On being the right size:

On being the right size? 

There has been a lot of discussion on the NEP 2020 recommendations for higher education, and one of the new ideas is to have large Universities. This is stated at “10.1. The main thrust of this policy in higher education is to end the fragmentation of higher education by transforming higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters, each of which will aim to have 3,000 or more students. “

It reminded me of an essay that I had read during my School years, “ On being the right size” by JBS Haldane in a book of essays “Possible Worlds and Other Essays” by J.B.S. Haldane published in1927.  Here is a link to the essay for immediate reference. :http://www.phys.ufl.edu/courses/phy3221/spring10/HaldaneRightSize.pdf

Haldane explains the factors that affect the size of an animal and argues that there is an optimum size for every animal. The opening lines of the essay are:

The most obvious differences between different animals are differences of size, but for some reason the zoologists have paid singularly little attention to them. In a large textbook of zoology before me I find no indication that the eagle is larger than the sparrow, or the hippopotamus bigger than the hare, though some grudging admissions are made in the case of the mouse and the whale. But yet it is easy to show that a hare could not be as large as a hippopotamus or a whale as small as a herring. For every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form.

Later it says that “And just as there is a best size for every animal, so the same is true for every human institution.”

Just as there is diversity in the animal kingdom, there would be diversity in the nature of educational institutions, and therefore different types of educational Institutions would have different optimum numbers. 

It seems that Dronacharya’s Gurukul had a very high level of excellence with very few students. 

We have pretty much diluted the higher education system with the goal of enhancing the GER to 50%, which again is reminiscent of the statement that “ growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”. 

A co-ordinated balanced harmonious growth maintaining homeostasis is the principle of sustainable life. 

Similar considerations apply to matters of Governance and administration. In that essay Haldane writes “ I do not suppose that Henry Ford would find much difficulty in running Andorra or Luxembourg on a socialistic basis. He has already more men on his pay-roll than their population. It is conceivable that a syndicate of Fords, if we could find them, would make Belgium Ltd or Denmark Inc. pay their way.” 

In India we have seen that the number of states  have been regularly increasing. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/States_and_union_territories_of_India ) and India today comprises of 28 states and 7 Union territories. 

While most of India’s states were carved out of bigger ones over the years on linguistic lines, some have argued that ease of governance, rather than language, should be the key to the size of state. Those in favour of small states point to the economic growth of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand that were created in 2000. And that of Haryana and Himachal earlier. Small states are easier to govern and people are closer to the decision makers. Smaller states also reduce diversity making policymaking more focused and management easier.

Why not: Some say that small states won’t be economically viable (only states rich in natural resources benefit) and some smaller states have been politically unstable. Bigger states, on the other hand, are about cohesion and stability. Having more states makes the central government’s job more difficult too.

The ToI piece on 2nd November 2020: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/timestopten/msid-78984698,card-78984959.cms?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=timestop10_daily_newsletter

There is another area where the optimum size is important. MOOCs have been a recent phenomenon and even India has created its own SWAYAM. If we do move towards remote e-learning, an interesting question arises that what is the right size of a remote classroom. From a technological perspective, we could be teaching millions simultaneously with a MOOC. But teaching is different from mere broadcasting. And thus the question arises as to what is the optimum number of a taught learning cohort. Yes it can surely be more than the 20 or so in a traditional classroom. 

Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual ( the teacher) knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. Dunbar explained it informally as “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable cohesive group. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 250, with a commonly used value of 150.

I have been using WhatsApp for teaching for some time now. When I started using WhatsApp for teaching, the limit to membership of a WhatsApp group was 100. Now it is raised to 256. A group that is aligned to the Dunbar number. 

Towards the end, I want to share with you some useful practical knowledge on the right size of digital content. The ideal length of online content : https://buffer.com/library/the-ideal-length-of-everything-online-according-to-science/. The optimal length of all social media update : https://buffer.com/library/optimal-length-social-media/

From the above articles, I have culled out key insights on what lengths are considered optimum for different social media posts. But these are averages. N a specific context, longer lengths may not only be acceptable, but also desirable. 

  • The optimal length of a tweet — 71 to 100 characters
  • The optimal length of a Facebook post – 40 characters
  • The optimal length of a Google+ headline – 60 characters maximum
  • The optimal width of a paragraph – 40 to 55 characters
  • The optimal length of a domain name – 8 characters
  • The optimal length of a hashtag – 6 characters
  • The optimal length of an email subject line – 28 to 39 characters
  • The optimal length of an SEO title tag – 55 characters
  • The optimal length of a blog headline – 6 words
  • The optimal length of a LinkedIn post – 25 words
  • The optimal length of a blogpost – 1,600 words. 7-minute posts capture the most total reading time on average.
  • The optimal length of a YouTube video – 3 minutes
  • The optimal length of a podcast – 22 minutes
  • The optimal length of a presentation – 18 minutes
  • The optimal length of a SlideShare – 61 slides. Unlike YouTube, where shorter content tends to be more successful, SlideShare users welcome comprehensive content
  • The optimal size of a Pinterest image – 735px by 1102px
  • Beyond the data, there is a bit of opposite advice that many hold as a best practice: Guy Kawasaki’s 10/2/30 rule. It says 10 Slides/ 20 Minutes and 30 Point Font

As you will see if you read through the article, these are inferences from the data of people perusing the content. It may have nothing to do with the effectiveness of the content or content targetted at and meant for a specific group. 

