Cool webinars for Open Education Week 2014

This year Open Education Week falls 10 March through 14 March 2014.  What is Open Education Week, I hear someone ask? Open Education Week raises awareness of the open education movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide. Open education encompasses notions of open educational resources or OER, open courses such as MOOCs, and other open practices.

Because the Institute of Learning Innovation is working on the EU-facilitated eMundus project, we are doing a special themed webinar on Friday, 14 March, at 11am until 12noon GMT. Our webinar is one of a series showcasing aspects of the eMundus project, which is (among other things) mapping out institutional partnerships in open education, such as universities which accept MOOC credits for transferring in, and the OER University. Our Friday webinar will look at the pedagogies of MOOCs. Check out  the poster below for more cool webinars you can join in during Open Education Week. With special thanks to Athabasca University for facilitating our whole series of webinars!

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OER benefits for enrolled students

The open education movement has often focused on explaining the benefits of open educational resources (OER) and other open education initiatives to people beyond the reach of formal education — those who cannot afford it, who live too far away from schools, who cannot access formal education for any number of reasons. But in addition, current students benefit from the use of OER. This article by CK-12 Foundation gives good examples of how American schools are making OER work for students, largely through saving money on textbooks.

The Manufacturing  Pasts project (video above) was funded by JISC to digitise and mash up into learning materials artefacts from Leicester’s industrial past.  I had the privilege of working on the project. Now, a year on since the project ended, I can see that the work we did is benefiting current students in ways we did not expect. For example, I was just helping to teach a digital media session in University of Leicester Museum Studies department. The students are putting together museum displays with sound and video installations augmenting the photos and physical items. When we directed them to MyLeicestershire.org.uk and the Manufacturing Pasts collection, and told them these were all CC-licensed, there was an audible sigh of relief that they did not have to hunt for copyright permissions as they must for other items.

Another way OER and open practice benefits currently-enrolled students is in the way some universities are launching MOOCs designed to help their own students. University of Northampton, for example,  has launched and is continuing develop a MOOC teaching academic skills (referencing, how to handle feedback, writing) — with a version for undergrads and a version for postgrads. These MOOCs require only about 2 hours weekly and are offered to students who have been accepted to the university, as well as any student already having begun to study. Academics who were already teaching these things to smaller groups of students have put together the online materials. It’s a bit early to conclude yet how well these MOOCs will help the student. I will check back with Northampton in a few weeks as I continue to gather stories of how open educational practices can and are helping students currently enrolled at the participating institutions. Please comment if you have such a story.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist & SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

A Pedagogical Look at MOOCs

As a part of Open Education Week 2014, Professor Gráinne Conole and I plan to hold a webinar (details to be announced shortly; watch this space) on the topic of A Pedagogical Look at MOOCs. This webinar is not simply a University of Leicester production; it will be part of the EU-funded eMundus project, one task of which is to map out patterns of open educational partnerships between institutions around the world. An example of such a partnership would be the OER University, or a university accepting some form of credit for successful completion of a MOOC.

Our webinar will take a pedagogical look at MOOCs in the following way: first we choose 5 MOOCs, each corresponding to a primary learning approach taken in the MOOC. Then we map each MOOC against 12 dimensions identified originally by Grainne in her blog post “A New Classification for MOOCs” (and with thanks to Stephen Downes for identifying the last two dimensions (Downes, 2010)). Below is my initial attempt, having chosen only 2 MOOCs so far: the Open University Learning Design MOOC (OLDS), which I identify as constructivitst, and the original George Siemens Connectivist MOOC. Many thanks to Paul Rudman for his input on this mapping exercise as well.

One obvious question is: how does one pedagogically categorise a MOOC? Another big question: how are we defining these dimensions and what would constitute Low, Medium, or High for each one. I am interested in your views on these and other questions — please comment! I include the webinar abstract at the end of this post.

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Webinar Abstract: As the number and variety of free online courses and MOOCs increases, it becomes more important to be aware of their differing pedagogical approaches. After initial attempts to categorise MOOCs as cMOOCs and xMOOCs (roughly, C for connectivist and X for EdX –style), it began to be clear that more nuanced categorisation was needed, and especially when considering the course’s primary learning approaches. Taking Conole’s 12-dimensional MOOC classification (Conole, 2013) and choosing 5 learning approaches often used in elearning (Mayes & De Freitas, 2004) (Bird & Conole, 2013), we categorise 5 MOOCs as an exploratory exercise for this webinar. Does this exercise display clues to the direction of MOOCs and free online courses in general? Are there any warning signals which we as educators should note? In the context of the eMundus project, does this classification help quality officers make decisions in open educational practice, for example about accepting credit for a completed MOOC?

