My first course in FutureLearn platform

I have enrolled myself in a MOOC offered by University of Leeds in the FutureLearn Platform. The course is “Blended Learning Essentials” and has Dr. Diana Laurillard and Niel Morris as its lead educators. The course is primarily intended for trainers/teachers in Vocational Education sector (Not an exact match to my context, but the concept of blended learning transcends such boundaries).

About the Course

Total Course time – 5 weeks

Expected Effort – 4 hours/week (Additional hours for detailed

Course Resource Lifetime – Even after course

Learning Tracks – Free/Without Certi Learning Path, can purchase Statement of Participation

Professional Accreditation – Counted as 20 CPD hours (good metric, rather than percentage of completion or marks)

Number of activities – 2-3 per week

Themes –

Week 1: Why Blended Learning?

Week 2: Preparing for Blended Learning

Week 3: Systems, Tools and Resources for Blended Learning

Week 4: Designing Blended Learning

Week 5: Teaching for your Learner’s Future

What is expected – Exposure to new technologies, Case studies, Sharpening critique of what can be done and what can’t be (through BL). Design of a Blended Learning Activity (towards end – I think in Week 4)

Overall the course looks very light on load, but with the breadth of the topic being discussed

About the FutureLearn Interface

I found the UI of FutureLearn decent. It wasn’t a completely formal one, and it was a good middle distance from the Coursera/edX tabbed view and the topic/week wise view of Moodle. So the courseware had the following components:

FutureLearn_Courseware

The To-do indicated what I have to do next, and upon selection showed list of courseware contents for the respective week.

Activity indicated discussion forum activity within the course (recent ones first)

Replies showed the specific replies that I received for my comments in discussion forum (really cool)

Progress tab provided my current progress. Also super cool is the fact that I could get a preview of Weekly Progress from the To-Do tab (see below)

FutureLearn_WeeklyProgress

The platform allows embedding of videos/other tools (like Typeform) and hence as a learner you feel that most of the functionalities are embedded within the same platform umbrella.

Though one drawback that I see is that they do not have a basic course info page (like edX or IITBombayX) that we can always go back and recheck.

 

MOOC Reviews

Though this will come as an afterthought, here is a personal resolution for the financial year 2016-2017:

I will be participating in 3 different MOOCs in 3 different platforms (FutureLearn, edX and Coursera) and blog about my course experience.

There are three main reasons why I have decided to do this: More

Memoirs of a few training days

Many of my good friends asked me why I stopped abruptly at my last post. And for that the only answer I could surmise was the lack of time to continue it further. But almost a week after the entire episode, I think I had to take some time to reflect on the entire episode and provide information which will help others take some lessons out of the entire experience. So I am using this post to start Chapter 3 afresh in a brand new style. The post is a work in progress due to various other work loads that are coming as a result of my campus stay.

Chapter 3: What actually happened?

The scene upon my arrival had literally scared the bejesus outta me. There they were, the principal, management representative and a lot of teachers waiting for me. What I could muster at that moment was a sheepish smile and some general courtesy remarks. After freshening up and having a quick breakfast I proceeded towards the lecture hall to start with the proceedings.

Getting Introduced

I had a faint recollection of planning the Intro part in my mind the previous day.  I just planned to take a start by getting to know each one, but the sheer number and poor memory led me to realize the fact that it is a futile exercise. However I really wanted to know their educational background and the classes and subjects that the teachers. It was during this time that I realized that some of the teachers were from pre-primary, while some were taking fine arts or library-in-charge. What actually happened was that the School Management had made it compulsory for all the teachers in the school to attend the session. They even had teachers from 2-3 sister institutions located at various location within Indore. Also the qualifications of some teachers  never matched with the subjects that they took within the academic environment. However these are things that are beyond your control and we should have expected this as there was a clear gap between what we thought and what the management thought.

But on the bright side, I had the teachers right from lower classes till Std XII right in front of me. If I was able to make them understand the importance of active learning pedagogy, then a lot of future efforts could be minimized. I thought of doing a reverse introduction by answering their queries  about me.  Quite expectedly most of the questions were about the famous Kerala Model of ICT introduction in School, which I think answered more or less satisfactorily. And during each of these replies I ensured I was moving around the class and making eye contacts with most sections of the teachers.

