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Teacher Connect

2 Mar

 

Teachers should be in tune with times

Thursday, 23 January 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

The technology and teacher inter-connectivity boom in India is still at a nascent stage. It needs to spread for results to be evident

The tide has silently risen — and teachers are better off because they join. I speak of the conversations between teachers across schools, networks and geographies. Teachers are acknowledged to be at the centre of improvements in education — they are the single factor that determines the quality of teaching and learning that happens in a classroom. While much of these have been measured by student achievement, a teacher’s contribution is a lot more in terms of the values, the team skills and the emotional support that they offer to their classroom. Teaching is an act of transformation — it takes a lot out of the teacher and they too need validation and renewal.

A decade ago, the only place where teachers gathered would be in teacher-training sessions organised by their authority or in consultation meetings — where only the senior teachers had access. Training sessions were designed to be top down, and were often honoured in the breach rather than in actual renewal. Teacher training often became just about compliance. The past year has seen significant changes because of sterling work done by many to address the systemic issues that teachers face on a day to day basis. The first being isolation.

It is not only single-teacher schools in far-flung rural areas where teachers feel isolated. This can happen in a large, populated urban school too. Teachers who wish to innovate in their classroom, or have an idea that they think will work for a school, or maybe an interesting activity or lesson plan do not always find support within their schools. Every teacher has much to share based on their experiences and efforts. But for such sharing to happen teacher communities needed to be enabled both within and outside schools. One of the positives about team-teaching is that all teachers share materials and plans, which makes them effective support systems for each other. The downside is that it takes an initial investment of time from the teachers who will see benefits only once they make a success of it. Team-teaching has been seen to be effective only in schools that are technology enabled and where the teachers themselves naturally integrate technology with their teaching preparation and practice.

It is this technology boom that has enabled teachers across the world to connect with, teach one another and share what they can. This change has been slow in coming to India — many of the schools here barely see electricity, let alone have computers. Those that do find the journey as digital immigrants varied — the schools that have been able to enable open access with well- designed content have benefited the most, other schools find ‘computers’ to be a chore since it is seen as a separate subject and task. Teachers lead the change and those who have had support and are able to adopt it for use as seamlessly as a textbook or a blackboard are those who have more to share.

The technology and teacher inter-connectivity boom in India is nascent. Some of it is via Government networks such as those that link universities across the country. Many of these are enabled via email groups, Facebook and other social media. Large newspapers with significant education supplements have invested in developing communities of teachers across the country, as have social entrepreneurs who help create social learning platforms for teachers to share materials within school networks. The most ambitious of these is the open education resources programme that encourages teachers to share their teaching resources with others, for free, and to access and use other teachers’ shared resources.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/teachers-should-be-in-tune-with-times.html

Second Chance for Adult Learners

2 Mar

 

Second chance for adult learners

Thursday, 06 February 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Regardless of where you are on the education ladder, even if you are not on it, there should be a window of opportunity to improve

Two Hundred and Eighty Seven Million. People. Adults. This is the estimated number of people who are denied the dignity of literacy in India. These are people who are dependent on others to read their bank balance, to understand what they sign, and are unable to comprehend the laws they are held to, they cannot read the names of the medicines they ingest. They are handicapped when it comes to seeking opportunities because they cannot realise it. They cannot read. Four in 10 people in the world, an estimated 37 per cent according to the recently released UNESCO Education for All Report Global Monitoring Report, are illiterate.

This is not about the children who have had schools built for them; this is about the adults who are too old to go to school. And they have few other options. Yes, there are designated adult education centres, there are NGOs and there are programmes. Despite that India dominates the world in adult illiteracy. A visit to my local adult education centre revealed that it did not have admission forms, did not know when these would be available and was unwilling to commit to an annual cycle of admissions, if there was any. Being illiterate is a stigma that these people carry through their lives like an illness where seeking help is a matter of privilege. If you are lucky, you are rescued from this, for there are few systemic solutions for your plight.

There has been much invested in school infrastructure and capacity in the last Five Year Plan, and enrollments are said to be at 99 per cent at the primary school level. Without debating the quality of the capacity built, let us look at its utilisation. These buildings are accessible to living clusters. They already have roofs for bad weather, space outdoors and basic learning material. They are also not used for three quarters of a day. Allowing for poor electricity connections, there are at least three hours in a day when school buildings can be used as community learning hubs, specifically for adult education classes. If India wants to solve its literacy problems, it has to start using its resources better in addition to making targeted investments. Again, there is no real need to restrict school learning (and admissions) only to children. People can work according to ability sets, rather than age, which would bring other advantages of scale and opportunity too.

