Pune-based Online Science/Maths Learning Platform Function Space gets funding

Pune-based Function Space, an online “social” platform for learning science and maths has recently raised seed funding from Nexus Venture Partners.

Function Space is trying to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education fun and engaging, something that is seriously been missing from our education system

Function Space, already offers a strong community consisting of users from over 190 countries, including students, professors and researchers from MIT, Stanford, University of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, Indian Institute of Technology campuses, Indian Institute of Science and other prestigious institutions.

The funding will be used for expansion: of their content, their tools, and their customer reach.

Function Space was founded in 2013 by Adit Gupta, Sakshi Majmudar and Sumit Maniyar.

Read the full article

Online courses need to be more than just video lectures and assignments

Forbes has an interesting article which argues that Coursera and the other posterboys of online education are getting it wrong, and other companies (specifically, 2U and CorpU) are doing it better. The basic theme of the article is that online courses need to be much more than video-lectures

Let’s start with this provocative quote:

One of the founders of Coursera has, on multiple occasions, proclaimed that its “innovation” was no less radical than the printing press.

Really? If you have ever taken a MOOC course, you will know that a statement like that might qualify as among the most significant hyperbole of the decade.

I agree that what Coursera has on offer currently, falls far short of this promise, as one look at the completion statistics will show

But, online courses do have potential. What more is needed?

Online Courses need to break away from 1-hour lectures

The first questions is this – does idea of video-taping 1-hour lectures and putting them online really make sense for an online course, or are we doing that simply because that is easier and what we’ve been doing for a 100 years?

First, you cannot do this by simply filming a classroom and posting the video. Lecture capture is online learning 1.0 and, to be frank, it is lame.

[…]

You have to share the learning concepts in “bite-size” nuggets that move constantly back and forth from concept to exercise.

[…]

Further, high-level production values that use narrative nonfiction, animation and documentary filmmaking techniques are essential.

Online courses have less interactivity than classrooms

When you take people out of the classroom, they lose the primary touch point of that social experience. You have to replace this with touch points through online modalities. These range from synchronous sessions facilitated by faculty to team-based exercises and problem solving. There are many ways to build in social experiences in the online environment, but online learning architects must be thoughtful about it.

Online courses can beat classrooms with data

Third, data collection allows for better outcomes. As I have noted elsewhere, “Big data in the online learning space [gives] institutions the predictive tools they need to improve learning outcomes for individual students. By designing a curriculum that collects data at every step of the student learning process, universities can address student needs with customized modules, assignments, feedback and learning trees in the curriculum that will promote better and richer learning.” We are still at the early stages of capturing and utilizing data in this way, but the opportunities for dynamic learning are tremendous.

Read the full article.

Also read our other posts about MOOCs.

Online Courses / MOOCs for India – A discussion

Recently InnoVidya facilitated a discussion between COEP, [Observer Research Foundation, Bombay]http://orfonline.org/) a think-tank working in the area of Education, and InnoVidya, to talk about the use of online courses and MOOC technologies at COEP in particular, but in the Indian education system in general.

Here are some interesting points that I noted during this discussion. These are neither supposed to be comprehensive, nor representative. And it is possible that I might have mis-represented some of the things that are said. But even with all those disclaimers, this is still an interesting discussion.

Are Online Courses or MOOCs going to work in India?

  • Leena Wadia reports talking to an MIT (USA) professor who runs an online course, and he pointed out that it takes him 16 hours of preparation to create one online lecture. (But all this effort is helping his offline lectures too!)
    • Shridhar Shukla points out that given the state of technology adoption in India and amongst Indian faculty, this is going to be an even more difficult task. Hence, creating new online content is a big effort, and probably should not be a focus.
  • Dr. Gautam Shroff, Chief Scientist, TCS Research, has said that there are many people in tier 2 / tier 3 colleges or even in Indian software companies who participate in US based MOOCs (e.g. Coursera, edX, etc). These people need additional inputs beyond what is provided by the MOOCs. He said that they do not have the level to grasp the online lectures and we need to supplement them with helpful local courses/workshops.
  • Anil Sahasrabudhe, Diretor of COEP, points out that Coursera courses assume various things that the students are already supposed to know, or be able to do, and unfortunately, most Indian students are not really equipped for that. In fact, even for IIT courses, which are being put online at NPTEL and other platforms, are not grasped by students from tier 2 / tier 3 colleges in India, because of similar reasons. We need to do something to fix this.

We need Online Courses in Local Languages

  • Prof. Abhijit A.M. of COEP points out that if a subject is taught in a mix of languages: English and a local language, students respond much better. This is because many students come from rural India, or at least small towns, and most of their “English medium” school instruction actually happened in the regional language
  • Leena Wadia points out that asking faculty members to create online content in local languages (i.e. a mix of English and Hindi, or Telugu) can be motivating for them. Because there is lots of competition for online content in English, but nobody is doing it in local languages. So, suddenly the faculty member gets the feeling that they can do something which has not been done before, and they are contributing value.

Online-only self-service education will never work? -Fredrick DeBoer

Fredrik DeBoer, a professor at Purdue has an interesting article on how there needs to be some realism injected into the debate on online education and MOOCs (massively online open courses) and the world-changing exuberance that usually accompanies these debates.

He points out that the only way he’s found to get students to learn is to meet with them every day physically and drive discussions with them. Here are his arguments:

Excerpt:

I’ve tried all number of ways to do that outside of class meetings – marking papers extensively, using Track Changes, real-time online collaboration – and it never, ever works. Most them don’t look, and most of them don’t care, unless there’s the basic human accountability of sitting down with them at a table and going through the changes together. That’s how I drag them to the skills they want.

