There are often so many tiny life-hacks that go undiscovered, unsung and unused. Sometimes we stumble upon one that makes so much sense, and our lives so much easier, we usually end up wondering, “Gosh, why didn’t I think of that?” or “I never thought about this in this way” or “I didn’t know this was even possible!!”

We’re going to periodically bring together some of these Did-You-Know moments geared to help tap in to the potential presented by the technologies we use!

Today, we stumbled upon , Superintendent at Ottawa Catholic School Board, who has put this useful little slideshow on Google Tips! Apart from pointing out fun and new ways to maximize our use of Google’s myriad functionalities, you can also test yourself on Google trivia.

Have a go at it!

 

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Childhood: That temporal human experience, existing in the aftermath of birth, preceding puberty’s recalibrations. It is that time when the twin forces of nature and nurture embark upon marking inroads, busy in the business of forming bodies and minds. This is a period in the human life cycle that witnesses the fastest absorption of knowledge.

Childhood is an opportunity. Childhood should be seized! It is marked by an appetite for knowing, borne out of insatiable curiosity. If this inclination is allowed to simply exist, let alone be actively encouraged, the foundations of creativity can be laid without much effort. To question the status quo is the genesis of creativity.

Our hope for this day is that we take a moment to recognize the fantastical phase that is childhood, and take a moment to cherish young learners in their pursuit of knowledge.

Every day presents a new moment of learning. Why, every day is “children’s day”!

Masti Out!

 

Several team members at InOpen attended a public lecture at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (TISS), and here’s what they had to say!

About the speaker

The public lecture titled “ Right to Education- Where do we go from here ?” was conducted by Dr. Archana Mehendale, who is a Visiting Associate Professor at the School of Education, TISS. Revered in her field, Dr. Mehendale has been extensively involved in policy discussions with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). Her areas of research have included the implementation of specific provisions under RTE such as monitoring child rights, regulation of private schools, and the inclusion of marginalised children. She has worked in the field of Child Rights for over 15 years now, and was a member of the working Group established by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

 

What was the Right To Education Act of 2009? Retrieved from careerindia.com

Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, (shortened to RTE) is an act of parliament which was enacted on 4 August 2009, and came into force on 1 April 2010. It guarantees to provide Free and Compulsory Education to all children between the age group of 6-14 years.

 

Overview of the talk:

Over the past few years, the 86th Constitutional Amendment (a precursor to RTE) and the RTE have together dominated various policy decisions made with regards to education. As with most policies, whereas the content and intent of the policy document is often very promising, it is in the implementation where the system often falters. Dr. Mehendale provided an ‘insider’s’  perspective on the key concerns related to the application of RTE. She explored the manner and modes of its operationalisation and interpretations through the lens of child rights, privatization of schools, and quality of Education. The lecture was also engaging in its discussion of new developments that have been taking place at the policy level, and explored how we ought to reconceptualize the architecture of RTE given the flux of changes experienced in this sector.

The speaker gave us a brief idea about the history of events that led to enactment of Right to Education Act. References were made to Unnikrishnan Judgement, 86th constitutional Amendment, and Article 21 A.

According to Dr.Mehendale, RTE has both reinforced and diluted directives that have existed across a number of existing policies. For example, it has positively reinforced the system of Continuous and Comprehensive Education (CCE), formally introduced in the National Policy on Education (NPE) of 1986. Other policy alignment can be seen in the sections against corporal punishment, and not allowing teachers to take private tuition classes.

In contrast, there are cases where the RTE has worsened what has previously existed. For instance, formal recognition of a school requires an ‘essentiality certificate’ which ensures that the school in question is in fact going to serve public interest. An essentiality certificate is not required by the RTE. Dr. Mehendale went on to present several anecdotes that exemplified the more disappointing aspects, such as the miserable state of various committees, and how the Government is not ready to constitute committees which actually monitor the implementation of RTE. In addition, there appears to be a federal disconnect, wherein there is great disparity in how different states are implementing this the RTE.

The speaker left us with the following vision/solutions to the key issues arising in the implementation of RTE:

1) We need a unified vision.
We need to seriously consider and answer for ourselves important questions related to what should children do, at what and up to what age children should attend school, who is eligible to be the teacher, and all such questions that bring us to poke and prod at the assumed axioms.

2) Strengthening Federal relations (Center-State Relations)

3) Pay attention to Schools
At the end of the day, no matter what the purple prose in our policies, change is really borne out of action at the grass-roots level. School management and leadership, as well as the teachers, play a major role in mediating the policies, and ultimately determine how the policy gets translated to action.

