Online Education – Evolving an Information Technology Plan for Distance Learning (1)

The main goal of an information technology plan for distance learning is to employ cost effective electronic and computing tools to summarily deliver education contents through distance learning medium. This medium of delivery today, rides on the integrating computing, communications and telecommunication technologies, which is widely employed by both conventional and distance learning institutions around the globe to deliver the pedagogic process. It therefore becomes essential for distance learning institution to evolve an it plan for the implementation of a cost effective and efficient medium of delivering her academic contents.

This medium today which can be termed as distance learning technologies has tools that it employed to deliver education effectively with optimal beneficial results that rival the conventional educational system. The trends in communication and information technology are changing the way people around the world work, play and learn. The educational concept is evolving to a combination of synchronous, interactive learning and asynchronous, online instruction. Prevalent today is just-in-time learning and on-demand teaching which are fast replacing orthodox short-term courses and diplomas.

The 21st century is witnessing a decreasing parochialism in both academic and business, with a trend toward globalization which has the tag of being the information age. Integrating technologies of computing and telecommunication has enhanced the pedagogy process in this age with major educational systems round the world taking the advantage. It is a common infrastructure now for the 21st century school to have a networked multimedia environment to effect the optimum execution of the school curriculum and also prepare both the students and teachers for trends, changes and challenges of this information age.

Practically, from records and researches into it plans of last two decades (the mid 80s to the millennium), evolving rolling plans are consistently observed and reviewed to accommodate changes in the ambit of standardisation, upgradeability, compatibility and operate ability both cost effective synchronous and asynchronous systems of delivering education contents. Hence the ICT department is always faced a dynamic and rolling plan that will consistently and integrated rolled into the overall goal of the distance learning institution which is to provide and deliver quality education contents removing the distance barrier.

The planning process involves a conducted wide systems analysis and consultation with the various units on their operations in order to have a system design for the distance learning institution. Events such as admission and registration exercises that involve collation of forms, processing and the collaborations that evolved from such exercises will give the it department the necessary logic and defined procedures to adopt. This exercise will help in forging the admission and registration system which normally will be designed into a web portal.

Existing university with online operations or what is refer to a dual mode university (face to face and distance learning students – online students) normally has the it plan of the distance learning centre rolled into the overall ict plan of the university. It involves a university-wide consultation and feed back all the university units involved forming the ict support structure for online students clientele. Watch out for the concluding part of this article online education – evolving an information technology plan for distance learning(2)

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Universal Elementary Education – An Experiment in Karnataka

Parents of the 32 students studying in standard seven in a school at a non-descript village in the Karnataka State of Southern India staged protests last June. The reason? They wanted their children, especially girls, to continue their education beyond the seventh standard, without travelling to neighboring villages; and the local school in the Tigalarapalya village where they were studying so far did not have classes beyond seventh. So they forced the authorities to add higher classes to the school.

Yet in 2000 and 2001, the same parents had resisted when the government officials, volunteers and non-government organizations pleaded with them to send their children to school. They preferred to send them to work in the silk-weaving factories which abound in their villages, so they could clear the loans they had taken from the factory owners. The rural district of Magadi on the outskirts of Bangalore city has many such villages, where the children work in hazarduous factories. Magadi Makkala Dhwani – a group of four non-government organizations, supported by UNICEF, had then approached both parents and factory owners and educated them on the rights of children and sensitized them to the hazards of working in factories.

The most heartening feature about the protests is that these were not headed by NGOs. It was a protest by the parents and students,which showed the concerted efforts by Magadi Makkala Dhwani had paid off in creating awareness about the importance of education.

Another interesting incident occurred last August. Around 26 child labourers were admitted to special residential schools after they were rescued by deputy Labour Commissioner and a team of inspectors and representatives of NGOs working on the pilot project introduced by the UNICEF and Norwegian Agency for Development. The three-year NORAD-UNICEF pilot project was implemented through Karnataka Government in 2002 as a test case in the districts of Davangere and Gulbarga. Since the last two-and-half years, the NORAD-UNICEF office succeeded in rehabilitating about two thousand child labourers working in chronic work situations in the two districts. Several self help groups and youth organizations took part in social mobilisation and mass awareness programmes like enacting street plays on the evils of employing under-aged children and the importance of sending them to school.

