Saturday, December 8, 2007

Week 15 - Final/Beginning Thoughts on OER

Like many others, I would like to thank David Wiley for allowing us to experience this course. It was truly a learning experience. Interestingly, some of the most important insights for me came from the emotional reactions of people to the course, particularly when it ground to a lull and Alessandro posted 'Week X', and then picked up again. But I'll comment on this more below...

What did I learn? How will I use it?

When I started the course, I had little idea of what I would learn. I knew that in the future I would like to teach university/college courses through the Internet, and wanted to explore some of the avenues for that. I was surprised to discover that I might actually contribute to more than just university students - but that a whole world was there to "open-up" educational learning opportunities - allowing more people to access higher education's knowledge without having the financial or geographical barriers (although of course, access to equipment like a computer and the Internet is still a barrier for many).

I found the new realm of copyright law (i.e. Creative Commons), and examining the OER websites to be particularly useful in my day to day life. I have a friend who needs some basic Stats background - and I was able to send her to Carnegie Mellon's site for just that - in fact, I plan to take some of the courses myself. I will likely write under Creative Commons licenses for many things - particularly in my work with the Canadian Global Campaign for Education (an NGO network on the right to education) - where we create curriculum for teachers to use, re-use, and re-hash for their own purposes as it is. It is much easier just to explicitly say the items are CC.

I also appreciated David Wiley's attempt to bring the whole world's situation into the discussion. My area is international development - an area that really would do well to learn about the advances in this field. This aspect also brought forth some of the critical aspects of the application of OERs - how it affects some people and not others - how it can be viewed differently as a way to help achieve everyone's RIGHT to an education (re: Tomasevski), the empowerment/emancipatory view of enabling people to "trib" regardless of their level of knowledge (reminds me of Freire and Dewey), as well as the economic aspects of copyright, funding OERs, economics behind volunteer contributions, etc. This created a much richer discussion for the course. Thank you David!!

What did we not cover that I realize now we really should have?

We did not really look at the different pedagogy styles of OER - not that we have to use the word pedagogy, but really, what goes on while we learn in different ways. I mean, this course is an implicit example of an OER, and yet none of the examples we explicitly looked at were courses created via blogging. This is a different pedagogical style that the interactions of Carnegie Mellon or the content postings of MIT or UNESCO. I think, based on what I know of the field, that more focus needs to be paid to the learner, and how different technologies and formats affect the learner. Perhaps this is the reason why this course in itself was not looked at as an example?

Alessandro summed the pedagogy issue up for me in his comments, on the "Opened, Week X" infamous blog:
“Where is the beautiful relationship made of glances and smiles and jokes and smell after a hot morning in the classroom? Online teachers/tutors/mentors, did you ever think about this human aspect? Disappointment arise from the awareness that more or less 40 people all around the world are reading things and writing about them but don’t build up any social network.
Based on the experience of this course, I don't think I will try to create OER modules at the moment. I would much rather do something similar to here - form a group of people, set a timetable and discussions, and thereby learn, and teach, and create community of a sort.

On the process side...

I think pedagogy was implicitly touched upon in this class by our experience of feeling out in the cold and disconnected for a while (see Alessandro's: Week X). Yet, it was significantly interesting to see how people started to react to this realization - that there were others out there feeling the same way, and this is when we started to really respond to people's blogs. This is when I started to see the other individuals AS INDIVIDUALS - I feel like I know several of you - because you responded to my blog in a certain manner, and through reading your blogs I start to get a sense of who you are.

I had been the one who suggested having one week to post, and then one week to comment - and I'm glad we made this change. But there are essentially two different learning styles in commenting:
  1. Commenting on other people's blogs: This provides a bit of a conversation, although the conversation is still fragmented. However, more importantly, it is essentially a reaction to what the person has written.
  2. Reading lots of others blogs, and then synthesizing the information on your own blog: This requires a different set of skills. Although I think less of a conversation is created through this style, it does require me to actually consider and merge others thoughts into my own.
I'm not sure what the optimum balance between these two styles are - perhaps a bit of each? Perhaps alternating? Or perhaps asking people to make sure they don't do one style all the time...i.e. give them the autonomy to choose which style, but ask that it not always be the same style. Regardless, I'm really glad we made this change. It made a huge difference in my feelings of community in this course.

I'm sorry that we didn't get to take our work and present it to a group, and then blog on the experience. This was the assignment that was dropped when we changed to one week blogging and one week responding. I'm happy, in a way, because I wouldn't have had time (it has been a v. busy fall), but on the other hand, I think I would have learned the most from this. Stian and I are hoping to present something to the Comparative International Development Education group at OISE/University of Toronto anyway in January - I'll blog about it when it happens.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Conundrums in the Politics of Language in India

I was at a fabulous talk given by Dr. Ajit Mohanty, who is a visiting scholar from the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies at J. Nehru Uni in India. He's written several books on language policy in relation to tribal groups in India, with a social justice perspective.

These are some snippets that caught my imagination:
  • Language in India is very hierarchical, and English has won out at the top (as can be seen by the fact that English medium schools are by far the norm (as opposed to Hindi medium or state language).
  • English has became powerful in post-colonial regions particularly in areas where there were previously competing local languages (as in India, much of Africa) - whereas if there was a homogeneity of languages before (e.g. China, Korea), then English doesn't become as strong.
  • For many multilingual speakers, there is no such thing as a primary language - it depends on what you're using it for (e.g. at home your primary language is Norwegian, but for your work it is English, for your prayers, if you're Hindu, it's Sanskrit...etc.)
  • Minority language speakers often make a difference b/t the utility of the language, and the cultural/integration aspects. If they don't see a utility for their own mother tongue, then it doesn't get onto the priority of the school system and it slowly dies or loses status.
  • The Indian system is established for the majority speakers, requiring 3 languages - mother tongue/state language, then Hindi and English. But if you're from a tribal caste, then you have a 4th in there... which is ignored in terms of your formal education b/c the state language wins out instead. (despite the fact that policy states that either your mother tongue or the state language can be taught).
  • Kids learn very early on (b/t 2 and 10 yrs old) how to interact in a multilingual environment, even if they don't know the language of the other speaking
  • In 1970 there were about 88 different languages taught in school, and now there are only about 40...or something like that.
  • Although the number of official languages has expanded from 17 (?) to 22 in recent years - including 2 tribal languages in 2003 (the first that it has happened)
  • Indian national policy says it is supportive of multilingualism, but really in practice it is not...