Co-Existence is the Key!

Dr M V Ananthakrishnan

Media Lab Asia, Mumbai

The author, with his varied experience as designer, developer, seller and user of ICT-based education, shares his experiences working with teachers, preachers and marketers of ICT-based solutions. The typical issues that crop up time and again include:

  • Marketing Professional selling ICT-based solutions to schools/teachers/end-users
  • Text-book material getting converted to e-Books/page turners
  • Concepts being introduced in a very complicated manner, very often being beyond the understanding of the end-user
  • An “overkill” of simulation/animation, much beyond the pedagogical requirements of a specific audience
  • Selling ICT-based solutions as reducing “teacher” time and increasing the “independent learning” of student
  • Very highly qualitative and unreliable evaluations of the success/failure of ICT-based solutions
  • High “Globalisation” and very little “localisation” of content
  • Involvement of high profile teachers and urban high profile schools in the design and testing of ICT based solutions
  • Absolutely no involvement of the end-user (the student) in the design, development and prototyping phases
  • Recommendation of “Blended Learning” as a solution. But, what is “Blended learning.

The article puts on record the typical experiences in each of the above critical issues and the author’s ways and means of handling them, based on a year-long interaction with administrators, teachers, students and parents of rural schools in Maharashtra

Teachers drive the technology or technology drive the teachers!

There has been a continuing debate on when, where, what and how technology should be integrated with education at various levels, primary to higher. But, should we be talking of “integration of technology” or “inclusion of technology” in education?

“Let’s step aside from this issue for a moment and think back a few
centuries when textbooks were first introduced into classrooms. At that time the initiative was not known as ‘textbook integration.’ The people in those days understood that the textbooks were conduits. Today we do not seem to grasp the concept that technology is liken to textbooks of a few centuries ago. If technology were viewed as a conduit, then it would be crystal clear that we are talking about curriculum development and not about technology integration” (Reilly, 2002).

Anthea Millett (Millett, 1999) talks about the misinterpretations of pedagogy: “I am always struck by how difficult teachers find it to talk about teaching. They prefer to talk about learning. “

So, in summary, we are left with the million-dollar dilemma: Do teachers drive the technology? Or does technology drive the teachers?

What aids better teaching and learning?

It is common knowledge that a child rarely learns in isolation. It is always in a group wherein the teacher and the group of students (varying between 20 and 40 in the same age-group) interact either as a monologue or in a dialogue. In most of the pre-primary classes in India, all children repeat in unison after the teacher. There is very little individual attention in the learning process. Herein come the critical factors that affect learning…for the good or worse!

  • Motivation by teacher
  • Peer-to-peer relationships
  • Communication between teacher and the student

This leaves us again in the same dilemma! How can technology mitigate these issues?

Curriculum vis-à-vis Technology

Early studies have indicated that in the realm of education, early technology adopters have been a mere 5%, primarily because the stress was on ‘technology’ and not on its applications to education. However, with the current thinking that technology is a mere ‘conduit’, the focus must return to curriculum development. Curriculum developers need to come upfront and take the lead as curriculum co-ordinators, and work closely with the technology co-ordinators/ directors, with a revised job description and mission statement. School authorities must look afresh at curriculum development in order to make technology inclusive and not as an add-on /extension to existing curricula. This may possibly bring the remaining 95% into the new genre.

The Indian e-Learning scenario: The Developers, Marketers and Users The author with his varied experience involving all the roles in e-Learning, viz., courseware design & Development, using courseware and evaluating courseware, has identified the issues that are crucial to the success of e-Learning.


A series of demonstrations-cum-discussions were carried out with the suppliers of the so-called e-Learning courseware in Mumbai and Pune for a Ministry of IT-IITB Project on creating a multi-modal repository (Classes VIII-X) for rural schools in Maharashtra, based on the Maharashtra Board syllabus. The findings were: a page-turner, Verbatim copy of the text book, Very few animations, worth the effort, Events/explanations, which could be done better using chalk-n-board or cardboard 2D models (say theorems in mathematics, solving algebraic expressions, etc.)

(b)Concepts complicated!