The current definition of school is narrow, and education is seen as an isolated bubble limited to books, examinations, teachers, tutors and buildings. These bounds do not allow in outsiders — such as the adult illiterates who were left behind — nor do they allow students to interact with the rest of the world. It is only in some excellent schools that students work on projects that engage the local area around them. Both groups suffer. Neither do the illiterate people get access to learning and opportunity, nor do the ‘literate’ students begin to understand the real world of life and work. Schools create barriers to engaging with real life problems when they should be doing the opposite — preparing the students for life, not merely examinations.

Schools and the education community need to open up their portals to engage with more sections of society to foster a culture of continuous learning. Regardless of where you are on the learning ladder, even if you are not on the learning ladder, there should be a chance to improve yourself. India needs a caring community college network that engages the local community in disciplined ways and engages the learning communities in ways that work for them.

This is an uphill battle — those who were unable to learn to read and write in their early years may not be suited to the traditional ways of learning. They may not be used to using memory and may need to see results soon. A daily wage labourer is used to instant results. Literacy requires patience, iteration, care, commitment and the resilience to fail and try again. Those who missed out by choice or circumstance in their childhood deserve a second chance and a life where they can live with true independence — that is a life of dignity and informed choice.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/second-chance-for-adult-learners.html

How much do we know about Education in India

28 Nov

Everyone has an opinion on education. Start a conversation at a dinner table, a tea shop, an academic seminar, a global conference, a train, a bus or flight – everyone you meet will have something to say about it. Often, they will know precisely how bad it is, how much worse it has become and what needs to be done to fix the ills. When I say precisely, I don’t mean that – I mean with a great deal of authority. Very definite and well articulated opinions. And they may well be right. Because nobody can really answer (most of) the big questions in education in India with any degree of precision.

Policy:
The holy grail here is evidence based policy making. It would obviously be great if every decision made had a solid basis in proven hypothesis. If we knew for sure, to take a facetious example, that children study better in white shirts than blue shirts, and this had been tested rigorously, then it would be easy to create a policy that tends towards white shirts as school uniforms. This is also better for policy makers as they have the evidence to fall back upon and even justify their decisions. In practice of course evidence is just one part of the policy making puzzle and may even prove to be inconvenient in some circumstances. Yet, it is what stands closest to fact in the vast unknown.

Data:
The first hurdle of course is the availability of data. There is some available on the ministry website and some with affiliated institutions. Some data is gathered in large studies such as those conducted by the Azim Premji foundation, Pratham, Accountability Initiative etc. and these answer specific questions each year. The Karnataka Learning Partnership and Centre for Civil Society are taking the lead on compiling some data that are available to all while investors and private consulting firms have their own data sets that are not available in the public domain. Each of these serves a limited purpose and researchers often find themselves stuck because they have no credible information sources or good data unless they set up a data collection process themselves as part of their studies. That is either very expensive and time consuming or forces them to dramatically reduce the scope of their work.

Research:
There is a wide range of research done on education in India, only some of it academic. (On a personal note, I wonder if I should still be surprised when one silo has not even heard of the work done in another – oh right, I did say silo) Firstly there is academic work that is being done across schools of education in India and abroad (primarily in the UK and the USA). The quality and impact of the work differs greatly depending upon the access and funding they receive. There is some excellent work of limited scope and reach being published in small journals and post- conference books that gets lost in the sheer volumes of papers being produced in an uncurated world. Then there are rigorous investigations by celebrity scholars – my favourites being Prof. Geeta Kingdom of the Institute of Education and Prof. Karthik Muralidharan of UC San Diego who have told cogent and critical truths about teaching and learning in India. Much research is also done in the investor community – some of it philanthropic, some driven by pure investment principles. Central Square Foundation, for example, incubates many projects that do much good in the education sector and curates information and data that forms the basis of investment (and re-investment) research. Consulting firms with education arms too co-create interesting and useful research in the field of education.

Application of Research:
Useful research? Did I hear laughter in the background? For research to be useful, it not only needs to be rigorous and relevant (and much of it clearly is) but also needs to be accessible. Over and above that – it needs to address real questions that help decision makers at all three levels – policy, institution and the classroom. If education is about benefiting the child (the marginal child as economists would say), then we need to be able to answer the questions schools and teachers ask regularly. In the past forty-eight hours, this is the range of questions I have been asked –

From a school owner – Is there a guide or research that points me to the characteristics teacher quality? In teacher selection – how do I recruit a good teacher? (We all know good teachers, we know their qualifications etc. which is partial knowledge)

From a School trust – What is the right proportion of male and female teachers that will enhance achievements of boys and girls? (K. Muralidharan had a paper that partially answered that question) (Of course, all recruitment has to be regardless of gender – so the question can only be about the impact of gender skew in the teacher cohort)

From a teacher-leader: Is a multi ability class better than streaming into ability sections? If I have been told that I must achieve high performance, and if achievement is my only goal , what are the consequences of my decision?

