Ignorance is no longer bliss

This happened about a month back at my CIDTT class. We were given an activity to find out errors in different types of presentations. As my luck would have it, I received a PowerPoint slide to examine which looked something like this:


Well… My question to the class was:

What’s right about this?

The entire group, including my instructor, was bewildered by my question. They said that there was nothing wrong with it. In fact they went on saying that it is an excellent presentation as it used a visual of a plant. Visuals are good… But not this one!

For the next 10 odd minutes, I explained to them as to how the slide would fail with the learners, with respect to the quality of the graphics, colour, placement, size, and typeface of the labels and the definition (in case you missed the definition, it is at the bottom right of the slide).

One of them (a teacher assistant) raised her hand and asked me whether all this is a real big deal. According to her, as long as the slide had the information in it, it must be effective with the learners. During tea break, I realized that a lot of other teachers in the group shared her view. Their collective questions were:

Do we really need to focus on the design a PowerPoint? Isn’t content more important?

Isn’t it enough if we just collect the information and pictures and display them to the learners? Isn’t that what PowerPoint is for?

We are going to explain all of it to them anyway right?

Well, my answer would be: If you don’t want to design them, get e-books. At least all the “information” you wish to convey is presented in a logical and a readable manner (to some extent, at least). For all those who disagree with me, I recommend you to read Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson and Slideology by Nancy Duarte. If you still disagree with me, feel free to post your views under the comments section.

The Town Bus Ride

After my meeting with the kids at Thingaloor village (click here) and my visit to the Moon temple, I boarded the town bus to return to Kumbakonam town. I shared my seat with a couple of school kids (8th graders) in the bus.  After some casual talk, the kids began discussing the Japanese tsunami which had happened earlier that day. I was a little shocked to note that kids in these remote parts knew about it. When I inquired them as to how they knew about it, they told me that their school master gives them a piece of world news every day for discussion and thinking. They told me that their village schoolmaster has a television (that’s a luxury in their village) and would share important world happenings with them on a daily basis. They explained to me that the earthquake was very serious and was 8.9 on the Richter scale. They went on explaining what a Richter scale was and how it is related to a field called seismology. Great teachers do know their way of getting the students to go beyond their books and 4 walls and I can only curse my bad luck that I was unable to meet this teacher. I asked them as to what they would do to help them. They got thinking for a moment and replied that the Japanese are welcome to come over to their village and stay with their families until the water recedes there. When I asked them as to whether they would have the space to stay in their houses, they replied that they, along with their fathers can build new huts for them on a vacant patch of land in their village for them and would be glad to share their meal with them. They even offered to take the Japanese kids to their village school to study along with them so that they wouldn’t miss their lessons. The bus reached their village then and they had to get off the bus. That was one amazing Friday evening for me.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 19:55  Comments (1)  
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Life after 4pm

During my pilgrimage earlier this month, I happened to visit a village called Thingaloor, in the Thiruvayaru district in Tamilnadu (too small to be recognized by Google maps). It is a village of about 50-60 huts and houses the famous Moon temple. I had to walk for about 4Km from the highway to reach the village temple.

Road to Thingaloor

It was a beautiful Friday evening and the children were playing on the streets. As I was walking towards the temple, a group of kids stopped me and wanted me to take a picture of them. I took their picture and we sat down by the fields and the following was our conversation (translated from Tamil, the local language):

Myself: Do you all go to school?

Kids: Yes. We all study at the village school of Thiruvayaru. We are students of class 3 and 4.

Myself: That’s wonderful. So what did you learn at school today?

Kids: We learned to sing some songs, learned the Tamil alphabet and about seasons.

Myself: Very good. What do you do after school?

Kids: We walk back to our village and play in the fields.

Myself: Does your teacher give you any homework?

Kids: What’s that?

Myself (a little shocked): Don’t you have to do some studying after school to revise your lessons?

Kids: Why should we? We learn at school and play at home. Our teacher insists that we should concentrate on our lessons in our class and play after school.  He has never asked us to study. We don’t have our own books to study either.

Myself: So, are you able to remember what your teacher taught you?

Kids: Yes we do. We see what we learn around us. Our teacher taught us about the climate of our district today. Our parents are farmers and we can see and feel it around us. Why do we need a book for that?

Myself: Have you seen or used a computer?

Kids: We’ve seen them in movies. Computers are used by rich people who go to office and are busy. How can small children like us in villages use them? We don’t need computers.

