Deccan Herald, Thursday, May 20, 2004



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Deccan Herald » DH Education » Full Story


The Internet is a bridge

The Web or the Internet has metamorphosed from an information tool of the 90s into an instructional one in the 21st century. Badrul H Khan, Associate Professor in the George Washington University, Washington DC, USA has the credit of first coining the phrase ‘Web-based learning’ and popularising the concept. He believes e-learning does not just make education easy and accessible to the vast majority of people on the Indian subcontinent but holds out huge potential for the Indian IT industry to become the world leader in designing the contents of such initiatives. At present the industry merely develops the designs provided by others.

A Bangladeshi by birth an American by choice, Khan wrote Web-based Instruction (1997) which became a best seller. His next book Web-based Training (2001) has been translated into 14 languages including Chinese. His latest, Web-Based Learning which is in the press, includes case studies, design models, strategies and critical issues dealing with e-learning.

Khan has served as founding director of Education Technology graduate programme at the University of Texas, and served as instructional developer and evaluation specialist in the School of Medicine Indiana University, USA.

Khan believes that since most of the world’s illiterate people live on the Indian sub-continent it is the ‘national’ responsibility of all to create a bridge between them and opportunity. “The Net is the bridge. We need to invest in this area because we can’t afford to have illiterate people amidst us, those who can’t do e-business. We either bring them to this level or they will be left out…we can cross (national) borders if we have a plan,” he said during his recent and first visit to India sponsored by the Hyderabad-based Centre for Research and Education (CREED).

Excerpts from the interview:
On e-learning’s relevance to developing countries
The first step towards development is mass education and here the Net is the driving force. By bringing the Net to the poor the communities will become knowledge-rich, they will get motivated, their aspirations will rise…it will encourage children to go to school.

On how one can go about doing this
Go to a panchayat, install a computer, or create a kiosk. Design a device and make it as easy to navigate the Net with as changing TV channels with a remote control. Create pictures. If necessary supplement this with a personal instructor. Blend different methods of education. Combine digital technology with software of learning techniques. There should be a marriage of content, audience, well-designed learning systems using digital and non-digital learning formats.

On advantages of blended learning:
E-learning has the advantage of being open, flexible and easily disseminated or distributed. Learning can happen anywhere, not just in a school or classroom. Both formal and non-formal systems including the collective wisdom of the community are included in blended learning. The framework should address eight dimensions which are 1.Pedagogical; 2. Technological or infrastructure; 3. Interface Design dealing with physical layout; 4. Evaluation; 5. Management or designing, developing and maintaining; 6. Resource support in terms of both online and offline support supplementing e-learning 7. Ethical issue such as approval of external entities, and 8. Institutional such as academic issues.

The local communities could lay out their framework based on its needs, on the infrastructure available, on the religious and cultural values, and so on. Parts of one framework can be replicated in other parts of the country.

On uses of blended e-learning in other areas:
We need to enhance education through e-learning. Blended e-learning can be used in different Indian educational systems. But before doing this India has to have in place a policy for higher education, corporate education and mass education. If it connects pedagogy and technology India will lead the way in this crucial field.

On the relationship between pedagogy and information technology:
If India takes the lead in this area all others in the region will follow it. Indian IT industry should combine its strength with education and technology. Pedagogy should connect with IT and thus bond technologists and teachers. This link is very important.

This will open the way for the Indian IT industry to not merely produce or develop content as is being done at present but to design it, the floor plan and building blocks. India has the capability to benefit not just the region but exploit the potential in West Asia. The Indian brand should be developed.

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