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Archive for the ‘These Guys Get It!’ Category

Since my entry into the blogging world almost a month ago, I have discovered Dr. Scott McLeod‘s work and have been very impressed by his incisiveness of thought.

If you haven’t seen “Shift Happens” (created By Karl and modified by Scott, YouTube tells me) – I recommend you do it now. For your convenience, I am pasting the YouTube video on this post. Watch it

 

 

It seems that Dr. McLeod is also a data junkie! He has compiled, with great effort, a list of the top EduBlogs (Thanks, Scott). You can download the sample excel sheet and and go through it at your convenience and maybe discover many new Education voices you may have not heard till now.

I had a look at the excel sheet and was disappointed to note that it did not have information other than the EduRank, Technorati Rank & Authority and the url. Dr. McLeodd, I would love to see, in the next round up of EduBlogs the following information:

1. Geographic Distibution: Who is blogging and from where? I suspect the current data may have a US bias, but I can’t be sure.

2. Type of Blogger: Who is blogging? Is he a teacher? A Student? A Professor? Administrator? Researcher? Government? Watchdog?

3. Give Readers a Weightage: Possibly weight the data to show how many people visit the site. My understanding of the data tells me that this shows how many people link to the site and how many the site links to (weighted appropriately) but not how many visit it. (being constrained by my own understanding of Internet metrics and tracking, I can alas, only preach from the pulpit but not suggest how to make this happen!)

4. Give Vintage a Weightage: This one is a tricky one. It depends on how you classify Top. Is the Top blog that has been cross-referenced the most? Or is the Top Blog that has been cross-referenced the most within a given time-period? I think there’d be rooters for both ideas, but personally I’m in favour of a defined time period (preceding 12 months, last calendar year etc). It makes it Current and Fresh, it tells you what the people are rooting for today.

5. Eduposts too, please!: Is it possible to have a similar list for the top EduPosts? Now that would be something!

I can understand that this is a lot of work the team to do, but maybe there is some way to collaborate on this? Wiki-style? Create a sheet with data that you want to collect and blog writers can fill in missing information about their blogs? Write-protect rank/authority data so that cannot be manipulated?

Looking at the Long Tail

I noticed that there were only 900 or so entries that had Authority on Technorati (i.e. Authority rank of 1 or more – simply put, Technorati had indexed pages that linked to these blogs).

Similarly, only 500 odd blogs had a Technorati authority rating of 10 or more.

Let me put this in perspective. After 3 weeks of blogging, My Technorati authority rating is 27 – no doubt a miracle, but if the Red Pencil can achieve this, so can almost all of us.

The list has over 3600 blogs. This means that, if one were to use Technorati as proxy for validation of content (and then by a small leap of logic, readership), we EduReaders are missing out on almost 75% of the blogs out there.

That is a shame.

For anyone who’s been blogging for even a few days, it’s obvious that the network effects of blogging are stupendous. A bit like in a telephone network, the power of the blogging world increases exponentially every time a new blogger is added to the network.

I wonder, then, what can be done to bring some of these blogs readership? Apart from the efforts they put into “publicizing” their blogs, maybe its worthwhile for some of the leading EduBloggers to evangelize their effort.

I am contemplating starting a small exercise where some of us check out blogs ranked between sub 500 (to around 1200) and put up posts that we find interesting. That should drive traffic to those blogs.

Maybe the traffic generated to the blogs would lead to more effort on the writers’ part to post regular, more cogent work. We in turn would find new, thoughtful and refreshing opinion.

The only caveat I see is evidence of blogging activity: any blog that qualifies for linking should have had at least one post in the last 10 days and at least five in the last two months. Wouldn’t want to be spending time linking blogs abandoned by their writers, would we?

What do you think? As ever, grateful and keen for comments.

Update: August 4, ’07 here.

PS: Karl and Scott, whats the background score on Shift Happens? Not the Scottish music in Braveheart, is it? Whatever it may be- It’s Brilliant.