Bird, T., & Conole, G. (2013). From E-Learning to M-Learning. In From E-Learning to M-Learning. Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/tbirdcymru/from-elearning-to-mlearning

Conole, G. (2013). A new classification for MOOCs. e4innovation Blog. Retrieved January 25, 2014, from http://www.e4innovation.com/?p=727

Downes, S. (2010). Fairness and equity in education. Huff Post Education.

Mayes, T., & DeFreitas, S. (2004). JISC e-Learning Models Desk Study Stage 2 : Review of e-learning theories , frameworks and models.

 Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

MOOCs, Language issues and barriers to education

One of the most frequent questions people ask me about challenges to adoption of MOOCs and OER in Rwanda is about English as the most dominant language in these courses and resources. This same question was raised in O’Neil’s article: “Will Rwandan students adapt to Western-style instruction in English?”. My answer is that language is not a barrier in the Rwandan context. However, the way we use language often becomes a barrier to education. In this post, I will argue that creating language learning opportunities constitute better practices than using a language as a selective filter to decide who is given access to education and who is not.

I will probably start my argument with a statement of the fact most of us would agree on. We all know what we have learned and can do what we have the skills to do because we have been given opportunity to learn how to do it. I am able to write a blog entry you can read and understand because I had access to opportunity to learn how to write in English. I have also been luck to learn how to post a blog entry on the web (and trust me, I sometimes get challenged because I am still a new bee in this). More specific to language learning, native speakers of English have learned this language so quickly because they were naturally immersed. We, native speakers of Kinyarwanda or other languages, have learned our respective native languages at a similar fast speed, thanks to the exposure offered by our societies and cultures. Also, it is worth noting that English is the second foreign language most of the students depicted in the articles authored by O’Neil and Bartholet have learned. Prior to learning English, most of them had learned French as well.

Now, imagine if Kinyarwanda or Swahili were the language of learning in the USA, UK and other countries where English is a native language. I deliberately avoided using French or Spanish as examples, because these two languages would be culturally closer to English than how English is culturally closer to speakers of Kinyarwanda or other non-western languages. Now, step back from your native language and reflect on your foreign language learning experience, if you have learned a foreign language. I want to clarify the distinction between second language learning experience and foreign language learning experience as commonly agreed on in linguistic and second/foreign language learning literature. In second language learning, the learner learns a non-native language, based in a society or community where that language is used as a native learning. In this way, s/he is immersed and more exposed to first hand opportunity to use the language. In the foreign language learning experience, the learner does not live in the setting where that language is used for the mainstream communication. Obviously, opportunities to use that language is significantly reduced since it might be even difficult to find someone who speaks the target language.

Even though the label of foreign language learning experience would be used on both Western and non-western students, it should be noted that western students’ learning of Kinyarwanda, Swahili or another foreign language  would be easier than the learning of English for non western students. The ubiquity of Internet access would make it easier to record the target language learning materials and made them available as YouTube or any other medium. However, most students in Rwanda do not have to such media. O’Neil portrays very well the selection process the Rwandan students had to pass through for being admitted to take Kepler and Generation Rwanda’s MOOCs. The digital divide that makes MOOC learning highly competitive in Rwanda is rather a more compelling barrier than language.

Most MOOCs are in English: A barrier or opportunity?

Rwanda shifted from French to English as a language used in education around 2010. At the time the shift was initiated, around 90 percent of school used French for instruction. It should also be noted that although French and, later on, English have been used as the language of learning, most Rwandans, probably more than 90 percent only speak Kinyarwanda. Rwandan educators, students, leaders, employees and other are still transitioning into English as a dominant foreign language. Looking at their accomplishment from my perspective as a Rwandan, a French and English as Foreign Languages Learner and an English as a Foreign Language Teacher, and considering the circumstances in which their learning occurs, I find their effort and achievement extra-ordinary. Of course people who evaluate Rwandan learners from the western perspective do not know how to appreciate their accomplishment. Rather than evaluating Rwandan students from the Western/native English speakers standpoint, we should depart from where those learners came from. Taking this initial departure will enable us to notice and realise how incredible their accomplishment is and encourage them to carry on.  The most compelling barrier Rwandans have in their English language learning is access to learning resources. The availability of MOOCs and OER in English certainly constitutes an enormous opportunity to Rwandan learners although some pundits see this as a challenge, especially the ones who view this from a Western bias.