 

Editor’s note: For us at InOpen, these are questions and thoughts that unavoidable. If we are to bring meaningful changes in the way we conduct computer science education, there needs to be a paradigm shift int he way we prioritize our educational values. Our values as a nation are reflected in our policies. The call to action is to think critically about the concerns about  The call to action is to equip ourselves with the information, and then formulate an opinion on the direction in which we are headed. Are we better or worse of, and how? With these thoughts in mind, we urge you to educate yourself further on the RTE! You are invited to explore the Department of School Education & Literacy page, as well as these additional resources on knowing the RTE and discussion on RTE (UNICEF).

 

The many devices and tools available to us for data processing and communication are the result of ideation and engineering. This lays out a stage wherein there are two archetypal characters in the play: the creator (developers, engineers) versus the consumer (users). Each engages with technology in a unique manner, their actions motivated by disparate needs and end goals, resulting in fairly distinct profiles. Naturally, both are required to sustain the digital community. It follows that each character’s attitude towards these tools, and ultimately their behavioral patterns can have a significant impact on what kind of community is cultivated. One such philosophical force has been the open source (software) movement, which albeit largely driven by creators has definite implications for the end user by the sheer economics of choice.

The movement towards openness and transparency in the creator’s process had its genesis in the 1970s and ‘80s, and gathered momentum leading up to the formation of the Open Source Initiative in the late ’90s. In contrast to the proprietary version of product development, the focus here was to lay the foundations for a creative culture “based on sharing and collaborative improvement of software source code. For those who are creators and developers, this method has borne fantastic fruit, particularly with regard to technological innovation for social change.

Take for example, FrontlineSMS, a product which has won accolades from entities across the globe. At its basic level, what it does is leverage the greater prevalence of mobile ownership (over computers and internet access) in developing regions, and allows internet independent communication with an ‘offline’ information portal. This technical innovation has found application in a range of development concerns such as medical assistance, micro-finance and citizen journalism. On the matter of the spin-off applications, FrontlineSMS creator Ken Banks says, “We make [source code] available to existing NGOs and grassroot organizations. If we hadn’t open-sourced it, we wouldn’t have this rich ecosystem of developers! People working in certain other sectors have identified some additional functionalities that can be added to the software that make it more useful and more relevant.

We always ask ourselves how we can apply technology in new ways to improve people’s lives, and we believe that the open source model helps spark creativity and more technology-for-good ventures.

Such endeavors, and myriad other examples, act as clarion calls to action for those who are keen on joining the force of creators in this field and have an inclination for affecting social change! For such young learners, early exposure to FOSS applications can work to inculcate in them an appreciation for collaborative creation that may well be sustained across the years, and result in an enthusiasm to actually contribute. Yet, what about their classmates who will graduate to join the ranks of the complement: the consumers? It does well to note that the values underpinning the FOSS culture are collaboration, creativity and meaningful problem-solving, thus mirroring the much touted “21st century skills.” Therefore, an introduction to FOSS is rather well aligned with the goals of today’s educators.

What remains to be unpacked is the practical implication for the future consumers who will now engage with FOSS-based computer application. One of the primary motivators to use proprietary tools is the real or perceived (depending on the software or feature in question) existence of a greater range of features. Another motivator is the easy inertia inherent in following the masses, toeing the dominant line of using proprietary software. One might quickly consider the basic office applications: word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools, database tools, and perhaps multimedia editing tools. Today, the fundamentals of this array are expected to be imparted at the school level, whereas the higher order functions remain largely untouched out of a lack of necessity, knowledge or curiosity.

Here is the kicker: the very same fundamentals in question continue to constitute the entire repertoire of the average post-employment user! In April 2014, Softwatch, a software analytics company, published their findings on a recent Microsoft usage benchmark study. They sampled 150,000 individuals employed from across different enterprises. According to their press release, “The benchmark shows that on average an employee only spends 48 minutes a day on MS Office applications. It also reveals high numbers of inactive users in the organizations; in particular PowerPoint was not being used at all by half of the employees. In addition, most of the users of the other applications used them primarily for viewing and light editing purposes, with only a small number of heavy users: 2% in PowerPoint, 9% in Word and 19% in Excel.”The take-away? Mark Vizard, blogger/commenter at IT Business Edge summarizes, “The real issue is that the distribution of Microsoft Office across the enterprises continues to be pretty much taken as a given. But upon closer examination of how the applications are actually being used, it becomes clear that 80 percent of the users are not getting as much value out of them as the other 20 percent.”

