A Professional Learning Community Approach for Teacher Development and OER creation - A toolkit/Establishing ICT infrastructure

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A Professional Learning Community Approach for Teacher Development and OER creation - A toolkit
Planning the PLC-OER program Establishing ICT infrastructure Building Professional Learning Communities

The ICT infrastructure component has two components - establishing teacher training ICT labs in teacher education institutions at state and district levels and establishing labs in schools.

ICT Lab as integral infrastructure in the school / teacher education institution

It is essential to establish ICT infrastructure in-house, so that the access to the infrastructure and use is not constrained or limited. In the BOOT model, the ICT lab is owned by an external vendor, who has a vested interest in keeping its use minimal (to extend life of the infrastructure) and in not expanding the assets in the lab (to keep running costs low). In ICT@School programs in most states, where the BOOT model has been adopted, the actual use of the ICT equipment by teachers has been low. At the end of the BOOT period, the schools have not been able to successfully take over the lab, which was the original intention. Given that during the BOOT period, the infrastructure is usually not renewed or upgraded, the assets handed over at the end of the period usually have very low usability.

In contrast, Kerala, which adopted an 'in-house' model instead of the BOOT model (from 2002), has seen the ICT labs maintained well by the schools and in many cases, the schools have managed to get support of the local community and from philanthropies and other donors, to enhance and upgrade the assets in the lab. Often, community members are keen that their children should benefit from digital literacy and can provide donations to the school to increase the provision of devices in the school ICT lab.

It is also essential to establish ICT infrastructure for teacher training within the DIETs and other teacher education institutions in the state, so that these are available without constraints for use in the pre-service and in-service teacher education programs. In Karnataka and Telangana, the availability of ICT Labs in the DIETs supported the PLC program. Relying on external providers of ICT Labs whether from private companies or from (government or private) colleges tends to be both expensive as well as make its availability unreliable. The Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), Government of India has support for the establishment of ICT labs in teacher education institutions (DIETs, CTEs, IASE's and SCERT's) as a part of its program of Teacher Education. This support can be used to set-up as well as maintain ICT labs in these institutions.

Hence while maintenance could be outsourced, ICT infrastructure should be treated as core education infrastructure, and its ownership should be with the institution.

Technology infrastructure in schools

An ICT Lab needs to be seen as a part of the basic infrastructure of the school, to provide opportunities for teachers and students to integrate ICT for their learning. Providing adequate infrastructure that will allow access to students and teachers to create and learn using ICT is necessary. Desktop computers or laptops are preferred hardware as these will support resources to be developed using many applications. Only FOSS applications should be used, in line with National ICT Policy and National ICT Curriculum of NCERT. This has been the case in both Karnataka and in Telangana. The advantages of a FOSS environment are listed separately.

The setting up of an ICT Lab in the school requires initial investment for creating the lab covering civil, electrical works and furniture. It is suggested to keep wiring to the minimum to reduce maintenance costs. Wireless LAN can be set-up to avoid traditional LAN with wiring. Wiring will be required for providing electricity to each lab. Dependable power supply is an important criterion for success of the program. Solar power costs are rapidly reducing and this should become a model to consider seriously and invest in. The scale of electrifying schools will allow further reduction of solar energy costs due to economies of scale.

The lab requires furniture to allow for the learners to use the devices comfortably and to allow the devices to connect to power and internet sources. Securing and storing the devices safely and providing ‘charging’ access for devices with batteries is another requirement.

Hybrid configuration

ICT devices - desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are in a spectrum of capabilities with the initial costs and recurring costs (mainly power consumption) reduce from the first to the last, and so do the processing capabilities of the devices. Hence, while desktop computers have been the mainstay of ICT infrastructure in schools, with the increasing use and popularity of the mobile phone, it may be useful to think of a hybrid set-up with desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

Intensive learner activities will need students to share computers, supporting collaborative learning; but when they are accessing information, each can have access to one access device like a tablet or a phone. However, a hybrid environment would put additional pressure on the maintenance front, since different kinds of devices would have different maintenance issues/ requirement. Hence, the extent of hybridisation can be a function of the level of sophistication of use in the school / institution. Where the sophistication is very low (first time access to ICT), providing one kind of devices may make the maintenance simpler / easier.

