Wednesday, December 24, 2008

E-Learn 2008: A Brief Report

I am pleased to post here a breif report of my participation in the E-Learn 2008 held at Las Vegas, USA from 17-21 November 2008.

Pre-Conference Symposium on “E-Learning in Asia”
Date: 2008/11/17
This pre-conference was the highlight of the conference, as it could enable a group of people in Asia who are engaged in the cutting-edge of applications of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and e-Learning to be at one place. There were 12 presentations from Korea, Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Singapore, Philippines, Taiwan, including two research presentations from USA and Australia covering Asian e-learning. I presented the Indian scenario with a focus on IGNOU’s online learning activity. The presentation is available at my Slideshare site.

The overall scenario of Asian e-learning shows rapid growth in infrastructure including broadband, more use of blended learning, use of web 2.0 technologies with an overall interest to reach the unreached. Countries like Japan, Singapore and Taiwan have done tremendous development with the use of e-technologies for teaching and learning, and there are lessons to be learnt for all of us. While technology is available, there is also a need to train all the stakeholders both on technology and learning related issues.

Date: 2008/11/18
The conference started with a brief introduction by the organizers without much fun fare. Richard Beraniuk of the Rice University presented the first Keynote on “Open access education: Building communities and sharing knowledge”. He presented the case of Connextions as a platform for open education resources. In his presentation he emphasized liberation of text pages from books to page, shelf to global interconnected repository, closed to open source, costly to free, and slow production to fast production and revision. He emphasized the quality issues in Open Educational Resources (OER) and the use of “Lenses” to determine context specific quality.

On this day, I attended other parallel sessions related to Wikibook development experiences, use of e-learning for transformative learning and activities of the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications at University of Illinois (this is the place where Mosaic, the first web browser was developed).

Date: 2008/11/19
The Keynote presentation was by Mark David Milliron, CEO of Catalyze Learning International, who talked about new generation of learning, emphasizing the use of game-based learning, social networking, mobile phones, high impact videos, etc. According to him, we all working in the field of technology in education should stop talking about “Technology will improve learning”. Rather, we should tell technology can improve learning, if designed and applied well, he added.
On this day, I attended other parallel sessions including an award winning presentation from another Indian participant (Mr. Popat Tambade), and other invited lectures. Associate Professor David Wiley presented his thoughts on “Openness and the disaggregated future of education”. He emphasized that the world is changing from analog to digital, tethered to mobile, isolated to connected, generic to personal, consuming to creating and closed to open. In such a situation how higher education can remain unchanged, he asked. Today, if you look at the internet traffic the top 50 sites are where people can share, he added. In view of all these he called for policy reforms in higher education to address the emerging needs of the society and the learners in an open society. He gave the example of Open High School of Utah, as a change model based on use of Open Content. In the process he emphasized that “in order to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.

In the evening, there was another presentation by Lucifer Chu of Taiwan on OOPS project in which he is engaged in localizing the MIT Opencourseware materials into Chinese.
I chaired a session covering here presentations on bookmarking/tagging, good practices in e-learning and maintaining excelling in teaching online.

Date: 2008/11/20
Prof. Roy Pea of Stanford University presented the Keynote on “Fostering Learning in a Networked World” based on the report of the Taskforce on Cyber Learning of the National Science Foundation. The main point of his presentation was that the 21st century learning has to be mediation-based situated in a learning ecology framework. In the process he said that we must remember the change surrounding us, particularly the “always on” mobile, location content GPS services, open platforms, could computing, immersive technologies, open educational resources, and participatory media culture. He emphasized that the participatory nature of media brings in new complexity in the teaching learning process.

Margaret Driscoll, of IBM in an invited lecture on “Recent trends in Content development” identified three different types of instructional design approaches: course-centric, knowledge centric and Do-It-Yourself mode, and analysed these from the point of role of learners, organization and cost/funding. She said the trend is towards the use of instructional design by assignment, meaning that ID specialists are more and more looked upon as support agent to subject specialist who does the instructional design by themselves as assignments. She also said rapid e-learning or rapid ID is the order of the day, and no organisation is ready for undertaking a more rigorous process of design.

I attended the panel of the newly released handbook on e-Learning, and received the book award for the best question asked in the session.

George Siemens from the University of Manitoba presented an invited lecture on participatory trends in media and education, based on his developing theory of “Connectivism”. Within this, he also talked of the tensions in education: formal/informal, epistemology/ontology, structure/exploratory, open/closed, pace/depth, reputation/accreditation. He presented the lecture using a new technology called “PersonalBrain”, and also talked of technologies such as Digg, eHarmony, Diigo, LiveMesh, Twitter, etc.

