mLearning: Trends in Mobile-based learning (and how it’s different)

eLearn Magazine has an interesting event overview of the mLearnCon 2014, eLearning Guild’s annual conference on mobile learning.

The main takeaway of the author is that mobile learning is here to stay, and it is different, so educators and technologists need to start thinking about it seriously.

First the bad news – regarding the products being demonstrated there:

despite continual efforts for improvement, much of what’s available as tools and shown as demos are still mobile eLearning (or courses on a mobile device) not real mLearning.

That’s not surprising. Lots of people are under the impression that mLearning is simply making eLearning courses available on the mobile in a format more suited for the small screen.

But, here is the good news:

[In the first keynote, Larry Irving,] began by pointing out the growth of mobile, particularly in the developing world where it serves as the major internet channel as opposed to the desktop. He then moved on to how initiatives were underway to bring unprecedented learning opportunities to disadvantaged groups around the world using mobile devices.

and:

The second keynote of the conference was clearly the highlight for many. Karen McGrane presented a witty and compelling case for moving beyond blobs of content, and start talking about chunks of content. The distinction is important. Moving from content written for delivery to content written that is assembled differently depending on device, need, and more, is a much needed discussion. The separation of form from content has been well demonstrated, but hasn’t really been seen yet, particularly in eLearning. The argument here for structuring content, tagging with meta-data (a lovely quote from Twitter user @studip101 was “metadata is the new art direction”), and scaffolding the author experience was delivered with style and humor. Karen presented a message whose time has come.

Learning in small chunks, via mobile, is a fascinating idea that merits attention, as can be seen by the popularity of even simplistic tools like flashcard apps on mobile phones.

The products being demonstrated had more:

Some of the top examples included performance apps that not only augmented face-to-face learning with refreshers, but provided performance support as well. Another technically sophisticated system had physical cards for a learning game linked to a mobile app that leveraged them by extending the information via a scannable QR code on the back of the card.

But the broader themes emerging from the talks are of more interest:

Two themes that appeared several times, often linked together, were gamification and social learning. Apparently the casual gaming phenomena seen with mobile entertainment has opportunities for mLearning as well, though one would hope that intrinsic motivation opportunities would be exhausted before extrinsic motivation mechanisms are tried. Gamification of course is inherently social when competition is leveraged with leaderboards, or voting on good submissions. Social obviously holds more opportunities as well, connecting people for cooperation and collaboration, to the benefit of the organization.

And there is a third, futuristic theme that is also worth pondering:

One theme that recurred in several ways, including sessions and demos, was that of augmented reality. Layering information on the environment (typically visually) is an opportunity that now can be capitalized on. Sessions not only discussed the possibilities, but provided hands on experience using tools to make real solutions. While the processes are still somewhat effort intensive, real value is being seen.

With the rise of Google glass, smart watches, and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, augmented reality and virtual reality as the ultimate disruptions in education cannot be far behind.

Read the full article

Behind Harvard’s explosion of online classes: a flurry of lights, camera, action – Metro – The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe has an interesting article on how Harvard is building a full-fledged production studio to create MOOCs

Excerpt:

They were surrounded not by leather-bound volumes but by a multimillion-dollar production studio and no fewer than five bustling staff members adjusting cameras and microphones and ensuring the scholars made their points clearly.

The production values were taken at least as seriously as the scholarship. As the professors discussed the international impact of the ornate turn-of-the-century Singer sewing machine on display between them, the crew monitored three cameras and debated which lighting source would reflect off Gordon’s glasses or wash out Ulrich’s face.

When Gordon brushed his hand on his lapel, creating a tiny static blip, they filmed a second take. When Ulrich moved a book off the sewing machine’s oak table between takes, they put it back, then filmed her picking it up so the book would not magically disappear in the video.

Quietly, Harvard has built what amounts to an in-house production company to create massive open online courses, or MOOCs, high-end classes that some prestigious universities are offering for free to anyone in the world, generally without formal academic credit. Contrary to the popular image of online classes consisting largely of video from a camera planted at the back of the lecture hall, Harvard is increasingly using mini-documentaries, animation, and interactive software tools to offer a far richer product.

This is a fairly serious undertaking, with a serious budget, and appropriate professionals being hired:

The endeavor, which is called HarvardX and celebrates its second birthday this month, has two video studios, more than 30 employees, and many freelancers — an astonishing constellation of producers, editors, videographers, composers, animators, typographers, and even a performance coach to help professors get comfortable in front of a camera.