Server

In all cases, the lab must have a ‘software and content server’ which provides services to all the other devices including file storage and access, internet connectivity etc. CIET, NCERT is developing a school server using the components of a normal desktop computer CPU, which can provide the services mentioned. There are also simpler computing devices such as the Raspberry PI, which could be considered by more sophisticated environments, these can act as servers or as regular clients.

Cloud architecture is becoming popular, where the software and data are remotely hosted. Cloud architecture enables easier management and maintenance, however it has two demerits – the need for connectivity and reduction in the local location and ownership of the data and software components. Hence, local hosting on of the software and data the school / institutional server should be preferred, and made available in any case.

School MIS (Management Information System) and PIS (People Information systems) for supporting the regular transactions of the school and providing information to parents and community members is to be done using the school server, using simple available free software tools. Kerala has customized the free software ‘Fedora’ and adopted 'Sampoorna' in all government schools in the state. The school server should also house the OER repository for providing content to support learning opportunities for teachers and students. Communicating with parents and other stakeholders using relevant software tools is another school requirement.

Peripherals

Apart from the computers and hybrid devices, each lab should have at least one digital camera, a printer and a web cam if required. The peripherals would be available to all devices through the server. If the lab has desktops, then power back is essential, consisting of UPS and battery.

Software

This note assumes the use of FOSS and hence does not provide for licence fees towards proprietary software. It is possible that applications will need to be developed for many new areas. These should be purchased by the government and licensed as FOSS, so that there are no constraints on its distribution.

The Education Technology wing of the SCERT needs to prepare a 'custom distribution' of software applications for use in the school and teacher training labs. This will consist of a free and open operating system, to which other required software applications (both generic software tools and subject specific tools) can be 'added'. Secondly, the language software packages for all languages taught in schools, can be added to this distribution.

Custom distribution of Ubuntu GNU/Linux, including all the software applications listed in the tables at the end of this section have been prepared by IT for Change for Karnataka, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Since the custom distribution consists of only FOSS tools, it can be distributed freely through DVD-ROMs and pen-drives and other storage devices freely, without any constraints. In Telangana, the State Institute of Education Technology (SIET) has burnt DVD-ROMs with the custom distribution and shared a copy with each teacher attending the teacher professional development workshops. Such free distribution is not possible in the case of proprietary software.

Connectivity

It is essential to look at learning with and through ICT, not only as interacting with a device, but as learners interacting with one another and with the world wide web. Hence, connecting the devices to one another in the lab and to the internet is essential. The former can be by enabling Wi-Fi functionality in the school server, so that all devices can connect to the server and to one another through the server itself, avoiding the internet for this. In addition, through the server, the devices can also connect to the internet. It is recommended to connect through the server, for keeping a track of the actual use of connectivity. Also, as a practice, if the regularly used/required content is stored in the server and accessed locally, it will reduce the need for internet connectivity. For this, every state should consider the data that will be provided as a part of such school content repository.

Teacher using a personal device to teach students TurtleArt application, for creating patterns, using algorithms

No teacher left behind

It is important to encourage every teacher to also have access to a computer, to support professional development. Having anywhere and any time access to a computer will provide more opportunities for development to teachers. The department should enable teachers to acquire personal digital devices through attractive loan schemes to allow teachers to buy personal digital devices such as laptops, tablets, e-book readers etc. In Kerala, the department negotiated with vendors, on behalf of the teacher community, to reduce the price significantly on select laptop models. In Goa, the department provided interest-free loans to teachers to purchase personal laptops.

One benefit from teachers having own devices is that many more teachers would integrate ICT in their teaching, using their laptop for demonstrations in the classroom, (apart from using the ICT lab in the school). There are many instances of this from the Karnataka Subject Teacher Forum program.

