Friday, September 26, 2008

A linkage between "Ekalavya-ism" of Indian mythology and the modern concept of open courseware

Back in 2001 MIT took an unprecedented step when it announced its intention to make most of its courses and course materials freely available on the Internet over the next few years. Today MIT has advanced significantly towards this goal, with the school’s Open CoursewareWeb site now providing access to syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, exams, problems and solution sets, tools and tutorials, and a growing library of video lectures for most of MIT’s courses. Subsequently, the Open Courseware Consortium was formed as a collaboration of more than 200 higher educational institutions and associated organizations from around the world for creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. Many of the world's leading academic institutions now contribute to the open courseware movement in their own unique ways. For example, Rice University runs a very vibrant site called Connexions as "a place to view and share educational material made of small knowledge chunks called modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports".

So what is the linkage between the modern concept of open courseware with the story of Ekalavya, an interesting character from Indian mythology? Let me give you a brief overview of Ekalavya for those who might not have heard of him. For further reading, please click here.

Ekalavya, as narrated in the great epic Mahabharatha, was a young prince from a lowly forest tribe who wanted to learn archery from the great Guru Dronacharya who taught Arjuna and his brother princes. However, Drona refused to take on Ekalavya as his student because of the latter's humble origins. Some commentaries say that Guru Drona recognized a master archer and didn't want anyone to come in the way of his favourite pupil Arjuna.

Disappointed but undeterred, Ekalavya went back into the forest, where he created a sculpture in the likeness of Guru Drona and started a rigorous schedule of self-study in archery in front of the sculpture. As a result of his tenacity and single-minded focus, he achieved a level of skill in archery that was far superior to that of Arjuna, the favourite pupil of Guru Drona.

Of course, the story has a cruel ending which the interested reader can pursue separately. But the point of interest for me is that "Ekalavya-ism" is a philosophical way of looking at learning as a self-learning process in which the meditative mind can function and learn even without the physical presence of a Guru or teacher. Ekalavya's role model was Guru Dronacharya whose sculptural likeness provided the physical and spiritual connection between the student and the teacher. Today, modern technology provides us better tools to emulate that connection.

Often, when educators discuss the important role of the teacher and the relevance of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students, the general consensus is that without teacher-student interaction students may not learn to their potential. My contention is that we need to apply the concept of "Ekalavya-ism" here. Modern technology allows us the luxury of access to information and knowledge through initiatives such as open courseware. Technology enables the student to view video images of lectures and create a mental image of the lecturer. It is then up to the student herself to create the remote spiritual connection with her guru or other role model.

While there is no denying the importance of role models, role models are not necessarily available as close physical entities. Role models exist in the virtual, conceptual and spiritual domain. We just need to make the appropriate connection.

So, those aspiring young students who might never have the opportunity of going through the hallowed portals of MIT or Stanford or whatever else is their ideal place of study, should not despair. They can still benefit from the open courseware movement as long as they emulate Ekalavya within themselves. In any case, higher learning is always about self-learning.

The spirit of the Open Courseware movement is the same as that of the mythological Ekalavya.


Friday, September 5, 2008

HASTAC Digital Media Competition- Seeking India Applicants

With my background in imaging and interest in new education methodologies, I have a keen interest in how Digital Media can transform learning. I attended the last Stanford event hosted by MacArthur on this topic. So I was really happy when I got the following note from Mandy:

Dear Neerja, I recently discovered your Digital Provide: From Good To Gold blog. I'm writing to announce that the HASTAC/MacArthur 2008 Digital Media and Learning Competition is now open ( This year we are piloting international eligibility for our Innovation in Participatory Learning Award and INDIA is one of the countries from which we will accept stand alone applications. We all know that there is excellent social networking being done in South Asia and very worthy digital learning projects, yet we have seen relatively little traffic to our site from that region of the world. We need your help. I know that an award such as this could change the life of someone and help make their dream a reality. Best,Mandy

I think this is a great program and would encourage you to apply-Details:
DIGITAL MEDIA AND LEARNING COMPETITION 2008 --Inviting Applications from India Now-- $2 Million Competition Focus: Participatory. Full information at:
Application Deadline: October 15, 2008
The second HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition is now open! The focus is participatory learning. Awards will be made in two categories:Innovation in Participatory Learning Awards support large-scale digital learning projects Applications from South Asia are now being accepted in the "Innovations in Participatory Learning" category as part of a pilot international program. ... Young Innovator Awards are targeted at 18-25 year olds $5,000-$30,000Full information at:
Participatory learning is defined broadly: using new digital media for sharing ideas or planning, designing, implementing, or just discussing ideas and goals together. (You can find out about last year’s winners at

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stanford Offers Entrepreneurship Podcasts - Free!

