Meeting the Minds – Dr. Kinshuk, Part II

The Associate Dean of AU’s Faculty of Science, Dr. Kinshuk, currently holds an NSERC/iCORE/Xerox/Markin Industrial Research Chair for Adaptivity and Personalization in Informatics, and has more than 300 research publications in referreed journals. With all this going on, The Voice Magazine is very happy that he was able to take the time to be interviewed by our own Marie Well.

Marie: What do you purport to be the role of technology and multimedia in online environments?
Kinshuk: We need to understand that multimedia technology is only a facilitator for learning. Learning is what is important. The technology doesn’t drive learning. Learning is the driver that uses technology.

But at the same time, technology and multimedia do open up new avenues that were not available before. For example, finding out about my students in real time is something that technology has made easier to do. Technology has made it easier to analyze the various resources of information that I can have about my students to make some meaningful inferences.

At the end of the day, as teacher, it is my responsibility how I should teach my students, how I can make learning useful for them, but technology and multimedia can help me in reaching that goal. They are very important. The more we are reaching for real-time interaction with our students, the more we can provide contextual learning using multimedia. It helps me in doing that because we can provide various features using technologies like smart boards. A number of our courses use different technologies. For example, I have a lot of interaction with my students through Skype. When they have a problem, they can immediately ask me. When compared with the situation if they try to write everything; what they are thinking may not come out in that writing. By talking, I can have cross-questioning in real time, and so on. Technology does help a lot, but at the end of the day, technology facilitates. It’s the learning that needs to lead. Learning is the first and foremost whereas using technology actually makes it easier for me as teacher to provide effective learning.

Marie: What is your particular philosophy on student evaluation?
Kinshuk: For me, evaluation is not something that is supposed to be separate from learning. We do have formal evaluation and we do need formal evaluation, but that is only one component of evaluation. For me, evaluation is something that is a continuous process, and learning and evaluation have to be hand in hand. In fact, every learning event tells me something about the student, so the whole learning process is both learning and evaluation. As the students learn, if I can find out whether they have learned something properly, I can provide them more advanced material. We are researching a lot on how we can do that. A lot of technologies are coming. In our courses, we are still in some ways a little bit behind in providing that, but as much as I can, by whatever technologies are available to me, I try to understand my students. The purpose of evaluation probably is not to evaluate the student, but to understand the students, reveal where they need help, and provide that.

That has been my philosophy about evaluation, rather than policing?policing is not what I see as the role of evaluation. Evaluation is how I can make students learn better and determine where I can help them.

Marie: What pedagogical standpoint is most reflective of your way of teaching?
Kinshuk: In two words: enabling learners. For me, learning is a process that everybody has to understand and learn how to learn. Spoon-feeding does not take learning further. Spoon-feeding is something that is memorization. Spoon-feeding is something where students can remember something for a little bit of time. But learning is different. Learning is that you understand something and that you are able to use it in different contexts. That requires students to do problem solving themselves. Enabling learners in learning is basically my motto.

Marie: What technological shifts would you like to see online education take in the future?
Kinshuk: Lots of different things. Let me pick one particular area that we are currently heavily interested in, or at least, I can say I’m heavily interested in. That’s not a very new approach to something, but we are trying to call it smart learning because it does differentiate itself from how we used to approach learning.

Here is an example: when our students, and let’s talk about any student, starting from childhood. When they learn, when they go from one grade to another, the only formal documentation that actually goes with them is their grades. That is true at every level, even in our university education, the only thing that gets to the students is the grades in their exams or assignments.

That does not tell anybody, first of all, what they actually know, what skills they have, what strengths they have in their knowledge and learning, or what are their weaknesses that they need help with. Certainly, there is no evidence available about how did they achieve that.

We are talking about having some sort of continuous collection of evidence of learning that can go with the students as they progress. Depending on the student, where they need to show that evidence, they can select what they would like to show and can provide evidence of how they acquired those skills. They can also show the progression. They can show where they started and how they improved their knowledge and skills.

That’s the kind of continuous portfolio. We call it part of smart learning but other people may have some other term for this. It’s really the whole profile. It’s not just competence. It’s also their personal attributes, their skills what is now termed as 21st century skills–all that package and evidence of it. That for me is very critical as our students are progressing.

I would really like technology to provide me the solution. We actually need technology to provide the solutions for that kind of supporting learning process?providing evidence, providing understanding of where students need help. Maybe certain skills they had acquired are going down for some reason. Understanding that is basically how technology can help me.

Marie: What is your view on social media in the online learning environment?
Kinshuk: I think social media is very useful if we take advantage of it. For me, for example, learning is not something that happens just in classroom or just in a course. Learning happens every time. We have been communicating, you and me, and I’m learning things from you, and I’m sure that you have found some things to learn from me. However, there is no evidence of it. There is no record of it, but we do learn from social interaction. For me, that social interaction, social media, learning, or whatever happens, that also is an integral part of the learning process.

There is a lot of learning that happens in social media by interacting with others, by understanding other people’s points of view. People with different backgrounds have different opinions about various things. It is not just what you know is the only answer. Other people may have differing views. That understanding is also very important. Social media can play a crucial role.

Another thing I’d like to say about it is that there have been attempts to use social media purely for learning purposes. In any learning, but especially in online learning, I think social media has another very important role to play. If we compare it with a physical classroom, in a physical classroom, students see each other, they start to talk, even outside classroom they go for coffee and so on, and there is something called trust building, and when that happens, students start to collaborate better. They can see their strengths and weaknesses; they can see attitudes; they can see personalities.

Social media, for online education, can be considered in the same way. It is something that can provide that trust building between the students. So, if these students are talking about something that is not related to learning, teachers should not think that it is a waste of time. No. That’s actually not a waste of time. As long as it is managed properly, things don’t get sidetracked completely, that type of social interaction actually helps a lot in trust building. Then, it reflects when they do online projects together, when they cooperate on projects, it all basically contributes to that. So, having social media can be very effective in the learning process.