Similarly, schools should be encouraged to purchase ICT devices for use of students and teachers, from their internal funds, funds received from the government and other public institutions, as well as approach local philanthropies, donors and community institutions to support the ICT lab, in terms of acquiring devices or their maintenance. In Karnataka, the department issued a circular that schools could use existing untied school funds as well as the RMSA school grant to purchase laptop and projector for use by teachers. This circular enabled many schools to purchase a laptop for the common use of all teachers, to prepare and demonstrate ICT integrated lessons in their teaching.

Technology infrastructure at teacher education institutions at state and district levels

The education department should provide for adequate infrastructure for training at the state and district level. Having district level labs (in the DIETs and CTEs) will also allow the state to structure and implement training programmes, based on the needs and requirements throughout the academic year.

Every teacher education institution requires an ICT lab to support ICT integrated teacher education. It is important to envisage the use of ICT in all teacher education programs, not only in ICT teacher training. In every teacher training program, there must be access to an ICT Lab for teachers and teacher educators to use, for activities connected to the training itself (accessing resources, interacting with one another during the program, writing and submitting assignments digitally etc.). Each institutional ICT lab should have at least 20 desktops/ laptops.

There is a need to also integrate ICT across teacher education system, so that educators working in teacher education institutions are able to use ICT meaningfully in pre-service and in-service teacher education. Making available a functioning ICT Lab in every teacher education institution can support the integration of ICT in both pre-service and in-service teacher education. In Karnataka and in Telangana, this has been done through the regular in-service teacher education programs of the government.

ICT also has an huge potential in strengthening education administration, by improving efficiencies as well as transparency and participation in the management of the system at school to state levels. Hence, there is a need to provide a personal digital device to each teacher, teacher educator and education administrator. Providing a personal device is necessary to allow the person to create and store digital materials/content and use this subsequently, as a personal digital library. The provision of a personal device also allows for use whenever required. Teacher educators should be encouraged (through interest free loans) to purchase their own laptops / devices (BYOD), which they could use for their own professional development as well as in teaching and teacher support. The department must prioritise the provision of a laptop to every staff member and insist on its use for academic and administrative purposes.

Sustainability

ICT programs in schools often have not sustained beyond an initial period where the infrastructure has been provided / developed. The design of ICT programs must consciously aim for sustainability, where the schools and other institutions can continue the integration of ICT beyond the initial investment period.

  1. Developing in-house capacities of teachers and teacher educators to appropriate ICTs for their work can support the sustainable use of ICT, freed from vendor lock-ins.
  2. Using ICT to build peer networks of teachers can support continued learning and professional development and serve as a sustainable method of TPD as well as sustain the ICT implementation.
  3. Making the school and teachers owners of the ICT infrastructure would also support the sustainability of the program. As evidenced in Kerala, when the teachers own the program and the infrastructure, in many cases, they take special care of the assets, not only in terms of maintenance, but also its renewal and enhancement.
  4. The use of free and open technologies also avoids vendor lock-ins, these lock-ins can affect continuity of the program, if the vendor stops their support. FOSS applications can be periodically upgraded without licensing constraints, which would enable the use of more relevant applications or versions.

Free and open technology architecture

The ‘public’ nature of education aligns strongly with free and open ICT architectures. It is recommended by the National ICT Policy on education, 2012 that the ICT implementation in school education use free and open technologies, including FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) and OER (Open Educational Resources).

The National Policy on ICT in School Education, 2012 recommends a free and open technology environment and seeks the creation of a resource rich environment; yet, many states still use proprietary software and content in their ICT programs in schools. In the proprietary environment, teachers cannot legally copy or share the digital resources and this can impact their agency. A free and open environment, on the other hand provides the teachers the right to make copies, change and re-distribute the resources. Following the National Policy on ICT in School Education and the successful implementation of ICT programs in Kerala and few other states, it is suitable for all states to explore moving away from proprietary technology environments to free and open environments (for both content and software).

The public ownership of ICT infrastructure and resources can enable universal access and equitable participation. Since the government school system is huge, its choice of free and open technologies could support the building of the ecosystem for free and open technologies as well. This is seen in the IT@Schools program of Kerala.