Date: 2008/11/21
The Keynote on the last day was presented by Dr. Ellen Wagner, Founder of Sonoma Partners, who talked about the gaps in sustaining e-learning innovations. She said the gaps are between innovations and implementations, between research and practice, between academic institutions and corporations, between product and solutions, and between traditional e-learning and emerging e-learning.

On this day I attended other parallel sessions and presented my paper on “Using Asynchronous Conferences to Support Wiki Skills Training and Development of Distance Learning Lessons”. The presentation was well received with interest on the support and the framework developed for analyzing support.

Lessons and Reflections:
The conference was attended by over 1100 delegated from over 65 countries. However, there were only 2 Indian delegates. It was reported that the conference attracted over 987 proposals and only 391 were accepted. Of these there were about 20% dropouts as seen from cancelled presentations. It is interesting to note that such absentees are noted by the organizers systematically to discourage such paper presenters. The whole even organization was maintained using technology and thus, there were very few hands engaged as volunteers. There were no lunches served making the conference a tidy one engaging only in academic work.
Academically, the keynote and invited presentations were the highlight of this conference, and the opportunity to discuss issues of common concerns in such a gathering is highly contagious for creative works. Personally, the conference was a satisfying event for me in my career goals, as I could share my ideas to peers who are working in similar areas. As my presentation was on Wiki related topic, it was highly satisfying to see so many presentations on wikis and the emphasis by invited speakers on open education, open educational resources, etc. establishing that my current research interest is in line with the latest and emerging area.

My sincere thanks to Prof. V.N. R. Pillai, Vice Chancellor, IGNOU and Chairperson and members of the Travel Grants Committee and other officials and staff for making it possible for me to attend the conference.

I am also thankful to the Association for the Advancement of Computers in Education (AACE) for inviting me to talk about “E-Learning in India” and for waiver of registration fees for the conference.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Online Training on Wiki Skills and SLM Development

I served as the facilitator for an eight weeks online training on development of self-learning materials from 4th August to 26th September 2008. On completion of the training, I am a relaxed person. It used to be almost 6 hours work every day for the training at different time of the day -- even at mid night to support trainees. I enjoyed the online training, learned a lot as a facilitator, and I am happy that 20 out of the 35 registered participants completed the training successfully. See my reflective report on the training, and browse the workshop site to see evaluation report, workshop strategies, the interactions in the Google Group and the actual development of self-learning materials. This was probably the first ever online training in any Indian University. I intend to do more of this type of training and also take up other areas in future. I almost stopped blogging in the last 2-3 months due to my continuous involvement in this training... and now hope to continue blogging regularly...


Friday, July 4, 2008

Connected Academic

I took the Connected Academic Quiz at GoToQuiz and my score is as follows:

The connected academic
Your Result: Connected academic

You are the future! You've taken openness, connectedness and 2.0ness to heart. You are an asset to your organisation. I would be happy to be your Facebook friend.

Mildly connected academic
Unconnected academic
The connected academic
Create MySpace Quizzes


Friday, June 20, 2008

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge

There is an online course coming up on "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" to be facilitated by two of the best brains on online learning--George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Already 650 individuals have joined this course, that is going to start in September. The course related information are avialable at the following:

  1. Connectivism Wiki
  2. Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Blog
  3. Connectivism Google Group
I have joined this new learning opportunity, and look forward to this new world of connective knowledge and network-based learning technology applications. Though, I have been using a lot of Web 2.0 applications, I look forward to this online course to learn and share my own experiences. I am also facilitating a WikiEducator and GoogleGroup based online course on Self-Learning Material Development to start from 4th August, which will run for 8 weeks.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chaos in Open Learning

The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) was established in 1985 by an Act of Parliament with dual mandate to maintain standard of distance education in the country and also offer courses and programme at various levels. Today, the distance education scenario of the country covers one national open university, 14 state open universities and more than 150 distance education institutes in other universities. Establishment of a private open university is also in the process by the Symbiosis group. There is also a distance education bill awaiting approval of the Parliament to separate the Distance Education Council (DEC) from IGNOU.