HarvardX has made about 30 classes and has some 60 more in the works.

Read the full article for a lot of details, including dissenting opinions, and other interesting tidbits.

Google Debuts Classroom, An Education Platform For Teacher-Student Communication

Earlier this month, Google started beta-testing Classroom, an education platform for teacher-student communication.

Here are details of the program:

The Classroom app is part of Google’s Apps for Education lineup of products, and it uses Docs, Drive and Gmail to make assignment creation and tracking easier than when you’d do those things manually. Basically, Google has taken a process that many were already using and streamlined it to make it more useful. Google has a huge advantage over other startups trying to do the same as a result; there’s an immense built-in existing population of users to get onboard.

and:

It also incorporates class communication tools, letting teachers make announcements, ask questions and field student responses in real-time. Plus the whole thing’s free for schools

Who gets to use it?

So far, Google is keeping Classroom invite-only, with educators invited to apply to the preview program for access. They’ll open the gates to that first group of pilot testers in around a month’s time, and Google expects to release it widely by September – in time for the next school year.

Read the full article

At MIT, the humanities are just as important as STEM

The Boston Globe has an interesting opinion piece from Deborah K. Fitzgerald, dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences where she argues that at MIT, the humanities are just as important as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Why?

Because:

But the world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale, and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities, from deeply felt cultural traditions to building codes to political tensions. So our students also need an in-depth understanding of human complexities — the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence — as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social sciences.

And due to this, MIT insists that its engineering students spend a quarter of their time on the humanities:

MIT’s curriculum has evolved significantly over the past 50 years to require all undergraduates to spend substantial time on subjects like literature, languages, economics, music, and history. In fact, every MIT undergraduate takes a minimum of eight such classes — nearly 25 percent of their total class time.

Because, in today’s global, internetworked world, just knowing the science and the technology is never really enough to solve any important problem:

In these classes, our students learn how individuals, organizations, and nations act on their desires and concerns. They gain historical and cultural perspectives, and critical thinking skills that help them collaborate with people across the globe, as well as communication skills that enable them to listen, explain, and inspire. They learn that most human situations defy a single correct answer, that life itself is rarely, if ever, as precise as a math problem, as clear as an elegant equation.

In fact, I remember that as an undergraduate at IIT-Bombay, I was forced to take humanities courses, and I hated having to spend my time on those, instead of learning computer programming. However, in retrospect, I feel that the humanities courses (psychology, philosophy, economics) were probably the most important courses of my undergraduate education.

Read the full article

Stanford President predicts Great Experimentation in the area of Online Learning

The Tomorrow’s Professor newsletter out of Stanford has an interesting article about comments made by Stanford President, John Hennessy, about the future of online learning

The main point he made was that this is a time of great experimentation in the area of online learning, and education departments around the world need to scientifically study online learning models and teach the rest of the faculty how to tame this beast. Specifically:

Hennessy said that colleges and universities will be taking a more scientific approach to online learning than in the past, relying on their schools of education to measure student learning and to provide feedback.

“I’m actually pretty confident that we’re going to come out with pedagogical approaches that are truly a step forward in terms of helping our students be better learners – and that will really be refreshing,” Hennessy said.

For example, this is an example of some interesting ways in which online courses are used by people around the world:

“Imagine that ‘Book of the Month Club’ becomes ‘Course of the Month Club’,” Hennessy said. “With a little bit of technology, a community of learners self-assembles around a course and forms a group. They do peer grading. They interchange. They exchange conversations and they learn the material together. I think we’ll see this happening. It would be a wonderful thing and great for the world.”

Another interesting aspect is that the difficulty level of exams probably needs to be adjusted:

At UC Berkeley and Stanford, he said, faculty members design exams to challenge students.”Now, take that exam to a school where perhaps the students are not quite as capable and give them that exam and you’re going to crush them,” he said.

In fact, the one of the most important areas in which online courses are being offered is education itself:

Hennessy said one thing that MOOCs do very well is “educate the educators” in other parts of the world, allowing them to use the material to prepare courses for their students.

And finally, this:

In response to a question from the audience, Hennessy said some faculty have reported that more students are attending classes when they have “flipped” the classroom – delivering lectures online and meeting in the classroom for one-on-one interaction and hands-on projects. While those early indicators are positive, he said, controlled experiments would be the key to understanding how well students are mastering the material in those settings.