The Stanford Technology Ventures Program has just updated and renamed what used to be called Educators Corner, a free podcast and video website for the entrepreneurship community. We are trying to get the word out about the new name and features – Entrepreneurship Corner (ECorner). We have a creative commons license, so it’s very easy for people to insert the content into their own sites and use almost at will. Obviously you may also use the material in your sites. We’ve had over 2 million podcast downloads alone, so the site is clearly providing something useful! Details below:

Stanford Offers Free Entrepreneurship Podcasts and Video Clips

The Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) in the School of Engineering at Stanford University invites you to visit its Entrepreneurship Corner (ECorner) web site. The site includes over 1,200 free, high-quality podcasts and video clips of entrepreneurial thought leaders from Silicon Valley and beyond. Recorded during guest lectures at Stanford University, the speakers offer important insights on all aspects of entrepreneurship. The content is great for classroom instruction, research, and general enrichment. Formerly called Educators Corner, the site has added many new, innovative features and has just launched under its new name. See the Creative Commons license under Terms of Use for guidelines.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sustainability through Business Model Innovation in Education

Marvin Hall, from Kingston, Jamaica, Founder, Halls of Learning, Stanford Digital Vision Fellow, 2006-2007 has a passion for igniting the creativity in children, especially at-risk inner-city youth. His project at Stanford was Stimul-I about engaging kids through hands-on Robotics. After leaving Stanford, Marvin has continued his work in Jamaica and recently he writes about a program he has created "Lego Your Minds Jrs". He has created a model, I think, educators should seriously consider. Marvin writes:

"Being back in Jamaica the past year, I had to focus on rebuilding finances after the fellowship at Stanford but still explored the possibilities of how to expand our Lego programmes here. To that end, we were not able to get funding to take the team to the World Robotics Olympiad and I was forced to rethink my strategy....or better yet, come up with a business strategy for going forward. In March, I started a 3-month programme in the mornings at my son's school using the Motorized Simple Machines Set. The boys and girls responded very well to the activities and were excited to come to school earlier for those mornings. At the end of the term, the programme was mentioned at the school's closing ceremony and the class surprised me with an award for working with them.

In July, Halls of Learning launched "Lego Yuh Mind Jrs", a summer camp for children aged 4-11 years old. While most of our marketing was done through personal emails and spread virally, Jamaica's leading newspaper, The Gleaner, sponsored us with a series of print advertisements. We rented a large classroom and hosted the camp there. In one section of the room, we had the 4-5 year olds working with the Early Simple Machines Set III and in the other section, we had the older kids working with the Motorized Mechanisms Set. Over the 4 weeks of the camp, we had 114 participants. The cost to each participant was about US$100.

In August, I packed the summer camp materials into my car and we took it on tour to 5 at-risk communities. With that, the Lego Yuh Mind Jrs experience was delivered to another 65 children at no cost, as a part of our outreach. It made me realize that there is also a great opportunity to act as a service provider to the corporate and church foundations who have funded community centres in these neighbourhoods. They have the spaces, but there is a shortage of programmes.

There is good momentum to launch a "Lego Yuh Mind Jrs Club" that would be offered as an after-school activity. This will be our next move in the short term.

One of my biggest challenges is to find new activities for the Mechanisms and Early Simple Machines Sets and hence attract repeat customers from the summer camp who feel like they have built all the models already. I will also be ordering the Pneumatics Add-on set. I would eventually like to have my own headquarters to launch these programmes, but renting space will keep my overheads low in the short term.

Lego Yuh Mind Jrs was profitable, portable, mobile, and is scalable.
[Note: "Lego Yuh Mind Jrs" is derived from Jamaican dialect. "Lego" means 'let go' and "Yuh" means 'your'. So Lego Yuh Mind can mean 'let go your mind', 'free your mind' and to many of the children 'build your mind'. Our first robotics workshop in 2004 was called "Lego Yuh Mind", used Mindstorms with Robolab and was for older students. So Lego Yuh Mind Jrs distinguishes this brand for a younger audience and as the stage before robotics programming. The connection with LEGO goes without saying :) ]

Lego Yuh Mind Jrs inspired at least 100 happy parents and made another 100 curious. It is a great opportunity to build on and I can see our sustainability on the horizon."

Congratulations Marvin - great work.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Can Decision Making Be Improved?

I recently published the second edition of my book "The Practice and Philosophy of Decision Making". Some of what I say in my book is based on a Negotiating Skills class I took from Prof. Max Bazerman when I was at Kellogg. So as I worked on the second edition, I was curious what he was up to and I found his HBR paper about decision making skills. In my book I talk about creating a personal framework to understand emotional biases - some a result of stone age "fight or flight" instincts that are inappropriate in today's society. The paper also talks about "how to reduce biased decision-making." From the summary page - key concepts include:
-People put great trust in their intuition. The past 50 years of decision-making research challenges that trust.
-A key task for psychologists is to identify how and in what decision-making situations people should try to move from intuitive, emotional thinking to more deliberative, logical thinking.
-The more that researchers understand the potentially harmful effects of some biased decision-making, the more important it is to have empirically tested strategies for reaching better decisions.