If most people are not likely to use even half the available features, where does this leave us? Continuing the example of office tools, we may note that the FOSS counterparts to Microsoft Office (OpenOffice, Libre Office) are fairly competitive in terms of features and functions, the difference becoming negligible when comparing the features that are frequently used/”basic”/”fundamental.” What this then relates to is a need for end-users to focus not so much on particular softwares, but rather in honing the practical functions that one is able to perform, e.g. word-processing, data-crunching, representing information in graphs or presentations, and so on.

Whereas any particular application software may get updated or uprooted, it is the ability to explore and the confidence in self-learning that constitute the skills that will persist despite those changes, and therefore need to be developed today. This is the driving force behind InOpen Technologies unique computer science curriculum: Computer Masti. The academic program exemplifies this spirit of providing a much needed learning experience, spring boarding the exploration of underlying concepts and principles of topics off of FOSS platforms.

Fact Sheet-09

Now, add to this idea of no longer requiring software-specificity a reminder about how FOSS applications have the potential to further engender an appreciation for the creative process, the thrill of having agency to affect change behind the scenes and it quickly emerges as a great choice for those interested in financially viable, socially conscious learning platforms! It is imperative that today’s educators draw the widest arc possible in employing the range of tools available, so as to grasp the common principles that drive digital tools, to bring in young learners an understanding of their place in the spectrum of creators and consumers, and the nature of exchange betwixt.

 ‘Pedagogy is never innocent. It is a medium that carries its own message’ – Jerome Bruner, The Culture of Education (1996)

An eminent psychologist and an individual who made profound contributions to the field of (western-borne) education, Bruner was onto something vital. Whereas, one of the pillars was that of developing quality content (the “what”), the equally crucial column is indeed the manner in which academic matter is conveyed and experienced. The style and method that educators adopt are necessarily the product of a conscious choice – a message that points to the values that govern a given educator. That is to say, “How one conceives of education…is a function of how one conceives of the culture and its aims, professed and otherwise.” (Bruner, 1996) And so, once the course of content was ascertained, the Computer Masti Program set out to weave into the base syllabus a unique combination of characteristics designed to provide learners a contextual learning environment. This was integral, given that the goal was not of the former ilk, i.e. impersonal transfer of information. Masti is means Fun in several Indian languages, and it is this spirit that guided the instructional design and methodology when in development!

In order to give learners an opportunity to develop life skills, the Computer Masti way emphasises the need to first appreciate the basic principle or rationale that governs a new idea. For example, simply learning that input and output devices exist and being able to rattle of some examples is not sufficient. Rather, the learner ought to be able to grasp the underlying concept of “in”–> process –> ”out”, and be able to provide an instance where this may occur in real life. Say, hanging out with Brother and making fresh lime juice: is there a parallel that can be drawn in what constitutes the same cause-and-effect represented in input and output devices? Ensuring that the learner is able to internalise well enough to apply themselves in real life is really what this is all about. This idea pervades the entire program in that the focus is on first establishing core conceptual understanding upon which software application skills are based.

If applying what one knows outside the learning space is what this is really all about, then it seems self evident that a simulation of those “real” contexts be employed. In a program such as Computer Masti, computer science is explored through the lens of peers (Tejas and Jyoti) in the form of a narrative that sets the stage for a conversation. Through this medium, concepts unfold in an organic way, subject to the “real” needs of the characters. The presence of a guide-by-the-side character (Moz) ensures that learning takes place in a ‘scaffolded’ manner (another Brunerism!), having created a safe space where asking questions is highly valued. The Computer Masti way draws from the constructivist tradition, and holds in high stead this combination of guided-enquiry based learning and the integration of themes from the real world known to a learner. This relates to all spaces outside of the computer science learning space, and therefore draws equally from themes first explored by learners in other disciplines.

A combined focus on basic information, broadening the scope of core concepts to cover and transcend the usual suspects of a “computer education” (utilitarian application skills) through a constructivist approach that is informed by the local context is a unique proposition indeed. At the end, bringing the masti (fun) in learning is as satisfying as it is imperative to keeping the learner interested and moved to keep learning!