From the management of a large school group seeking to expand: Is it better to raise the grade level (from primary to secondary) or open another primary school if I want to serve my area better?

From a potential investor: What are the returns to investment to RTE compliance? -If I invest, is there a case for giving loans to ensure RTE (Right to Education act) compliance? Will I get my money back with a fair return?

From the management team of a small Business School: How do I fill seats in my B-School during this slowdown? Numbers in engineering and business schools are seen to be falling – is there a forecast that will help me plan capacity?

The answers are out there. Some have been researched, some await their turn. Most decisions will also depend upon the context, experience and ability of the person in charge. But it is better to have some validation based on good data. There is very little data, and much of it is not very good quality data. And so, we wait, unable to fully answer these questions and decide the our future education path.

11/28/2013 |

The Reports of the Death of the MOOC are Highly Exaggerated

28 Nov

MOOCs are still in their infancy, their technical feasibility has been tested but little else. We now know that they work, that there is a large section of the population that is interested. How much of this is a market? We are not sure yet (yes, there are forecasts). And so we arrive at the stage, as with every innovation, where we try to understand revenue models. There are some revenue models for some MOOCs being tested now. Corporate MOOCs of course have a revenue model built in, and there are other pathways to success too.

Like any good innovation, MOOCs are clearly a disruptor. They have shaken up the market for higher education, showed up the gaps and created opportunities not only for lifelong learning but for broader learning. Not only can people breach the linearity of time and geography, they can also move horizontally across learning areas that were traditionally in inaccessible silos. As with any disruptive innovation, the establishment gets upset at the beginning as there is a clear and present danger of their way of life becoming redundant.

Universities have been asking this question since the MOOCs became a phenomenon – Is there a future for traditional universities? Will they have to change how they do things? The early consensus was that the best universities would survive but the rest across the globe could be disintermediated as these MOOCs provided better quality teaching anyway.Debatable. Debated.

Some professors who ran excellent MOOCs were gaining a large followership of a scale never seen before. The era of the celebrity professor seemed nigh. (Some even spoke of a caste system in teaching, with different classes of teachers emerging as ratings systems emerged – this may yet happen) But one could not deny the value of extending teaching from elite institutions to students across the world. Of course the better universities had made their lectures available online long before these MOOC platforms, but that did not engage students as these courses did – assignments, peer learning – the age of social learning was here.

Then the criticisms started. Some spoke of a ‘colonial’ approach to learning – where the MOOCs were designed and delivered by a benign first world to the lagging third world. An act of knowledge charity, one that was not necessarily what the third world needed. (The fact that they signed up in droves, showing that they liked and wanted these courses did not seem to affect those worrying about colonised education). Cracks started showing as some high profile MOOCs were cancelled. Some tried fees and certification and the jury is still out on those models. Some more will be tried, surely, for MOOCs need to both earn revenues and provide certification to bring value both to its market and to its creators.

And then came in the data – apparently these MOOCs were not as charitable .. oops equitable as it was previously thought. Those who accessed, completed the courses and benefited from it were largely graduates – apparently the same 7% who always win, were winning again. I wonder why this is either surprising or a revelation – MOOCs require self driven learning, one has to be dedicated and motivated to succeed. These are skills for success that are developed in schools. While some school drop outs have the committment to succeed via specific courses, these skills and other study skills are ones that they have not mastered. One of my first, and still my main grouse with MOOCs is that there is little pastoral care built into the model. Learning is not just a social process, it requires positive strokes. It does not only depend upon a good peer group, the need for validation and approval is essential for course correction when we stray, as we will inevitably.

All this may be set to change, and the next phase of the MOOC journey is almost here. No longer driven by supply side impulses, MOOCs are growing up. Much like a teenager who suddenly realises that rent and bread need money to be earned, MOOCs are just coming of age. Corporate MOOCs are already proving to be a valid model, though there are doubts on whether the appellation “Massive” and “Open” can still apply in this context. This will be an interesting journey to watch, but my guess is that some MOOC models will appear that will still fit the original ask – and will be part of the corporate learner’s bag. The pathways through the modules, the reward systems and the breadth of the learning that still fits the corporate goals will be a quick evolution. This is the easy part of the forecast.

The other cross current that will change the face of MOOCs is Big Data. MOOCs will deliver true value when the data begins to track progress, correlate it to the teaching and e-learning process and start answering some of the basic questions about how we really learn. A fundamental understanding of learning, an adaptive learning system, a responsive learning tool – this is what the future success of MOOCs will look like. Will it be an intrusive process? In a way yes, because every aspect of the online learning process will be tracked and analysed.

There will be storms ahead, including ones on privacy, on the fact that offline learning complements online learning and is not being included in the studies, and even on the fact that every bit of experiential learning and talent cannot be mapped precisely in a big data driven analysis. The MOOCs will have to weather all these storms to survive – naturally, they will evolve.

