has been discontinued at IGNOU.

In order to make a case for the use of a second colour in the self-learning materials, a quick action research has been done to calculate its cost to support decision making. Four different hypothetical cases were done for 1000 and 5000 print runs. The calculations are made for a block of 80 pages, and in all cases the paper cost and the cover printing cost remains constant. In the 80 pages of manuscript, it is assumed that there will be 4/5 units that may have about 25 SAQs spread evenly in the material. Thus out of the 80 pages 25 pages may have second colour.

For the 1000 print run the difference between lowest and highest is less than four rupees per copy; while the difference is only Rs. 1.19 for a 5000 print run. This indicates the savings of the University will further decrease in courses that have more than 5000 print runs.

The cost calculations and the instructional value of a second colour definitely call for a rethink on the present policy. However, I shall be quick to add that use of colour should be done carefully as about 3.7 % of Indians have colour vision deficiency.. It is estimated that one in 12 men and one in 200 women have some form of colour vision deficiency (
RCI). The most common colour vision deficiency is the failure to distinguish between red and green (see wikipedia). Therefore, in self learning materials, the use of red and green in cover and inside text should be avoided.

Lastly, I would like to emphasize that colour give a presentable look to the study materials making the efforts of instructional designers and course writers look aesthetically appealing.

Waller, R., Lefrere, P., & Macdonald-Ross, M. (1982). Do you need that second color? IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, PC-25 (2), 80-85.

Friday, February 16, 2007

EDUSAT: A Satellite Dedicated to Education in India

A satellite completely dedicated to education was launched on September 20, 2004 by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has been identified as the nodal institution. The satellite has already completed two years in the space orbiting in its geo-synchronous path. It is now time for the nation to know what is happening to this educational adventure by the Government of India. The satellite is capable of providing high bandwidth two-way interaction by creating a private network of Satellite Interactive Terminals (SITs) and Receive Only Terminals (ROTs) installed all over the country. The interaction mode is based on the popular Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) used in the Internet and web applications. Thus, the satellite enables us to create a network through which we can share existing resources (often called as digital repositories), in text, graphics, audio, and video formats; and also can create real-time interactive virtual classrooms (often called synchronous e-learning) across the country. With both these possibilities, the potential is enormous for the educational development of this country. The satellite has six Ku-band and six extended C-band transponders, and the satellite covers the entire country through national and regional beams. But, one may like to argue that why is it that Indian planners and decision-makers thought of launching a satellite for sharing educational resources and providing interactive learning opportunities, when these tasks can be done through the existing Internet technology. The cost of using existing Internet technology would have been significantly less than the cost of launching a satellite, which has a life span of 5-7 years (or say 10-12 years); and thus the resources could have been utilized elsewhere. However, the Internet penetration in the country is limited at present; and thus developing a system similar to what is being offered by EduSat through the existing Internet infrastructure, would have created a digital divide. So, people in rural, hilly and remote areas of the country where Internet has not reached could not have access to the system. With EduSat, this barrier has been broken, albeit at a very high cost.

It has been highlighted that the “
EDUSAT is primarily meant to provide connectivity to school, college, and higher level of education”. At the end of 2006, about 443 SITs and TORs have been installed all over the country with the cooperation of various agencies like the AICTE, NCERT, UGC and IGNOU. Ideally the setting up of these terminals should have been predominantly in the rural, hilly and remote areas of the country. If we consider the issues related to pedagogy (teaching and learning) using the EduSat, it is more critical and complex. There has been little so far done in this respect. This is evident from the fact that till date no Learning Management System (LMS) has been decided to manage the synchronous sessions. Similarly, the online repository is also in the rudimentary stage.

At the ground level, at IGNOU, video lessons are being recorded by teachers in the name of EduSat religiously without questioning its value and purpose. These lessons are supposed to be 2-way interactive sessions. In reality, there is hardly any interaction as the systems are either not functional or not in place. Thus, the recordings being done are only ‘talking heads’, which educational technologists and media educators sincerely avoided all these years. There is also another serious pedagogic issue. This is related to distance education, which is essentially asynchronous learning, where teaching and learning takes place at different time. Of course, there is also scope for occasional face-to-face interaction (synchounous). But, with the EduSat, are we unconsciously moving towards making distance education synchronous? Are we predominantly thinking that distance education should have synchronous interaction? If so, how is it planned for in the educational design? How are we planning for the students to use the system? How to bring them to these so called interactive EduSat sessions – that can only be accessed at a place having SIT or TOR. Not being workplace-based or home-based is a serious impediment of the present system of planning, thinking and technology.

At the current pace of developments, we may not be able to see the real fruit of educational development in terms of increasing access with quality. We may spend huge amount of money in purchasing of hardware and technology, but without any pedagogic thought and planning, all these investments is a waste. Is it possible for us to integrate EduSat into our existing educational infrastructure? The current development is like part of the distance education scenario of the country; whereas, the satellite can effectively cater to all the sectors of education. Also, conventional school, college and university can use the EduSat to deliver online education as a support to their classroom teaching. The system allows us to think beyond audio and video, and we should develop learning resources in multimedia, animation and simulation formats.

The technology also needs improvement to allow access from anywhere (not necessarily thorough SIT or ROT), especially as the technology is based on HTTP. If this can be done, the Govt. of India can focus on setting up ROTs only in the rural, hilly and remote areas not having access to the Internet (Of course, we have to think of electric power supply, and for that matter solar energy could be tapped). This will also bridge the digital divide and improve the Internet penetration in the country. The next important issue is developing digital content as national resource for all levels of education. As we all realize that interaction is important for learning, EduSat can be used for supporting this interaction on the basis of the need of the learner or the need of the subject/discipline. Teachers need to be trained on the new technology, especially how best they can make use of the EduSat for helping the students to learn better. There is a long way to go beyond lecturing to the television camera. If we continue doing this, there is every danger of again going back to the face-to-face teaching implemented through distance education technology. We need to remember that distance education follows the rigor of developing learning materials (in print, audio, video, and now multimedia) in a team mode taking help of best experts in content, media and learning design.

There are always more questions than possible answers. It is definitely time to start thinking about the effective use of EduSat, before many new developments such as SAKSHAT or One-Stop Educational Portal and e-content development take over and we forget about the potentialities of EduSat.
(Note: Views expressed here are personal, and not intended to blame, defame or hurt anyone. Readers are humbly requested to post their views to further educate me on the topic.)