Monday, June 18, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 46: Cyber College, 3 -- building education capacity in our churches and communities

Over the past week or so, given the significance of the Six Day War, we paused to look at it from a balancing perspective. Even just for me, that was a quite illuminating exercise.

While that was happening, my attention was drawn to a thread on the JFK terrorism plot story over at Barbados Free Press. During the course of this, the Six Day war -- surprise [NOT] -- came up, and I made some remarks. Latterly I have had to respond there on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.Again and again, the desperate need for building up capacity to address critical thinking, and to have a fund of balanced knowledge and information on important matters has been underscored.

This brings us right back to the issue of the need for a new approach to education and capacity building in our region, as has been raised, introduced and further discussed previously. So, let's get back to the idea of setting up a Cyber College in the region, linked to local micro-campus centres (and, hopefully, to existing Colleges in the region).

Thus far, we have:
1] April 11: suggested that there is a need for and an opportunity to create such a click-and-brick based college, with credible resources to get it started then to sustain it. In particular, the existence of a vast church-based infrastructure across our region, and the existence of tens of thousands of tertiary level graduates was seen as providing a potential base for micro-campus centres for course delivery in the local community, and also for course and programme development.

2] May 24: laid our a general framework for a curriculum, showing how it would help to inform and transform "individuals, families, churches, institutions, communities" through developing courses and credible certification that targets: [I] basic discipleship and life skills, [II] preparation for small-group oriented leadership and service, [III] preparation for community level leadership and service; this last including links into general post-secondary, bridging and tertiary education and skill-building in the region.

3] June 2: Launching on a shoestring through triggering a movement, in the era where open source courseware like Moodle [Used by UWI for its Distance Education programme] or other similar packages that are not explicitly educational but are adaptable to that purpose offer us significant capacity to create, deliver, support and sustain effective online-based courses. We therefore looked at several sources of empowerment to do that: vision, volunteers, example, webs, micro-campuses, open-source software, acceditaiton, standardisation of offerings, and access to education.
This framework on the face of it shows that such a regional college based on a Main, Cyber Campus integrated with local micro-campus centres and partnerships with existing institutions and campuses is plainly feasible and has a lot of promise. It can also start-up on a shoestring, with materials adapted form existing courses and using open source software.

Once that happens, it can snowball -- how many school teachers, Bible teachers, public lecturers, seminar deliverers, Human Resources Management trainers and College lecturers "out there" across our region have in hand powerful, effective, tested materials that can with some further development easily become course materials structured towards credible certification and even relevant external exams?.

The answer is obvious! ( A lot!)

As well, there are many capable people across our region who, perhaps with some assistance, can generate substantial course content [including online/multimedia readers and viewers that can easily be turned into books . . .] and delivery systems. Beyond, there are the many retirees and practising people who have a wealth of wisdom, expertise and experience that can be tapped by a bit of interviewing and arranging.

But, training does not simply happen out of a reading a book or clicking on a web site, or even doing that in a cyber cafe and chatting about it.

Effective training requires active processes of exploring and using knowledge, then learning from mistakes -- in settings that minimise the dangers of such mistakes! -- and incrementally improving performance through a spiral learning process. Where attitudes are involved, there may need to be counselling and prayer, carefully built up mentoring relationships, and more. Work skills development often needs apprenticeship or internships with appropriate supervision and monitoring. All of this will need a structured framework of learning objectives that can be observed, measured and certified based on reasonable objective evidence.

In turn that needs qualified -- as opposed to merely certificated -- educators who are actually capable of curriculum development and working with performance-oriented assessment systems. But, thankfully, our region is not at all short of such!

So, how can we operationalise the process?
a] We can credibly and fairly easily identify many key education and training foci based on the three educational levels already identified, and we can integrate these into the sort of needs of our churches, businesses, institutions, communities, and the needs, talents and desires of many individuals looking to upgrade their life skills, ability to serve, lead, work and start up businesses and projects in areas that require identifiable and trainable skills.

b] These can then be prioritised relative to the "shoestring and snowball" principle: what we can target to set out with, and what we can roll on into as we pick up momentum and support.

c] Certain key sites out there can sign up as founding micro-campus centres and partner institutions, which would work with the first wave of offerings. [Let's say, that discipleship and life skills, leadership training and ministry (or small business . . .) project development and implementation would be such likely start-up areas, which can lead to standalone certificates that could then fit into the wider system of training under development. It so happens that there are relevant materials already in hand for such topics.]

d] With the aid of some good techies [probably on a volunteer basis to start with!], we can develop the online site based, say, on Moodle or a similar package. That gives us a startup Cybercampus, maybe over the course of six to eight weeks of development time. (In short, we could, technically speaking, be ready in time for September!)

e] Likewise, based on cheap desktop PC and networking technologies, and the low-cost good performance multimedia projectors that are now out there, we can get a few microcampus centres going in churches, community centres, schools, colleges and even the training units in some firms. Basic teleconferencing -- great for bringing the whole regional classroom together -- can probably be done though say Skype to begin with; the OECS is actually already doing this. Each site will need appropriate broadband internet access; which is now increasingly affordable through DSL and Cable access technologies. (Of course, the partners would have to in the first instance source the equipment.)

f] Site tutors, admin assistants and course facilitators can be signed up on the local micro-campus centres, as well as of course the first classes of students.

g] For each of the courses, there would be a principal course developer/coordinator (Maybe with co-coordinators and assistants), who would oversee course development and implementation, lead teleconferences and see to it that the course runs to a basic schedule, etc.

h] Assessments would be mainly based on locally assessed learning logbooks, with set-piece exercises and mini-projects, backed up by a main project that would at least on a sample basis be centrally assessed. (Project based assessments are inherently very valid, as they are a realistic sample of the sort of skill and performance to be developed/achieved. Of course, since projects are usually relevant to the goals of the local institution, that too is a benefit of hosting such a microcampus centre! And, reports can be harvested for research information and useful content, helping to form a do-it-yourself, growing library of resource materials.)

i] Based on the results, we would have a first wave of graduates, awarded credible, practically oriented course certificates that also reflect a process of thinking through and discussing then working out problems on the area being studied, and creates a pool of students for the next level of courses, as well as tested, further developed first-level courses.

j] The snowball would roll on from there.
Such an approach is on its face very feasible and is desirable as the costs would not be outregeous, and the skill gaps are there for all to see.

So: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

No comments: