e-learning virtual ecosystem

Happy Chinese New Year! 🙂

A short take on e-learning with focus on tangible steps in creating a virtual ecosystem

As the pilot phase of smart schools in Malaysia come to an end, we have not seen a post -mortem on the implementation or any success stories so far. I bet the public would wished to know how this smart school concept benefited the students. Naturally, we cannot wait for a multiyear study that follow these students into their adulthood and compare them against a control group of, ehm, non-smart (not stupid!!) school students to be carried out, but that doesn’t mean we cannot look from hindsight the direct effects of the current style of implementation and fix the low hanging fruit before this gets rolled out nationally. You’ve gotta thank Pak Lah for putting a comma to the next phase of this project to give us a chance to catch our breath.

Here’s one of my own pet peeves – technology as an accelerator of the smart school project. Some background about myself first – I’m a software engineer, child of the Internet age, always awed at the interconnectivity of the world and the highly distributed fashion of content distribution, ex-son of the e-commerce poster company, etc. Bleh – bottomline, democratization of education is high on my agenda – to let the teachers who can teach teach, to let the students who want to learn learn, to empower everyone – teachers, students, school boards, MOE, and everyone who’s interested in upgrading the quality education as well as further penetrate the parts of the country that lacks this information.

To let the teachers who can teach teach,
to let the students who want to learn learn

Cliches cliches… But take my word, if you read this from a technology point of view, it feels very different. I have seen first hand how B2C e-commerce companies leveled the playing field for retailers, how small time authors can write books and sell them big time because they are excellent without the marketing machine, how information have moved from the retailers to the consumers. These are exciting times my friend, it is just the beginning! There is still much to do in education, in some sense glue the entire country’s schools together into one big learning environment, so you won’t have student comlaining that their teachers are no good anymore (because they simply go for another teacher), or the lack of study materials (get ready for a totally new media in “reference books”), and at the same time liberalizing the teachers – technology can help with the chores of marking and tracking student’s performance, automatically suggest new learning materials based on learning behavior, help share, debate, and communicate with other educators around the country instead of seeing budding young techers trapped in the rut of the current education clout. This is huge!

I like how some teachers stand up and say that sekolah bestari (smart schools) are not about technology – now that I agree! The problem is that embracing smart schools requires a huge shift in the education culture, and it can only be achieved with what economists like to call disruptive technology. Technology has to play a part in this, otherwise we’re merely rebranding good education that already exists in certain enclave in the country. Once we find the right model, we need as much technology to accelerate it as we can possibly afford.

Here’s an laudable example but feeble attempt of teachers coming together to share resources simply with the web. I highly respect the effort, but I think if we pull the right strings and the right minds together, we can go way way beyond this.

Here I’ll present my own little brainstrom (you can contribute too) of a Internet driven education portal.

PrerequisitesInstead of government driven, which you and I know is mared with huge bureaucracy and inefficiencies, the backer for this project must be a large commercial entity. In this case, I suggest a media company, a content provider who is already providing numerous educational content to the teachers and students of this country.

In other words, this must be a commercial endeavour, regulated by the government hopefully, but part of the equation must include the ability for us to tap into the social development fund of the big boys whom we will need to rely on for the infrastructure. As all the pilot schools gets their standard set of computer lab, Internet connectivity, someone’s pocket should be quite thick by now. We needto continue to work with these people to ensure that they are not just plainly pushing their commodity, but actually contributing dollars to pull together teams of educators and system integrators.

We also need a team of dedicated educators. Coming from a Chinese stream I’m fairly confident that there’s no shortage of good teachers in this country – but obviously there’s not enough to share it with all the schools!! Anyway, good teachers keep other goos teachers company when they strive for the same goal.

Big picture

All school computer labs will have readily accessible shortcuts / bookmarks to these media run portals.

Anyone can signup as a student. Even adult learners!

Parents can be involved with their own children.

Teachers will have to go through a more complicated sign-up process to authenticate themselves. Uniquely identified by MOE, students can then identify their own teachers on the platform in their respective subjects.

Teachers can choose courseware from a predefined set of materials (this is where the media company and educators come in) or define their own and upload them into the platform.

Teachers can construct homework questions for the students using the portal and have the students do them online. Not a new thing, but it’s a must to ensure the continuous use of the systems that are already installed in the schools. Teachers can then mark them online or have them printed out, marked and returned to the students.

