To ensure superior learning outcome, a computer and network connectivity are required, says this professor.

N.J. Rao, former Professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, now Professor at the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore, is an expert in the field of course design methodology and education technology. He was in Thiruvananthapuram early in September at the invitation of the Kerala State Higher Education Council to give training to university and college teachers in instructional design strategies using graphical tools and software. The following is the transcript of an interview conducted with him by Eldho Mathews, Research Officer, Kerala State Higher Education Council.

What according to you are the key components of a meaningful learning experience?

The key components of meaningful learning are critical and creative inquiry and discourse, and acquiring the ability to transfer knowledge and skills learned to real-world situations.

What are the most important things a course designer has to do when designing a new course?

The most important things a course designer has to do is to situate the course in a given programme and a place, clearly identify what the student should be able to do at the end the course, and work out how to assess that the students have acquired the identified competencies.

What kind of learning tools/technologies shall be provided to students in order to ensure superior learning outcomes?

The most important technical tools a student should possess to ensure superior learning outcome is a computer (PC, laptop, netbook or tablet PC) and network connectivity.

In order to ensure rich interaction among the teachers and students, the classroom must provide an electronic projector besides a blackboard. Using a learning management system will provide opportunities to use a wide range of instructional methods. Simulation tools, where available, can provide great opportunity to students to explore “what if” situations.

When designing a new course, what ideas does a course designer has to keep in mind with regard to current knowledge base, learning goals, assessment, classroom interactions, online learning, rate of acquisition and so on?

When designing a course, the course designer has to have a clear picture of the evolving conceptual framework and the procedural knowledge of the subject of concern, and be clear about his own position. Learning goals (competencies) and assessment have to be strongly correlated. Depending on the resources available, the instructor can explore a wide range of instructional methods to ensure deep learning. All non-lecture-oriented instruction requires great planning.

Can a course be designed in terms of milestones, accomplishments and real outcomes?

A course is designed to facilitate students to acquire clearly identified competencies. All assessment activities need to be planned to ensure the achievement of intended outcomes.

To what extent will the constantly changing body of knowledge and cognitive abilities become a factor in designing courses?

There is clarity today with regard to, at least at the operational level, categories of knowledge and cognitive levels, what constitutes meaningful learning, and how people learn. While there are differences with regard to several details, the existing body of knowledge is adequate to design courses in a meaningful manner.

What new instructional and assessment methods you propose, besides exams, assignments, discussions, projects, seminars, collaborative work and so on, to optimise student engagement?

These assessment methods are more than adequate for most of the subjects. However, student engagement can only be optimised only if they are well planned and the student performance is properly evaluated.

Can you identify any potential issues related to learning process? What do you suggest to solve these problems?

The major issues of concern today are quality of learning, scale and equity. None of these issues can be adequately addressed using present practices. There is never a substitute to an inspired and inspiring teacher, but such teachers are so small in number. Technology has to be exploited in a meaningful manner to address all these three issues together.