English as a global language: A divider or unifier

As earlier mentioned, approximately 90 percent or more of Rwandans do not speak English and French which have been used as languages of education. Does it mean that Rwandans have chosen to submit to the Western imperialism raised in one of the comments on O’Neil’s article? Imagine if everyone only spoke their native language and no foreigner could speak their languages. Imagine what we, the human race, have accomplished, because we can communicate with one another. Obviously, we need one or many shared languages as communication tools. With our human learning capacity, we cannot learn all the languages spoken all over the world. That is why few languages, especially the ones that are more widely used, have attracted, and will continue to attract foreign learners. There is no need to feel inferior that our languages spoken at small scales are not learned or used as languages of education. Likewise, there is no need to feel superior because our big languages are learned by foreigners. We all bring a rich diversity of perspectives which enrich the languages we share and educational experience globally. What we all share, Westerners and non-westerners, is openness to that diversity and tolerance to different perspectives. It is that diversity that makes us stronger as human species.

Unfortunately, we sometime use languages as dividing tools rather than as unifiers. It is unfortunate that English language is used to select those who are given access to education and those who are not. English language tests such as TOEFL and IELTS should be used beyond the selection purposes. The results from those tests should reveal places where more language learning opportunities need to be created rather than simply decide who should have the right to education and who should not. Coming back to my earlier argument that we all learn because we are give opportunities, we should create more learning opportunities rather than selecting only those who have been given learning opportunity and give them more while we do not care about those who have been excluded from opportunities to learn. By creating English or other foreign language learning opportunities and resources, we empower more learners who have been denied such opportunities.  This provides them with a tool to learn western perspectives. At the same time, those empowered students create opportunities for their western counterparts to learn non-western perspectives. It is this multicultural and multi-directional learning experience that is taking place in many MOOCs.  Coursera platform, probably other MOOC platforms as well, also empower students who are non native English users by offering them the opportunity to control this language. Students can adjust the speech rate to make it slower or faster as they wish. They can also add subtitles in English. This student’s control of the course language is lacking in campus based courses in both Rwandan and Western institutions.  

My next entry will focus on contextualization also raised in O’Neil’s article and subsequent comments.

MOOCs take off in Rwanda: Accreditation, sustainability and quality issues

 I am happy to be back to blogosphere, after months of silence, and excited to see that MOOCs are now taking off in Rwanda. I have been following closely the MOOC initiative by Generation Rwanda and its Kepler initiative (Leber 2013, Bartholet 2013 and O’Neil 2013). These articles received many comment, but I would like to add my contribution as a Rwandan, and a MOOC researcher. For those who have not yet come across my profile, I am researching Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) for Widening Participation in Rwandan Higher Education. My research interest is not accidental. It was inspired by learning experience, face-to-face, on radio and online. A bit of my educational background is covered in my earlier blog entry. My professional profile can be found here. This blog post is the first of several entries written as response to issues raised by O’Neil’s article and the comments it triggered. It addresses accreditation, sustainability and quality of conventional higher education in Rwanda.

To start with the important questions raised in the article: 1. Will it earn the trust of employers and of others in higher education? My response to this question is that I learned English via radios and this did not prevent my learning to be recognized. When I took the secondary education national exams for being eligible to the students’ loan, English in which I had mainly studied on the radio was the exam in which I had the best results. The National University of Rwanda confirmed my achievement in English language learning by deciding that I did not have to spend a year learning this language as did most of students who joined the university the same academic year. These Rwandan institutions’ practices of recognizing my prior learning was accurately conducted. Otherwise, I would not have won the awards which enabled me to continue my postgraduate/graduate education in the USA and UK. I share part of my personal life in attempt to challenge espoused theories of how people learn tend to be promoted globally. However, most of those theories are based on results of studies conducted in settings that are not representative of the entire world realities. Accounts of personal experience often raise skepticism. I would be happy to release some of my records to anyone who would like to verify them and help us understand better the diversity of successful learning.

Competence-based assessment practices and qualification, like the ones Generation Rwanda is planning to adopt, which had been indeed a tradition in some Rwandan institutions, need to be invigorated to reward accomplishment of enthusiastic informal learners and encourage the self-guided learning culture.

