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).