Unlike their proprietary equivalents, both FOSS and OER permit free use, re-use, revision and re-distribution, creating a sharing environment. Promoting FOSS and OER can help create a rich digital learning environment. It also reduces or avoids software piracy, which is an unethical and illegal but not uncommon practice. ICT resources that are free and open, can be freely accessed, shared, modified and re-distributed. The use of FOSS software applications is essential to support universal access to software. In addition, since FOSS allow modification by all, this allows possibilities for interactions between teacher communities and free software communities and helps teachers and learners move from being ‘consumers’ of ICT to participants in its creation, enrichment and sharing.

In the area of ICT, the ‘private’ often becomes ‘proprietary’ by which the owner of the ICT resource becomes the sole arbiter for its design and use, constraining and limiting the role of teachers, learners and the education system, through legal and technological constraints. This affects ICT resource distribution and use, impoverishing the digital environment.

Benefits from FOSS

The specific benefits of using FOSS platforms and applications in the PLC-OER program are listed below

  1. Since FOSS is freely shareable, it can be downloaded free of cost. It can be installed on all the computers in the ICT lab without restriction or needing to pay license fees to vendors. Teachers and students can take the software and install on their home computers, at no cost.
  2. A FOSS operating system like GNU/Linux allows 'custom distribution'. This means all the required software like Office suite, web browser, educational software applications can be bundled with the GNU/Linux operating system and can be installed on the computer at one time. On proprietary operating system, such as Microsoft Windows, each software has to be separately installed, which makes it cumbersome and complex.
  3. The GNU/Linux FOSS operating system is virus-resistant. This avoids any need to procure anti-virus software and also avoids downtime when virus affected computers have to be formatted. This saves time and effort.
  4. Ubuntu GNU/Linux used in both the Karnataka and Telangana programs is customised in Kannada, Telugu and many Indian languages. Ubuntu GNU/Linux has the IBUS software in-built which allows us to type in all major Indian languages, so it can be used in our schools for other languages also. Note that Ubuntu uses UNICODE standard for fonts, which is accepted internationally and also by Government of India policy.
  5. There are numerous free and open vocational educational tools for desktop publishing, video editing, animation etc. which can be bundled with the custom distribution.
  6. The use of FOSS reduces dependence on software vendors and avoids vendor lock-ins, which can be detrimental to the continued use of ICT in schools.
  7. Teachers and students can study the software and customise additional software packages for their own use. They can also share the tools with others.
  8. Government of India has issued the ['open standards in e-Governance'] policy in November 2010, which requires government departments to use only open standards. The OpenOffice document standard (ODF) has been notified under this policy, while the MS Office format .doc is not open and hence not notified under thus policy.
  9. The use of appropriate generic and subject specific FOSS applications can help teachers create OER in many formats, to create a resource rich learning environment.
  10. Teachers can make the philosophical connection between free education and free software. Just as a government funded public education system is necessary for universal education, free software is required for universal access to, and participation in the digital world. This understanding can facilitate a positive mindset of 'our schools', 'our software', encouraging ICT adoption.
  11. FOSS is available in all subjects, which allows us to integrate computer into regular teaching learning. The table below provides some popular FOSS subject tools.
Subject FOSS application Description

SCIENCE

Kalzium Kalzium shows the periodic table and the properties of elements. It is an encyclopedia, explaining states of matter, evolution of elements. Basic equations can be balanced using this tool
KStars Desktop planetarium-Astronomy with over 130000 stars, planets and other galactic bodies
Stellarium This is another desktop planetarium software that shows exactly what you see when you look up at the stars
PhET Interactive simulations of physical phenomena which can demonstrate scientific experiments
KTechLab Can be used to build your own circuits and explain various components

MATHS

Geogebra An algebra and geometry package providing for both graphical and algebraic input, very versatile to create lesson plans and resources for maths learning
Tux Math A fun game through which children can practise their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
KBruch This tool can be used to explain fractions as well as for the children to practice arithmetic problems
LOGIC TurtleBlocks TurtleBlocks can be used to create exercises to learn logic.
History Timeline Time line can be used to represent events across time to create a simple presentation
Geography KGeography Can be used to teach political geography
Marble This acts as a dynamic desktop atlas to explain physical geography

