Monthly Archives: August 2018

What makes an online course click?

The article has been authored by Beth Caldwell, Head Blended Learning, British Council India.            [As appeared on Hindustan Times, 20 September 2017]

The education system in India, and across the globe, has undergone many transformations. It has evolved from community sessions in open spaces to classrooms with blackboards, to being truly online and on-demand. Today, technology is at the heart of everything that we do, including education and learning. The proliferation of gadgets and access to the Internet has democratised education and given a level playing field to anyone who wants to improve or enhance their level of proficiency in any subject. As per a recent Google-KPMG report, the Indian online education sector is expected to grow eight-fold to a USD 1.96 billion industry by 2021, owing to increased smartphone penetration and increasing data speed. 99811

These statistics and estimates are impressive and promising, and there is no doubt that millions of individuals are inclined towards online courses given their multiple benefits such as ease of access, flexibility, personalisation etc. The demand has given rise to a multitude of online course providers and the development of MOOCs designed by faculty members from prestigious universities the world over. Hence online course seekers today, especially working professionals, have multiple courses and provider options to choose from depending on their schedule, the current level of subject knowledge, additional skill requirements at the workplace and course content and budget, among other considerations.

Given the complexities of modern-day lifestyles and growing workplace skill demands, the popularity of such courses in the long-run seems very promising. The only question now is if learners benefit from such courses and if these online courses are delivering the promised value. It is time to assess all online courses on one key parameter – effectiveness! Are the learners who have enrolled for such courses getting the maximum value and learning what they expected to or were promised? Are these courses simply cashing in on the need or are they actually delivering results? Or, at least, ensuring progress? Yes, technology has enabled access and provided more tools – e-classrooms, e-books, video tutorials – and facilitated greater collaboration through connected workplaces, remote working, virtual presence and annotation capabilities. But there is a need to utilise this all-powerful platform in the right manner. There is a need to ensure that the AR/VR headsets, e-classrooms, etc. act as tools that truly foster and catalyse learning rather than going down in the history books as ‘disruptive ideas that had immense potential’.

97494Hence, the real success of online courses should be measured by learning outcomes rather than just access. On how many students learnt vis-à-vis how many students enrolled. How much the students remembered and applied vis-à-vis how many modules they attended. Effectiveness and end result must be the parameter for both course providers as well as the customers. For instance, there are many online courses for improving one’s English proficiency, but do these courses ensure effective learning? Are these courses designed and structured in a way to ensure the desired learning outcomes for the learners? At the core of this discussion lie the basics of teaching. All our experience and research in the area of English language teaching proves that student-centered learning is catalysed through techniques using a communicative approach, such as classroom discussions and guided discovery, so that learners develop their independent learning capabilities and learn from and interact with each other, rather than passively receive information. Guidance and regular feedback ensure that learners progress and achieve their learning goals, and meaningful tasks based on real-life situations help consolidate what has been taught. Just as in our physical classrooms, this ethos is also behind the design of our online English course myEnglish.

Given that the platform, the experience, the environment and the tools are all relatively new, especially to the majority of the learners taking up such courses, the real magic of technology lies in creating a user-friendly and interactive environment that learners can relate to and are comfortable with. The onus also lies on the course developers to include effective teaching and evaluation techniques in the delivery structure and ensure that technology is effectively utilized to ensure success. Looking at the example of an effective online English course – yes, it must be available on demand and across devices – but should also offer an environment conducive to learning and a methodology that replicates effective classroom pedagogy, using techniques that enable progress. Hence, an online course is only successful once the learners effectively recollect, not when they simply connect (to the Internet)!

Find out more about our English courses and resources to help you improve your fluency, accuracy, and confidence: www.britishcouncil.in/English

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Learning from innovation – a digital approach to developing creativity in schools

Written by Andrew Foster – Senior Academic Manager, British Council, South India

It’s well known that teachers are busy people with many demands on their time, from administrative matters to participating in projects alongside their day-to-day work with students in the classroom, so it’s not surprising that finding time to attend face-to-face training workshops can be a challenge. Technology can offer an alternative to bringing teachers to learn and share their classroom experiences in the same physical space, although we need more information on teachers’ ability to access and use digital resources to understand what can work for them.