The 10th Plan of the Govt. of India envisaged 40% of enrollment in the distance open system, but grossly failed to achieve it. Again the target has been kept at the same level in the 11th Plan period, and the IGNOU has started some concrete steps to achieve the targets. Once such step is the Convergence Scheme that intends to tap existing colleges and universities to join the distance education bandwagon through various schemes. Notwithstanding the popularity of distance education in India, the growth is chaotic without any direction, as the intention of starting distance education programmes and courses has changed from providing access and democratization of higher education to generating more resources. Thus, the issue of quality and accreditation still fall short of national expectations.

Though the DEC of IGNOU was established much before the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), it has yet to develop a credible process of quality assurance in distance education. Course and programmes are being offered by various institutions without having core faculty. Any one can develop any course/programme in any discipline and offer it to generate additional resources in the guise of increasing access and innovation. Feasibility and sustainability of programmes are rarely looked into, and thereby compromising the quality of services provided to the student community. Since the learners are dispersed, they can not form groups or associations to fight for their problems.

Distance education is also being used to provide a back door route to institutions that can't offer “degrees”. So, face-to-face education is being certified as distance education through “collaborative models”. Without considering the mandate of democratizing education, small pockets of elitist education centres are being promoted that generate more resources in monetary terms. Interestingly, as per the UGC Act, sub-section 3 of Section 22, nomenclature of the programmes offered should be as per the approved specifications notified in the Gazette of India. A quick comparison of the list of programmes offered through distance education and the UGC list would reveal many anomalies.

Distance education is primarily a technology-mediated system of teaching and learning, and IGNOU is a World leader in this field to use TV, Radio and Satellite in delivery of instructions. The EduSat was launched in September 2004 to provide interactive education. But, even after completing the half life of its operation, its full potential is yet to be unleashed. What goes on regularly is routine “talking heads” without viewers. No interaction of what-so-ever-worth takes place in these EduSat sessions. No learning management system is in place to provide additional data services other than televised lessons.

Recently, the teachers in open universities in the country, and particularly at IGNOU are more concerned about an administrative confusion created on – who is a teacher? This is a simple question as far as the large number of colleges and universities are concerned. The teachers are engaged in 'direct teaching' to students in the classrooms. With the decision of the MHRD to provide 27% reservations to OBC students in educational institutions, and as per the recommendations of the Oversight Committee, the retirement age of teachers was recently increased to 65 from 62 in the centrally funded educational institutions, including IGNOU. The intention of such a move was to accommodate more students on the campus and retain talent. Strictly going by the wording of MHRD and UGC, it is only applicable to institutions offering face-to-face education. However, at IGNOU, the teaching roles are different with different designations (including Lecturer, Reader, Professor, Regional Director/Dy. Director, Asst. Director/ Asst. Regional Director, Research Officer, Analyst, etc.). Within the technology-mediate teaching learning system followed in distance education, the role of a teacher is to organize the curricular transactions through course development, lesson writing, media production, script writing, synchronous interaction in broadcast sessions, counselling and guidance, learner performance assessment, programme evaluation and research, and to perform all other activities that are necessary and conducive to student learning. Not necessarily every teacher does all the tasks all the time. Depending on the demand of the work place, different tasks are performed by the teachers at different point of time. None however, do face-to-face teaching to a large extent, except for a small number of trainers. Now, those not having the designation as Lecturer/Reader/Professor are not only being denied increase in the retirement age, but are also not given promotion from reader level to professor level. The confusion and debate continues on who is a teacher, and probably needs national level debate on the roles and functions of teachers at large.

The situation prevailing in open learning in India is really chaotic, if we look beyond the superficial numbers. The number of students suffering from poor service is a matter of concern to national development. The National Knowledge Commission recently recommended that Distance Education be recognized as a discipline in its own right; it is not just a mode alone. While this is a laudable recommendation, a Distance Education Commission may be established at the earliest to revamp open learning in the country and to create a system that will enable sustainable and qualitative developments in a planned and systematic manner.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

SMS in Teleconference Sessions of IGNOU

At Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) one-way video and two-way audio teleconference is being used for more than a decade now. With a modest experiment in 1993, this system has been made a regular event in the teaching-learning process of IGNOU since 1995 with various schools and divisions using the facility available at Electronic Media Production Centre (EMPC) to varying degrees. Realizing the power of the satellite technology, the University has introduced and deployed EduSat in the teaching-learning system with the support of Govt. of India in 2004. This has added another dimension to the technology-enabled teaching and learning in the University. Besides other pedagogic attributes of the TV and video, the unique attribute of the teleconference system is to provide ‘real-time’ interaction between students and teachers and amongst students. The effective utilization of the system can be assessed from the level of interactivity. If there is no interaction, it can be safely said that the system is not working as envisaged. Though, teleconference sessions design, prior notice to the students in the programme guide, annual planning of lectures, integrating teleconference in the instructional design and curriculum are important issues to make the system more effective, some ground reality check is essential to use the system more effectively.