“Circulation of Blood in the human body” is the chapter in question. What is needed is just a description of the heart, its four chambers, the main arteries and veins, flow of blood from one chamber to another, the non-return valves and the heart-lung connections. A simple two-dimensional diagram with animation to show the pumping action is all that is needed. But, a multimedia package comparable to the movie, more suited to a student of medicine. Students of Classes VIII-X will be totally at a loss to comprehend this.

(c)The Advisors/Creators of Courseware/Curricula/Localisation

The author had the opportunity of being a member of a textbook review group looking into the draft version of a Physics book compiled for a board curriculum. Who were the other members of the group? They were college teachers, administrators, retired school teachers and the like, with very little representation from active school teachers (from within and outside the system)!

The story is no different for courseware vendors. They very often have luminaries on their advisory panel used to attract schools and teachers to their software. In the end, most of them, divorced from realty, come up with fastidious ideas and concepts and methodologies that are nearer to an urban locale and alien to a rural environment.

There is a misconception, among Indian CBT developers that a teacher is the best judge on the effectiveness or otherwise of ICT-based programmes. “If s/he ‘finds’ it useful, then the students ‘will’ find it useful” is the foregone conclusion.

The evaluation criteria invariably employed by the courseware vendors includes (i) number of computers installed; (ii) number of teachers trained and (iii) the schools/institutions who have purchased the courseware. The author is yet to find a vendor who has monitored the school/teachers/usage of courseware at regular intervals to assess the effectiveness and see marked improvements in the students’ performance. In addition, no vendor has produced documentation from a satisfied “customer”.  In short, therefore, success is seen in numbers and not effectiveness, something that will not hold water when the vendor tries to “prove” the effectiveness of his/her product.

d) Blended Learning
Blended Learning is learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning, and founded on transparent communication amongst all parties involved with a course (Heinz et al, ). “At a recent conference, a practitioner was overheard saying, ‘I can see why blending makes sense. But what do I put with what? We have a hundred instructors & e-Learning modules. If we put them together, is that a blend?” (Rossett et al, 2003).

The dilemma still remains – What is Blended Learning? It is not a direct outcome of a planned pedagogy, wherein the teacher decides as to when introduce examples, demonstrations, hands-on, self-learning, etc. “Blended” in its true sense would connote a homogeneous medium, where one would be unable to separate the constituents. So a better term would be integrated teaching/learning, where the parts are combined to make an appropriate mix.

The Indian Challenge: Making the courseware co-exist with the teacher experiences of using CBT courseware and observing students at work with such resources is disturbing. Since they are not a part of the need analysis process, they have to accept or reject the medium. The result- the courseware becomes electronic blackboards, with the student reading off the screen, akin to reading off the book or the traditional blackboard.

a)The Phases of development

It is, therefore, essential that the Requirements Gathering Phase should be done as shown in Table. Phase 1 is critical to the acceptance or rejection of the ‘medium’.

b)Prototyping: An essential step

The author has found the “prototyping” stage as the most critical to the acceptance of CBT/e-Learning as an instructional medium, because it clearly demonstrates the use of the client’s content in zeroing in on the pedagogy to be used and how. This eases the following steps and makes the development process more participative and fruitful.

c)Experiences with the rural schools

An experiment on easing adaptation of e-Learning/CBTs was done through a disciplined process. It involved the following stages:

  • One Multimedia PC supplied to each school with the School matching it with one PC from their side
  •  Off-the-shelf CDs for Classes VIII-X purchased in Science, Maths and Social Studies and supplied to each school
  • General Purpose CDs (Dictionary, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Graphics Software) supplied to each school
  • A portal developed and populated with three types of information (using the Standard VIII text book )viz.
  • Section-wise reference to specific locations on the off-the-shelf CDs
  • Section-wise reference to freely-available software/open source material on the net/in-house development
  • Web addresses to other useful resources
  • Intensive Training Programmes conducted for the school teachers on two occasions (for teachers brought to Pabal and Pune) on Computers and using computers for Education
  • Exclusive 3–day Workshop for the teachers of Gram Prabodhini Vidyalaya, Salumbre, Maharashtra, in April 2007. The workshop was successful in that the teachers understood what it meant by “integrating Media into the teaching methodology”. The teachers proved it for themselves by conducting mock classes during the
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