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Technology

Blended learning- adopting the mix

For the longest time in India, use of technology in learning environments was restricted to projectors and computer labs. Face-to-face teaching was upheld, the internet was left to the leisure of kids for entertainment. Gradually, online tutorial services picked up pace and the watershed year for online learning has been 2020. The inaccessibility of physical spaces for large congregations forced schools to switch to an online mode- and that is an important step to a better learning experience.If one envisions a scale, traditional learning and online learning are its two ends. A blend of the two i.e. use of online learning interspersed with face-to-face teaching. Norm Friesen (2012) defines the term as “…. designates the range of possibilities presented by combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co‐presence of teacher and students.”Now, a blend is not restricted to only two things. Thus, blended learning too, has a wide ambit and numerous possibilities. Staker and Horn (2012) provide four models of blended learning:1. Rotation model: A common example of this model is splitting the class up into two cohorts during the computer period. One cohort sits in class, put pencil to paper for notes while the other learns the practical. After a designated time period, cohorts switch. Expand this idea to envision more and smaller cohorts. The teacher can assign a modality of learning- online, group activity, individual- to different cohorts and set timings to switch. So, a few kids may be learning coursework online, a group may learn through a project and some individual kids use a face-to-face setup with the teacher.2. Flex model: Students access coursework and learn online under the supervision of the teacher. Imagine going to school, to your class, powering up the desktop and starting from where you left the day before. You would be learning online, but in school with your progress being monitored by a teacher. Brining the online to school, literally.3. Self-blend model: During the pandemic, some institutes offered their students institutional access to Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs. The online facility for learning courses outside the curriculum is central to this model. Students may supplement their education with additional courses.4. Enriched-virtual model: Granting students more independence in their learning, tis model minimizes the physical visits to schools. Students are free to pursue and learn the assigned coursework remotely. They may visit their teacher for guidance or a consult which is optional. This gives students a more flexible approach to learning.Therefore, simply bringing school home, a switch to online cold turkey, does not embrace the numerous blends at the school’s disposal. A classic case of opportunity in calamity, the educational structures are faced with the opportunity of providing individualized learning. Here’s to awaiting an enjoyable blend of learning on the other side. A more visual read: https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Classifying-K-12-blended-learning.pdf

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Learning for the sake of learning

Imagine the last long drive you went for. There was no aim, just driving and pitstops when you feel like it. A stop for food because you felt like eating at a roadside stall or wanted to admire the sunset. Remember, there is no aim here- it is driving for pure joy.Likewise, picture yourself as a learner just driving, if you may, into the world of knowledge. There is no aim, again, just a pleasure being pursued. Perhaps you were staring at the glass in your hand and wished to know how the shape came to be. So, you read something online, a possible history of glass design. Thereafter, you overheard a conversation surrounding Existentialism and sat by yourself reflecting upon what it means to exist!John Green, in a popular TED talk, compared learning to personal cartography- making one’s own map. It is the documentation of one’s explorations- a mental map of ideas explored. It is an adventure one can always set out for- takes the tiniest of triggers. In the instance above, it was the glass and the conversation triggering one’s learning process- the curiosity, if you may. Sometimes, one is even on the edge with only a way back; the pursuit of an inquiry is often a cul-de-sac, an unsolved mystery. One can approach it in multiple ways and yet, converge at the wall. Perhaps, the origin of human life meets this fate. A breakthrough that wall is a discovery.However, we have been trained to learn with a goal in mind. From a young age, grading systems are introduced and emphasized upon. The threat of passing or failing pushes one to learn quickly and ‘correctly’ regardless of one’s interest. Every subject is picked for the level of intelligence it signals to society. Every internship or job applied to for the value it creates on one’s resume. In all this, learning is undertaken for a purpose- its adventurous-self is reduced to purpose. It hands you a map, detailing the route and the destination- digressions are forbidden.It is not a horribly made map, just dusted probably- it has been used so much, it is historic. Dust it off, and one may find new routes to the same destination. The teachers may take a seat among the students, and they may dive into knowledge together. Or there are more projects than classes which lead to the same goal of the curriculum but through unique approaches. The core is, to value a subject for the adventure it brings with itself, not for the grades or marks at the end. Studying need not be deprived of adventures.Think about the technology nerds who work as doctors, the friends obsessed with trivia- there is no productive element to that knowledge. They learnt it because they enjoyed it. That is learning for the sake of learning. It is an adventure created by you and yet automatic.