MOOCs are just beginning their journey. They have merely passed the first milestone and established their viability. There are many avatars that they will take – there will be MOOCs for conflict education, there will be MOOCs designed to support the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there will be others designed to meet the much maligned skills gaps between education and employment. Much of the MOOC model still needs to be created – such as the governance model. The supply chains of MOOCs too will need to be crafted for efficiency and not just for service delivery. Much will change, but what will remain the same is the fact that finally the learner is at the centre of the process. And this is why the MOOC will not die – it has become the doorway to better access to the learner and the learning process.

* With apologies to Mark Twain for the title, but as with much else, he seems to have said it before anyone else.

Meeta Sengupta
27 November 2013, 11:17 PM IST

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/the-reports-of-the-death-of-the-mooc-are-highly-exaggerated

Invest in Cybersafety for Students

28 Nov
As an increasing number of children access the Internet, schools and parents alike must invest in cyber-safety training for students

In the land fuelled by the informational technology boom, India seems to be bringing up a generation of digital immigrants in its schools. The rich, of course, have access to computers and the gifts that good internet access brings. Those who cannot afford to have computers at home continue to be educated as previous generations were — with limited (if valuable, in other ways) access to information. Most schools, and even colleges that do have computers and Internet access ensure that these are separate from everyday learning, which continues in the old ways. Computers are restricted to computer laboratories — even the nomenclature reminiscent of experiments that have not quite come to life. And thus, schools falter in preparing their students for life.

At home, many of these students access the Internet with little or no guidance. They find their own way through the maze and there is little to protect them. With parents who grew up in an age when the personal computer was still being created, this is the first generation of cyber-travellers. But the lands they travel are inhabited by all sorts. The Internet is a vast and dangerous place, as much as it is a source of learning, networks and quick information. And children, even if they are adept in the technology, need to be guided to remain safe.

Cyber-safety is not part of the curriculum yet, though the Central Board of Secondary Education plans to include it. If news reports are to be believed, it is being helped by a Bangalore schoolboy who has developed a curriculum that is currently being tested. While this is an opportunity to praise the student and the good work that is being done, it is surprising that this had not been thought through as a regular part of imparting ‘computer science’ education.

Children, barely in their teens, are online now, while iPads are in the hands of infants. State Governments have started issuing free laptops to students, again, without training. Given the rapid rise of smart phone usage in India, connectivity now moves beyond conventional computers and laptops to hand-held devices. Each time a child borrows a smartphone to access the wider world, he sets his own norms and limits — and this needs focussed discussion. The number of students online may be small now, but if the promises of rural broadband connectivity are met, then it will balloon dramatically.

Students often use Internet connectivity to conduct their transactions and share learning. They have accounts on Facebook (sometimes for sharing homework), browse the net researching for their projects and have independent email accounts. McAfee, a provider of Internet safety products, has just released a survey of ‘tween’ Internet behaviour. Coursera, a large provider of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs, reported that outside of the US, India has the largest student base for these high-quality, zero-fee courses. Online education, including mobile, is a large industry for the K-12(school) segment.

Our students are not only going online to study. They socialise there too. India is reportedly the largest consumer of pornography online (albeit in the 35-49 year age group). Given this data, and that most computers are shared in homes, access to age-inappropriate material is a high risk. Other risks include identity theft, which could even lead to financial loss; online friendships with unsavoury unknowns, again leading to inappropriate exchanges or even cyber bullying by those one knows well at school or at home.

There is much to be gained by traversing the Internet, and our students must be shown how to do it safely. Our schools deal with this by shutting off access to the Internet or policing it stringently. While parental and school controls are a part of the tool-set, this is not the right way to teach our children to deal with the risks. A real life analogy is teaching a child to cross the road — if they are never let on to the road, they will not be able to navigate the roads independently.

******

 

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Navigate the world and the web safely

Thursday, 28 November 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Link: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/navigate-the-world-and-the-web-safely.html

24 Oct

Being callous with data privacy

Thursday, 17 October 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or do we depend on online contracts to determine who owns the data?

How many times have you been able to obtain a student’s examination results by simply going to a website and entering the student’s roll number? Or have known that it is possible to find out information about a person’s school records with little difficulty? Have you ever been surprised by the fact that the advertisements on your phone or in the side bar of the Facebook account seem to know the age of your children — and what you may be looking for in study materials?

Data privacy is not as much of a concern in India as it should be. Despite the massive brouhaha over snooping, most Indians do not protect their data and information. A part of it clearly is because we have come to ‘computerisation’ later in the day, which meant that we adopted the technology when many of the tools were already integrated into systems. For example, passwords. At the same time, many of us will openly acknowledge that passwords themselves are not protected as per instructions. It is not uncommon to walk into open-plan offices to see IDs and passwords pinned on to personal notice boards, or easily accessible in the drawers of desks. Passwords are also often shared between friends and colleagues.

