May 2008

Equiping teachers to unleash learners’ creativity easy now!

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Despite great advancement in information and commun-ication technology, its use in facilitating quality and accessible teaching experience has been very minimal in the commonwealth countries of Asia and South East Asia. This has resulted in a large number of institutions and teachers being left out of the ambit of the best and the latest standards that these technologies have to offer.

For instance, a wonderful class lecture on Newton's law of gravity delivered by a trained teacher in a well-equipped city classroom may never reach the students of a school in a poorly connected part of the country. Similarly, a village-based educator may find it difficult to create a teaching process based on new ICT tools for a more comprehensive delivery of some educational concept, due to limited resources and poor technical skills.

An attempt is now being made to address the need for creating and capturing delivered lessons using affordable multi-media tools for taking them to wider audience and region.

Although the written, aural and visual media have hugely expanded the range of delivery mode of education, there has hardly been any serious effort to integrate the ICT practices into the training of teachers. Many teachers are either not aware or are untrained in various modes of communication technology to reach a wide variety of learners in remote areas or those who do not have access to formal schooling.

Moreover, not all schools in these countries have teachers well-trained in subjects like science and maths. Hence students may not perform consistently in these subjects. Other stumbling blocks are inaccessibility of formal schooling to the marginalised and high drop-out rates among students. The education system also needs to cater to multiple learning modes as some students may learn by reading while others learn better in the audio-visual medium.

To address these issues, the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) has prepared a unique and cost-effective training package 'Easy Now'. This short-term module equips the teacher to handle simple and inexpensive ICT tools to replicate quality learning materials in as many as nine different multiple media modes, which will go a long way in unleashing the full potential and creativity of the learner.

The package has been developed taking into account the merits of open and distance learning (ODL) and on-campus learning (OCL). It encapsulates the steps of 'capturing, preparing and delivering' high quality course contents in multiple modes of media for a richer and more interactive learning environment. This in turn initiates the learner into a process of life-long learning, even after leaving the school.

The concept of Easy Now came up in mid-2007. It was initially felt that the training module should target the secondary school teachers. However, during consultations with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), with which the CEMCA had collaboration for the preparation of the sample kit, it was felt that tertiary level teachers in ODL and OCL institutions should be targeted in the first phase. These teachers were believed to have better access to ICT in these countries. And these 150 master trainers from the tertiary level would then return back to their countries to train more teachers from the primary and secondary level. Teachers and learners are presumed to be the immediate beneficiaries of this project while establishments employing ICT-efficient task force will be the ultimate beneficiary. The consequent output by sufficiently trained task force is likely to have an impact on the socio-economic development of the region.

The project training comprises a series of six workshops during the span of two years from January 2008 to December 2009. The selected 25 teachers will participate in each of these workshops, which will be of ten-day duration. Based on the feedback received from two workshops held this year, necessary modifications in approach, content and method of conducting workshops may be carried out in the next four workshops in 2009.

Till March this year,  two ODL institutions – Open University of Sri Lanka and Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik, Maharashtra, have successfully undergone training and integrated the ICT tool in their teaching module.  However,  the path to incorporating ICT tools like Easy Now project in the education systems in the Asian and South East Asian countries is strewn with various hurdles as it is still a novelty here

Training to be imparted by appointed resource persons will be in three phases. In the first phase, teachers will be trained to capture lessons given in a conventional classroom using blackboard and chalk, through voice or speech-text recording of the audio and complemented with screenshots or electronic documents of the blackboard content. Another method is to video record the whole session.

The second phase involves preparing captured material in several ways like digital audio with paper copy of board content, slide shows of board content synchronised with the audio for use on a computer. Slide shows of the board content can also be made along with audio input for use on a computer. Board screenshots can be converted to movie form and integrated with audio. Video-recorded lessons can be edited and published. The quality of the output can be modified to meet the constraints of delivery and costing. In the third phase, the output thus created can be delivered in many ways, like individual viewing using cassette/CD players, video players/TV and computers. Mass delivery can be made through radio, television and the internet. Using the internet, the teacher can also host online classroom support to conduct question-answer and discussion sessions.

Till March this year, two ODL institutions – Open University of Sri Lanka and Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik, Maharashtra, have successfully undergone training and integrated the ICT tool in their teaching module.

However, the path to incorporating ICT tools like Easy Now project in the education systems in the Asian and South East Asian countries is strewn with various hurdles as it is still a novelty here.

First of all it may be difficult to locate suitable trainees, who can get sufficient time to spare from their already overburdened schedule of duties. As it takes extraordinarily long time to develop contents, planning should be
made to select quality courses in printed or oral lecture
form as the basis for training. Teachers are not among the highly paid employees in these countries and hence may expect financial incentives from their employers for undertaking the training and also in applying it in their teaching modules. So concerned educational bodies need to keep this constraint in mind.

Another significant constraint is the lack of systemic and institutional support to the application of ICT for delivery of course contents. Easy Now project involves a series of multimedia that teachers can easily deploy, provided the  institutions make available necessary infrastructure.

Further, the training will have to be content with the use of basic and relatively less expensive equipment for converting the course content into audio format and its presentation as radio programme. With government support to institutions in the form of funding, teachers can also convert their course contents into visual formats.

Following the completion of the training in the participating institutions, concerned stakeholders in each country, participating in the project, are expected to commit to carry the project forward. As more and more teachers get trained, the use of ICT for imparting course content in quality starved OCL centres as well as good learning material starved ODL institutions in the Asian and South East Asian region is expected to get an impetus.

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