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.

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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.