I then showed them a video on seasons on YouTube in my phone. They did like it but felt that it was no big deal as they were in physical contact with what they learn.

Any thoughts?

The group of kids that got me thinking :)

Importance of Ed Research – A New Hashtag?

Last night, I was participating at the weekly #gtchat convo where we were exchanging great information about best sites and tips on finding scholarly research online.

Current research, in my opinion, is our window to the world. We gain knowledge of what’s happening out there and what more could be done to improve things. Moreover, staying updated also saves time and prevents us from reinventing the wheel. I was glad to meet people who were passionate about keeping themselves updated with the current global scenario.

Twitter has always been my favorite place to learn and discuss various topics. Last night, I realized that there isn’t much discussion happening with respect to educational research. We share our views and experiences on twitter but what about all the research articles we read? Sharing and discussing research articles on twitter and on our blogs will, apart from enriching our knowledge, transform the social media into a rich source of credible information.

So here’s the deal. I propose a new twitter hashtag #edres where we can post research articles and have a discussion on them. If the topic gets too hot there, we can shift it to one of the regular ed hashtags for a full length discussion. #gtchat tweeps are already in action, considering the idea of a separate gifted research hashtag (#tdres or #gtres). What do you think? Please leave your views in the comments section.

2011 for me…

I took this snap while working in my garden yesterday. 2011 is definitely a year filled with new opportunities and challenges and this picture represents precisely what I intend to do with it.

I intend to work on a lot of new things this year and I would definitely need the support of all the elements in my “Top Ten List“. I am confident that I will do my best and be able to contribute my fair share to the global community to make it a better place to be. May this new year bring all success and prosperity to you.

Best wishes!

Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 04:44  Comments (2)  

Viva 2010… Hello 2011!

Hello there! The New Year is born and I’d like to wish you a very happy and a prosperous 2011! 2010 has been a remarkable year of learning for me. This is the year where I realized that social media is much more than chatting and posting funny pictures and videos. Social media and the like have taught me much more this year than what I’ve learned in all these years so far.
So here’s the top ten list of words which made 2010 worthwhile for me.

1. Twitter
2. PLN
3. Blogs
4. Webinars – (Esp. Global Ed 10 Conference)
5. Google Apps
6. YouTube
7. Slideshare
8. Podcasts
9. LinkedIn
10. eBooks
11. and of course… Facebook :-)

Looking to learn more, do more, and share more in 2011!

Published in: on January 1, 2011 at 05:57  Comments (2)  

Learning Objectives on Paper and in Practice

I have designed a number of e-learning modules for school kids and I usually devote special time and care in highlighting the learning objectives. I also had a chance to witness many presentations and the learning objectives slides are either skipped or they are read out to the learners in a rather listless manner. I was a little annoyed to see the slide which was written with so much care receiving so the little attention. My learning objectives slide looked something like this:

Learning objectives on paper

I discovered that my learning objectives looked as they are supposed to—on paper. These learning objectives appear to be more like instructions. This slide seems to have an element of restriction attached to it which automatically disconnects the learner from the topic.

I feel that such bulleted lists of learning objectives should be for the teachers’ eyes only. Using such bulleted lists in class not only wastes time, but also leave the students clueless of what they are about to encounter for the rest of the class.

Students can be presented with the same learning objectives in a different way such that this slide actually helps them to connect themselves with the presentation. Mind mapping is one of the techniques which I feel, is an excellent tool for presenting learning objectives. I have observed that these maps improve knowledge retention and promote appropriate recollection and application of the acquired knowledge. The advantage with mind mapping is that it can also be used in classrooms which lack technology. These maps can be sketched on flip charts, blackboards, etc. I have presented the same set of learning objectives as a mind map here:

Learning Objectives in Practice

Could you tell me something about it?

This is my favorite, and hence the first question I ask my students before getting on with the lesson. Prior knowledge of the subject is something which is very common with today’s students. The teacher no longer holds monopoly of facts in the classroom. Students have access to enormous amounts of facts and data with the click of a mouse. The teacher must utilize this in their favor in order to facilitate a constructive learning environment.

It is important for teachers to know what the students already know about the topic. This not only saves time, but also sustains the students’ interest in the class. Moreover it provides ample time for the lessons and a little more time for activities which enhance the learning experience for the students.