The ball that was set rolling in the 90s in the wake of the National Policy on Education through numerous programmes such as World bank-assisted District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), has gained momentum in the last five years through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the integrated national programme for Universal Elementary Education, which aims to provide quality education for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years by 2010. The drive, launched in 2001, aims to reduce the number of children who are out of school, narrow gender and social gaps and improve the quality of education.

Education is the only hope for India to change its current status of a “developing country” into a “developed country”. And she cannot make this change happen unless she ensures that the 59 million children out of the 200 million children in the age group of 6-14 who are currently out of school enrol in proper schools and learn.

What is keeping these 59 million children outside the school? Problems of access, poor quality in school processes, lack of participation by the community in the school affairs and poverty are among the key barriers to universal education. In Karnataka alone, over 300,000 out-of-school children have been mainstreamed during the past three years. But what is causing concern is the national average drop out rate for children in 1-8th standard, which stands at 57% and an alarming dropout rate of 60% for girl children for the same standards.

Once children reach school, a variety of factors determine whether they will learn and acquire the skills to pursue formal education or drop out. In many cases, a child from a poor/rural family is unable to comprehend and cope up with the pace of other formal school children. Teachers are not able to identify or diagnose the competencies that a child lacks and provide him/her with supplementary teaching. It is not uncommon to come across children who have been to school but remain functionally illiterate. Disillusioned youngsters, who may have completed primary schooling and are unemployed, act as a disincentive for education of other children in the community. Younger children and their families see the writing on the wall – primary education does not always improve the situation of the poor unless what they learn is perceived as being relevant to their life situation.

The enrolment drives for out-of-school children, child labour projects and innumerable remedial education and bridge courses have emerged in the last 10 years, started by district and local government authorities and assisted by NGOs, corporate bodies, local business and the community. These bridge or condensed courses have helped children to re-enter the formal stream, prevented dropouts and improved the learning achievements of children in school.

There have been several initiatives taken by private institutions, or government in partnership with the private institutions, that have borne good results.

The Nali-Kali(literally, dance-learn) strategy of teaching developed by teachers in Mysore has adopted creative learning practices to help retain children in school and bring in those not attending school. This method creates the right ambience for the child to learn in a child-friendly fun-filled way through educational toys, songs, games, story telling, all made by the teachers themselves. This method eliminates the formal system of roll calls, examinations, promotions and ranking.

The initiative has helped improve enrolment, particularly of girls, and has been expanded to cover more areas within Mysore and 10 more districts in the state.

The Akshara Foundation, an initiative with the Infosys backing; has worked in the slums of Bangalore to touch the lives of over 60,000 children in and around the city of Bangalore. The young children do not have to follow their mother to her workplace as she goes out to earn her livelihood. Mother of Satisa, who studies in one such pre-school, says happily, “my son does not loiter on the road when I am out on construction. He has learnt to read and write!”

To take care of children who have to work to earn a livelihood Akshara and CWC (Concerned for Working Children) have partnered with the Department for Public Instruction to start Transit School Program in 8 pilot locations in the city. Transit schools are open from 8 am to 8 pm for the convenience of the children. Working children come to the centers (mostly in government schools) at convenient times during the day.

Azim Premji Foundation focuses on “quality of education” and what happens inside a school, taking note of the numerous initiatives taken by the government. Its CEO Mr. Dileep Ranjekar says that their programs demonstrate “proof of concept” that can be replicated at a large scale in the government system. The Accelerated Learning Program and the Child Friendly School are examples of such programmes.Large numbers of children have been mainstreamed through specially devised bridge courses.

The foundation has developed CD based, child centric and interactive curricular content in local languages that is being used by thousands of schools across five Indian states. The CDs are free for all government school and non-government schools that cater to children from socio-economically weaker sections. Other schools can have it at a very nominal charge.