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OLPC laptop in Ghana“It’s not a Technology Project. It’s an Education Project.” I didn’t say that. Nicholas Negroponte did. You know who he his, we blogged about him 2 days ago that also had a YouTube film and an overview of his workht here.

 

In case you missed it, Negroponte is ex-Director of the MIT Media Lab and chief evangelist for the One Laptop Per Child Project- a plan to provide $100 laptops to the children of the world. The OLPC Foundation believes that using these laptops will lead to learning. This post will tell you what are the pedagogical principles behind the OLPC, how making a $100 laptop is possible, what the current state of the project is and what could go wrong. I will use information from the Hole in the Wall experiment, first started in India in ’99, do explain why the idea may work.

 

What are the pedagogical principles behind the OLPC ?

 

Learning is our main goal; we do not focus on computer literacy, as that is a by-product of the fluency children will gain through use of the laptop for learning. Children—especially young children—do not need to learn about IT and certainly do not need to be fluent users of WORD, EXCEL and POWERPOINT—They are not office workers. However, picking up these skills, having grown up with a laptop, will be readily accomplished.

 

Learning some math facts while learning to hate math is far from ideal. Learning about things that are personally meaningful while constructing knowledge—especially where children realize that they had to extend themselves beyond what they believed they were capable of doing—is both natural and liberating.

 

Children need to learn learning, which is primarily acquired through the passion that comes from access, the ability to make things, to communicate and to express. Writing a computer program, while seemingly esoteric, is in fact the closest a child can come to thinking about thinking. Likewise, debugging a program is the closest one can come to learning learning.

 

It goes without saying that Internet access and tools for expression (text, music, video, graphics) are the contemporary “toys” for learning. Every child of any means in the developed world has access to a computer at home and usually his or her own, with music, DVD, plus interactive and rich media to do anything from learning languages to play games. Making these same resources available to the roughly one-billion other children, who do not have such access, has seemed ridiculously daunting, but is no longer. This is simply because the high costs of laptops has been artificial and perpetuated, not innate. It is fair to say that OLPC has broken this spell.”

 

The extract above was taken from the wiki site of the OLPC Project. You can access the entire wiki here.

 

The paragraph above tried hard to make a compelling case for the use of laptops, but fails. Yes, we don’t need to teach kids MS Office. Agreed. What do we need to teach them? Not articulated.

 

I think Laptops can help- indeed may studies have proven that they do (more on one such later). This is predominantly due to the ability of the machine to invoke curiosity and to provide rich visual imagery of a world unknown to the children until then. Also, interactive software and peer-to-peer sharing over wireless lan networks may being critical thinking, manipulation with data and collaborative skills in children.

 

But numeracy and literacy still need to happen- children need to learn how to write and talk in a language what the computer understands (or wants to make them learn).That and many other objectives need a teacher.

 

To my mind, the laptop is a useful tool but can only supplement not replace the teacher.

 

Lets look at what one group of experimenters found:

 

One of India’s leading IT Training companies participated in the “Hole in the Wall” experiment a few years earlier. A Latop was installed in the wall of a Delhi slum and then left unattended. It was observed through a telephoto lens from afar. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own. This prompted Dr. Sugata Mitra of NIIT who led the experiment to propose the following hpothesis:

 

The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.

 

The acquisition of these basic computing skills having been achieved. more traditional curricula can be pushed through the machine. In experiments with these computers (called learning stations) the NIIT team found the following:

 

data from the Hole-in-the-Wall Foundation

 

 

 

data from the Hole-in-the-Wall Foundation

 

The data above shows increasing achievement levels. Even though it does not mention control groups and their achievement levels, my experience with rural education suggests that the Learning-Station abled children would have come out ahead. So, on this evidence, the idea of a ‘minimally-invasive education’ (as defined by the Hole in the Wall Team) is worth suporting.