The question about whether Rwandan students will be able to adjust to the Western language rate will be addressed in my second blog entry dedicated to MOOCs, language issues and barriers to education. As for the question “Is the Kepler model sustainable over the long term?”, it raises one of the challenges OER and MOOC researchers and practitioners are trying to address. The quest for a sustainable education based on OER and MOOCs is underway. I am highly optimistic that Kepler and Generation Rwanda’s practices will contribute enormously in this endeavor.

Another point that deserves discussion relates to the note that quality of higher education in Rwanda falls below western standard. Of course it does. However, it would be over simplistic and misleading to stop here. We should understand this phenomenon by analysing what cause it and working on them. My paper “Evaluation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) From a Learner’s Perspective” that will be presented at the 12th European Conference on eLearning later this month discussed two of the barriers to quality education in Rwanda: The lack of access to learning resources and the shortage of teachers. Among the most marked disparities a Rwandan student notices when s/he get the chance to experience western education is the over-abundance of access to learning resources. Classroom interaction becomes more productive, when students had access to learning materials, learned them and come to class to exchange what they think of the materials they have already learned. This is what even enabled Western professors to flip classes. With the lack of access Rwandan students face, it is unrealistic to expect the western interaction from them.  In addition to this, Rwandan students have always struggled to learn in foreign language many of western student have the privilege to possess as a native language. This is the topic of my second blog entry which responds to O’Neil’s article and comments that followed. Aware of circumstance in which Rwandan students learn, I personally commend their accomplishment and encourage them achieve more.

 The shortage of access to learning materials makes the teacher the most accessible source of information for most students. The more learning resources become more available in Rwanda, the less the students’ dependence on the teacher will become. High interaction in western societies was enabled by the ubiquity of internet connectivity and students’ access to learning resources. Without such access in Western schools, students’ interaction might still be there but it would hardly be that rich educational exchange we have in those schools. Unfortunately, this is the fact that many people tend to disregard if they ever think about it. The shortage of higher education teachers’ also leads to similar difficulties. Rwandan class might have up to 200 students as opposed to western ones that have one tenth of this size (20 students on average). Some western classes can even have as few as 10 students. O’Neil also did very well by including a quotation that highlights the lack of microphones and loud speakers which make very few students able to listen to the teacher. If we want to build the western class size in Rwanda, we will have to exclude thousands of students from the system, which would probably create more social problems. Inclusive education, in which the learning of the rich is shared with the poor, and that of the poor shared with the rich should be promoted. Maybe, if the western class size was promoted in Rwanda, I would not be writing this blog entry, because I would probably been excluded. Despite the desperate undergraduate education conditions, many Rwandan students adjust to the western education rhythm when they are offered the opportunity to take their post graduate education there. Unfortunately, the higher education enrolment in Rwanda is still very low. O’Neil claims it to be 6.6 in 2011(we would have appreciated it if s/he had provide a link to this source of this information).

Concluding my comment on this post, I would like to commend the job that is being done by Kepler and Generation Rwanda. Their practices are certainly contributing to a better understanding of MOOCs and how they can be used in developing countries. I would encourage more practices, including those conceived from the developing country’s perspective. Maybe, people can innovate new models to include the 2,646 who were not admitted in the Kepler and Generation Rwanda MOOC initiative. The approval from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education Council is also a good indicator of Rwandan higher education decision makers’ commitment to improve access to and quality of higher education. I am curious to see the link between my current research findings and what Kepler and Generation Rwanda will find out. I will write another blog entry on the common mistake on the current MOOC literature, as a note of caution to the researchers involved in the Kepler and Generation Rwanda’s initiative. I am willing to share two papers I have so far written on MOOCs as well as the results of my pilot study with these researchers, the Ministry of Education, Rwanda Education Board, Higher Education Council and academics in Rwandan higher education institutions who are interested in reading about MOOCs.

Confessions of a PhD student (14): I am a MOOC dropout.

A couple of months ago I participated in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for the first time. I was intrigued about the MOOC movement. I only had a general idea: free courses, prestigious universities, thousands of students, access to anyone with an Internet connection… I wanted to know more about the learning design, the interactions between participants, the assessment processes, the challenges …

I signed up in Coursera and enrolled in a course on information and communication technologies in education. I had 18,000 fellow course mates. The course consisted of activities based on independent study and self-evaluation surveys. There were some synchronous sessions, which in practice were mere videos of the teachers. Interactions were fostered through a Twitter hashtag and a number of discussion forums.

