As a PhD student researching Indian higher education while being based in the UK, it is often challenging to keep up with the goings-on in India. To this end, I have set up a Google Alert for “India MOOC” and a number of other permutations and combinations of those phrases. I was incredibly fortunate this week when in my alerts popped up a document from the Indian Government which gave official guidelines to institutions to develop their MOOCs on the much anticipated SWAYAM platform. Positioned as India’s response to the MOOC phenomenon, the project, announced in August 2014, has yet to reach fruition, though the release of these guidelines suggest that the project is still very much in the works. With the recent Indian Budget making explicit mention of MOOCs as part of their Education policy, it will be interesting to see how the Government decides to leverage MOOCs in their wider educational development plan.
As I was reading through the document, I thought it would be useful to pick out certain sections of the guidelines that I found interesting.
Defining the scope of SWAYAM (p3)
… with a view to providing access to the best quality learning resources across the country, the project ‘Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds’ (SWAYAM) has been started. SWAYAM provides an integrated platform and portal for online courses, using information and communication technology (ICT) and covering High School till all higher education subjects and skill sector courses to ensure that every student benefits from learning material through ICT.
SWAYAM is a:
1. one-stop web and mobile based interactive e-content for all courses from High School to University level.
2. High quality learning experience using multimedia on anytime, anywhere basis.
3. State of the art system that allows easy access, monitoring and certification.
4. Peer group interaction and discussion forum to clarify doubts
5. Hybrid model of delivery that adds to the quality of classroom teaching.
Leaving aside concerns over language like “best quality learning resources”, from a research point of view, points 4 and 5 are of most interest. What would be worth looking at would be whether SWAYAM courses build on existing knowledge around social learning in MOOCs (such as Mike Sharples’ work on FutureLearn), or would discussion forums remain separate entities from the course content, largely for doubt solving, as is the case in most other MOOC platforms. Point 5 raises the idea of using MOOCs in a flipped/hybrid model in existing Tier 2 and 3 HEI’s that may really benefit from well structured educational content. There is some evidence from China that the flipped MOOC model seems to be working, but further research would be needed to gauge its suitability for the Indian context.
On the types of content on SWAYAM (p.5)
a) Curriculum based course contents covering diverse disciplines such as arts, Science, commerce, performing arts, social sciences and humanities subjects, engineering, technology, law, medicine, agriculture etc. in higher education domain (all courses would be certification-ready in their detailed offering).
b) School education (9-12 levels) modules; for teacher training as well as teaching and learning aids to children of India to help them understand the subjects better and also help them in better preparedness for competitive examinations for admissions to professional degree programmes.
c) Skill based courses, which cover both post-higher secondary school skills that are presently the domain of polytechnics as well as industrial skills certified by the sector skill councils of various Ministries.
d) Advanced curriculum and professional certification under a unified scheme in higher education domain that can be tailored to meet the demands of choice based credit system (CBCS) currently being implemented in India at undergraduate level.
e) Curricula and courses that can meet the needs of life-long learners of Indian citizens in India and abroad.
This is quite an ambitious plan – and I wonder if it might be too ambitious. What is noteworthy is their explicit mentioning of life-long learners – who arguably make up the vast majority of current MOOC learners in India. But given the number of stakeholders involved and the potential scale of this project, should these resources actually be developed, it will be a significant achievement for the HRD Ministry of the Indian Government, who have come under increasing flak in recent months over a number of campus-related controversies.
5.1 The National Coordinator ensures that the best teacher in the Country is selected to work as the ‘Principal Investigator’ or ‘Subject Matter Expert (SME)’.
I would really like to know how one would qualify as the “best teacher in the country”. This would certainly propagate my hypothesis that MOOCs in India, as in the West, push forth the notion of the “elite institution” and “top instructors”, often to the detriment of lower tiered institutions. I hope that a number of stakeholders are taken on board in the course design process, rather than a top-down approach. I am reminded of Leigh-Anne Perryman’s work on OER localization in India, and how Indian SMEs, often considered the best in their field, tended to focus greatly on the ‘content’ aspect of the resources, rather than the pedagogical approaches. I do hope similar mistakes are not made by the organizers of SWAYAM.
The report goes on to provide technical specifications for the recording of video/creation of content in the courses. It then goes on to discuss the financials – estimating a cost per Fresh Content course to be Rs. 900,000 or ~£9000. What is further interesting is that the course Coordinators are paid Rs. 200,000 for the first and Rs. 150,000 for subsequent runnings of the MOOC they produce (With the requirement of having a presence in the discussion forums). To my best knowledge, MOOC instructors on Western MOOC platforms are not paid specifically for delivering a MOOC – it often comes out of their teaching/research time. Even more interesting, TAs and Mentors will also be paid Rs. 30,000 per course – for responding to learner queries on the forums – while their counterparts on edX and Coursera normally put in the work for free.
Lastly, SWAYAM plans to charge learners Rs. 1000 (£10) for a proctored examination. On the one hand, the usage of proctored examination centres builds credibility to the certification (As Coursera or other User Identification Systems can be easily gamed/or are inaccurate), but at the same time it limits the accessibility of these certificates to learners from more remote parts of the country who may not have the resources or time to make the journey to their local exam centre.
To my best knowledge, none of the MOOC platforms are profit-making ventures, yet. As funding for SWAYAM is coming from the Government rather than VCs, there may not be a profit-driven agenda here, yet the long-term success of this platform hinges on its ability to remain sustainable. It will be interesting to observe the take-up of these courses, and whether SWAYAM is able to recuperate their costs of producing and running the courses.
Lastly, on openness and copyright (p.16)
14.3. All courses and contents posted in sWAYAM will be copyrighted to sWAYAM. Ministry will, from time-to-time, announce policies for access and charges if any (for certification) and will also publish appropriate Open Educational Resources policy in consultation with other national and international bodies.
I have mixed feelings towards this. While most MOOC content is copyright, I was hoping, as a public initiative, SWAYAM would follow in its precursor NPTEL’s footsteps and use a Creative Commons license. At the same time, they do acknowledge OERs and are willing to take on board suggestions through consultation – so there’s still hope!
After a thorough read, it appears as though the Indian Government has done a fair bit of research into producing these guidelines. The project seems incredibly ambitious, and given that it’s close to 2 years behind schedule, there are certainly concerns about the feasibility of such an endeavor. However, on the whole, two points are worth noting. First, the Indian Government sees MOOCs as an integral part of the future higher education system – not as a disruption but as a potential gap-closer between the disparities of the top institutions and those of a lower standard. And second, from a research perspective, I think one must tread incredibly carefully with such new forms of learning, and the Government should invest in researching the effectiveness and impact of these courses, before committing to this approach on a larger scale.
My PhD research is the first step in providing an empirical understanding of who present Indian MOOC learners are, why do they take these courses, what do they gain from doing them, and how do they experience learning online. The answers to these questions can be the building blocks towards further research on SWAYAM, to see whether the promise of easy-access high quality learning resources meet the demands of the rapidly developing nation.