Our previous post discussed the appeal of computer science as a vehicle to impart life skills, resulting in an ICT education that transcends literacy. In the journey towards greater relevance of education as we know it, a key pillar that furthers this goal is what we teach. That is to say, what the concepts and skills to be explored at the different stages of learning will be, what the scope of coverage is within a given timeframe, and what overall trajectory the educational experience will take. It also relates to the underlying mission statement of the endeavour. Is it to conduct an impersonal transfer of information? Or is there a loftier goal, to inculcate a love for learning, perhaps? Answers to these questions help to inform the important aspects of content development and instructional design, ultimately leading towards a “what” that is of superior quality by nature of being tailored to the needs of a paradigm.

The present paradigm demands of learners an ability to simultaneously apply knowledge and rationale, along with an appreciation for healthy collaboration. The much talked of ‘21st Century’ skills have captured popular imagination in grand fashion, primarily because they are in fact imperative (albeit with varying weights) to whatever discipline one chooses to pursue today. It is with this aim, to respond to these demands, that we begin charting out a course. It seems simple enough to ‘go by the available syllabus.’ In India, schools and educators tend to defer to existing publications, and albeit they may tweak them slightly to suit their needs, they look to the tables of content as prescriptions of “what should we cover?”

Consider if we were given the opportunity to begin on a new slate, and create a whole new curriculum? This seems an entirely exciting prospect, especially when one finds from extensive research that there may well be best practices out there, the combination of which is yet to be brought together to form an elevated computer science program. Such was the beginning of the Computer Masti program. Content was ascertained based on deliberation about successes around the world, and an exploration of the development cycle of a learner.  Seeing as the programs targets the K-12 demographic, special care was taken to be unequivocally intentional about the trajectory that the course material took.

In a previous post, we established how the Computer Masti (CM) program endorses an engagement of computer science and not merely computer literacy. Basic functions and fundamentals of computers and software applications are enhanced by the development of thinking skills, which elevate knowledge to a force for agency and fluent problem-solving. (See post on thinking skills.) A special aspect of the curriculum is the introduction of computer programming to a learner rather early in the CM experience, two to three years into the program!

The spirit of holistic development recommends that a learner be encouraged to become conscious of their actions and decisions. On average, an individual is given to balking at a question which asks after the frequency of dental care; but of course the answer is daily, don’t be silly! Now pose a similar query asking after care taken to rest any of the muscles used during the course of ICT activities; *crickets*.  The question we ought to ponder is this: what consequences do our actions wreak, not just on our bodies, but also on our privacy and safety, and on the integrity of intellectual property? In a paradigm where fast is better, ‘access now’ is seen as an entitlement, and being glued to a device is rather the norm than outlier, it behooves a computer science academic program to address the need to develop keen awareness about the consequences of one’s choices.

That the quality of content being disbursed across young minds is of paramount importance cannot be understated. If we are what we consume, then content indeed ought to be the king.

That computer technology is here to stay is an understatement, for it pervades all aspects of our lives, not the least of which is education. Whereas in so-called developed countries access to technology and the involvement of ICT in education is gradually becoming the norm, others have been slower in comparison. Emerging economies like India are currently carving inroads in the movement from computer literacy towards ICT-integrated learning. The former relates to ICT as being the core area of knowledge, vis-à-vis the latter presents ICT as a framework upon which other areas of knowledge are explored and learned. Note that an important necessity for this move is the existence of quality digital instructional material, of which there is a dearth, let alone individuals who are adequately trained to incorporate technology in the teaching learning process. To expand the body of materials available today to a breadth of consequence will require a sizable army of contributors who will be able to research and create meaningfully. The prerequisite in the march towards computer enabled learning is thus a focus on getting digital infrastructure in place, and to establish digital fluency.

It is not uncommon across the globe to encounter the buzzwords du jour of the education sector. Favorites have related to the development of 21st century skills; critical thinking skills, communication, collaboration and creativity. These are life skills that equip students with the agency to tackle a variety of scenarios. In the process of garnering the basic functions of application software and tools (computer literacy), the life skills in question allow the student to transcend into a realm of computer fluency: an ability to analyse, apply and rework their knowledge of the tools to suit the needs of a solution. Yet, most school subjects remain marks-oriented, often leaving little to no room for the development of this skill set.

Enter Computer Science. As a subject and discipline, computer science represents an opportunity to incorporate the nurturing of these skills. Critical thinking can be primed through an enactment of choices inherent in step wise thinking, problem solving skills, and multiple representations of data. Collaboration and communication skills, through group activities that facilitate knowledge sharing, coupled with ICT tools such as multimedia presentation, online content sharing and real time interaction with others across locations. Creativity is visited at every stage through activities that necessitate original thought, using the tools of digital story-telling and multimedia-based programming to express said originality. The questions to ask are: Are students engaged in actions that go beyond given texts? Are they given opportunities to practice these thinking skills?