My first impression was: Chaos. Instructions were not clear for everyone. Different resources had inconsistent information. There were lots of questions. Some people seemed to have no experience with communicating online. A thread about a technical problem could have a random post of someone introducing themselves (?!). This is not an issue with a small group of participants… but when you have a group of 18k… It is overwhelming…

I dropped out after a couple of days. I am not proud of it. I am part of the statistics, of those who failed to complete the course. However, I also think it was the best decision for me at the time. I had four main reasons to stop:

  1. I felt lost in a sea of chaos. The large number of students with different skill levels derived in an overwhelming amount of messages being sent without following a coherent structure. I could not keep up with that.
  2. Course content was not completely self-explanatory. Some instructions were confusing. Different resources had inconsistent information. The teachers could not answer all the questions. Again, I felt lost.
  3. It was a free course. Dropping out had no significant consequence.
  4. The time and effort needed to make sense of the MOOC seemed to exceed the expected benefits. For me, it was not worth it.

Are all MOOCs the same? Is it only a matter of enduring the beginning?  Maybe after a while it improves? I do not know, but I will soon start another MOOC. Hopefully I will obtain some answers.

***

Why do people drop out of MOOCs?

  • Overwhelming chaos
  • Unclear guidance
  • No losses or significant consequences
  • Efforts to succeed exceed expected benefits

PhD students share research and encouragement

Ming speaks at PhD Day June 2013

Ming speaks at PhD Day June 2013

Today and tomorrow (24 and 25 June 2013), our PhD students are gathering in Leicester from far and wide to share their research thus far and to encourage each other on the journey. Tony Ratcliffe presented his work remotely via Adobe Connect from Canada. Nada presented her work before she returns to Saudi Arabia to continue field research there. Marion Waite presented her PhD topic on MOOCs and online learning, in her first time joining us in person. Grace, Yan, Brenda, Bernard, and Natalia also presented, some of these in preparation for the annual School of Education PhD presentation day which will happen this Saturday. The recordings from this session are posted here in order of occurrence:

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p3x2urnca91/

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p1eotdv97qg/

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p3g2bveovi7/

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p2qjjj1osk7/

Building relations with learners from wherever they are

The idea of building relationship with learners wherever they are via OER was discussed in the Introduction to OER and Open Practices, a session hosted by the Higher Education Academy on the first day of OER13. According to the presenter, Tony Coughlan, the current evolution of OER and technology provides educators with the opportunity to expand relationship beyond the traditional teacher-students relationship. He highlighted that using the communication media preferred by the audience is a good strategy to impact them.

Is reaching learners wherever they are feasible?

This initiative is probably not within the traditional education paradigm in which students have to move to educational institutions. However, the UK Open University’s principle has been bringing the university to people rather than bringing people to the university. The Open University has done a good job in bringing education to learners but it has not addressed all barrier to education to find all learners in need. Practices in the recent MOOC movement reflect a step forward in bringing education to learners and building relation with them from their locations. With MOOCs, many barriers that exclude learners from education are indeed removed. For instance, the price barrier highlighted in the Budapest Open Access Initiative does not apply in the course aspect of MOOCs. Equally, the language test score barrier which is exclusive to many non native speakers is not an issue in MOOCs. Language test score barrier and cost barrier are to certain extent related in that language tests are quite expensive. Learners join MOOCs without paying any fee, neither for the course perse nor for a pre-course selective test. The MOOC experience is demonstrating that learning is indeed not linear and weaknesses on one side can be compensated by strength on the other. For example, more time commitment can enable learners with language difficulty to successfully complete the number of activities as proficient learners. More specific to xMOOC, their strength lie in their structure that can keep inexperienced learners who are really willing to learn. Of course, fast quitters do not benefit but those who persevere do. xMOOCs allow learners to go back to the course materials and repeat them in order to improve grades they had in quizzes. These courses have been criticized to go back to the behaviourist approach because of this aspect (Daniel, 2012, Bates, 2012). Arguably, learners improve their understanding of the course materials (and language abilities if they are not native speakers) as they keep engaged with the materials in order to make another attempt on quizzes. By spending 10 hours a week, an inexperienced learner or a learner with language difficulties might probably learn as much as an experienced leaner who spent three hours a week to learn the same materials. In this way, the two learners play different cards to reach the same goal in the learning game. The problem in selective education is the tendency to impose a single learning game card to all learners.