Read the full article

Building a School in the Cloud – Sugata Mitra

Sugata Mitra, famous for his Hole in the Wall Experiment, gave a TED talk in which he talks about self-organizing schools in the cloud, and how we need to just pose the big and interesting questions to children, make the internet available to them, and get out of the way.

He starts off by pointing out what he thinks is wrong with our education system today:

[I]f you look at present-day schooling the way it is, it’s quite easy to figure out where it came from. It came from about 300 years ago, and it came from the last and the biggest of the empires on this planet. [“The British Empire”] Imagine trying to run the show, trying to run the entire planet, without computers, without telephones, with data handwritten on pieces of paper, and traveling by ships. But the Victorians actually did it. What they did was amazing. They created a global computer made up of people. It’s still with us today. It’s called the bureaucratic administrative machine. In order to have that machine running, you need lots and lots of people. They made another machine to produce those people: the school. The schools would produce the people who would then become parts of the bureaucratic administrative machine. They must be identical to each other. They must know three things: They must have good handwriting, because the data is handwritten; they must be able to read; and they must be able to do multiplication, division, addition and subtraction in their head. They must be so identical that you could pick one up from New Zealand and ship them to Canada and he would be instantly functional. The Victorians were great engineers. They engineered a system that was so robust that it’s still with us today, continuously producing identical people for a machine that no longer exists. The empire is gone, so what are we doing with that design that produces these identical people, and what are we going to do next if we ever are going to do anything else with it?

And, he goes on to give an explanation of why students don’t learn very well in our existing schools with their exams and tests and punishments:

The reptilian part of our brain, which sits in the center of our brain, when it’s threatened, it shuts down everything else, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex, the parts which learn, it shuts all of that down. Punishment and examinations are seen as threats. We take our children, we make them shut their brains down, and then we say, “Perform.” Why did they create a system like that? Because it was needed. There was an age in the Age of Empires when you needed those people who can survive under threat. When you’re standing in a trench all alone, if you could have survived, you’re okay, you’ve passed. If you didn’t, you failed. But the Age of Empires is gone. What happens to creativity in our age? We need to shift that balance back from threat to pleasure.

So, what should we do, according to Mitra? Based on his Hole-in-the-Wall experiences, he is obviously in favor of self-organizing schools where the teacher just poses the questions and gets out of the way:

I think what we need to look at is we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens

So, what’s the job of the teacher? Asking the questions.

I think we need a curriculum of big questions. You already heard about that. You know what that means. There was a time when Stone Age men and women used to sit and look up at the sky and say, “What are those twinkling lights?” They built the first curriculum, but we’ve lost sight of those wondrous questions. We’ve brought it down to the tangent of an angle. But that’s not sexy enough. The way you would put it to a nine-year-old is to say, “If a meteorite was coming to hit the Earth, how would you figure out if it was going to or not?” And if he says, “Well, what? how?” you say, “There’s a magic word. It’s called the tangent of an angle,” and leave him alone. He’ll figure it out.

I’ve tried incredible, incredible questions — “When did the world begin? How will it end?” — to nine-year-olds. This one is about what happens to the air we breathe. This is done by children without the help of any teacher. The teacher only raises the question, and then stands back and admires the answe

Here’s his final vision – school in the cloud:

So what’s my wish? My wish is that we design the future of learning. We don’t want to be spare parts for a great human computer, do we? So we need to design a future for learning. And I’ve got to — hang on, I’ve got to get this wording exactly right, because, you know, it’s very important. My wish is to help design a future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together. Help me build this school. It will be called the School in the Cloud. It will be a school where children go on these intellectual adventures driven by the big questions which their mediators put in. The way I want to do this is to build a facility where I can study this. It’s a facility which is practically unmanned. There’s only one granny who manages health and safety. The rest of it’s from the cloud. The lights are turned on and off by the cloud, etc., etc., everything’s done from the cloud.

See the full transcript or the video for more details.

It is interesting to note the contrast between what Sugata Mitra says, and the contrarian view from Fredrick DeBoer, who argues that online-only self-service education will never work, and that students, even good students, need to be “dragged” to learn.

