Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WikiEducator; a promising star in the OER world



Dr. Wayne along with school children
after signing Open Education Declaration
at Warrington School Otago

WikiEducator (www.wikieducator.org)  is an online community project founded by Dr. Wayne Mackintosh for working collaboratively towards a free version of the education curriculum. It was launched in 2006 using MediaWiki, a free and open technology. WikiEducator aims to build a thriving and sustainable global community dedicated to the design, development and delivery of free content for learning in realization of a free version of the education curriculum by 2015.

Dr. Wayne Mackintosh has set up the prototype of WikiEducator in a desktop machine and registered the WikiEducator domain name during February 2006 in New Zealand. In April 2006, the prototype was moved onto a hosted server with the financial assistance of Cmmonwealth of Learning (COL). By 2009 WikiEducator’s activities and influence have expanded well beyond the Commonwealth and it became an independent entity as from 1 July, 2009, headquartered at the new International Centre for Open Education at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand. While COL continues to provide some financial support for WikiEducator and encourages educators around the world to support it, the newly created Open Education Resource Foundation, a non profit charity, maintains the technical and operational infrastructure of the WikiEducator.

Innovations

Governance:

Towards the realization of its vision of a thriving and sustainable global community dedicated to the design, development and delivery of OER, the WikiEducator has accepted an open community governance model. Following this model, through an open online democratic election process, it has elected a Community Council to lead and guide the WikiEducator community.

Training:

The project has also devloped an innovative training programme, The Learning4Content (L4C). The L4C is inspired by the meaningful native North American proverb Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may not remember, involve me, and I'll understand. Through L4C WikiEducator community is building capacity among teachers/educators to develop free content for learning, and prioritize wiki skills training in developing countries. Under this initiative the WikiEducator project arranges free face-to-face as well as online wiki skills and OER development trainings by getting a learning contract signed by the participants. The learning contract represents participants' pledge to donate a little of their knowledge for the benefit of education for all. In return, the WikiEducator community promises to support them in their journey to acquire wiki editing skills and to experience the peer-based model for developing open education resources.

The L4C has helped the project to attract more than 11000 volunteer educators to it so far.

Certification of MediaWiki skills:

The WikiEducator community will also certify new WikiEducators who request certification of their skills under the L4C initiative. For this purpose the project has developed a Community Ceretification system with vivid and simple guidelines for requesting and awarding the certifications. The certifications are added to the WikiEducator user pages of those who request certification. The level of certification start at Apprentice 1  and then graduate to  Apprentice 2, WikiBuddy, WikiArtisan, WikiTrainer and WikiMaster respectively. To get each level of certification, the members should demonstrate specific wiki skills on WikiEducator website by content development/editing and community building/collaboration skills by helping other members as well as actively participating in projects and discussions. Experienced members in the community will review the performance and award certifications voluntarily.

Way ahead

My personal opinion is that ODL/OER projects like WikiEducator should take up the development of Open Standards and Frameworks for Transnational Education seriously and should become the platforms to link various efforts in this regards and build it further. This in turn will make the efforts put in by volunteer content developers more meaningful, as the open content developed based on open standards would be used widely by the learners community. These open standards will help Educators and Learners communities to build a really Open World of Education!.

Some promising initiatives like European Qualifications Framework of European Union and the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) project of Commonwealth of Learning and related Transnational Qualifications Framework have already signaled a bright future in this respect.

A Transnational Qualifications Framework is a system of educational and professional qualifications that would be recognized internationally. A Qualification Framework is primarily an official document that clearly defines each and every qualification brought under it. It may also provide a hierarchy of qualifications. In system view it is a meta-data model that is an all encompassing framework to integrate the qualifications issued by different academic bodies into a common structure. It consists of a set of common reference points, referring to learning outcomes, supported by a range of tools and techniques, regardless of the system where a particular qualification was acquired In the modern world order, Transnational or Crossborder or Borderless Education has already established its strong presence with the emergence of borderless global market of higher education. Now in order to ensure labour market acceptance of qualifications across the world, a globally accepted Transnational Qualifications Framework is very essential.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ONLINE OPEN DISTANCE LEARNING; Promise for the future

A saturated classroom study setup.

Development of formal classroom study setups are now in a saturated situation. In most places further development of infrastructure for conventional classroom learning, especially for higher education, is quite difficult. In the administrative side reasons are many like constrain of space, resources, etc. In the learners' and parents' side, now a day, majority of people do not have the financial health to spend a life time for education alone. In these tightening economic situations, work and study is the only principle that can keep higher education accessible to all who seek it.