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Paperless learning

All participants in the current education system are loaded with paperwork. Teachers are required to maintain registers of attendance and planners for classes along with lecture notes. Students have notebooks and textbooks, exam papers, assignments, and projects. There is so much paper to file, store and remember where it has been stored. It takes only a bottle of water or a pen to leak and ruin hours of meticulous work and filing.Paper Panic, Manic Management. Misplacing a notebook, or a page of an assignment wreaks havoc upon a student or teacher’s mental state of mind. Deadlines are missed, new filing must be undertaken: the repercussions of misplacing paper are massive. If the teacher wishes to share a reading with the class, they have to wait in line to print copies upwards of 25. Then carry the load back to class only to realise they are short of a few copies! Worse yet, be informed a day later that some children misplaced theirs. There are only so many papers one can manage. On a lighter note, the ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse is possible only when there is paper.With the advent of online learning, new and efficient systems of managing paperwork have been developed.Paperless perks for the teachers- recording attendance is a click-away, and:– Meetings can be scheduled with ease for all attendees, at once. The time and date are logged into calendars of all participants. Reminders can be set to manage time schedules.– Readings can be dragged and dropped into the class folder, accessible to every child; they can print should they wish so, and reprint should they misplace paper- the document is always stored in the folder.– Assessments and assignments can be given online, proctored, and timed- there is no need to walk through rows for collection and distribution and no avenues for cheating. Teachers can also provide feedback on the assignment.No bags, no books. The student has an online notebook and does not need to carry them. As books become eBooks, the need to access the library is negligible. From the comfort of their homes, students can access a wide variety of reading material. Projects are online submissions and deadlines are stringent as submission windows close automatically. Dogs can’t eat homework and ink can’t spill either.Going paperless is not only a more efficient system of records and submissions but also disciplinary. The hassles of managing paper and the possibility of missing deadlines are heavily reduced.

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Packaged or flexible learning

Formal education, today, is packaged learning. The pedagogy is synonymous to the packaging of a product, while the curriculum is the content. Packaged learning is efficient- it is easy to distribute, a fixed package for every grade. It is easy to monitor and assess how that one package is consumed by the child. But it has serious problems.It is a ‘one size, fits all’ production and distribution for an immensely varied consumer base. It overlooks the unique needs, abilities, and interests of a child. Invalidating their individuality, it assumes authority over what the child should learn at which age.When all children are assumed alike, laggards appear. Inherently, there is no comparison between two individual personalities. But, when both are provided the same learning, one may absorb it faster than another- which is a difference in preferences and abilities.In contrast, flexible learning promotes the personalization of learning, catering uniquely to every child. It moves away from the brick-mortar schooling structure, away from the bells which mark the end of a lecture towards a wonderland where a child learns on their own terms.At the outset, one can think about flexibility in four aspects:1. Time and place: Education today is timed, usually mornings, and at school. So, if one prefers to learn at night, it is a problem. Flexibility in this aspect is learning when one is the freshest and where is at most comfort. For instance, lounging on the bed in the middle of night with a cup of coffee!2. Subject: A typical day at school is laden with classes and subjects already decided for you, like an a la carte. When it is flexible, one can learn what they please. They can learn astrophysics followed by guitar lessons right after- it is their choice. There must be a 24/7 buffet for learning. Change your servings with every visit and try something new if you please.3. Tutors: Currently, for every grade and every division within it, the teaching faculty is fixed. If Lola studies in Grade-3A, they have Ms. Monroe for Math, for the whole year. Their friend may have Mr. Raman whose classes are more enjoyable but that is not an available choice for Lola. When learning revolves around a child, they can experiment with different tutors before they settle for one. Or, they can pick different tutors for different topics!4. Media of learning: In a packaged framework, only one medium, for instance- a presentation, is used for the entire class of children. Flexibility implies opting for one’s own preferred media of learning. One could like a video for a topic, an audio for another and a book for yet another. One could want videos through and through. If that is what the child wants, let them have it.The true potential of any child will be harnessed when they are given the power to do so. Flexibility is of paramount importance today if we want a generation ready for challenges of tomorrow

