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May 1, 2009

Pedagogical knowledge proliferation

— Dr Ankuran Dutta, Anamika Ray During the last few years, education through distance mode has developed to be an important substitute to the conventional education system. The progress of distance learning has closely mirrored the growth of technology. Correspondence and home study courses (a non-interactive pattern), bringing up a variety of structural and practical aspects, and introduction of effective classrooms are different phases of open and distance learning (ODL), which add a whole new direction to the distance learning temperament. Media have always formed an important part of modern education since the beginning of the twentieth century. From print to radio, television, and today’s web-enabled e-learning - each medium has been seen as a potential solution for the problems, inadequacies and certain ills of education. The exponential growth of information and communication technologies is the new opportunity for the learners to reconsider the way in which education can be delivered at the doorstep. As a result, these opportunities have given a new impetus to the discipline of educational communications.

Distance learning can be defined as providing access to education to the masses by all the ways, means and efforts made to enhance teaching-learning process. This is a modern system of teaching in which the learners are not required to come to the institutions. Here we can say that distance learning brings the demise to distance between teacher and student and provides quality education to any one at his convenience regarding the time, place and the duration of teaching sessions. It guarantees equal opportunities for education to every person without any discrimination of caste, creed, sex, place and religion. The only shortcoming of distance education is that there is less scope of face to face learner - teacher interaction. To facilitate learning the study materials are prepared with the help of instruction designing to make them self-learning material. ODL uses latest communication and interaction technologies for two-way communication with the teacher and peer groups. ODL ensures knowledge, skills and attitudes. It means without modern communication technology the imagination of distance learning is indistinct. The medium in ODL has changed from pencil-paper correspondence courses to real-time online courses.

But we know very well that there are lots of barriers faced by the distance learners. The learners are mainly drop out students of conventional system because of different reasons. They have to maintain strict rules and regulations in the conventional method whereas the ODL system is very flexible. It is impossible to ignore the problems and barriers encountered by the distant learners. Firstly, the distance learners feel insecure in the system. Different insecurities in personal and school related issues such as financial costs of study, disturbance of family life, perceived irrelevance of their studies and lack of support from employers, are faced by the learners. Secondly, though self learning material (SLM) plays the role of a teacher of the conventional system, sometimes the quality of the materials is not learner friendly. Especially for the technical, practical, professional courses, the printed learning materials are not enough to fulfil the need of study.

Thirdly, counselors are the guides and teachers for distance learners. In this context, it is expected that a counselor must know the ODL system to help the learners. Fourthly, there is lack of feedback, because of not having daily or weekly face to face contact with teachers. For this reason, learners may have trouble in self-evaluation. The fifth point is that the lack of student support services from the institutions may complicate the learning process. Alienation and isolation feeling are the important barriers of distance learners. Distance learners have to depend only on the learning materials. So, they are indirectly and strictly depending on the delivery mechanism of instructional materials.

To overcome these barriers, no doubt computer mediated interactive communication is the first solution. Computer conferencing and electronic mail can be integrated into the delivery of the learning materials to provide the missing interaction. They continue to leave the learner in charge of setting his or her own work time. It is well enough to overcome the barriers of the learners. But we have to consider the real situation of our country. If students are undertaking distance learning courses that require knowledge of computers, then the students must be taught, at a minimum, the fundamentals of operating the system of choice of the distance-taught course. If distance learning is to be successful, technical barriers must be made a non-issue. But 2001 census data say that more than 87 per cent population in Assam reside in the rural areas. It is still a very tough question to answer how many people are computer literate in rural areas of the region, whereas 64.28 per cent is the general literacy rate. So, as an alternative of the computer, we can give stress on the audio and audio visual learning material to reach the unreached.

The important audio visual methods that we can implement as an alternative computer mediated communication are – audio lectures in a CD/DVD format, audio features, educational radio (such as Gyan Vani), community radio, audio conference, online audio/video programme like phone ins, educational TV, documentaries and docu-features, video conferencing etc. Audiocassettes can be used to distribute the lectures. Gradually general audio and video cassettes are being replaced by digital audio clips stored on CDs and digital audio devices such as MP3 players or uploaded to mobile phones and portable digital assistants (PDAs). Audio conferencing enables for synchronous. Interactive learning can be enhanced with video and text material. Videoconferencing provides all the benefits of audio conferencing plus full motion images of the participants and visual displays. Video information can be transmitted at least six ways as by radio broadcast frequency, telephone line, coaxial cable, satellite, microwave, and optic fiber.

The ODL institutes can produce documentaries and docu-features in support of the learning materials. For example in Mass Communication course, there is a unit on the reporting, editing techniques and publication of the news papers including the concept of printing. Instead of producing an audio visual programme for the unit in a way of lecture, a documentary film or documentation describing the process of reporting of the newspapers with practical examples, the production technique in press can be made. While producing audio visual programmes we should consider the use of animation for the technical portion of a lesson.

lt is true, now we cannot indeed imagine distance learning without computer mediated communication technology. But because of the socio economic factors of our society we cannot ignore the traditional delivery system of learning materials. So, we can think to add the production of the audio and video materials for better understanding of a learning lesson. If distance learning institutions are serious about providing equity of educational opportunity to all, then careful consideration must be given to the special needs of students undertaking distance education for the first time through audio visual materials. The universities should organise workshops on handling audio visual study materials in a frequent interval for the study centres. At the same time in case of all types of learning material delivery, a balanced coordination among the learner community, study centres and the university is very much necessary. ASSAM TRIBUNE

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