Taking it session by session

I wanted first day to be a lighter one, and this I ensured by just giving them basic intro on importance of instructional strategy. I had used instructional strategy of Think-Pair-Share and Voting while delving through the sessions on Day 1. By doing it the way it is done in my ET801 class I ensured that the teachers understand the point that technology is only a facilitator for the transactions within the class. This was followed up by giving them an assignment to prepare a course map of a lesson that they would be teaching this year along with an instructional strategy that they use.  It will include the Subject, Chapter, Sub Topic within the chapter and contents within the sub-topic that they are planning to take along with the instructional strategy that they are going to adopt. I had shown them a sample inside the class for removing any doubts that they have on the assignment.

The next day was supposed to be a little more heavy with plans for explaining the AL strategies in detail along with an introduction to Blooms Taxonomy. I started off with a recap session to bring them on same page.  Then I proceeded with an activity which had them remember twenty words. The activity was used to connect the point about the Long Term and Short Term memory and how information losses happen at each stage. This was followed by an intro into various learning theories to position our active learning strategies within each of them. The rationale of each of the used AL strategies were then explained with some guidelines on how to use them effectively. The major input towards lesson plan on that day was the concept of prerequisites and how to assess them. I then introduced them to the Revised Blooms Taxonomy of cognitive levels along with assessment strategies.

The third and final day of common training was the most demanding as it dealt with writing of Learning Objectives (LO). I had started it with the need for LO and why it becomes crucial. Then I slowly introduced them to the ABCD of LO’s literally. I had seen this video in youtube which identified the four essential ingredients of an LO namely – Audience, Behaviour, Condition and Degree. This was easier to communicate to the teachers, I also made sure that there were atleast 7-8 teachers who showed the LO’s infront of the whole class. I used this opportunity to refine the concepts within the LO and obtained an indirect assessment of how well the teachers introduced. The next level of this was writing LO’s at different Bloom’s level and tying their assessment questions with the Learning Objective. Thus on this day I added the three crucial inputs LO, Blooms level and resources to my Lesson Plan Template.

Thus when you summarize, my lesson template is something like what is shown below:

LessonPlan

Though this is not following any standard lesson plan template, within the context, this helped in communicating the essential ingredients for a meaningful teaching-learning experience.

The last two days of the workshop was dedicated to introducing OER’s in Science and Maths to the teachers. And this was the normal demonstration of PhET simulations and Geogebra lessons.

Some Interesting Experiences

Though I have studied Hindi till Xth std., being non-native speaker, I was regularly accused by my friends of murdering the Hindi Grammar (which is true btw). However the little bit Hindi knowledge became a boon as at end of Day 1 few teachers approached me with this request. ” Sir, our English is very poor. Though we understand the language, it becomes difficult for us to follow complete lectures in English. So if you can speak Hindi in between, atleast for important terms, then it will be really helpful”. Next day onwards I made sure that most of my class was in Hindi and I took the help of the teachers themselves to translate the keywords into Hindi so that the meaning does not get lost.

One more interesting experience was more related to the communication gap between administrator in charge and me. They had arranged for lunch on each day for entire participants and the in-charge wanted us to take lessons till 3 . On the first day, I had left them at 1 and this became a problem for him. Now it was becoming difficult for me to make the person understand that if the teachers were not in a mood to learn, then there is no point in mandating them to stay till 3. But he was adamant and we had to finally budge. However I made sure that the teachers all agreed to the revised schedule and adjusted my plan to accommodate this change. One positive that came out of this change was that I was able to try out some on-the-spot created activities with some sort of connection to the general training goal. For e.g. we tried a competition of passing the ball by keeping the teachers in a linear line. The analogy that we created was that to two express trains. The participants were coaches in the train and they had to carry a duster across each compartment. There was a station master for each train who initiated the pass and when it comes back to him, then 1 round is over. The team making maximum rounds with t he duster wins. To add spice we had a teacher acting as a signal light who was given the authority to show the red signal when she wishes. This would mean that the passing has to stop and they cannot proceed until the signal goes green. The teams were allowed to choose their own strategy for reaching the goal as long as all the rules are followed.

The activity really brought enthusiasm among the teachers after a good lunch and it was very well appreciated.  Each of the subsequent days saw two or three similar strategies getting employed to make them energetic and active.

The Training Experience – An Overview on the Goals and Strategies

It was nearly 2-3 months ago when all of this started, but I think this is a right time to document the outline details of what is happening. So as I am writing this blog, I am involved in a teacher training program with a set of teachers in a small school at Indore. For some very private reasons I will not name the School over here, however what I will try to explain is the main idea/concept that I had while planning for this training and the key persons with whom I am involved so that my readers can contact them directly.