Experiences show that most of the teleconference sessions are not attended by the students due to various reasons. One significant reason cited by many teachers and students is the timing of the sessions. Though there would always be a problem of timing as teleconference is a synchronous system, we can still make this system more relevant and useful by some systematic planning and innovation. Here, I would like to suggest the use of SMS technology using mobile phones. All the Regional Centres and reception centres of teleconference should be given a mobile phone to SMS to a 4 or 5 digit number or a regular 10 digit number at the beginning of each session. Thus, within 5 minutes of a teleconference session, the resource person(s) is/are in a position to know the presence of students in the session in various regional centres. If no students are present, the session can safely be stopped, without wasting resources as the purpose of teleconference is to provide interaction, and not to record video programmes. Talking to the camera without any students is just to satisfy our own self and justify that we are doing something of value. But, in reality, this is of no use that we all know very well. The use of SMS within 5 minutes of each session will also ensure effective monitoring of the receiving ends. Instant data can be gathered on the use of teleconference at the receiving ends. These collected data can be used for decision-making at the highest level to oversee and plan for effective utilization of teleconference.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


For some time now, I have been engaged in experimenting with the use of WikiEducator, a platform and a community of educators engaged in creation of Open Educational Resources. The platform is powered by MediaWiki, and supported by the Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver, Canada. The platform is growing fast, and recently, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has given a grant to train 2500 individuals in 52 Commonwealth countries to develop wiki skills and create a lesson each. In the process of promoting this goal, we are in the process of creating many resources, and recently experimented with a low cost approach to video lesson development using Kaltura Collaborative Video. The first lesson on how to create an account on Wikieducator is shown in the video below:"/>

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

File Conversion

Do you need converting a Word file into PDF? Want a PDF to be converted back to Word? There are many web-based services available free. Check out the following:

  1. Zamzar is a free online file conversion facility that has tons of options.
  2. Lettos is in beta version but has many facilities convert between open office format and Windows formats.
  3. Doc2PDF converts many different formats to PDF.

Happy converting...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Six Gowns of Distance Educators

Teachers in the distance education systems perform various roles and tasks. In spite of their complex responsibilities, the role of teachers in distance education is considered to be of low esteem and respect. This is partly due to the implementation of the system of teaching-learning in many so called distance teaching institutions that hardly care for quality and and the philosophy of the system. Most of the times, distance educators face problem of parity and recognition of their work as teaching. At some places the non-teaching staff also question the status of teachers in distance education. Being involved in the distance education system for the last 14 years, I tried to analyze the roles performed by the teachers in the distance education system. I realized that there are six Gowns that a teacher in distance education system put on depending on the time and context – the gown of a teacher, a technologist, a counsellor, an evaluator, a researcher, and overall a manager. It is the last gown that is more problematic to the teaching professionals, as teaching is only considered to be something that is done in the four walls of a classroom, and all other managerial activities are performed by other staff. In distance education, the managerial gown is put on by the teachers most of the times, leading to a thinking that distance educators are not teachers in real sense of the term. In reality, the meaning of the teacher is changing, and therefore, we need to look into these six gowns that a teacher in distance education put on from time to time. In fact, a true teacher in distance education is one who switch gowns at ease, and perform multiple roles with care, and passion. Let's look at these Gowns:

  1. Teacher: This is the core of a distance educator, and is the primary gown. As teacher's tasks involve, curriculum planning and design, and development/ writing of lessons in multiple media formats. Thinking about instructions and instructional design is part of the activities of a teacher in distance education. What subject can be taught though which media, and what support are required for the learners are decisions a teacher need to make. How best to present the materials that a learner can study the content and achieve the intended objectives is a matter of concerns for a teacher in distance education. Teaching is performed through a variety of media – print, audio, video, computers, Internet, assignments, tutoring, etc.