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Moving towards the learning journey paradigm

Upon hearing the word ‘teach’, the first image most of us have is that of a class being ‘taught’ by a figure of authority. Inherent to this visual is the dichotomy of a student and a teacher.It remains an unstated assumption that the teacher and student are mutually exclusive entities, bound by a classroom for an exercise of learning, and/or hints perhaps only subtly that one cannot play the other. It is often a term that symbolizes a knowledge divide. More deeply, it also symbolizes knowledge as a static entity that has been passed from generation to generation.The setup positions teacher as merely a disseminator of knowledge. Thus, teachers are bound by pressures of knowing everything and also delivering effectively. The teacher’s own learning is in improving on these two dimensions: subject matter and presentation. Or a combination that leads to a new discipline called pedagogy.The student in this scenario becomes a subject; losing autonomy over thinking, simply being the clay to be molded. The scope of learning is determined outside of his capacities to seek what s/he wants to learn. Institutionally, curriculum establishment confines the stretch of curiosity. The expectation from students is receptivity, ironically a subject on which they are not often trained.Learning in this model is reduced to an academic exercise. Inspiring curiosity is among the delivery burden of the teachers, and effective learning is a function of students’ hardwork. Definitely. there is something amiss in this model.In fact, there was one question that bothered several teachers I interacted with: “Why is it that the way you learn the subject is not the exact way you prescribe your students to learn?” Almost all teachers confirmed, positively, that they put in abundant hours into preparing to deliver a class. And through the exercise, they learn not just the subject matter, but also stuff that matters such as what is not subject matter, and what is the best way to reason and articulate. The teachers’ learning is self-directed, objective-driven, and therefore more comprehensive.Just imagine what might happen if the teachers’ learning journey is tracked as it is, and shown to the students. It is a matter of conjecture now, but I place my bets on the possibility that students would at the least have more appreciation for teachers’ efforts, and, additionally, might learn more than just the subject matter: and that is learning to learn. And then, just imagine if the students had the opportunity to showcase their learning journey to peers and teachers.If the learning journey is the common denominator for conversation, wouldn’t learning be more yielding? Now, more than ever, technology enables this perspective on learning journey. But to realize the fruit of technology, both students and teachers must embrace the perspective of being learners first, and shed their roles assigned institutionally.

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Co-learning

Think of that time in class when a group project was announced. The teacher said, ‘pick a partner’ and almost instantly you knew who yours was. An idea of fun kicked in and the project activity was certainly looked forward to. While some learners enjoy group activities, some do not. But, beyond the component of fun, co-learning benefits all learners.Co-learning implies learning with peers and so simply put, group projects. Two types of learning which deal with groups are- collaborative and cooperative. The two differ from each other based on the absence (collaborative) or presence (cooperative) of an instructor. So, group projects as part of curriculum facilitated by teachers are a form of cooperative learning. Collaborative learning rests the authority of the project and its discussion with the group itself. The benefits of co-learning are common to both.Co-learning breeds new ideas and skills. Working with others exposes learners to different methods and styles of learning. The horizons of learning are widened as new perspectives are given room. The problem at hand is understood more deeply and through different angles. The solutions listed are numerous and more thorough.To learn with other learners is to place individual learning in the larger context of a group. Every individual’s insight is a contribution to the group’s understanding which in turn, impacts every individual’s learning. Every individual is thus part of something bigger than themselves. It instils responsibility of task, a sense of contribution andCo-learning promotes development of interpersonal faculties, inculcating among learners the ability to work with others. One learns to listen and empathize with their fellows in times of need. They learn to express discomfort and assert themselves respectfully.Learners learn to support each other and share responsibilities to attain mutual goals. There is recognition of one’s strengths and weaknesses; our own weakness is someone else’s strength which effectively amounts to learners with varied strengths working together.Another key learning is resolution of conflicts. The differential experiences, capabilities and preferences of learners may often clash among themselves creating a tough atmosphere. In a group project, with a deadline and an expected outcome, conflicts need to be resolved to make any progress. Hence, one learns to compromise and negotiate.So, learning in groups is fun and laden with benefits. The playful jest lightens the possible stress, a laugh or two lifts the spirit, the workload is shared, and numerous skills unlocked