 

Ok, I get all this. But how are they managing to make Laptops for $100?

 

Over 50% of laptop costs are towards Sales & Distribution and Margins. As a not-for-profit, OLPC will lose this completely.

 

The screen is a large component of cost, with every extra diagonal inch adding $ 10. The OLPC laptops will be smaller.

 

The Laptop body will be smaller and of more inexpensive materials.

 

These 3 major costs bring the cost per laptop to $135. With economies of scale the OLPC team hopes to drop the cost to $60 or thereabouts.

 

 

So, the OLPC will donate laptops?

 

Yes and no. While some Laptops will be donated, I understand that the majority will have to be purchased by the government and distributed to the children. The OLPC recommends every child have one.

 

What is the current status?

 

Governments around the world are signing up. Rwanda was the latest to do so. India, which was invited to join has refused- apparently its a medical risk (for the eyes- overexposure to screens). Plus the government feels it does not have the cash to spend on this project.

 

On the technological side, experiments are on to perfect mesh networks (almost perfected) that will allow kids to connect to each other over a local LAN, school servers and even a portable yo-yo microgenerator that will allow kids to crank up on battery power. I am glad they cracked the last one- most other designs, including a hand shaft, solar power etc have either proven inadequate or too expensive.

 

Pilot programs continue around the world and results are encouraging- I understand that early next year the show should hit the road.

 

So, will it work?

 

I hope so. It’s an idea that has the power to make a difference (even if it doesn’t change the world, as it promises to), However, I couln’t help thinking of some shortcomings. I hope I’m proven wrong.

 

a) How does new software (new learning for the kids) reach them? It would have to created or underwritten by the not-for-profits or big corporations doing pro-bono work. Unless of course the OLPC team wants governments to have a recurring outlay on software (which does seem wishful)

 

b) What about laptop security: I am not talking about virus attacks, but security of the physical systems. The only way, probably, to do so would be to treat them as school aids- give them to kids every morning and take them back after school (though given that many schools dont have cupboards, finding storage spaces for laptops would be difficult- and another item of expenditure). But this beats one of the planks of the OLPC learning system- kids using & playing (learning) with these things at home, every day, even on holidays.

 

Moreover, since the laptops will run basic software programmes, they would have a market outside the school and the village.Why would an impoverished family, in the possession of a $100 object not sell it for food and amenities? Maybe the government should have a pay-as-you-go model in place to build ownership amongst families.

 

c) Wear-and-tear: How long will kids use these laptops. When they get slow and irritating, will the government buy them shiny new ones? Or does learning end with the laptop? Also there are costs to maintenance and use- in terms of resource time and materials used. What about repairs? I understand that they expects kids to conduct minor repairs- but seriously, wouldn’t that be too much to ask? Still, what about the major repairs?

 

d) What about Teachers? This still doesn’t resolve that problem: Pratham’s ASER survey found that in many schools there is gross absence of teachers (apart from when they arent on official non-teaching duties) and basic classroom materials like chalk and paper were absent. Most schools have student teacher ratios that make it impossible to teach with a modicum of success. I assume the same fate belies underdeveloped countries in other parts of the world. With money being diverted to the OLPC project, this will only worsen.

 

If this idea has to be implemented, governments are best advised to share computers between children and use any saved outlay money to put more teachers in the classroom, without whom learning through these machines will be hampered.

 

My concerns then are twinfold: it makes poor economic and logistical sense. I wonder what you think?

 

Let me stop here now. There is much more to be said and written about the OLPC project, I will do so if this entry creates enough interest. I hope this post has been of help. One caveat: I have read a little about the OLPC project but not significantly. If there’s anything that I’ve said that is error or if you can resolve the questions I worry about- click the comments link below and write in. I’m on my $15,000 laptop, listening in 🙂

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There has been a lot of talk about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Project. Haven’t heard of it? It’s the ambitious plan to educated the world’s children by providing many of them, mostly in the undeserved communities, with a laptop that costs $100. It’s headquartered at the MIT Media Lab and the chief evangelist is Nicholas Negroponte, MIT Professor and ex-Director of the Lab. How will it work? Will it work? What’s the latest? I will attempt to answer these questions tomorrow. In the meanwhile, have a look at a 18 minute clip (this is worth the time) on Negroponte’s blueprint for the OLPC project.