The first question that arises is one of ownership. Who owns student data? The basic data that is collected by the school or university about the student is not the only information that needs to be protected. Student attendance records, teachers’ notes on their class performance (assuming teachers do their job and actually record student progress), student examination results and even the exam papers are data and information that must belong to somebody. If the school has claimed ownership of all this data, then it must follow that they have taken the responsibility for looking after it. Disclaimers notwithstanding — for we know that they are a cop out — the question remains.

Let us take this to the level of the classroom. Teachers all over the world lead primary school classes to greater global interaction via the Internet — via class blogs. Even geography classes using Twitter are not uncommon, where students connect with people across the globe and ask them questions about their country. What are the privacy policies for these? For discussions in massive open online courses? Are student writings open access? Should real names be allowed on Twitter — as the law wants to mandate? Facebook has myriad school study groups and semi-official school accounts. Do schools feel responsible for that data? Can they conceivably be held accountable for such interactions that fall on the cusp of student and personal lives?

There is, of course, the point of view that says that such data and information does not need protection at all. Does it matter if the information is publicly available? Both students and teachers are vulnerable. The recent furore over a Central Board of Secondary Education circular that asked schools to put details of teacher salaries etc in public domains is a good example. Over sharing such information puts the individual at risk.

As inter-connected technologies become an integral part of our education system, one of the big questions that needs to be asked is: Whether this is a matter of school policy, of individual contracts or of national regulation? Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or will the web of contracts that we agree to online define who owns our history and information?

This, then is a question of personal sovereignty.

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer newspaper on October 17, 2013 and is linked here

League Tables are Over-rated

17 Oct

League Tables are over rated. Then why do we pay so much attention to them?

09/13/2013 |
Just this week the annual QS league tables were released, and as expected Indian Universities were not in the top 200 or 300 ranks. This has been the trend for years in all the league tables including the Times Higher Education Rankings and the Shanghai Rankings. The distress at not ranking high is palpable, but before we do aim to do so, it might be a thought to review what league tables can and cannot do for us.

League Tables are over rated, clearly. Then why do we pay so much attention to them? Because they are all we have as a tool to bring an objective comparison to the quality of institutions of education.

Every soul of some erudition knows that the right thing to do is to look into the middle distance, then narrow their eyes and shake their head while slowly saying, “Well, you know… league tables.. they are not really a measure”

True. They are not a measure (of what? Presumably Quality). They are a collation of proxy measures of Quality in education institutions that enable comparison.

League tables can only measure the things that can be quantified. Their criteria have to be designed in such a manner that ensures that they are able to collect data from all educational institutions in a consistent manner. This is their claim to fame – being able to bring objectivity and therefore the ability to compare across contexts.

There is a lot that cannot be captured by league tables. Some will say, especially in education, that none of the real things that matter can be captured by league tables. There is as much truth in that as saying that a photograph in two dimensions cannot capture three dimensional reality.

So, while research output can be measured by the number of papers published, one cannot really use that to judge the quality of those papers. To manage that, one tries to restrict the set to journals that are of known and accepted quality, often peer reviewed. If the papers are accepted by these journals, then they will be included in research output, else not. There are a few problems here. As every academic writer knows, journals are often accessible to a certain clique who are the guardians of tradition (another proxy for quality, possibly). Each journal has its own style of analysis or writing. So a young bright academic finds that even good work has to conform in many ways, and if rejected, they must then recast it for another journal – and that means rewrite completely. If the academic – and in our example a bright young academic – is to be judged on the quantity of papers accepted, then it would be quite unfair to that person. On the other hand, those with access to the journals would be able to churn out many more articles than their research warranted. To create three papers out of one significant piece of research is not unknown.

Then if mere quantity is not enough, one should look for research impact – that is objectively measured in citations. Well, that is the best objectivity can do, little more. One could – and I do not know any league tables that do that – include citations included in papers that supported patent applications. If a paper has been in the citation chain for an actual innovation patented, then it has impact, else the research was merely theoretical.

Before the historians and philosophers start baying for my blood, let me step up and say – I agree! Research is meant to be theoretical. It is meant to add to the body of knowledge regardless of its current usability. There are enough examples in the sciences too that point to innovations that were used decades later. When they were created, they would not have added to the count of any league table, especially if they languished merely as working papers.

Similarly for teaching and learning. How can we measure for teaching quality? Discussed here. We can measure for teacher qualifications, for student achievement in standardised tests, but who can really say objectively that excellent or quality learning happens in the classrooms of this institution and not at another. How can they be graded and ranked? There is only so much league tables can do. There is no way the impact of learning can be measured across the lifetime of the learner. Nor can any league table ever measure the value of peer networks – though this is where it gets interesting. While there is no clear metric to peer networks, the universities that top the league tables are the ones with the most useful networks.