Imparting life skills through computer science is immediately appealing, and is in theory a no-brainer! However, in practice, if efforts and effectiveness are to remain sustained, there is a need for the introduction of relevant policies that endorse and enforce such standards to incorporate life skills in computer education at the school level.

Often in the absence of said official policies, individuals and entities take it upon themselves to fill the gaps in services that would benefit the polity. The development of the Computer Masti program exemplifies this spirit of “be the change you wish to see in the world!” It is a pioneering effort to impart life skills (as such as they have been outlined here) though the medium of school level computer science, and is unique in its open commitment to facilitating an educational trajectory that truly results in more: Computer Literacy –> Thinking Fluency –> Power of Agency.

The journey has begun.

Last month, a contingent from our academic team attended the LEAD 2014 conference in Mumbai. Education Development Managers (EDMs) Shanti Davedu, Nishant Lodha, Surbhi Nagpal, Saman Siddiqui and Pem ZAS made their way to SNDT University for the two-day event organized by Leadership Boulevard (LB). This is the first year of this conference by the LB team. Here’s a look at some of the events of impact that left our EDMs recharged and raring to go!

EDMs:  Hi-Five for Exploring Future Learning!

EDMs: Hi-Five for Exploring Future Learning!

LEAD-Leadership in Education and Development is a forum for all stakeholders in education to meet at a common platform to posit important questions and discuss pressing matters within the field of education. Attendees included school leaders, educationalists, education service providers, teachers, and most importantly students!  The overarching goal was to bring motivated minds together to come up with action items and solutions to these problems.

LB Founder Sumeet Yashpal Mehta kickstarted the first keynote with these three rousing questions, which according to Mehta affect the very purpose of education:

1) What is worth learning for the future?

                                            2) Who are the future learners?

                                                                     3) How can we enable this learning?

Shanti

Shanti

“The first and overarching question got me thinking. Why not remove unnecessary things that the students have to just cram up for namesake? Why not just keep what actually matters to the students? The earmarks for deciding what is worth learning are insight, action, ethics and opportunity. For example, instead of learning that the first war of Independence was started with the Revolt of 1957 and then memorise all related names and dates, the teaching can focus more upon creating and expanding the perspectives in students. What are the various reasons that that lead to wars in general? Why are wars fought? Are there no alternatives to resolve issues? And once the students come to form a perspective on a topic, they could be asked to ponder the nature of insight as a guide in our every day actions.”

 

The plenary was then sorted into Work Groups based on the part they playedLEAD2014 action in education: school leadership; faculty; students; parents; education professionals. InOpeners fell into the latter category, and were so joined by representatives from a range of organizations: White Collar Hippie, India School Leadership Institute, Teach For India, Skilldom, Zee learning, Writer’s Barn, Save the Children Program, Zaya, Education City, Shirsha.

“The workshops were meant to generate solutions to problems stated in the keynote addresses. We were also joined by an amazing network of experts in a variety of domains, including sex education, clinical psychology, image consultancy, and arts therapy!” – Nishant

“It was amazing to see how people from a varied range of interests all want to achieve a common goal!” – Shanti

 

The second day’s keynote address by Melvin Freestone underscored the need for a transformation on multiple levels. Learning has to be transformed from being instructional to creation of knowledge, from learners being merely consumers to learners embracing the role of the producer, from curriculum being fixed by a teacher to personalisation by choice!

Surbhi

Surbhi

One of the highlights of the conference was the participation of young adults from the Akansha Foundation Service learning program. They shared how despite coming from poor community, they overcame all obstacles and are pursuing their Bachelors’ degree, and are giving back to the society by volunteering to teach students like themselves during their free time

“It was an altogether different experience! This was a reflective journey where thoughts, ideas and actions were all derived from the participants themselves. The encouragement and support from the faculty members inspired us to put our ideas into action at our own individual level.” – Surbhi

 

Q-for-U: Two words/phrases that describe your last thoughts as you walked away from the experience?

Pem

Pem

 

 “Refreshed and Renewed!” – Pem

“Celebrate the failure. Relearning.” – Saman

Nishant

Nishant

“Reflective. Energetic.” – Surbhi

“Relearning. Collaborating.” – Nishant

 

            

*Thanks to our fantastic EDMs for sharing their experience with the rest of the team!*