 

For those of you already wondering what this may mean for India – last year India, a preferred pilot country, backed out of the OLPC project with the HRD Ministry saying “India must not allow itself to be used for experimentation with children” and “It would be impossible to justify when public funds continue to be inadequate.”

 

(watch the clip – plays in the same window)

 

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The lot of cricket has fallen in India since we were unceremoniously booted from the World Cup in the Windies having lost to Bangladesh. I however, remain a loyalist and every time there is a match on, dutifully keep a tab on the score.India was to play Pakistan in Glasgow today. The match was rained out. Instead, I watched some old footage of batting greats like Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, the Waugh Brothers, KP and Ganguly go about their craft.

 

I noticed none of them stood the same way while taking guard (which was glaring apparent), nor did they have a similar grip or even follow-through. All these batsmen have test averages over 50. Which means every time they have gone out to bat, they’ve hit 50 runs, a substantial score in the game.

 

I thought back to my days as a school-boy and the harangue I got for not holding the bat ‘the right way’. Our coach, an ex-services man insisted that we’d come to naught, if we didn’t get the grip correct. Some of us did come to naught in cricketing terms, but messers Tendulkar at al definitely didn’t.

 

In fact, Ganguly would be a whipping boy for many coaches, bowling as he does with his right arm and batting with his left.

 

For those of us who teach and ‘coach’ teaching – maybe its better to say ‘This may be a good grip for you” as opposed to “This is the right grip.”

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One of the most exciting organizations working in the area of Education in India is the Ahmedabad based Educational Initiatives (EI).

I have had the pleasure to meeting and discussing education with two of its three founders Sridhar Rajagopalan and Sudhir Ghodke who (along with Venkat Krishan) left MNC jobs to work in the area of Education. before EI three co-founded, with Sunil Handa, entrepreneur and popular speaker on management and education, the Eklavya School in Ahmedabad. This school set in 22 acres in the outskirts of Ahmedabad is interesting in many ways: it is one of the few schools that has fields and open spaces commensurate with the number of children being schooled, makes effective use of the research thrown up by Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory and has a good Teacher Education programme on its premises.

Sridhar and Sudhir are both bright and passionate about Education. Its difficult not to come away inspired from a conversation with them.

Their organization, Educational Initiatives, runs India’s leading standardized testing service, ASSET. I have seen several standardized tests; the other leading test provider in India is Macmillan (in association with the University of NSW) but the ASSET rest is remarkably superior. It is authentic – contextualized to the lives of Indian students, clear in its questioning and responses expected, inexpensive, and throws up fantastic action-oriented data for teachers and administrators.

 

In the past few years, EI has quietly been doing a host of other good work. There is work with the government of Andhra Pradhesh and Harvard Universtiy, Teacher Training, School Camps and a new offering called Mindspark, an after-school prgramme that teaches kids Math and Science. What I like is that the team seems to be getting a balance correct- doing great work on its flagship offering (ASSET), doing good and meaningful research and still capitalizing on opportunities like the After-School space through programmes like Mindspark.

 

I caught up with Sudhir Ghodke and Sridhar Rajagopalan for a candid chat.

 

 

EI now spans a gamut of spaces: teacher development, curriculum development, Science & Math Training through franchisees, Test Administration and of-course ASSET. What would you say is your core competency and going forward, what would your company like to be known as? In terms of ‘product mix’ how different in would EI be 5 years from now?

 

Continue reading the rest of the interview over at my old blog, right here. The post seems to be having trouble communicating with WordPress. Thanks!

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