The idea that students need to be “dragged” to learning is something that most real teachers will understand, while most other people will dismiss, saying, “the good ones don’t need to be dragged.”

Fredrik goes on:

I will have lost some of you with that verb. “Drag them! How presumptuous! That’s so insulting.” I assure you: no, it’s not. No, it’s not insulting to use the word “drag” to describe educating undergraduates. I promise you it’s not. Of course, there are in most classes one or two or three students who are both very bright and self-motivated. They’re wonderful to work with. But most students require a frankly endless amount of pushing, pulling, cajoling, motivating, and yes, dragging to competence. Some actively resist. I’m not complaining: this is what I love to do, and it’s why they pay me.

The system has been set up in such a way, that learning is not really a goal for most students:

I’m just relaying reality, in context with an education media that simply doesn’t want to hear it: our college students are not an army of young autodidacts who are pursuing knowledge out of a love for learning. They just aren’t. They’re here, in very large measure, to collect a degree that they identify as being a largely or purely economic instrument. Who could blame them? That’s what their culture is telling them education is for: making money. So they proceed rationally from that premise.

So, what’s the solution?

So you work, and you work, and you work, and you sit with them in conferencing and you revise their papers again and again and you chase them down when they don’t submit by deadline and you make your instructions explicit again and again and you hope that they’ll bother to come back to class after spring break and you work, work, work to get them to a reasonable level of ability. And then when you give them a B+ they write outraged emails to the dean about what a horrible injustice that is. But of course they do. Again, it’s natural: their culture teaches them that everyone is equally capable of everything, and that any problems in education are necessarily the fault of educators and not of students, so they rage when they get a grade that is commensurate with their work. They’re a product of their culture.

And just in case you feel that this really reflects the (poor) quality of the students, note this:

And trust me: my students here at Purdue are not unusually unmotivated or unintelligent. Just the opposite; they’re remarkably bright, attending a competitive public research university, in a period where getting into good colleges has never been harder or more competitive. Yes, they’re a restricted range. They’re restricted near the top, not the bottom. Still, it’s a struggle to educate them. I’m just trying to be honest with you.

Read the full article

Are MOOCs just glorified textbooks?

Sometimes, when talking to educators, one gets the feeling that all the hopes of overhauling our education system seem to be pinned on technology and MOOCs (massive online open courses). Yet, while their popularity is growing, so is the criticism.

Here are a couple of examples from recent times.

Jonathan Rees has a scathing piece in Slate magazine against online-only higher education saying it will be a disaster for students (and most professors).

Here are some interesting excerpts:

But the most common way to assess learning in the MOOCs offered by the largest providers is a single multiple-choice question after approximately five-minute chunks of pre-taped lectures. If I had told my tenure committee that I taught history this way, I’d be in another line of work right now. Anyone who has the slightest interest or expertise in education would never teach this way, even if they were paid to do so.

and

The average drop-out rates for existing MOOCs is about 90 percent, so while Coursera may offer access to higher education anywhere in the world where potential students can get the Internet, it offers no guarantee that anybody will actually learn anything.

and

While MOOCs may serve a purpose as nerdy edu-tainment for people who are so inclined, a workforce trained without close contact with professors of any kind might as well not attend college at all. Going to the library and reading a bunch of books would be equally effective, and probably a whole lot cheaper.

Another indictment of MOOCs comes from professors in the Philosophy Department at San Jose State University (SJSU) in California, USA. The SJSU administration have just bought a package of online courses from edX, the online education company formed by MIT, Harvard etc., the professors were being “encouraged” to teach a “blended course” that would use the lectures from the online courses.

The professors refused, and wrote this open letter to Michael Sandel, the Harvard professor whose MOOC they were being asked to use.

It is telling to discover that the core of edX’s JusticeX is a series of video-taped lectures that include excerpts of Harvard students making comments and taking notes. […] we believe that having a scholar teach or engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students. Indeed, the videos of you lecturing to and interacting with your students is itself a compelling testament to the value of in-person lecture/discussion

Purchasing a series of lectures does not provide anything over and above assigning a book to read. […] having our students read a variety of texts, perhaps including your own, is far superior to having them listen to your lectures. This is especially important for a digital generation that reads far too little. If we can do something as educators we would like to increase literacy, not decrease it.

Read the full open letter. It is quite interesting.

I understand, of course, that the above criticisms are oversimplified, and there are many arguments in favor of MOOCs. And obviously, in a country like India, where the quality of professors in tier 2 and tier 3 colleges leaves a lot to be desired, some of the above criticisms against MOOCs don’t even hold.

But still, these are arguments worth keeping in mind. For example, if you’re going to bet the future of education on MOOCs, you need to make sure that the MOOCs you’re building are not just glorified textbooks.

InnoVidya Event Presentation: My Open Campus

Here is the presentation Arun Prabhudesai of My Open Campus used during the InnoVidya event on 26 November

If you don’t see a presentation above, click here.

My Open Campus brings seamless collaboration to colleges, communities and closed user groups . MOC aims to bring all stakeholders (for e.g: students, faculties & administrators in a college) on single easy to use unified platform, where they can communicate and carry out all regular activities online.

MOC offers secure messaging, online assessments & exams, Information repository, student & Alumni groups, event management, Student database management, discussion forums, placements along with host of other features..

The vision of My Open Campus is to create employable intelligent students. There cannot be knowledge enhancement in an isolated and restrictive environment. Hence MOC brings together all stakeholders on a single platform to make learning a fun & social activity.