An Introduction to Open Learnware: Interview with Mahendra Pratap, CEO

oer open learnware interview with ceoMahendra has a distinguished background as a scientist and as an entrepreneur. Mahendra was employed with AT&T and Lucent Technologies for 20 years where he specialized in video communications, personal computer design, ATM and IP networking.

Mahendra has a PhD in Nuclear Physics and has authored over 2 dozen scientific papers.

As new method of teaching is gaining momentum in the west, it is still unknown in India. Prof. S.Sitaraman, Educationalist (Amity University, Noida, India) raised some queries about OER and the answers provided by Dr. Mahendra Pratap are given below in the form of Q&A.

Prof.S.Sitaraman: What is OER? What are the operational details?

Dr.Mahendra Pratap: Open Educational Resources (OER) are digital learning materials released with a license that allows for their free use, adaptation, and distribution.

Any one with an Internet connection can find, view and download these materials from the original author's website or from the repositories that aggregate the content.

However, a new definition of OER is emerging that captures why OER matters for educators, learners and the learning institutes:

"An empowerment process, driven by technology in which various types of stakeholders are able to interact, collaborate, create and use materials and pedagogic practices, that are freely available, for enhancing access, reducing costs and improving the quality of education and learning at all levels"* Mark Bullen, Commonwealth of Learning

-          OER is a real game changer for education, breaking down longstanding barriers to the access of knowledge around the world.

-          Educators and Students are increasingly opting for Open Textbooks, distributed as eBooks that can be read online or downloaded using laptops, tablets or smart phones at little or no cost. 

-          Top Education Institutions are embracing new ways of teaching and learning and in some case leading it (EdX, OpenCourseWare...... )

-          There are endless Opportunities for Entrepreneurs to improve Access and Quality of Education (Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Students Network Circle) In collaboration with leading education institutes, they offer free Massive Open Online Courses to the global audience, drawing a huge number of students worldwide.

SS: How different it is to our conventional education system?

MP: It is transforming the traditional class room and the role of teachers in the class room.

In a popular 'flipped class' model, the students watch lectures on their own time at home while the valuable class time is used for discussion, question/answers and solving problems.

It is a different way of thinking altogether. The teacher becomes a mentor, a facilitator, a motivator, giving up command and control. The student takes a more direct responsibility for his/her own learning.

SS: I can see lot of benefit to students. Can you specify in detail how students as well as faculty will be better off with OER?

MP: By using OER, you are 'standing on the shoulders of giants' making all your personal and professional goals easier to achieve.

  • OER holds the promise of better Learning Outcomes.
  • It holds the promise of making you a more effective teacher, a better scholar and more recognized in your professional circle.
  • Teaching with OER in a connected Class Room is often an enriching and productive experience.
  • Conversing, sharing and collaborating with Students, other Teachers and the Community at large is an integral part of new way of teaching.
  • Embracing openness in Education, by adopting OER actively and early in the process may be personally and professionally rewarding.

Many of the most effective and forward-thinking instructors are already using the Internet, and practices and materials associated with the OER movement, to share lesson plans, course outlines, exercises and are even streaming videos of their in-class lectures.

In the process, these instructors have begun to open the doors to higher education wider than ever.

SS: Now coming to the other important aspect in this type of pedagogy namely your platform "Open Learnware". What are the salient features of this platform? What is the connecting link between these two?

MP: As you know, OER material is available from thousands of sources on the Internet. (e.g.  From MIT CourseWare, Rice University's Connexions, You Tube,  iTunes University, TED Talks, Wikipedia etc.)

In the informal learning setting, users can find and review the material at their own leisure.

But how should a teacher or a teaching institution should use and adapt OER for its needs?

There is no guarantee that the material will be there the next time you visit the original site.

Besides Intellectual Property Rights issues, there are also questions of quality and relevance. There are no real standards to follow either.

Therefore it is a challenge for a teacher or an institution to use OER in their class room.

They need simple but effective tools to organize the OER material localize it to meet the needs of their students and use it for teaching.

This is exactly what Open LearnWare does.

Its main differentiation is 'easy to get started with OER' for teachers and institutes and 'easy to use' for students.

With this, they can instantly start participating and taking advantage of OER without large initial cost and effort.

Open LearnWare is implemented as a "SAAS" (Software as a Service). The Institute does not have to install any hardware or software to offer their courses.

They can assemble courses based on OER, create and manage their courses and students all online reliably and securely.

Open LearnWare has expansion capabilities that can be turned incrementally as needed. Social Media is one such example (forums and messaging are part of it).

Of course there are many technology platforms and solutions in the industry. Big players can afford to install and use Blackboard, Pearson, Moodle etc.

In general, they are Resource Intensive and Inflexible in terms of Configuration, and integration with OER. They also require a high up-front learning curve.

By focusing on creating and teaching a course using OER, Open LearnWare keeps things simple and manageable.

It is, however built on world class open source software platform that is used by top businesses in the world.

It has expansion capabilities that can be turned on incrementally as needed. Social Media is one such example (forums and messaging are part of it).

Continued on the next page..

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