Prologue

My meeting with Yograj Patel, a 4th year DD student in Mechanical Engineering at IITB, happened by chance during my final semester of M.Tech in the course Research Methods in Educational Technology (ET 804). We were partners in a class project, which I guess we filled with regular last minute Jugaad fundae, but for which we had planned and implemented certain activities diligently.  Then he was again there during my first year of PhD in the class ET 801 (Introduction to ET) where again we shared lots of our interests and passions. It was during this time that he mentioned about his initiative of an educational startup with his friend Akshay (Countryside) and how they would like to spread it further. From my CTARA experience I had certain pre-conceived notions about Educational Startup ventures in general, particularly of IITians. But these guys proved me wrong with the amount of groundwork they had done on it and the clarity they had on each of their ideas.

It was the time when I had completed my visit and study of IT@School project in Kerala and presented my M.Tech Thesis on “Information and Communication Technology Interventions in School Education – Lessons from Kerala Experience“. So there were some interesting ideas wandering in my head which I wanted try out on field and these guys presented me with the best possible option of doing the same. Initially I was bit hesitant to accept the offer, but more I discussed with both of these guys the more I was convinced of the practicability of it. So call it their (mis)fortune, I accepted the role of an unofficial and silent mentor/advisor to the Gyankriti project of Countryside. Though there are many more interesting stories to tell about this advisory role’s journey across the past 10 months, but we will move ahead with the main story in hand which is that of Teacher Training in a small school.

Chapter 1 : What am I trying to do?

In simple words I am trying to train a set of teachers on how to improve their teaching process using educational technology by using active learning (AL) strategies. But what is so different about the entire process is the way I have approached the process and what I am trying to do practically within the available context.  So let me now set out the goals of what I am trying to achieve with this endeavor:

1) Try to practice the CTARA approach of developing technology(which will involve both strategies and content) along with the users (over here teachers) based on their need (instructional practice)

2) To ensure the changes that I bring in are sustainable

3) To encourage teachers to use active learning strategies in classrooms

4) To help teachers to use ICT  effectively while employing AL strategies

5) Try to see whether a portion of the Kerala Model is replicable in the given context

Incidentally what helped me in the entire process was the preparation process of a workshop of similar nature to be done by ET Department in June for Engineering College Teachers. Since Teacher Training is a core theme underlying my research study, I am involved in almost all related experiments within the ET Dept. And this has greatly helped me to form ideas about the various aspects of the training process. Add to it, the CMI’s Certified Trainer and Facilitator workshop experience.

Chapter 2. How am I going to do it?

From the goal setting exercise it was very clear that I will be focusing on almost whole of teachers – Pre-Primary till Higher Secondary. So when I travelled to Indore I just had a vague idea that there are around  40 teachers, marginally better, but with some enthusiasm. The only sure thing about the training was that I would take it using AL strategies itself. I had read a little  bit  from “Educating a Reflective Practitioner” by Donald A Schon and “Education Matters!” a blog by Subir Shukla all of which  gave me some good pointers on what could be a good strategy.

When I was travelling to Indore in train, a loose structure was already present in my mind. I knew that I will start with expectation management, then move onto course map and then into strategies. I was thinking of taking Lesson Plan using a spiral strategy with regular dose of Instructional Strategy and a simple introduction into assessment. There were 3 days of general teacher training and two days specifically devoted to PCMB. The last two days were solely to help them familiarize with the OER’s provided. So if you put it in a figure, the fig 1 below is something that I had in mind for general training.

The spiral Strategy

Fig 1. The spiral Strategy

This differed from the traditional spiral in the sense that the dia’s (or depth) was almost equal for each of the days. There was also an addition of take-away which involved some tangible output at the end of each day. The lesson plan was supposed to be this take-away, resulting from the task. The AL strategies that were to be discussed were that of TPS, Voting and Collaboration. Also the importance of review and feedback had to be highlighted in this process.

Chapter 3: What actually happened?

As is always, the real life situation differed a whole lot from what I had in mind.  I had reached Indore at around 9:45 AM and was in school by around 10:15 AM.  It took me nearly half an hour to freshen up and I could see that all the teachers had arrived there and were anxiously waiting for the expert from IIT. The remainder of this story will be detailed in my next blog which will contain a part of my reflection on the entire process.

Collaborative Learning – Utilizing the power of Internet

Its been almost a month since I posted and my inherent procrastination is largely accountable for this. But even this being the case, I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing individuals, discuss the future of ICT in schools and understand the general challenges in this field.I am not going to elaborate any of these right now, but two different websites suddenly popped in during this month long research on ICT.