What the league tables cannot cover is the culture and ethos of an organisation.
No league tables can capture what the HBR case study on gender and class just discussed here

Does this mean we reject league tables straight out?

Of course not.

But when we use and quote league tables, especially in education we must do so with caution and cognition.

Firstly, do not take them too seriously. They are a snapshot and serve a particular purpose. They cannot serve all institutions and countries, but can merely indicate what is important to most. For example, India may not be ready to climb up the league tables yet – it may not be the priority for the nation as discussed here.  If India wants to make a place for itself on the league tables a priority, then it should focus on that, as described here

Newspaper and magazine league tables have to be a simple composite in order to be able to have a global span. But there are other ways of constructing comparative benchmarks that may be more productive depending upon the need and the purpose of that benchmarking exercise. All benchmarking exercises do not create rankings as league tables must. Quality can be tracked through simple yet sophisticated exercises that can easily be designed according to the need of the group or individual institutions. Till we invest in creating more customised benchmarks and trackers, we will have to make do with league tables.

Who Owns Student Data?

17 Oct

BEING CALLOUS WITH DATA PRIVACY

Thursday, 17 October 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped
 Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or do we depend on online contracts to determine who owns the data?

How many times have you been able to obtain a student’s examination results by simply going to a website and entering the student’s roll number? Or have known that it is possible to find out information about a person’s school records with little difficulty? Have you ever been surprised by the fact that the advertisements on your phone or in the side bar of the Facebook account seem to know the age of your children — and what you may be looking for in study materials?

Data privacy is not as much of a concern in India as it should be. Despite the massive brouhaha over snooping, most Indians do not protect their data and information. A part of it clearly is because we have come to ‘computerisation’ later in the day, which meant that we adopted the technology when many of the tools were already integrated into systems. For example, passwords. At the same time, many of us will openly acknowledge that passwords themselves are not protected as per instructions. It is not uncommon to walk into open-plan offices to see IDs and passwords pinned on to personal notice boards, or easily accessible in the drawers of desks. Passwords are also often shared between friends and colleagues.

The first question that arises is one of ownership. Who owns student data? The basic data that is collected by the school or university about the student is not the only information that needs to be protected. Student attendance records, teachers’ notes on their class performance (assuming teachers do their job and actually record student progress), student examination results and even the exam papers are data and information that must belong to somebody. If the school has claimed ownership of all this data, then it must follow that they have taken the responsibility for looking after it. Disclaimers notwithstanding — for we know that they are a cop out — the question remains.

Let us take this to the level of the classroom. Teachers all over the world lead primary school classes to greater global interaction via the Internet — via class blogs. Even geography classes using Twitter are not uncommon, where students connect with people across the globe and ask them questions about their country. What are the privacy policies for these? For discussions in massive open online courses? Are student writings open access? Should real names be allowed on Twitter — as the law wants to mandate? Facebook has myriad school study groups and semi-official school accounts. Do schools feel responsible for that data? Can they conceivably be held accountable for such interactions that fall on the cusp of student and personal lives?

There is, of course, the point of view that says that such data and information does not need protection at all. Does it matter if the information is publicly available? Both students and teachers are vulnerable. The recent furore over a Central Board of Secondary Education circular that asked schools to put details of teacher salaries etc in public domains is a good example. Over sharing such information puts the individual at risk.

As inter-connected technologies become an integral part of our education system, one of the big questions that needs to be asked is: Whether this is a matter of school policy, of individual contracts or of national regulation? Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or will the web of contracts that we agree to online define who owns our history and information?

This, then is a question of personal sovereignty.

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer on Oct 17, 2013

Higher Education and Technology

25 Jul

The contrast between the private sector and the state sector in Universities is stark when you look at the investments in technology. A large proportion of university classrooms look as they have for decades – large rooms, with seating arranged in traditional rows and columns, lit by a few bulbs and tube lights and a blackboard at the front. Yes, of course, they have been ‘computerised’ and many do have projectors in their classrooms. At least some classrooms. Students, in many of them have access to computers, though often it it is rationed access. Contrast this with the investments of the private sector in their universities who use these amenities to attract students to their campuses. Classroom conditions are better – acoustics, climate control, lighting, net access and of course projectors and microphones.

 

Using technology in education is not just about bringing Mahomet to the mountain, it is also about the mountain moving to come to Mahomet. Both, educators and technology need to move closer to each other to work effectively. Education technology has now, just about, come of age and become accessible in more ways than one. Not only has the cost gone down, both in absolute terms and relative to average income levels, but also technology has become more user friendly.