Education - a costly commodity

In the present educational set up, Universities and Educational Institutions require very large amount of money for planning and providing quality education. We are living in an age where complete State funding of Universities and Educational Institutions are simply not possible. Therefore, private universities, for-profit as well as not-for-profit educational institutions etc are being promoted generally throughout the world. But this strategy, coupled with other factors that lead to inflation, in turn makes education a high cost commodity.

Now a day, the worsening individual/family budgets have alarmingly reduced the buying power of the learners. This situation prevails everywhere in the world including in the developed countries. An ABC News report (link provided below) appeared online on Sept. 20, 2008 says that average price of a private university in USA is $23,000 annually per student, while the median yearly income is $50,000 for the American household. This situation is unlikely to change as long as imparting of education is not considered as a selfless contribution of the past generation to the present, and the present generation to the future generation. The foundation of every civilization is built with free exchange of knowledge. Those who buy knowledge may not impart it free and so that the civilizations might be weakened. It is the point at which we require alternate systems for low cost delivery of quality education and acceptance of qualifications across the globe.

Online ODL - a suitable alternative

Only alternate option currently before us that has the competency to tackle with the above situation is Online Open Distance Learning.

Serious thoughts about virtual learning environments can be traced back to 19th century. However, interestingly, a clear imagination of audio/video communication network being used to deliver a lecture on Australian music to a remote audience can be seen in the short science fiction "The Machine Stops" written by E.M Forster published in 1909. In 1953 University of Houston offered the first televised college credit classes via KUHT, the first public television station in the US. These attempts were all part of the efforts to use modern technologies to meet the ever increasing need for education in a cost effective manner. Virtual learning activities got amazing pace in 1990s with the advent of Internet. Internet based online education originally began through various business houses using online training courses to prepare their newly recruited employees. Subsequently this method got popularity among universities and other academic bodies.

Many universities and organizations have already identified the need of Online Open Distance Learning. United Nations University, Open University of UK, Virtual Campus of The Robert Gordon University of UK and VUSSC project of Commonwealth of Learning are a few examples. Now it is the time for Universities all over the world to think seriously about running online open distance courses based on a mutually agreed Transnational Qualification Framework, so that qualifications are easily approved in the labour market through out the world and the interests of the learners are safeguarded.

Innovations in communication sectors make virtual classrooms and virtual communities more reliable and lively. The time is not very far wherein we will be having plenty of Online Open Universities that are connected to a Transnational Qualifications Framework across the world and providing quality education. The Virtual University for Small States in the Commonwealth (VUSSC) project of Commonwealth of Learning can be considered as a great step ahead in this context. There are also other budding online initiatives like WikiEducator project.

Online ODL - most environment friendly way of education

Online Open Distance Learning can be considered as the most environment friendly way of education in the current world situation. For instance, it will directly reduce journeys and use of stationary including paper during the learning and teaching process. Both these will save environment as well as reduce the cost of education.

Online Open Distance Learning can also be effectively used in Technical as well as Professional education sectors. Technology is now competent enough to provide simulated labs, virtual conferences etc etc. Unavoidable hands-on-experience etc can be arranged through accredited centres near to the learners or through learn-by-working arrangements.

Way ahead

The basic tool we require is the greatest challenge in this context that is a Transnational Qualifications Framework including Quality Assurance and Control that is generally agreed by governments, universities, other academic bodies and labour market. Based on such a TQF online courses can be framed and freely available content linked to each curriculum through collaborative efforts along with promoting the development of free and open content. Till that time individual Universities may be encouraged to contribute to this strive by starting online open distance courses and highlight the greatest ethics of education that is imparting education is a selfless contribution of the past generation to the present, and the present generation to the future generation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Transnational Qualification Framework (TQF)

A Transnational Qualification Framework (TQF) is a developing system of framework for educational qualifications that would be recognized internationally.

A Qualification Framework is primarily an official document that clearly defines each and every qualification brought under it. It may also provide a hierarchy of qualifications. In system view it is a meta-data model that is an all encompassing framework to integrate the qualifications issued by different academic bodies into a common structure. It consists of a set of common reference points, referring to learning outcomes, supported by a range of tools and techniques, regardless of the system where a particular qualification was acquired.

In the present world socio-economic situations a Transnational Qualification Framework is very much required because of the following.

