Thursday, March 27, 2008

Open Professor

I have been a supporter of open source software, open course content and journals for a long time. It all started supporting Linux long time ago. One of my student brought few floppy discs and asked if I want this software installed on my system. I asked him about it and he explained to me the GPL license and every thing that goes with it.

We have made significant progress in the area of open and free software, research journals and open course ware. It is time to think about what it would be like to be an "Open Professor". Recently New York Times published and article "The Professor as Open Book". It is an interesting article. Here is the starting paragraph from that article

"
IT is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor on the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or can’t get enough of Chaka Khan.

THE BIG PAYBACK The mtvU series “Professors Strike Back” gives instructors a chance to refute criticism by students who gripe about them on RateMyProfessors.com. Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television.

When scholars were recently given the chance to refute student criticism posted on the Web site RateMyProfessors.com, a cult-hit television series, “Professors Strike Back,” was born. The show, which has professors responding on camera to undergraduate gripes such as “boring beyond belief,” made its debut in October on mtvU, a 24-hour network broadcast to more than 7.5 million students on American college campuses."

This shows that the article even though had the right idea to talk about professors in the digitla age but it only focussed on the social aspects of student and teacher interaction. It failed in describing the professor's situation from professor's perspective.

So coming back to the topic of "Open Professor", what it would be like to be an "Open Professor". Right now we pretend that student are consumers and the professor are service providers that is "Education" to the students while students demanding "Edutainment" a combination of Education and Entertainment. The reason we pretend like this is because of the over whelming success of the business model that Industry followed in the past and its practices made us fabulously wealthy. We always copy the past models that were successful in some unrelated area meanwhile ignoring the fact that the products in the business of education may be not as well defined as let us say stamping out million widgets of exactly same size and color. Also, the technique of seduction and entertainment in form of sales and marketing are used to sell these products. A professor working in business settings of an educational establishment will have hard time in becoming open professor due to the adoption of cost/benefit model. To be successful he has to use all the same techniques of persuasion that are used to sell other products. That is the dilemma an open professor will face and has to resolve for himself.

In my opinion if a professor wanted to be an "Open Professor" he has to open up his practice of teaching. Student should know at every step of the way why they are being asked to do things. That would be the first step towards being open professor. But it requires a motivated student body. They need to have a curious mind to know why are they in the class and why are they spending their time on different topics. It is like the game of "tick tat toe". In mathematics they ran the simulations and concluded that winning strategy always conforms to a Tit for a Tat in the game of prisoners dilemma. Teaching and learning is a game that students and teacher play together. The teacher starts the dialogs and the student have to pick the ball and respond with a Tat. If the Tat is missing then the teaching becomes a monologue. If the Tick is missing then there is no dialog. An open professor will try to get this game going to have an interesting class.

What else an "Open Professor" can do? He/She can involve the students in the process of instruction design where student become co-creator of the course topics they will learn as part of their course curriculum.

Finally, I would like to extend the idea of Static and Dynamic Quality as it is described in the second book "Laila" written by Robert Pirsig to the teaching and learning process. He is also the author of the famous book "Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence". In his less famous second book "Laila" he extends his ideas from the "Zen and Motorcycle" book and he discusses key concepts of "Metaphysics of Quality". In his theory quality comes before the subject-object duality and one of the key idea in his thesis is that the reality consists of static and dynamic quality. The open professor will know that learning is a dynamic process and there is nothing static about it which means that he has to create a learning environment that is dynamic and it changes as it receives the feedback from its environment that is students. This pretty much throws out all the canned e-learning instructional material. It could serve as a start but the dynamic component of student learning takes over. Most of the teacher have an intuitive understanding of this process and that is why they look at the LMS/LCMS as useful silos in which learning process can start but it does not take place in it.

I know the Instructional designer/Technologist do not like the word "Teaching". For a while we had a compromise and the word was "Teaching and Learning" but now a days it is only "Learning". It makes good sound bite along with the "personal learning" etc. The truth of the matter is that a very small minority of students are self motivated learners. Most of them need at least a tiny bit of push to learn. The teachers do this along with that the creation of dynamic learning environment that can not be captured in any assessment matrix or LMS/LCMS.

There are many theories about what happens during learning process. In fact too many to list here. Every body seems to have his/her pet theory. However empirically it is possible to postulate that physically learning takes place within the learners brain. It is accomplished by creating new neuronal connections or modifying the existing neural connections within the learners brain. This modification of Neural connection is possible because of the existence of the well known phenomenon also known as Neural plasticity.

The learning is the retraining of the "Attention Process" of a learner. All learning exist as a potentiality. It is the "Attention of the learner" guided through the learning process start performing as desired by the teacher. The Open Professor will be cognizant of all this and will create learning environment with proper sequencing of the learning events that are dynamic and change depending on the need of the class as the learning process progresses.

1 comment:

Edouard said...
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