More importantly, inexperienced learners might improve their abilities even if they do not learn as much as experienced ones. The most important contribution of MOOCs is not a comparison between learners, but the provision of opportunities for every learner’s self-improvement. Certainly, denying access to learners because of their financial, geographical, linguistic and other limitations does not provide such opportunity. On the contrary, everyone can enroll in a MOOC and quit whenever they want. Everyone learns through their personal experience. In this way, MOOC providers do not show themselves as too good for some learners by rejecting their application, which might lead to their social disempowerment (Lane, 2009). Moreover, the open licensing of MOOCs facilitates their translations in various languages which enables learners who have limited or no proficiency of the original course language to learn the content.

Have MOOCs enabled reaching learners wherever they are?

While MOOCs have considerably improved the reach of learners, a yes answer to this question would be too simplistic. The signatories of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration acknowledge that the majority of the world does not yet have access to computers and internet networks. Although the declaration was issued about six years ago, statistics from Miniwatts Marketing Group indicate that the lack of access to Internet connectivity is still the case to the majority of the globe population. To increase the access to learners wherever they are, the diversification is not only needed in the learning game cards, but also in the MOOC transportation channels. Hence, there is more job to be done in the open education endeavour.

If MOOCs Have Limitations, How About MORCs?

 The recent emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has sparked agitation in the academia especially in Western Europe and North America. Constraints raised by MOOCs vary depending on professional contexts or locations. While quality seems to be a major target of Western European and North American criticism, accessibility is still a major challenge for learners in developing countries. From my learning and professional experience, MOOCs represent a precious opportunity Rwanda never had. However, in their current dissemination mode, MOOCs are unfortunately not having significant impact beyond the traditional, highly selective, education in this country. Higher education enrolment is approximately 4-5 percent if not less. Though the exact number of people who are taking MOOCs in Rwanda is not known yet, connectivity seems to be a serious barrier to MOOCs. According to Miniwatts Marketing Group (2013) the Internet penetration in this country was only seven percent and this was the average penetration for the African continent as well. Even, for those who have access, the bandwidth is too poor to handle MOOCs. We will probably still have to wait for many decades for computers and Internet to become home tools in Rwanda as it has in developed countries. In this blog post, I would like to invite critical comments on quality and feasibility of repurposing MOOCs into MORCs (Massive Open Radio Courses) while transitioning into computer and Internet ubiquity in Rwanda.

A background survey

In my secondary education, I was trained to become a primary school teacher. That was back in 1990s. I attended a so called “Francophone school”. About 90 percent or more of Rwandan secondary schools were francophone as opposed to a few “Anglophone” schools. Naturally, I was supposed to teach in a Francophone primary school after my secondary education graduation. English was not on the list of courses taught in Francophone primary schools. During my secondary education, English language teachers were very scarce in the country. In my school, the priority for having an English language teacher was given to students who were in the literary section because English was one of the main courses which were assessed in national exams. In my section, Teacher Training Section, English was not assessed in national exams. For this reason, both students and school leaders did not feel pressed to find a teacher for this language.

Reforms and International Broadcasting

In 2000, The National Examination Council (which recently became the Department of Examination and Accreditation) was established. At approximately the same time, other reforms were introduced namely introduction of English and French at primary level in all Rwandan primary school and the shift from Kinyarwanda to French and English as languages of instruction from the third year of primary education. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had already been authorized to broadcast on Frequency Moderation (FM) in Rwanda and this became the case for the Voice of America (VOA). The two international radios broadcast incredibly nice English lessons which amplified my interest in English. Best BBC courses included “, Sad songs, the Lost Boy, Tell me a Story, Dictionary Update and Idiomatic Expression”. On the other side, VOA delivered New Dynamic English and Functioning in Business and English USA in addition to its VOA Special English in a slow-speed language to help non native speakers learn. As you can see, I now access the radio courses via the Internet but at the time, I used a radio to take these courses. Many of the courses seem to have been phased out.