Students can access these materials on the platform. They can rate them (best material win). Business can be built around contributed materials (teachers can “sell” their mock exam questions – some tuition teachers can thus reach the entire country instead of their immediate area). Courseware will remain free, because information should be free.

Students have dedicated forums to discuss certain problems and concepts.

Virtual practise rooms allow teachers to run their classes in the built up school lab. Teachers construct a particular set of questions for a 30 minute quiz in the lab. The website autogrades and keeps track of the performance of the students for the teacher.

Students who feels that their teachers are not doing their job can opt to join the classes organized by other teachers.

Again, information should be free. Teachers should use the portal as a basis for the students to do their research, with extensions to worldwide knowledge if need be. There’s a spillover effect here – a Chinese boy like me can access any primary school Qur’anic materials that I don’t have access before. Any Malay kid in the kampung don’t have to wait till they get a Chinese teacher to prime themselves for venturing to China in a decade’s time. Even Chinese POL students get to see materials from top notch teachers.

Personal attention is another business opportunity. Suppose your teacher sucks big time and is actually degrading your ability to write essays, you can always get your essays marked by another reputable teacher, or even by a high performing peer! This is another democratizing aspect of the proposed portal – businesses around services. Predefined SLAs for getting a turnaround and public voting makes it hard for you to “chin chai” mark.

More courseware should be aggregated from around the world, e.g. UK for the English courses, Singapore for the math courses etc. The media company will play a role (it’s their reputation anyway) of ensuring imported coursewares gives the locals suitable “omphs” instead of simply increasing the noise that one can simply get on the Internet.

Reporting tools are private to the student, but available to the teachers that they assigned themselves to. In some sense, if you as a student come asking me to be your teacher (拜师), I have to make sure that you succeed because it will affect my own rating on ths system!!! Teacher ratings are available to everyone at an aggregate level (think one star to five star system) as a function of popularity as well as real results!

Data driven teaching will be a key theme. If a particular courseware only causes the student’s results to degrade accross millions of students, then that courseware should be axed. Note the crucial part of statistical analysis is that we need a semi-homogenous and large sample size to weed out the anomalies and external factors (tsunami?) that causes students to perform badly. Eventually this can even be feedbacked to MOE to help improve the core textbook materials. Having a small “committee” to decide what is good for the entire country in a new uncharted world is so last century.


Feel the change in this whole learning experience? This isn’t your typical quia.com portal, or blackboard.com software. This skoool.co.uk taken to the ebay level yet backed by the G-element (government). It gives every student a fair education, helps every teacher improve, and finally fosters true multi-racial, multi-geographical colaboration of resources in education, a huge element in recouping the cost of investing in the infrastructure thus far.

It’s demystifying powers are enormous. From this platform we will be able to find out if the best BM teachers are Malays, if the best Math teachers are actually Chinese, etc. We will know the aggregated improvement leading to an exam, we will know when students are actively participating in virtual learning sessions.

To the student, this is the extension to your school (probably heard someone said google is an extension to your brain?). If you find learning in school dull, come play on the portal – it’s free, you might get derailed from the actual courseware you’re supposed to do but then you’re always learning something else.

To the good teachers, this is your new hope – to reach out to more than just the students that you’re blessed with in school, but to others who aren’t so lucky as yours. To the not so good teachers, this is your new challenge – to ensure that your core group of students that you’re given improves (after all, the grading is judge based on how well your students improves instead of absolute grades, which are arbitrary and random depending the student’s capabilities). To the really lousy teachers, this is your chance to give up teaching as a career and direct all your students to learn online, pardon my Simon Cowell tone.

To the parents, you’ll have the ability to come on the platform together with your children and help with the education process. Your guidance is crucial regardless of the medium education is being carried out. Students sometimes simply need a reason to hate studying for a while, and be totally and entirely grateful that they heeded their parental advise after they start looking for a job.

To the entrepreneurs, this is your new frontier – how to make coursewares easily accessible over a single dialup to a kampung lab of 50 computers, how to make a business out of the best “predicted” exam question? 😛 You guys probably have a better imagination than me. The basis of the platform will be simple – information is free, every other service is like every other service – good thing no cheap, cheap thing no good. The media’s responsibility will be providing information as their community service, as well as the infrastructure to run this, the rest is up to you budding virtual cikgupreneurs out there.

And to Malaysia, this would be a revolution from the ground – ’nuff said.

I’ve decided to postpone the details part for a while to further enjoy my CNY break. Maybe someday I’ll write, or maybe, if you know how to get this off the ground, we can chat and move this way before I have time to sit down and blog again.