Another aspect of such pre-quizzes is that they help in clarifying the misconceptions the students might be having about the concepts in their lessons. Such sessions make the students not just answer the ‘what’ of it but also the ‘why’ of it. A pre-quiz not only grabs the students’ attention but also implants an element of curiosity in them which would insure better attention and consequent retention of the concepts.

The teacher, apart from conducting such pre-quizes, should insure proper motivation and appropriate feedback to the students. If done properly, such sessions would result in the voluntary effort by the students to read more about the topics after school and come up with more questions. This will ultimately lead to the stage where students begin to synthesize their own questions and answers, realizing inquiry based learning (Ah… That’s my favorite word!)

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 22:18  Comments (2)  
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Simple Testing Games for Young Learners

This post is dedicated to classrooms which are shielded from the influence of Web 2.0, technophobes, and those who want to take a break from the LCD screens.

I like these games in particular because they are very simple and moreover can be applied in any subject, ranging from mathematics to social sciences to languages. While theoretical subjects can capitalize on these games to improve the knowledge of the learners, languages can focus on the speaking skills, fluency and vocabulary aspects.

Although, I’m writing this with young learners in my mind, these games can also be used for adult learners. I’m listing some of my favourite games in this post.

Just a Minute (JAM)
In this game the learner is given a topic and a minute’s time to speak on it. During this one minute, the flow should be consistent and there must be no interruptions in the flow of ideas. The students can be allowed to choose the topic by drawing lots which makes it even more interesting. I would suggest reserving 5-6 minutes every class for such a session to recapitulate the day’s lessons.

This is one of my favourite role play games. In this game, the students are organized into pairs. The scene of this game is set on a sinking ship with just one life jacket. Each learner is given the role of a character/object. They must speak for a minute highlighting their positives and why they deserve the life jacket more than the other.

Word Tail
This is a class activity where the teacher initiates the word tail with one word and selects a student to say a couple of sentences about it. Following this, the student gets to extend the tail by selecting a related word and posing it to his/her classmate. The word tail can be extended as long as the teacher wishes to. I like this game because, it often goes beyond the realms of the textbook and you won’t believe the connections which the kids make with just a few words from their lessons.

What’s the Good Word?
The teacher thinks of a word and gives a clue. If the student guesses the answer with that clue, they get 3 points. If they don’t, the teacher gives a second clue and if the student gets it right, they get 2 points. If they don’t get it after the second clue, the teacher gives a third clue and if the student gets it right, they get 1 point. The rule is that only single words can be used as clues, unless you want to use a proper noun. When the student gets the answer, that student can think of another word and pose it to their classmates.

The teacher opens the game with a word and selects a student. The student must come up with a related word and point out to another student who must come up with another word that relates to the one said by the first student. This is a rapid fire game and each student gets a maximum of 5 seconds to come up with a word.

Got anymore games? Do share them with me!

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 22:28  Comments (3)  
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M Learning – Why don’t we take it?

M learning is one of the most promising areas in today’s educational scenario. It has been praised for its time efficiency, reach and convenience. Moreover, as I had mentioned in my previous post on mobiles, m learning promises to be an extremely child-friendly technology and will lead them where we want them to be in their own way. However, we are unable to embrace this technology wholeheartedly. After interacting with many educators, I was able to identify 3 reasons for the apprehensive outlook:

  • Fear
  • Attitude
  • M learning development across multiple OS

With respect to fear, many teachers are scared of using technology in class. They feel that they might be embarrassed in front of their students if they project their inability to use technology. In my view, this is no excuse to shy away from m learning. Teachers must change their outlook toward integrating tech with education. Teachers must step down from their “platform” and mix with the kids and learn technology along with them. How can a person be a good teacher if he/she is not a good learner?

Attitude is another great cause of concern which hinders the growth of m learning. Many teachers are content with the available resources and say that if these were good enough for them in their days; it should be good enough for them. This is unfortunately not true. Kids of today are living in an entirely different environment and are digital natives. Teachers must aspire to embrace change and adapt themselves accordingly for the learner’s sake.

Although the third point is not directly related to teaching this is another cause of concern when it comes to developing m learning tools. M learning tools of today lack compatibility with respect to multiple platforms. There are many m learning applications for iOS and not a fraction of it for other operating systems. Since iphones are beyond the reach of many, in terms of economy and preference, m learning is still under the covers. Development of learning materials compatible with multiple OS should improve the reach and appreciation of m learning.

Will you take m learning?


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