Fair learning-friendly policies, practices and qualification framework

Since its establishment in 2000, the National Examination Council introduced an interesting system for recognition and accreditation of informal learning. The centre enrolled people who were not enrolled in secondary school to take the same national exams as those who were in formal secondary education. This system was commonly known as Candidats Libres or Private Candidates. Those who passed exams were awarded the same certificate/diploma of secondary education completion as formal students. The GPA in the national examination was also established as a benchmark for eligibility to students’ loan for public higher education. Although the national curriculums were prerogatives of secondary school teachers, many canditats libres or private candidates borrowed secondary school notes from here and there and studied for national exams. I personally enrolled as a private candidate to seek eligibility for a public higher education admission and loan. English which I had been learning mainly on the BBC and VOA was also added to the list of examinable courses for teacher trainees. Interestingly, this is the only course in which I scored a perfect grade (A).

Similar to the National Examination Council, the National University of Rwanda (NUR) had a system for recognition of prior learning in languages. Students who joined the university had to take one year studying either French or English. During this year, they took the language which was not used for learning at secondary level. This system was widely known as EPLM (Ecole Pratique des Langues Modernes) in Rwanda. Prior to starting the language course, the university administered a target language test. Those who scored at the level evaluated to be equivalent or superior to the course outcome were immediately upgraded to their departmental courses without the year-long language course. This system also enabled me to spend four years rather than five at the NUR. Like the private candidates pathway, students who took this test did not receive any information on language skills they had to demonstrate or on graders’ expectations. In my case, all I knew was that I had to answer some grammar question, read a text and answer comprehension questions, listen to a passage and answer some questions, answer some vocabulary questions and write a composition on an open-ended topic.

Having nodes connected

Two years after graduation from NUR, I had chance to win an award to undertake my graduate education in the United States of America. During my two year stay in the States, ones of the most exciting moments have been my touristic visit to Graceland, (Memphis, Tennessee), the home of Elvis Presley, my tour to various Washington DC monuments and museums and my meet up with DynEd. The specialty of these moments was that each of them was connecting dots of my learning experience that occurred a decade before. Starting with the Graceland visit, I became a fun of Elvis Presley in 2000 when the BBC was using his songs in “The Sad Song” which was part of the Leçon d’Anglais par Radio. This was an English course that was probably targeting the audience from the francophone Africa in a broadcast known as BBC Afrique. Elvis’s song were heart touching but his deterministic conviction was life changing. The BBC teacher quoted him in these words “As long as you believe in God, and you believe in yourself, do not let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve anything”. This quote came at the time an exclusive fallacy was being propagated in Rwanda. The fallacy claimed that people who were trained as teacher-trainees or in other “professional sections” are not well prepared for higher education. The proponents of this misconception said that it was difficult for people with such a background to succeed academic programs offered at university level and therefore they should not be eligible for students’ loan. After listening to Elvis’s words, my response to the fallacy was “Of course I can be successful in higher education”. This is how I became a fun of theKing of Rock and Roll. Fortunately, the fallacy was not believed by many stakeholders in higher education. Institutions continued to enrolled students who had teacher-training and other “professional training” backgrounds. A bunch of these students made it successfully up to doctoral level. Briefly, visiting Graceland was a connection between the place and my English language learning experience, the nodes of my educational history activated by the BBC.

ST830264 c

My visits to various DC museums and monuments and meeting DynED was also linked to my English as a Foreign Language informal learning. A survey of the museums and monuments was presented in Exploration, a unit of the VOA Special English program. I was hooked to this program since 2000. The power of Special English consists of the deliberate slow speed of the speech rate to help the target audience learn. The thirty minutes VOA Special English program used to be followed by two courses New Dynamic English and Functioning in Business, the lessons which were developed by DynEd .