Frameworks can provide towards a system that is based on learning outcomes and the implied shift from a teaching based system to a learning based system.
It can ensure labour market acceptance of qualifications across the world.
A brief history of TQF movement

In 1997 the Council of Europe developed, together with UNESCO, the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, called Lisbon Recognition Convention (as it was adopted in Lisbon in 1997). The Convention is the key legal instrument for recognition of qualifications across Europe.

A study was commissioned by the Confederation of European Union Rectors’ Conferences on TRANSNATIONAL EDUCATION PROJECT with the support of the European Commission (DG Education and Culture)and the report published in March 2001. European Union has identified that one of the major issues faced by people who wanting to work or learn in another EU country, or indeed to move between different parts of the labour market, is that their qualifications and competences may not be accepted. This is further complicated by the proliferation of qualifications world-wide, the diversity of national qualification systems and education and training structures, and constant changes in these systems. To address these issues EU Commission has formally published a Staff Working Document on European Qualifications Framework (EQF) on 8 July 2005.

The Commonwealth Education Ministers conceived the idea of the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) at their meeting in Halifax, Canada, in 2000. The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) extended a formal invitation to the Education Ministers of the small states to participate in this initiative aimed at expanding access to education enabled by appropriate ICTs. A Concept Document on Transnational Qualifications Framework for VUSSC was published in May, 2008. The [VUSSC], facilitated by Commonwealth of Learning, is being implemented to establish a Transnational Qualification Framework among the Samll States in the British Commonwealth.

An Expert Meeting on the Impact of Globalisation on Quality Assurance, Accreditation and the Recognition of Qualifications was organised at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 10-11 September 2001 by the Division of Higher Education in cooperation with UNESCO Offices in Bangkok (PROAP), Beirut (UNEDBAS), Bucharest (CEPES), Caracas (IESALC) and Dakar (BREDA). The objectives of the meeting were to explore the international dimensions of quality assurance, accreditation and the recognition of qualifications in a world in which globalisation is increasingly impacting on higher education. A general consensus was reached by the participants that a global forum on the international dimensions of quality assurance, accreditation and the recognition of qualifications was necessary establish a Task Force to develop the Action Plan.

Monday, September 21, 2009

eGovernance - A quick starter guide

I. INTRODUCTION

Now a day eGovernance occupies the topmost position in the agenda of almost all Governments in the world and lot of public money is being pumped to eGovernance initiatives. Therefore very intelligent planning is required to produce desired returns.

eGovernance can be defined as ICT assisted Good governance. Therefore eGovernance initiatives necessarily should have all the components required for Good governance.

This quick starter guide is neaither a solution nor a proposal, where as it is a brief compilation of best practices that can ignite eGovernance discussions.

In the area of eGovernance, the shortest method to get realistic inputs for planning is study of failures. Some of the most common reasons for failures are listed below:
  • Absence of proper system study
  • Absence of proper documentation
  • Absence of proper organization structure
  • Absence of committed involvement by the top management in the process, especially in
  • he three crucial steps as listed 1 to 3 above.
  • Absence of proper administrative reforms
  • Absence of uniform operating system
  • Absence of standards for data, tables, forms etc
  • Absence of interoperability
  • Absence of proper networking strategy and data center facility
  • Absence of proper procurement procedures
  • Absence of proper maintenance procedures
  • Absence of proper data security policies
  • Absence of participation by employees (internal consultants) in the planning and implementation process (the entire process is being carries out by external consultants)
  • Absence of proper awareness among the public and resultant lack of support from them.
The first four items in the above list together produces the remaining causes of failure. Therefore the above list can be taken as crucial fixes.
II. POLICY REQUIREMENTS
For making an eGovernance Movement successful following policies would be requiring
  1. Administrative Reforms Policy – This will announce government’s ambition for a citizen centric service delivery improvement , in accordance with the world standards, through necessary reforms in the existing system
  2. ICT Policy – This will announce the mission, vision, objectives and broader ways through which the already announced reforms policy can be made sustainable with the aid of ICT.
  3. Service Delivery Policy: This will set standards for the already announced ICT assisted administrative reforms and service delivery improvement. This will also include notification of Citizen Charters etc.
  4. Right to information policy: All the three above together will facilitate access to information very easy to the public. Right to information policy will lay down broader principles for the public to seek information and the officials to deliver the same without bureaucratic chaos. It will also initiate the setting up of governing rules, authorities and appeal mechanism for the same.
The eGovernance initiatives should find its strong foundation in the clear vision, mission and objectives that are stipulated in the above policies.
III. ORGANIZATION