What is the optimal length of a single lecture ?

Since the founding of Western universities in the middle of the 11th century, the lecture has been the traditional means of passing on knowledge. Indeed, the 50-min lecture still holds sway at many institutions. Despite nearly a millennium of usage, the established lecture format has come under more and more scrutiny. It is criticized as being too long to hold a student’s attention based on several authors’ claims that a student’s attention span declines precipitously after 10–15 min. Such observations would support the TED approach of an 18-min limitation.

The current standard length of a lecture period is 60 minutes, sometimes comprised of 60 minutes speaking and other times approximately 45 to 50 minutes speaking and a 15 or 10 minute time slot for question-answers. 

It depends partly on the audience, but above about 20 adults, you usually get the same mix of learning styles/temperaments, so it ends up being much more strongly dependent on the lecturer and his/her style. 

Duration of a WhatsApp learning session:

While there are several pieces on the Internet on what is the optimum size of a blog, tweet, e-mail heading, e-mail length, a video talk ( TED with its 20 minute duration has emerged as a standard), there is none for the length of a WhatsApp course.

I have given a few WhatsApp live sessions of 60minutes, 90 minutes and even 3 hours. I feel about 90 minutes is good. 

That is the standard that I propose to use for my Whatsapp talks. 

Incidentally, while doing the research on this, I found that the average length of a Hollywood popular movie was 101 minutes.  So, there is a good chance that  one of these Whatsapp live courses may become a Blockbuster. 

About mmpant

Prof. M.M.Pant has a Ph.D in Computational Physics, along with a Professional Law Degree, and has been a practitioner in the fields of Law, IT enabled education and IT implementation. Drawing upon his experience in world class international institutions and having taught in various modes of Face-to-Face, Distance Learning and Technology Enhanced Training, Prof. Pant is now exploring the nature of institutions which will be successors to the IITs, which represented the 1960s, IIMs, which represented the 1970 and Open Universities which were the rage of 1980s & 90s. He believes that the convergence between various media and technologies would fundamentally alter the way learning would be created, packaged, and delivered to learners. His current activities are all directed toward actual implementation of these new age educational initiatives that transform education in the post Internet post WTO era.. Prof. Pant, has been a Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and has been on the faculty of IIT – Kanpur (the premier Engineering institution in India), MLNR Engineering College and Faculty & Visiting Professor - University of Western Ontario-Canada. He has been visiting scientist to research centers in Italy, England, Germany & Sweden and has delivered international lectures with about 80 papers published. During his association of almost 15 years with the IGNOU, Prof. Pant has served as the Director Computing and has been the Member of All Bodies (i.e. School boards, Academic council, Planning board, Finance committee and the Board of management). With his interest in Law, backed with practice of Law in a High Court, and his basic training in Science and IT, Prof. Pant has been particularly interested in the Cyber Law, Patent & trade mark issues, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues etc. and has been involved with many activities, conferences on “Law & IT” Prof. Pant is presently; • Advisor to Media Lab Asia - Chairman of working group on ICT for Education, chairman of PRSG handling projects on ICT for education. • Lead Consultant for an ADB funded project for ICT in Basic Education in Uzbekistan • Member of the drafting Group for India’s National Policy on ICT in education • Chairman of the group creating books for class 11 and 12 students on ‘Computers and Communication Technology’ appointed by the NCERT • Preparing a ‘Theme Paper” for the NCTE in the area of ICT and Teacher Training • Advisor and mentor to several leading Indian and Multi-national Companies in the area of education. Prof. Pant has in the recent past been ; • Member – Board of Management – I I T, Delhi for 6 years (two consecutive terms) • One-man committee to create the Project Report & Legislation for Delhi IT-enabled Open University • Advisor to the Delhi Government on Asian Network of Major Cities Project (ANMC-21) distance learning project in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Government. • Chairman Board of Studies, All India Management Association With his mission to create and implement new business opportunities in the area of e-learning & learning facilitation, Prof. Pant has promoted Planet EDU Pvt. Ltd., as its Founder & Chairman, along with a team of highly experienced and skilled professionals from Education & Training, Operations, IT and Finance.
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