Core Skills* (also known as 21st century skills) are a focus of the Pudumai Palli Project: Developing Innovative Schools in Chennai (P3DISC) in which the British Council, teachers, students and head teachers of 70 of the city’s high schools have been working together over three years. One of the Core Skills we’ve focused on is digital literacy. Early in the project we discovered that it was rare to find computers that teachers or students could access in schools, with the internet usually only available to the school secretary or head. Quite a few teachers needed basic IT and email skills (which we added training for) while for some, access to the internet is via mobile only. WhatsApp became a key channel for communication between, to and from teachers, and one that we could use to learn about their digital habits and preferences.

We also identified the need to develop teachers’ ability to build their learners’ creativity and imagination skills. We wanted to trial how technology could be used to provide this training, via a simple digital learning resource which was in line with the teachers’ developing digital literacy skills.

User preferences

To explore what kind of an app teachers would be able to use and would find interesting, we initially asked them about which websites, apps and games they used. Their responses provided clues about what might be both engaging and navigable for them. An animated story with alternative choices for the teachers was decided on, and the concept developers mapped out the optional story paths in a cobweb of arrows and textboxes.

Conceptualising design

This story design then went to animators at Flow Creative, based in Manchester, who depicted a class with their teacher trying to enliven a cross-curricular theme of encouraging tourism in the students’ locality. The user follows the story and is presented with three choices of action, one of which will best encourage students’ creativity and imagination. Upon choosing one, the user receives feedback (spoken and in text) after which the teacher can return to the other options or carry on with the storyline. Sharing pictures from the animation with the teachers’ WhatsApp group got their opinions on the look of the classroom, the students and the teacher and their feedback was used to revise how these appear.

Piloting

The main test came when teachers used the pilot app – an opportunity for us to evaluate how easy and interesting or not they found it to use, and what they would learn. This evaluation was designed by The Research Base who were the third-party evaluators for the wider P3DISC project.

Many of the teachers were unfamiliar with aspects of the interface and needed assistance to find how to turn on optional subtitles that accompanied the spoken English narrative, and to select one of the boxed short texts which would give them feedback on their choice (see the photo below). It was clear that messages or illustrations could be added to guide the teachers, and subtitles made ‘always on’. The app was in English, and teachers’ comprehension abilities vary widely, so some appreciated the way that the app illustrated what was being described. One commented, ‘It was very helpful because even when we could not understand all the words the animation helped us.’

Teachers from Corporation of Chennai schools pilot the creativity and imagination app

Teachers from Corporation of Chennai schools pilot the creativity and imagination app

Once the teachers got used to the format they were interested to follow the story and make the choices that followed each of its stages. To find out what teachers had learned, we asked them to do a quick ‘pre’ and ‘post’ test on ways to encourage creativity to see if their responses changed after using the app.

The test results showed some positive changes in teachers’ thinking and knowledge. After using the app more teachers saw the advantage in letting students take the lead in stages of the lesson, more thought that defining ‘right and wrong answers’ can be unhelpful in the process of encouraging creativity, and more were convinced that creativity has a place in a wide range of school subjects. Most teachers found the app ‘useful’ (46 per cent) or ‘very useful’ (41 per cent) for their classroom teaching. Almost all the teachers involved said that they would recommend the content to others, citing how it helps to develop teaching techniques, using new, creative ideas that are key in teaching 21st century skills. Of 26 teachers interviewed between one and three weeks later, 25 reported they were finding the training useful for their classrooms.

Learning in motion

Using an animated, story-based app was a first for these 76 teachers, who were used to receiving input on what to do in the classroom via print media, face-to-face training or the occasional use of websites, and they enjoyed having something more engaging and dynamic than a text or a video with no built-in interaction. They found that the information came a bit too fast for them and suggested that the ability to watch and listen to sections again would help.

This experience has helped us to think about how we can better engage teachers to learn and reflect about the choices they can make in the classroom. It has also underlined the need for us to try out and evaluate digital routes to learning so that we are supporting teachers and learners effectively and not making assumptions about what is accessible or intuitive.

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* The six Core Skills that the British Council works in partnership to develop in young people are creativity and imagination, citizenship, collaboration and cooperation, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving, and digital literacy.

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