Mr. Dileep Ranjekar says, “We have tried to use IT to enhance the curricular learning of the children as well as to create excitement in the schools. The attendance of the children is significantly up on the days they are scheduled to work on the computers.”

There are some more remedial steps that government/NGOs can take:

  • Mobilise and organize working children into a self-managed association/organization. Educate them about their rights – right to education, freedom from exploitation, hazardous and non-hazardous work, nutrition and emotional and physical well being.
  • Take a close look at what is happening inside the school. How are children- girls, children from disadvantaged groups, children in difficult circumstances treated?
  • Set up a help-line line to reach out to working children in distress, confront and work with the government, and employers to ensure the rights of children.
  • Encourage older children to talk about their future – training, employment and self-employment opportunities and link education with future prospects.

Bully Prevention and Character Education in Schools

An often overlooked, but very important part of education, involves bully prevention and character education in schools. Teachers are sometimes faced with these issues and they do not handle the problem well or at all because they are unsure of how to go about it. These issues are so delicate that people like to avoid them. However, there are better ways to approach and prevent the negative situations you may face as an educator.

Bully prevention experts agree that teachers need to make classrooms feel safe for all students. It is important for teachers to review the research on bullying in order to learn about the causes and effects of bullying. By understanding this, educators can then study best practices and develop their own strategies to deal with bullying issues. If teachers were able to focus more on character education in schools then they could work on teaching students about morals and ethical behavior, which may be one way to prevent bullying in schools.

One way to support character education in schools could be through music. For example, rock ‘n’ roll music can be an effective unifying force among young people especially. Rock ‘n’ roll music could be a way to get students to communicate with each other and share a common interest. This could help make great strides in bully prevention as well as character education in schools. Sometimes the best way to get through to students can be through music because everybody can relate to it.

In bully prevention, it is important to know the common misconceptions regarding bullies. There are strategies you can learn to help you identify bully behavior at your school. To be truly effective in bully prevention, educators should also be aware of the different types of bullying, indirect and direct. This can even be implemented through character education in schools. Educators should set ground rules and consequences so that students know what behavior is expected of them. In character education teachers can cultivate their students characters, discipline students properly, deal with controversial issues, and develop a community environment. Music can be a great way to promote this community atmosphere because it is interactive and students will want to participate.

Overall, teachers should know that they can make a difference in bully prevention and character education by using creative strategies and unorthodox methods. Rock ‘n’ roll music is just one of these creative strategies. There are many ways to understand and approach issues with bullying and immoral behavior. One of these strategies should be for teachers to get parents and children talking about bullying and moral issues as well as create a positive moral culture. Usually music is a great way to create a positive feeling and make everyone feel welcomed. Music is a great way to engage everybody in the community.

A nurturing attitude can also be a good strategy for teachers to employ. It is important to remember that there are ways to make the school environment a safe and secure place for everybody. Not only will you make everyday better for yourself by implementing these strategies, but you will also help those of the entire community.

One Veteran Roll Former Reflects on Changes in the Business and Sees Brighter Days Ahead

The shape of the roll forming business is dramatically different from when Edwin Johnson Sr. first decided to go into the business of making roll forming machines in 1947. He would be amazed at the kind of complex work his company, Johnson Bros. Metal Forming, is producing on a daily basis.

Brad Johnson, Edwin Johnson Sr.’s grandson and vice president/general manager of the family company, is smack dab in the middle of taking on those challenging assignments. Among his many duties is producing job quotes, relying on his 33 years of roll forming experience to put together competitive bids.

Gone are the days when Edwin Johnson Sr. worked on roll forming machines late at night after knocking off from his factory job. Eventually he moved to a facility in Bellwood, Ill., and worked with brothers Harold, Rudolf, and Arnold. In fact, business today only barely resembles what was being done at the company after it moved to Berkeley, Ill., in 1964 and after Edwin Johnson Jr. assumed the role of president/treasurer/chairman in 1988 after the death of Edwin Sr. Even with the changes, however, Brad Johnson sees great potential for the venerable metal forming business, particularly as it works more closely with customers in exciting new areas, such as the renewable energy markets.