 

I clearly remember the first computer to be allocated or purchased by our school, that year a Kendriya Vidyalaya. Decades ago. It came in a box, mysterious processes that we did not see had conspired to send this magical box to the school. No instructions. No support systems. No training. Well, at least not before the box arrived. It was a PC. The youngest teacher in the school, the yoga instructor was handed the box – the others too old or ‘experienced’ to deal with these new fangled ideas. He plugged it in. Spent hours figuring out how to connect the keyboard, monitor and ‘box’. Switched it on. A green dot blinked. He pressed a key on the keyboard. The cursor.. well still called a dot/line since nobody knew any more.. moved down. And blinked. I was called to help. Why me? Because I lived on a campus where they had been using a mainframe computer for years, and I had visited the grand rooms (airconditioned) where the mammoth machines were kept. And had handled punch cards (anyone remember those?).

 

We have come a long way from those days. Sugato Mitra’s hole in the wall experiment, years ago, surely offered more than a blinking screen to the slum kids – which enabled their learning. A new device today offers so much more in terms of usability – it has walked a few steps towards the educator. The educators too have moved on from a phobia of computers to grudging acceptance of its usefulness, especially after the internet proved that access and communications were much more effective than earlier methods. Even so, many professors in higher education do little more than email or create their papers and presentations on the computer. Despite having so much at their disposal. Often, even simple tasks like printing out a paper (why print at all??) or sending out an email are delegated to a younger assistant.

 

One of the biggest challenges in India today is helping educators get on to the technology bandwagon. Many use sophisticated smartphones, have access to good technology, are and badgered by vendors offering them customised products and services. Some, indeed many, have their own websites. At the same time it is also true that higher education institutions have been unable to build and use systems that make learning seamless and effortless. Having a website, or offering a static list of information is not really using the potential of technology to its fullest. A step forward is to use it for marketing the institution – both for potential students and as an ambassadorial tool. Some offer learning materials online, including lesson videos. It is time to do that and far more to create a vibrant learning habit. For the mountain to go to Mahomet.

 

Much of this is changing. Slowly but surely. The All India Management Association (AIMA) holds regular webinars hosted from their Delhi offices. As do many of the IIMs and others. The Higher Education Forum (and I am a part of that) interacts online as much as in real life, working to improve the quality of learning and sharing in the sector. IGNOU has been at the cutting edge of technology for decades, using radio and television before the internet arrived. The National Knowledge Network that promises to connect learning hubs across the nation brings hope. And then, one look at government and university websites, and one knows that there might be a while to wait before they actually become effective tools.

 

Education technology is so much more than a single website, projector or app. It is a means of making learning accessible, seamless and integrated. It is a means of enhancing the learning experience and supports the teacher in filling gaps as they emerge. In the age of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), when Universities were forced to look honestly at the role they play, one thing is clear – education technology is the path to widening participation in higher education. And the path to mobility across learning areas, and teaching institutions.

 

Much of our learning happens outside classrooms now. Khan Academy and You Tube are cited as the sites most accessed for learning new concepts or skills. Assignments, lessons and peer learning can happen anywhere as long as one has a connected device. Learning has come full circle – it is again social, as it used to be before schoolrooms were invented. The difference now is that the learning village is global. Students now use mobile phones, if not the more expensive tablets and computers seamlessly in their lives. Recent reports show that social media is the preferred route to sharing learning materials – amongst high school students in India. All the more reason to build on this strength in higher education. The experience with MOOCs has proven that technology is a key partner in learner centric education, and this is where our higher education institutions need to focus their energies.

 

The age of technology in education is less about the means and more about the ends. This is a chance for the learner to step up and design their own learning pathways regardless of traditional institutional constraints. No longer should it matter whether biology is an optional course in the the BSc. offered by one institution or whether ‘applications of mathematics’ is available at the right level. With the aid of the new tools, every device is its own classroom, and every device is a chance for a deep and meaningful connect between the content, the student, the teacher and the institution.

 

 

Meeta Sengupta
10 July 2013, 09:42 AM IST

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/higher-education-and-technology

EduTech: Consider the Teacher

25 Jul
05/09/2013 | 7 comments

One of the first real insights into marketing that I credit my professors with was the concept of need. A gap in the market does not define the need for a new product, however interesting and attractive it may seem to those of us with bright ideas. A market for a product exists only when the need for it is felt so much that it becomes a pain point, which is when people will fish for their wallets, even dig deep to pay for it. Till you have a paying public, you do not have a market.

Somebody tell this to those who design technology for education. Please.

Education technology products, barring a few exceptions, have been designed and created by bright teams that seek to solve perceived needs. And then try to ‘train’ the users in making the most of their products. Naturally, both sides are frustrated.