Bleh. My char mee hoon awaits…

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6 Responses

  1. hey jiinjoo! gongxi facai 🙂 Hope all’s well with you.

    A lot of very interesting ideas and possibilities. I think the trickiest parts has to do with how to design the reputation system so as to balance all the various incentives (the students’, the teachers’, the schools’, the parents’, etc). They all have their own personal goals and interests to protect…

    Anyhow, looking forward to your detailed plan to conquer the world… of education that is Let me know if you need help coding lol.

  2. Lol. We all have our individual dreams for development – mine is that I would set up a big library, with the latest and current books available for reference. And there would be creative writing workshops, book discussions, fun art activities, writing contests, reading contests and so forth and so forth. 🙂

  3. I must say lots can happen in a short period of time. Malaysia is such an exciting place to do stuff – why would anyone want to go to work in Singapore 🙂

    Check this company out: http://www.perridot.com/ Met their CEO Chew via a mutual friend that day. Perridot is delivering the initial stages of the “School Management System” (public site forthcoming: http://www.edu.my/) and have rolled out successfully to around 80 schools so far, mostly the more IT literate schools. In a few brief words, the system is more administrative, wher teacher will use it to submit teaching plans, school use it to keep track of their assets, teachers, plan time tables etc. Nothing intelligent yet.

    Chew made a few interesting observations: The roll out of this system will get harder and more expensive. Each school, although forking out only RM600 to RM800 per month is still maknig him run a tight ship in getting the systems up. Moreover, you can’t help them all the time – some Terengganu school (a rather suburban state of Malaysia) lost their password to get onto the Internet, and there goes your application service website.

    I on the other hand though this was a brilliant start. Firstly, if rolled out successfully, we will be able to mine a tremendous amuont of information, to know how each school and their teachers / students are doing. With that I would also be able to build courseware experiments (think of your A-B test on Amazon.com) to see how effective the students do after studying them.

    But like all business conversations, nothing will happen without the real revenue generating element. Turning the platform in to a huge tuition centre sorts of defeats the purpose too. Will continue to brainstorm…

    Gong hei fatt choi to you too ambivalence0 – the reputation system part is admittedly tricky, but don’t forget that this is really a education thing, there are real results to benchmark against. Unless people are tricking the system, it will be strakingly clear if a teacher were to teach the “bad” class and at the end of the academic year bring them out of the rut. That teacher have real school results to benchmark against (something that can be integrated with Perridot’s systems…).

    lyzzybeth, the “big library” concept is what most people can come out with. But is there a way to be the gateway for the content quality and not degrade into either the Internet (wikipedia being he example) and keeping to MOE’s syllabus? Chew and I also talked about the possibility of some media company doing it but it remains unclear how that can be a profitable endeavour and how to make a check and balance system to ensure that the content is always just and unbiased.

  4. Wow that’s pretty cool. To take a step back and think about this, while technology and the internet has changed education a lot (student record management, communication, etc), it’s also easy to see how it has only barely scratched the surface — as a peripheral aide. But to really realize the potentials (not necessarily all good, but hey, the good always comes with some bad), you’d need a pretty major disruption like the way ebay (and to a lesser extent, amzn) disrupted the whole marketplace. I think thinking along the lines of an ‘education clearinghouse’ is really the right direction to go.

    I can definitely see the slippery slope of becoming “just” an online tution school — in a sense that’s the easiest biz model to justify, and maybe less beauracrap to deal with; but it really goes against the vision you laid out, a very good one I might add.

    Btw, we’ll be having our actual wedding in Prague in July, but we’ll be having a wedding dinner in singapore and a (smaller) one in HK, probably around late 2006/early 2007. Would you be free to come (the s’pore one)?

    PS: http://www.edu.my... might be more cachy if it’s my.edu.my 😀 ok maybe it’s just the geek in me… while we’re at it, why don’t you register the domain my.oh.my? I don’t know what to use it for, but it’s cachy 😀

  5. OF COURSE 🙂 Do send the evite when the time is right. You’ll have to teachme how to hold a wedding in Prague some day.

    There’s a radio station in Malaysia call MyFM (my.com.my) – very nice chinese language radio station.

    Too bad Malaysia runs by the classification system: http://www.mynic.net/ i.e. must be .com.my .org.my etc. see if you can form other words. It’s RM100 ~ $30 USD per year though, property in Malaysia is expensive.

  6. Hi,
    I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog 🙂
    Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day 🙂

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