The first one is developed by a School Teacher in England and is named ICTMagic. This is a Wikispace, which means that the idea of collaboration is very much existing in this. This wiki was awarded the best Educational Wiki for 2011 which will give you an idea on how good this is to practitioners. The site, from an initial look, is a repository of several such resources which has been contributed by both teachers and children.

The second one is a TED site named Conversations. Its functioning is also based on the idea of collaborative learning with a person starting a conversation where others can chip in with their ideas. The duration of the conversation can be set by the individual and the comments are visible to the whole public[or atleast many are] and if you go through the conversations you can see that an entire range of issues on the topic get discussed under it.

The broad idea behind sharing these two websites is that these are among the many which is powered on the idea of collaborative learning. At a time when such ideas are being pushed by general scientific community, success of these websites provide enough evidence for implementation of ICT for education. But the burning question which I have in my mind is how can this idea be promoted within India? If mass education or public education has to be revolutionized, it is essential that power of technology be provided to public. But how will we ensure that it is being harnessed in the right way? Are there enough institutionalized support within this realm? I am aware of a National ICT Policy on School Education and ICT @ School Central Scheme. But as is the case with numerous public interventions, there seems to be several malpractices and disorientation among these too.

The first part of my research is aimed at focusing on the governance part of this question. But I am yet to finalize a design and methodology for this. In the coming days I am hopeful of developing it completely and putting it in this forum and try to get in more ideas [provided this site still have visitors ;-)]. In any case, I am hopeful that this can act as a journal for my research activity.

Technology in Education

With an increased exposure to various gadgets in the market, there is a big hue and cry for introduction of technology in our education system from certain quarters. I too am in this bandwagon and hence I am taking an anticipatory bail of a biased view right at the start.

Whenever we talk of India, we say that it is a land of diversity, which is quite true. Though in the case of educational systems for the poor, this saying has not hold good. There may be exceptions, but for me, the state of education for the ‘Aam-Aadmi’ is the same across the states. The link between education and backwardness has been identified, explained and discussed a lot in the academic circles also.

The immediate inspiration in jotting down these thoughts is the TED book review of Sugata Mitra’s Beyond Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self Organized Learning. Being a strong critic of Victorian education system prevalent in our country, Mitra’s pedagogy was like a sugar cube for me. But when I started thinking more seriously on taking it as a research agenda for Indian context many things came to my mind. Two major concerns are being shared in this blog.

First and foremost idea that comes to mind is that Mitra’s philosophy talks about unsupervised learning, which to me under the present social conditions, seem highly inappropriate. Agreed that he has tested it out among the “ordinary”, but how well can it suit a place like Gadchiroli or Nandurbarg or any other remote tribal location, where access becomes paramount. Second question is a more common one that has been asked by even experts- Is India ready for technology intervention in education?

I had attempted to look at an explanation of the situation across India using Educational Development Index during my first stage project. My answer to the first question is emerging out of this work. The core understanding that I got from that study was that at primary and upper primary levels of elementary education the problems of infrastructure and teachers are much more prominent than access. The states which were lower in terms of access were the ones like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal and Manipur which seemed quite contrary to my imagination. [Again, states being a larger aggregation of the reality, hides the much more finer details]. Even then, to me, it meant that some sort of school is available for students in general across the country. So if we try to introduce technology in terms of computers and internet in a minimally invasive way, won’t that be perfect for the issue related to teachers? And moving on to the specific question regarding tribal areas with minimal access, what will be the best possible solution for these places? I believe that this is going to be a major research question for me when I start my journey into the world of research.

The second question that is India ready for embracing technology is a multifaceted one. On the one hand we have a greater fraction living in desperate circumstances and on the other we are trying to march forward in the use of technology for development. So where exactly is the fine balance going to come? Personally I believe that the power of technology has to be harnessed by every individual. When you start relying on foreign/domestic aids/subsidy it does not go well with the general agenda of empowerment and development. If you look at regions which are trying to use technology in education we can see that there is representation of developed world (UK, Finland, Australia etc.) and developing world (Tanzania, Vietnam, Malaysia etc). The improved output is observed in the developed world, as expected, but the the very fact that developing world is not far behind gives us hope in attempting for the intervention. With the power of IT arena of our country, this will mean that manpower will be available in plenty for kicking off this revolution.

The next major point of concern will be quality of the virtual learning environment that will be provided. I will start the exploration towards this and discuss the results in my future posts.

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Self-Organized Learning Environment

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