Teachers and administrators are annoyed at being asked to work extra hard to try to figure out a system that is alien to them and comes with promises of making their life easier only to complicate it further. An analogy: Have you ever worked on an quantitative analysis done in say, excel, by somebody else? How easy is it to navigate through some other person’s logic? Unless there is a standard template it is virtually impossible to work through another person’s processes with ease. The only way around it is to be a part of the initial thinking and process.

Educational users see many hurdles on the path to using the technology that is offered to them. First they have to learn how to access the system, then how to use the highly codified processes and then they have to troubleshoot when things go wrong, as they invariably do, and then they must maintain and update the system with or without specialist external help. To many this sounds like way too much work. This certainly does not qualify for the ‘technology will make your life easier’ badge in their books.

Let us take the example of a medium sized school, as middle of the road as you can imagine. The teacher in charge of a class has around forty students to look after. She had an attendance register that was marked manually. Her major investment of time in this process was writing out the forty names on the left – once or twice in the year. In class, it would take about three (rarely five) minutes to call out the names, mark as she went along and tally the absentees. Her job done, she could send the register down to some administrator who would compile records for the school. In the process, she had the chance to notice the body language and tone of each child in the class, and to respond to it or not in the 35 minutes now available for pastoral or academic conversation. A caring teacher knew her students, their academic and personal challenges and facilitated their growth.

Now, this teacher has been encouraged to use an LMS – a learner management system. A computer sits in the classroom that takes about 2-3 minutes to boot up. In the time it took for attendance to be taken manually, the e-file has barely been opened. And so on.. the tedium of data entry starts with attendance, goes on to marks in tests. Errors and changes add to the confusion. This is for regular tasks, not for teaching yet. Clearly many thousands of teachers see this as an unnecessary burden that is time consuming and resource intensive. The benefits are clear to those of us sitting in judgement above – better recordkeeping, a history of achievement for each child available at the click of (quite a few) button(s), safety and privacy of records (ahem) and a database that helps a school evaluate its own performance.

Of course technology has a role to play in enhancing the educational experience for both teachers and students. Even parents can benefit – for example with the app that sends a message to parents informing them of the status of the school bus their ward is scheduled to use. And yet we see that few schools and teachers evangelise the use of technology in the classroom. They may speak of specific brand names because they have become familiar with them – not necessarily because the technology has enabled them to become better teachers. It is still an outsider in the pedagogical process.

While technology is touted as the solution to the problems of access, of standardisation, of quality delivery and of governance, it is also true that nowhere has technology proved to be a perfect substitute for a teacher. Definitely not a substitute for a good teacher. I have seen technology make the work of a teacher easier, when they have materials to hand on the move, when they can replicate successful lessons and activities, when they can email materials out to their students, when they can run class discussions remotely via twitter. It is also true that students can create and share learning materials, have rich discussions and access information that would be tedious, time consuming and costly in the pre-internet age.

There is no doubt that technology for education serves the efficiency argument. There is also no doubt that a good education is not necessarily an efficient education.. much that seems wasteful is necessary to allow growth of the student. The point of technology is to nudge learning in specific directions, to measure progress and to use the benefits of efficiency to release resources for value addition. But for this to happen, the teacher and the learner have to be at the center and origin of this spiral. The need, and thence the design of the edutech product has to come from a gap in the learning process.

A moment when the teacher says – ‘If only I had a tool to…’ or the student says, ‘If I could do it this other way….’ — that is a felt need that should be at the core of all education technology design. Not a designer presenting to their team – they can only imagine what may or may not be felt. Design that originates from clear felt need and engages the learners will never be trapped in hurdles or training at all. Good design seems to organically grow out of the process fitting in almost invisibly, enhancing potential. For example: spectacles. Excellent education technology that improves access to learning fusing naturally within the process, requiring little by way of ‘how to use spectacles in the classroom’ training. (Yes, technology is not necessarily driven by electronics, electricity or the internet).

Then, why are MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) so popular? Are they not driven externally? They have been berated by many educationists as being less interactive than teaching should be, for having little or no pastoral or contextual elements to the learning, for being manipulated into a cheap substitute for real teaching etc. These miss the point. MOOCs are valuable precisely because they put the learner at the center of the process. Technology gives the learner choice of two things: 1. What they want to learn (and how much they want to learn, it is barely tested, dropping out is easy, as is joining again in the next cycle) 2. Who they want to learn with – the secret sauce to a successful MOOC is the peer learning network. Which puts the learner firmly in charge of choosing and using the technologies – email, google hangouts, skype calls, chat rooms, open libraries etc.

In Education Technology, as with all successful products, the design has to start and end with the people who will use it – the consumer must be both the starting point and the ending point, a partner in the process to be able to reap the joys of enhanced learning

This was published in Forbes India On May 9 , 2013