III.A ORGANIZATION BASED ON Administrative Reforms Policy
A High Level Body for Administrative Reforms: Actually the outputs from the above activities will be the direct inputs for the eGovernance initiatives. Therefore the administrative reform activities should take the lead. The High Level Body for Administrative Reforms may also form administrative reforms committees in each wing of the government to study and propose reforms in a time bound manner. These committees may include Administrators, ICT Practitioners, and the people who are familiar with both Administration and ICT to act as some sort of middleware.
III.B ORGANIZATION BASED ON ICT Policy
III.B.1. eGOVERNANCE MISSION CONTROL: The Mission Control may have the following functional units.
i. Standardization of Controls Unit (SCU)
The SCU will
  • Develop and maintain a Web portal for the country
  • Maintain a web based repository for existing Government Software
  • Make available Free & Open Source Operating
  • Develop and distribute standard codes/structures for data (for instance: What should be the coding pattern for government offices?) , application & forms etc as envisaged in the policy.
  • Work with High Level Body for Administrative Reforms for simplification and standardization of procedures for the development of standard structures as given above.
  • Provide standard configurations for hardware depending on the nature of requirement.
ii. Project Management Unit
The PMU will

  • Facilitate planning of projects
  • Monitor implementation through a web based Project Performance Management System (PPMS)
  • Assist the development of project implementation rules/ guidelines in respect of new projects ensuring application of web based PPMS
  • Give proper advise and assistance to Project Implementing Officers/ Units
iii. Information Security & Policy Audit Unit (ISPAU)
The ISPAU will
  • Develop necessary Information Standards, Information Security and Audit Measures by studying the best practices.
  • Ensure that projects are being implemented in accordance with the Government Policies through periodical IT Audits/ Tests
  • Ensure that eGovernance systems are maintaining approved Information and Security Standards.
  • Enforcement of IT related rules/ orders.
  • Develop procedures for digital signature.
iv. Network and Data Centre Management Unit (NDCMU)
This unit will provide
  • Maintain federal information backbone
  • Standard Networking Architecture and its customization for the use of different units of Government
  • Data Centre Management including hosting support (co-location as well as shared hosting)
v. Regional Level Country Co-ordination Units:
Regional Level Coordination Units will co-ordinate the activities of all Departments/ Functional Wings of the Government in a Region of Suitable Area.
vi. Department/ Functional Wing Level Co-ordination Units:
Department/ Functional Wing Level Coordination Units will coordinate the eGovernance activities within a Department or Functional Wing
III.B.2 DIGITAL SIGNATURE ISSUING AUTHORITY for Government Officials:
The Digital Signature Issuing Authority for Government officials will issue digital signatures to the government officials observing the procedures.
III.B.3 REGISTRAR OF GOVERNMENT WEBSITES:
Registrar of Government sites will allot domain names for the websites of various wings/ departments of Government and regularly monitor such sites to see that the statutory regulations are being observed.
III.C ORGANIZATION BASED ON SERVICE DELIVERY AND RIGHT TO INFORMATION POLICIES
(i) Department Level Monitoring Arrangements
Complaint handling mechanism for the successful implementation of Citizen Charter etc
(ii) Right to Information Authority
For overseeing the implementation of Right to Information

IV. DEVELOPMENT OF LEGAL ACTS SYSTEM

Following actions are suggested.
  1. A proper ministry of the Government may issue comprehensive ICT Rules incorporating all the above including, registration of Government websites, Information Security, digital signature etc.
  2. Procedures for IT Procurement and maintenance including e-tendering etc
  3. Framing of a right to information rules based on the policy, clearly listing what category and type of information can be made public through government websites. And what kind of information can be made available to applicants personally. What are the procedures? How the failures by the authorities in delivering the information can be dealt with. This will also require extensive consultations.
V. SOME GENERAL SUGGESTIONS

V.A INCREMENTAL DEVELOPMENT
Application software that are required by different departments may be developed in an incremental way. That is developing the applications software as different modules that can be tested independently so that in the worst case of failure only the failed module needs to be replaced. More over the people and government will be getting the benefit of the project right from the beginning, without very long waiting for completion of the entire application. It will also give sufficient time for testing each module of an application.

V.B OVERCOMING OF DEPARTMENTAL SENTIMENTS
Some departments may hold the view that existing procedures are very crucial for upholding that department’s importance and they may try to stick on it. Therefore necessary awareness and participations of departmental officials should be ensured right from the beginning of the reform activities.

V.C PRIORITIZATION OF INITIATIVES
Prioritizing of initiatives for commencement of implementation is vital. Items that would have popular utility and less legal and technical complications, while making online, may be selected for first phase implementation.