Tuesday, 12 April 2011

From the allergies of the blackboard chalk, to the radiation of interactive board: What has changed?

We all remember our first day in school with that huge board in black (blackboard) with the teacher coming in class with his chalk palette (white, blue, pink, green and yellow).....Years later the whiteboard was seen as a nice innovation where chalks had been replaced by less dusty markers of different colours. However, the whiteboard did not really kick off in schools in its early days due to the perceived high cost of markers.  From the blackboard to the whiteboard, nothing changed in the way of teaching rather than the educational technology was improved.

Then came the overhead projector, which saved the teacher from having to write on the boards, rather he would display things that are already written. This is a facility for the teacher. He could also display images/graphics which otherwise he would have had to draw these on the board or bring photos and pictures in classrooms. Again, the pedagogy has not changed, although the technology has improved and facilitated the work of teachers. Educational technology at the service of teachers in this way is great as it facilitates the teaching process, but every new technology is costly, and it has to be mastered, then implemented. Many of them never arrived in our primary school classrooms, the overhead projector for instance. The same logic of improvement applies, when the digital projector was invented and could work with the laptop. The teacher could now project multimedia in an easier way to enhance student understanding. 

Well, we argue that the interactive whiteboard does nothing more than being another piece of modern technology of the digital world that we are living in. What is the difference between the digital camera and an analogue camera? its fundamentally the technology but at the end of the day we have the picture. What has changed? The picture is obtained quasi-instantaneously (remember of the Polaroid camera?) but it is also conserved in digital format. 

Now the question is: If we have an interactive white board, does it mean our children will learn better? 

If we have the interactive white board, does it mean students with ADHD syndrome will improve in terms of attention, hyperactivity control and performance in the class?

If we have the interactive white board, how many students will we still be having in the class?

Will we be in a position to have one PC, laptop or tablet for each student to replace his copybook? What will happen when the ‘copybook’ of the student gets lost or broken?

Are we ready to invest in this technology for each and every classroom when the pace at which the technology gets obsolete is just unbelievable!! Think of IPAD - IPAD2 is already out - how many of us got the chance to even see a real IPAD 1 in front of us?

Technology is like digital games. We have not yet mastered one level of the game when the next version of it is already on the market....What needs to be changed is the pedagogy and traditional ways that teaching and learning has been going on and those methods that we are currently employing.  Those methods that we call teacher-centred are still at the heart of the educational process, and this has to change. We are equipping ourselves with better tools but we are working the same way. If the way of driving is not good, a better car will not make any difference unless it is K2000 which can drive on its own...unfortunately there is no such educational technology that can teach on its own.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

e-Learning @ University of Mauritius (UoM): Case of the Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies (VCILT)

The Officer-in-Charge of the VCILT, Mr M Santally was invited as a keynote speaker at the ICT in Higher Ed Conference 2011 in Johannesburg from 30th to 1st April 2011. His 50 minutes talk focused on the VCILT since its creation to its current state. The presentation highlighted the challenges that the centre had and is still facing to bring about a paradigm change in the teaching and learning process. The presentation was highly acclaimed by the participants who were from different African Countries.

The presentation is available for download on the following link - http://www.slideshare.net/moham14/elearning-the-university-of-mauritius-the-case-of-the-vcilt

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Best Practices in Activity-based Learning II

Keep a good balance of complexity for the learning activities – not too complex and not too simple!

We are always under pressure to deliver quality education and in so doing very often we tend to associate quality with quantity and complexity. There is a perception among many educators and other stakeholders such as the students, parents and even policy makers that the more difficult the work is, means the quality or level of education is high. In activity-based learning it is important to keep the balance between complexity and difficulty level to maintain students’ motivation, confidence and drive to complete the activity. The learning activity designer needs to bear in mind that for a majority of the time the learner will be on his/her own in the learning environment. Therefore cognitive or psychomotor activity overload will have a negative impact of the learner’s affective levels. With respect to emotions and their effects on e-learning, a number of researchers have highlighted the decisive role that they play in human action and the forming of priorities by the individuals engaged in a particular process.

Provide a reasonable time span for the completion of learning activities
 Time keeping, estimation and management are important elements in e-learning. While courses are traditionally related to the number of contact hours in a semester between a lecturer and his students, the same formula cannot be applied when it comes to e-learning, more specifically online computer-based learning activities. It is important that a tutor or lecturer has a quite accurate estimation of the time to be allocated for a particular learning activity and/or sub-parts of a learning activity. Experience and previous feedback of students can play a very important role to guide the lecturer to set or review the time allocated to students for the work. The lecturer needs also anticipate possible issues and problems that students may face, evaluate how this will impact on the work of the student and to have a list of those issues listed and their workarounds. A FAQ style might prove handy.

Use clear and simple language in describing the activity steps 

When we write content and instructions it is important to bear in mind that we are writing for others to read and understand. Each and every learner is a different and unique individual and they perceive and process information differently. What can be seen to be a trivial instruction to the learner might actually be very confusing and therefore affect the learning experience. Technical jargons related to the course and/or to the learning environment should be avoided at this stage unless the terms have already been introduced in earlier activities to the learners.
Provide learners with examples of what is expected from them 

Learners continuously need assurances and reassurances that they are on the right track. This is a phenomenon which is observed because learners in reality do fear the autonomy they are given in the learning process. A good way in online environments and in activity-based learning is to provide them with worked-out examples, or sample of previous work of students. The only issue in this is that some students will just try to reproduce the same type of work leading to lack of application of their own creative skills.