Friday, 12 October 2007

UK demand for education an opportunity for India

A recent BBC news item showed 'A' level students getting online tuition from tutors in India.

This is another step along the path of separating content away from actual teaching. Course content creation and planning is already a huge overhead in the UK, and the stress placed on teachers is still having a significant impact on teacher recruitment and retention.

It is lack of access to fully geared up and committed teachers which is driving UK students and parents abroad. The UK system is too rigid to allow talented individuals into the system on a mentoring basis, and the overheads are driving out those who originally had a calling for the profession.

It will be a brave government that takes the leap into fully outsourced course content and local teacher supervision. Perhaps, however, the UK descent down educational league tables may yet provide the stimulus government needs for a root and branch review and a radical new approach.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Berkeley University lectures now on YouTube

Berkeley University, USA, has posted hundreds of hours of lectures on the internet, which means this previously inaccessible and highly valued content is now available globally, for free.

The ability of the internet to host content is, of course, now well established, so what does this mean for education from here on ?

The emphasis in learning has to change. Educational content now has to be a given, already provided, available when you want, where you want, how you want. As time passes, the body of content will build, mature and condense into a core of high value material.

What remains is how students are helped through educational content they find difficult to understand, and how their capabilities are assessed.

The best teachers, the ones we always remember from our youth, are those who always had the knack, talent & charisma to convey content. With the emphasis away from content re-invention, this should free up teachers from content preparation and allow them to do what they do best, the teaching.

Using a reputation based model is now becoming more prevalent for such things as mass publication, or spamming as we have known it up until now. Why should not education also benefit from the reputation of the teacher or mentor ? Under a reputation based model, it is in the teacher's best interests to grade students accurately, so that their students can then be compared like for like against students of other teachers.

Is this the way forward for education ? More efficient, and reputation based ? How quickly can politicians understand the potential and harness the new landscape to build and deliver effective education systems ?

Clearly, Berkeley will be in the vanguard of such developments.

Monday, 8 October 2007

The future of Further & Scarcity Education

Where might Further Education be headed, with so much information and connectivity now available online ?

Improved Accessibility
One current problem education has is accessibility. It usually has to be delivered face to face, by a dedicated teacher, who is trained and maintained at great expense. For children in full time education this is a sensible use of resource, always provided teachers are of sufficient standard.

But we know this is not always the case. It may be the case that, where teaching standards are insufficient or where schools become uneconomic, children in failing or closing schools and adults who have fallen out of the education system may do better online. The teaching profession already recognises that it's "whatever it takes", that there are many ways to reach the end goal, and that it's "about the teacher, stupid". Herein lies great knowledge and value.

Online tuition must now be considered as a viable additional option for both Further Education and what we might call "Scarcity Education". How much better that a tutor spends time dealing with genuine issues, and letting students move forward at their own pace.

Online tuition also offers students the opportunity to select unique course elements, to build a qualification that has individual elements tutored perhaps by recognised experts in their field.

How would such variety and diversity be "controlled" ?

More Flexible Assessment & Accreditation
For tomorrow's students, studying online at their own pace, and referring occasionally to a tutor, how do they first select the course ? How is the course accredited ? Who will recognise the course as being "valuable" to them ?

Here we need another step forward. At present, there is no means of recognising a student's tutor as delivering students of a measurable standard. If each tutor has a reputation to preserve, as measured by recipients of their "student product" and by students themselves, they will have a much more public profile to maintain, and a vested interest in producing better, more measurable "product" than their "competitors".

It is precisely because schools and FE colleges act as a "closed shop" that poor standards are not exposed for what they are. The school Head needs to employ staff who are committed to their student's learning, not just doing a 9-5 job. How better to do this than to show results from individual teachers, "graded" by their students and eventual employers ? For those who are truly committed, and these creatures still thankfully exist, this would be one heck of a motivator. Their efforts could actually get real recognition, and hence a better chance of attracting comparable rewards. This factor is just as true in a business environment, learning more business oriented skills, and the current lack of this focus results in poor and ineffective recruitment processes into large businesses.

So what's the answer ?

Reputation Communities
One answer is for the government to fund communities that support and encourage educationalist & training reputations. This would act as a central forum for teachers and trainers where they could come and show off their abilities and specialities, and their preferred operational hours. Although current 'A' Level results tell us anonymously how well a teacher is doing, it is from an Exam Board perspective, not from the students themselves, and not from employers.

Clearly, there is still a need here for face to face contact in a local setting. As such there is a need for security clearance for a smaller section of this "on-line" population. The government would be central in providing that security for more vulnerable sections of the population still needing face to face advice and guidance.

How can reputations be established ? By associating with someone with an established reputation looking to grow their "local network".

Opportunity Now
The future can develop this way right now. What is needed is a leader of the pack, someone with vision and contacts who can trial and promote such developments, and convince those with funds that this is the way to go, and that it fills a significant gap in current education provision.