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Teaching benefits learning

We know we can learn when we are taught by someone, but do they learn too? Are they learning better?Jean-Pol Martin, a French-language teacher, propounded the ‘learning by teaching’ method in 1985, Germany. He observed that students were more motivated and participative when given the chance to teach their classmates. It contributed to a sense of control and responsibility- ensuring the class understands the concept- fulfilling which generated happiness, satisfaction, and confidence over the material.When learning by oneself, the preliminary absorption of a concept often goes unchecked. For instance, consider a sum for the concept of area and perimeter. Let the question read as follows: Find the area of the circle given it was formed using a square of size 8cm.Assuming one is familiar with the difference between area and perimeter, a bulb of knowledge lit up when the question was read- a textbook method of solution sprang up in mind. Then, the learner equated the perimeter of the square and circumference of the circle using formulas. The equation resulted in the radius which was plugged into another formula to give the answer. A possible curiosity related to the novelty of the question was quickly appeased and a new sum was pursued.This is generally because the questions are exhausted. In this case, ‘what is to be found’, ‘which formulae are to be used’ are the questions which were answered. This independent pursuit of knowledge is the learner’s zone of proximal development, as theorized by Lev Vygotsky; the unaided learning which takes place through individual study. In a singular engagement like this, the inquiries are limited, and the possible sources explored, are too.When this learner decides to teach another, to explain and share their knowledge, they revisit their understanding of the concept or skill to recognize gaps and cement them. Logan and Richard studied this enhancement of learning through teaching. Their experiments elucidated the ‘generative processing’ and ‘long-lasting’ learning furthered through teaching. The learners synthesized the reading material into a relevant and coherent explanation.The learner may be presented with new questions which lead to exploration of new aspects and/or lags in previous understanding. Our learner’s understanding may be challenged with- ‘how can the perimeter and circumference be equated?’ or ‘what is the difference between area and perimeter?’. Cognizant of their fellows’ needs, our learner may now use a flexible rope to visually display the transformation of the square into a circle. The rope itself will be described as the perimeter and contrasted with the space within, as area.The individual being taught assisted the learner to unlock new ways of explaining the same idea i.e. scaffolding through the zone of proximal development, to a better understanding beyond which this support will not be required. In this manner, the concept was learned through an observable and/or applicable format, making its retention easier, for both learners.Thus, having learnt a new concept, the best way to assess one’s understanding is to teach it to someone else.

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Learning benefits teaching

Teaching is an act of sharing knowledge about a particular topic. Invariably, this activity involves an audience and a varied audience, at that. It’s the presence of this audience, of learners awaiting new understanding that makes teaching a challenging task. Learning by oneself is easier- we have a fair idea of our strengths, weaknesses, and our preferred medium of learning. The involvement of other learners presents the teacher with multiple combinations of varied capabilities and preferences in learning.Learning makes teaching more effective. The goal of teaching is to facilitate an understanding. Given a varied audience, the teacher needs to individually cater to the multitude of learning preferences. Assume the topic for the day is Rain. Some may prefer a visual aid like a video of a rainy day, while some may like a graphic novel- a story weaved into the concept of rain with the sky and clouds as characters. Both require the teacher to have learnt to use these media to explain the concept effectively. In this case, to learn is to explore new avenues of explanation. The introduction of projectors and slideshows is a new avenue. To perform a short skit imbibing the fundamentals of a concept is one, too.Learning enables the teacher to guide different students differently. The preferences in learning are varied to the extent that some prefer to have a basic understanding while some prefer a more nuanced foundation. The heart pumps blood to the rest of the body is a satisfactory concept to some. Yet others may want a closer look into the anatomy, knowing exactly where it is that blood enters first in the heart, what creates the pump and how it is transported to the different body parts through different vessels.Similarly, a learner may be content with knowing about the six planets in our solar system and yet another may want to explore asteroids and meteors or different facts about the Milky Way galaxy or a new galaxy altogether. These differential needs lead the teacher back to the drawing board to, this time, learn more deeply to guide the understanding in a new direction which the learner may enjoy. A broad and deep understanding of the topic equips the teacher to nurture new inquiries.Thus, learning significantly improves teaching. Built into this conclusion is the dynamic nature of learning- our understanding of a concept is always evolving, and rightly so. There are hidden treasures of insights under different beds of knowledge. The best teachers are adventurers who are always in pursuit of those.

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