Do online courses really work? Only 5% of registrants complete MOOCs

Researchers from MIT/Harvard have a study on completion statistics of MOOCs. They analyzed data from 17 MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT in 2012 and 2013, and found this:

Excerpt:

– 841,687 people registered for the 17 MOOCs from Harvard and MIT.
– 5 percent of all registrants earned a certificate of completion.
– 35 percent never viewed any of the course materials.
– 54 percent of those who “explored” at least half of the course content earned a certificate of completion.
– 66 percent of all registrants already held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
– 74 percent of those who earned a certificate of completion held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
– 29 percent of all registrants were female.
– 3 percent of all registrants were from underdeveloped countries.

So, only 5% of registrants complete. And that is after you define completion as “explored at least half of the course content”

The rest of the article tries to argue that completion rates aren’t the best way to judge a MOOC:

A MOOC is more of a blank canvas, said Mr. Ho. Some students who register for MOOCs have no intention of completing, and some instructors do not emphasize completion as a priority. Success and failure take many forms.

I don’t buy it. Most of the people I know who registered for MOOCs would have loved to complete it, but did not have the discipline/motivation to complete. (This list includes me.)

Read the full article

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.

e-Commerce company Snapdeal launches online education marketplace

iamwire has an interesting article pointing out that e-commerce startup Snapdeal has recently launched an education marketplace and expects to earn 20% of its revenues from this initiative in a few years.

Excerpts:

The company has currently partnered with around 20 merchants including meritnation.com, Practice guru and edukart.com. Also, the team expects to have 150 merchants on board in another two months. The marketplace would initially offer courses ranging from kindergarten to Class XII along with management and engineering courses.

This is going to be an increasingly important market in India:

“Online education market is expected to become USD 3-4 billion strong over the next few years in India. Services commerce, which does not involve physical distribution of goods, offers better profit margins, making it a highly viable business for internet companies to scale up.” said Kunal Bahl, Co-founder Snapdeal to ET.

Read the full article

InnoVidya Event: Spinning Startups from Science & Technology R&D

InnoVidya, IUCAA and MCCIA present a talk by Dr. S. Sivaram on “Spinning off Start-ups from Science & Technology R&D” on Saturday, Mar 15, 2013, at 11am, 5th Floor, A-Wing, MCCIA, ICC Towers, SB Road. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. S. Sivaram

Dr. Sivaram is a renowned polymer chemist and is. an alumnus of Madras Christian College + IIT-Kanpur & received his PhD in Chemistry from Purdue University, USA, After serving as Deputy General Manager (R&D) at Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd., Vadodara, he joined NCL in 1988 as Head of the Polymer Chemistry Division and was the Director of NCL from 2002-2010. He has mentored the PhD theses of 36 graduate students. He has over 210 publications in peer reviewed scientific journals and holds 47 European and US patents and 46 Indian patents. He is the founder-Chairman and presently a member of the Board of Directors of Entrepreneurship Development Center, Pune, a ‘not-for-profit’ Company promoted by CSIR-NCL and a Founder Director of CSIR-Tech Private Limited, Pune, a ‘for-profit’ company, to commercialize IPR and technologies of CSIR as well as other publicly funded research institutions. He is a CSIR Bhatnagar Fellow and J.C.Bose National Fellow at the NCL. The President of India had conferred the “Padma Shri”, on Dr. Sivaram in 2006.

Abstract of the talk:

Spinning off new start-ups is a key component of science and technology (S&T) based innovation. This requires cutting edge scientific discoveries, a robust IPR portfolio, an entrepreneurial mind set and an enabling “eco-system. In India, the burgeoning IT, E Commerce & Service sectors of the economy have seen increasingly buoyant “start-up” activity. Sadly, S&T driven entrepreneurship has been conspicuously missing. This Talk will focus on a brief history and evolution of S&T driven entrepreneurship and the enabling policy framework that triggered a resurgence of “start-up” enterprises in more developed countries of the world. The elements of the “eco-system” needed to nurture scientific entrepreneurship will be discussed. The weakness of the “eco-system” in the Indian context will be elaborated with some prescriptions for change. Some recent examples of technology driven enterprises from India will be enumerated, especially, in the area of health care, diagnostics and clean energy. A large part of Indian S&T is currently outside of this ecosystem. The question of how to bring them into the ecosystem, therefore, assumes great importance. If S&T has to become an engine of innovation and economic growth, “spin–offs” and “start-ups’ have to become an integral part of India’s innovation systems.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, March 15, 2013, at 11am, at 5th Floor, A-Wing, MCCIA, ICC Towers, SB Road

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here.