ENGLISH

KHangman Guess the correct work with a certain number of guesses allowed
KAnagram

IndicAnangram

Unscramble the word for vocabulary development. IndicAnagram supports complex words in Hindi, Telugu and Kannada
KLettres Identify the alphabets by recognising the sound
Tux Typing Tux Typing" is an educational typing tutor
Free and Open Source educational software applications
Free and Open Source educational software applications, which can be 'bundled' with GNU/Linux operating system

In addition, the generic software applications used for creating resources in text, image, animation, audio and video formats are available as FOSS tools. Including these in the school software environment provides much greater opportunities to teachers and students for both digital literacy as well as for creating resources for teaching-learning. Some of these tools (they are too numerous to list) are provided in table below:

Area FOSS Popular proprietary Software
Operating system Ubuntu GNU-Linux / Bhartiya Open Source System (from CDAC) Microsoft Windows
Office Applications (text editing, numeric editing and presenting) Open Office / LibreOffice (text editor, spreadsheet, presentation, database, drawing tools) Microsoft Office
Image editor GIMP, Tux Paint
Animation editor Tux Paint, Tupi, Peek
Audio editor Audacity
Screen casting tool (creating videos) Kazam, RecordMyDesktop
Concept map editor Freeplane, Freemind
Email client Mozilla Thunderbird / Evolution Microsoft Outlook
Internet Browser Mozilla Firefox / Chromium Internet Explorer / Microsoft Edge / Google Chrome
Vocational Educational tools
Desktop Publishing Scribus, Inkscape Page Maker, Corel Draw
Video editing Kdenlinve, Openshot, PiTiVi Adobe Premier, Final Cut Pro
Animation Blender, Synfig studio Adobe Macromedia
On-line FOSS platforms
Web platform for OER publishing MediaWik
e-learning courses Learning Management System (LMS) Moodle
Digital resources authoring and publishing H5P
FOSS generic resource creation software applications
FOSS generic resource creation software applications

Challenges

Maintenance and repair of ICT infrastructure

Maintenance support for ICT infrastructure can be difficult, specially in rural and remote areas. One of the most common complaints in past programs has been the delays in getting non-working devices repaired. One solution for this challenge is to build teacher capacities to maintain and configure hardware and software in the labs. Kerala has done this effectively. Kerala has also created 'mobile hardware health clinics' in which a group of teachers travel from school to school to check the infrastructure and repair non-working devices. Note that in most cases, 'repair' is nothing but 'replacing' the dysfunctional component, and not actually making it work. So if teachers are trained to isolate and identify non-working components that cause the computer to fail, and provided the spares, they could maintain the labs. In Assam and in Telangana, the department has trained technical support personnel on maintenance of the hardware and software used in the schools, to create 'District Technology Support Groups' (DTSG) which will provide support to the teachers and the schools.

Renewal of ICT infrastructure

ICT infrastructure tends to be relatively fragile. A blackboard, once installed in a classroom has an indefinite life. However a computer has a short life and can even fail earlier due to failure of any of its components. Electronic equipment is susceptible to failure due to electricity voltage fluctuations, dust, heat - these are quite common Indian conditions. However, sometimes departments seem to assume that ICT infrastructure has a long life, akin to blackboards! For instance, in the BOOT model of ICT programs, at the end of the BOOT period (typically five years), the vendor be handing over ICT infrastructure which would be either dysfunctional or in its last legs. It is extremely difficult for the school to continue the program after this BOOT period. Secondly, in the ICT program, once a school is provided ICT infrastructure, it is 'ticked off' as being 'provided for' in perpetuity. Whereas after 5 years or so, the devices provided would stop being functional and the school would require a new lot of computers.

Schools should be encouraged to tap into different sources for the renewal of computers in their lab. In Kerala, teachers have been able to source a variety of funds, including from the panchayats, community, NGOs, CSR funds to support the renewal of their lab. Once the lab is seen by the school as its 'own asset', it can motivate some of the teachers to make efforts to maintain and enhance the infrastructure, independent of department support.