Washington DC (32) c

 Questioning selective education

Some of the most popular MOOC providers include Coursera, Udacity and edX. Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun after his resignation from Stanford University. The highly prestigious university (currently ranked number two on the world rank of universities published by webmetrics) is among the most selective higher education institutions. After teaching the CS221 Artificial Intelligence MOOC, Thrun was surprised by informal learners’ accomplishment. The MOOC enrolled over 160,000 learners from all over the world. These learners studied the same materials and took same quizzes and exams as 200 students who were enrolled at Stanford University. Thrun offered the 200 enrolled students the option to choose between the MOOC and the face-to-face mode. After three weeks, the face-to-face class remained with only 30 students. Others 170 students had moved to the MOOC version, to learn with 160,000 informal learners. Thrun graduated about 20,000 learners. While the MOOC completion rate is criticized to be low (about 12.5 percent in this MOOC) this criticism is arguably of less importance. Basing on the percentage would be a simplistic view of the phenomenon. While 12.5 of completion rate might sound low, it should be noted that it is a hundred times more of 100 percent completion rate if the class were taught only to 200 enrolled students and all of them passed the class. In other words, there would be a satisfaction of 100 percent completion rate of 200 students which is achieved by excluding about 19, 800 successful learners from the course. According to Ripley, none of the top 400 score was from preselected students enrolled at Stanford University. She also notes that the 200 enrolled students’ performance in the midterm was a full letter above their predecessors who took the class in the face-to-face mode, the achievement she attributes to the online aspect. This leads to questioning the accuracy of selective filters used in traditional higher education. Koller, another Stanford University professor who co-founded Coursera seems to acknowledge that such selection suffocates many talents. “Maybe the next Albert Einstein or the next Steve Jobs is living somewhere in a remote village in Africa and if we could offer that person education, they would be able to come up with the next big idea and make a world a better place for all of us”, says Koller.

If MOOCs are of low quality and are not adequately accessible in Africa, how about MORCs?

I would like to draw this long blog post to a conclusion with a reflection to the initial question. More particularly, I would like to draw attend from the current buzz word, MOOCs, for a while to the probably equally influential mode. The MORCs (Massive Open Radio Courses) may have probably changed the lives of millions of people in the developing world. The BBC and VOA have probably been the biggest providers of this type of open education. However, research on the global scale of these two broadcasting companies’ educational impact seems to be lacking.

Coming back to the MOOC quality, most criticism are prone to subjectivity. Admittedly, MOOCs have some limitations. However, which course or program is perfect? And if some courses are claimed to be perfect, are the evaluation process that resulted in their ranking as perfect courses universally agreed on? To what extent is the evaluation of education quality accurate if there is no common/standardized yardstick undertaken by institutions, programs, courses or learners/students that are evaluated? When Rwanda’s National Examination Centre established the standardized national exams, some of the unknown schools from remote corners performed better than many mythically prestigious schools. This centre also deserves credit for its contribution to fair admission and provision of student loan for public higher education. The practice of enrolling private candidates who were not enrolled in formal secondary education in national exams is also commendable. This enabled main of us to have a door open for tertiary education experience, the opportunity we were not likely to have otherwise. We underwent same exams as formally registered students and after passing the standardized examinations, we were treated equally based on each individual performance. Both the National Examination Council and the National University of Rwanda did not make an error in recognizing informal learning. Their sound judgment was indeed confirmed in the selection process for international scholar awards some of students whose informal learning was recognized won. But this is not an important point.

The most important point I am making here is that no one should be denied access to education. It is even one of the fundamental human rights as articulated in Article 26 of the United Nations’ universal declaration of human rights. If we combine those best practices that have been in Rwanda for a decade and adopt the MORCs practices from VOA and BBC, we can provide access to high quality tertiary education to Rwandans. The participation rate can be increased from 4 percent to 10, 20, 30, or why not 50 percent and above? Good thing about the ubiquity of radio in Rwanda is that it is now accessed via not only traditional radios but also on most mobile phones. Rwanda would not be the first place where radio is used in education, anyway. This technology has been used at Indira Ghandi National Open University, the Open University and many American schools many years ago, probably when their technology development was still at the current level of Rwanda. Radio has also been used in Chinese higher education and probably in many other countries. But again, VOA and BBC still deliver their English courses to the audience from various parts of the world.

In a nutshell, giving up the traditional selective culture to adopt open standards, open policies, open curriculum, open assessment and open qualification framework would enable the use of the existing pool of OERs and MOOCs to provide access to anyone who is willing and committed to study in Rwanda. I might sound as a fun of traditional technology and not receptive to computer and Internet. However, I would argue that the value of these technologies rely on how positively they impact people’s life. The unthoughtful rush to join the global bandwagon of technologies advancement might lead to widening the digital divide, which would victimize so many people in economically disadvantaged families. Without excluding effort to increase the current computer and Internet penetration rate, my suggestion is just starting with available technology to open up educational opportunities to people. Then, as computer technology and Internet access significantly increases from the current 7 percent, the migration from MORCs to MOOCs would occur with a smooth transition. This is probably one of the strategies Rwanda might have to use to transform from subsistence farming to a knowledge and skill based society, a high aspiration on agenda.

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