Given the momentum of the solar market, roll forming could even be considered hot.

Not the Roll Forming of Yesteryear

From the day that Edwin Johnson Sr. constructed his first roll forming machine in his basement, tested it, disassembled it so it could be removed from the house, and reassembled it in the garage, Johnson Bros. has realized the importance of having the right tools to do the job. That point became crystal-clear in the 1980s as business for lock seam tubing began to dry up as more manufacturers began to purchase their own equipment. Being that the tubing was a majority of the company’s business at the time-probably about 70 percent, according to Brad Johnson-the roll former had to plot a new strategy for survival. That called for scuttling the 1940s-era lines and upgrading to more flexible equipment.

“In trying to push the shapes more, we had to get new equipment. That took a lot of the 1980s to do that,” Johnson said.

The “shapes” were roll formed components for OEM customers and structural profiles, such as prefinished, time, rings, and frames. Those types of jobs always had been part of the manufacturing mix, but now they represented the future of the business.

Today Johnson Bros. has 20 roll forming lines, and only three of them were on the shop floor before 1980. The consolidation of the roll forming industry made it possible to pick up quality used equipment over the years, Johnson said, and kept the company financially viable even as the lock seam business shrank. Gone are the days of TV snack tray legs, hanging dryer tubes, torch poles, and curtain rods by the railcar load. Today the manufacture of products such as flag poles, towel bars, shower rods, and retail displays probably accounts for 25 percent of the company’s overall sales.

Despite the dwindling lock seam sales numbers, Johnson said the company wanted to stay in that business because it was a solid sales segment. As the company sought more customers as part of a diversification strategy, it could count on that lock seam business to continue to bring in revenue.

That commitment prompted the company to purchase a competitor that had a large customer base in the towel and shower rod market in the mid-1990s. It was a market Johnson Bros. had tried to crack for years, and the shift of rod roll forming to China had put the competitor in a vulnerable position. Today that rod-making business has rebounded nicely and is a growing segment of Johnson’s portfolio.

“We stayed in lock seam tubing whichever way we could,” Johnson said.

Versatility Is the Key

The roll forming market in the U.S. has not been immune to the stresses of the global economy. Companies that once were thriving are now out of business, and others are much smaller because many of the simple forming jobs are now done for much less overseas.

Even with the challenges, roll forming remains an attractive business for those that can meet customer demands. Market research firm Supplier Relations U.S. LLC put the 2010 revenue for the U.S. roll forming business at $6.7 billion. It also reported that the industry was running at 66 percent of its full production capacity-leaving room for it to take on more roll forming activity.

Johnson Bros. has put itself in a position to do just that. Its equipment can form prepainted, prepolished, prenaodized, and preplated metals, with thicknesses from 0.005 in. to 0.060 in., and all unfinished and galvanized metals up to 0.150 in, depending on the shape. The lines also can perform several fabricating functions inline, such as shear forms, knock-outs, perforations, miters, ring bends, embosses, notches, holes, slots, and tabs, so the parts don’t have to undergo secondary fabricating operations.

“The profiles [demanded by the OEMs] were really big. In order to do that, we had to have accurate equipment. We had to have machinery that was versatile,” Johnson said.

That meant replacing all of the mechanical presses on the line with precision pneumatic presses capable of 1- to 3-in. strokes. Without the need for piloting, the pneumatic presses also allow for very close tolerances compared to what the mechanical presses could deliver. Some hydraulic presses are used for long-run projects, but the pneumatic presses are much more useful for inline operations, particularly cutoffs, even in thin material.

“What we are doing with the cutoff right now just boggles my mind,” Johnson said.

Advanced controls with length encoders help to ensure accuracy while the lines are running. They are especially valuable when lines are set up for gag punching-a technique to accomplish many operations in the same press die. Johnson said his shop floor team is so adept at gagging operations that parts leave the roll forming line looking as if they were stamped. Even when gag punching is not possible because of fears of stretching, presses can be added near the material entry or exit points to accommodate more fabricating functions.