  2. Technologist: Every distance educator needs to be a technologist. Distance education by definition is a system of teaching and learning facilitated predominantly by the use of technology. In order to be effective, a teacher needs to put on the gown of a technologist from time to time while developing materials in print as well as other digital media such as audio, video, and computers. Understanding of technology to a reasonable extent and ability to work comfortably with technology to teach subject matter are important in distance education. Teaching with the use of a television camera in asynchronous and synchronous manner require different types of skills, and a good distance teacher need these special skills. The advent of new technologies have added additional responsibilities, and teachers in the distance education system need to remain update all the time. This need not be the case for the teachers in the classroom bound system.

  3. Counsellor: In a classroom bound system, the role of a teacher is mostly to transact the curriculum content. In contrast, a teacher in the distance education system needs to be a counsellor, who has skills of handling disadvantaged students with varieties of problems. A good distance teacher is a counsellor who has warmth, acceptance, genuineness and empathy. Apart from helping students to understand the content, a distance teacher also need to understand the problems of the learners and accommodate them within the framework of the rules and regulations of the institution. Good counselling is key to student success and retention in the distance education system. Most of the poor performance of the distance teaching institutions are due to poor counselling and guidance of learners.

  4. Evaluator: All teachers do evaluation, but distance teachers do more than evaluation. They need to have good monitoring skills, especially to monitor the delivery of their courses and programmes. A teacher's role in the distance education system does not end after development of the learning materials, they need to monitor the delivery of the programmes/courses to maintain the quality. Teaching through assessment of students' work is unique to distance education to have two-way communication and interaction. Providing teaching type comments in the students' work/assignments is vital to help them learn.

  5. Researcher: All teachers need to be researcher – to do research and to supervise research. The objective of research is to generate new knowledge and have insights into existing problems. Distance educators, apart from doing research in their own disciplines also need to do research in the systemic aspects of distance education, especially to improve their own understanding and develop themselves as reflective practitioners. This aspect is not taken care of in many distance education institutions when they try to identify separate cadre for doing systemic research. Instead enough opportunities need to be provided to the distance teachers to conduct research as part of their teaching gown. A gown of a researcher is a difficult one, and we seldom put this on.

  6. Manager: The managerial gown is the one that is seen most of the times. A distance educator performs the role of manager doing everything from planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting and budgeting. This gown in what people see, as the other gowns are put on to limited effect. Planning for meetings, coordinating with the course writers, expert committee members, counsellors, study centre staff, preparing budget for courses/ programmes, organizing counselling schedules, identifying cousnellors and other related staff, directing various activities involved in the delivery, reporting the progress to the management, and many other activities fall within the roles of a manager in the distance education system. As teachers we do all of these!

Whatever may be the perception about distance educators, it is true that they switch gowns from time to time. The Managerial gown is probably more visible, and therefore, it needs more proactive action on the part of the distance educators to put on other GOWNS more frequently.

Special Thanks to Dr. Pankaj Khare for the graphics on this post.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Researching Distance and Online Learning

During February 20-22, 2008 I served as a facilitator for a workshop on "Researching Distance and Online Learning" organized by STRIDE, IGNOU. I had two presentations on the theme.

1. Research Areas in Distance Educaiton

2. Online Research

You may like to go through these. Also, during the workshop I used the SurveyMonkey question builder tool for the workshop evaluation. In all the workshop was a great learning experince for me and I got an opportunity to re-visit some of my old ideas.

More later...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Web 2.0

I have a presentation on Web 2.0 in the Refresher Programme in Distance Education, 7-28 January 2008 organized by Staff Training and Research Institute of Distance Education. This programme is the first refresher programme in distance education in the discipline of distance education organized by IGNOU-STRIDE. More than 10 years back the CIEFL, Hyderabad organized a refresher programme in distance education. I am one of the Programme Coordinators of the 21 days long programme. The programme has 3 components: advanced distance education theoretical knowledge, Audio and video production, and e-technologies. As part of the third component we have planned to develop a lab in the IGNOU Convention Centre, and provide pactical hands on experiences. During the planning process of this programme my office computer and personal laptop both went out of order, and I have virtually no access to computer, and presentation software. Then I came accross ZOHO.COM and I created my presentation online. Great experience -- to prepare for Web 2.0 presentation using web 2.0 technology.

In the session, I intend to ask the participants to view some of the online videos individually, and then discuss the concept in pair, and join the google egroup of the Refresher programme to highlight their learning points and seek clarification. As a facilitator, I will use the egroup to provide support and clarify doubts. This will be a process of constructivist approach to learning a new concept, and also a process of co-creation of knowledge on how web 2.0 can be used in distance education.

The presentation will be shown at the end to the participants online. It is available at: Link . See the presentation here, below: