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.