The company’s equipment variety is evident in one of its newer lines. The roll forming line can form bends as tall as 5 in. and accommodate 20-in.-wide raw material. That type of part never would have been possible with older equipment, but now is necessary to compete for roll forming jobs, Johnson said.

Profitability is not solely linked to machines performing multiple operations; the lines have to be running to make money. That’s why Johnson Bros. employees pay so much attention to setup times.

Johnson said that roll forming tools are designed so that employees don’t have to play around when feeding the material into the line. The goal is to put the right collar on the roll of raw material, feed it into the machine, and start making quality parts.

The investment in raft-type roll forming machines has been a nice addition to the equipment mix, according to Johnson. With this type of line design, each set of roll tooling is mounted on its own raft and is put on a line when needed. Items such as roll tooling, entry stands, and straightening fixtures do not require adjustments when switching out one raft for another.

Johnson added that the shop floor employees can perform multiple setups and work the controls for more than one roll forming line, so that production is never held up because one worker is occupied. They also assist the chief quality inspector by being trained to be their own quality control inspectors, further centralizing job functions with skilled operators to ensure timely turnaround of jobs.

Customers Demand Complexity

Johnson Bros. needs the skills of all of its 30 employees because customers are more demanding than ever. Unlike the general population who may wonder just what roll forming is, these customers know the basics of roll forming and are pushing these metal formers to deliver parts that have tolerances similar to stamped parts.

“With a lot of engineers coming out, they are pretty educated on roll forming. The only problem is that they usually try and get closer and closer tolerances,” Johnson said. “By and large, they know what they are looking for.”

That doesn’t mean it’s as easy as forming a simple metal roof panel. Johnson used the example of a price guard molding for a retail display. They used to be made of 0.014-in. prepainted brass, and turnaround time on the job was at least three weeks. Now the moldings are unfinished 0.036 in. thick, require welding, and have to be shipped in a week.

He also mentioned a part, reminiscent of a box channel, which required more than 20 stations on a roll forming line to accommodate bends on every surface. Johnson recalled how the company’s engineers had to deconstruct the original design because the prints didn’t have specified dimensions.

“In the 1980s, rarely would you get anything like this. In the 1990s, maybe a little,” he said. “Since the turn of the century, the stuff coming in, it’s just like that.”

Brighter Days Ahead

That may be the reason more solar industry players are working with Johnson Bros. It’s surely not because they can make a simple U-channel.

After having its sales force target solar equipment manufacturers for the past couple of years, Johnson said the company is now seeing the benefits. Sales are growing steadily, and successfully completing jobs leads to more work.

The roll formed fabrications are used for framing, structural supports, reflector panels, and troughs for solar equipment. The raw material is very thin-just how thin Johnson wouldn’t reveal-and the design calls for multiple holes, cutouts, and slots on the sides, instead of on the easier-to-access bottom, to be fabricated in the cutoff press.

“A lot of it almost seems like a progressive stamping die combined with roll forming. We have gag punches that come into play as the die is traveling. And the main reason that we have to do it all there is the tolerance, where you get a lot of stretch if you were to use a prepunch,” Johnson said.

In addition to framing, structural elements are being roll formed too. Johnson theorized that the solar equipment manufacturers are intrigued with roll forming for these parts because extrusions may cost more when including all the extra fabricating that needs to be done in secondary operations and because creating stamping tooling for these specific jobs is not cost effective.

The company’s 35,000 sq. ft. of production space, spread over two buildings, is currently humming, producing these and other parts. Johnson said the future looks bright enough and that he expects the company to reach prerecession revenue levels of $8 million by next year. Plans are underway to move to a larger facility.

Sixty years after Edwin Johnson Sr. constructed his first roll forming machines, the same reason for Johnson Bros. Metal Forming’s success still applies: roll forming talent. “Key people, especially with the design capabilities, are important,” Johnson said. “Not just the guy that sits in the office, but he’s in the shop as well. Those are the types of people that can make or break a company’s ability to produce complex roll forming.”

Equipment helps, but people will help shape this metal former’s future more than anything else.