The black board and the chalk have given way to LCDs and Power Point presentations. E-learning and web conferencing are now regular modes of imparting education in colleges. A look at this new trend of learning and teaching.

Technology has not only changed lifestyles, but has also shaken the beliefs of a conditioned mind. ‘Boards' are associated with ‘black', but with the ushering in of technology, white boards now rule the roost. More and more educational institutions in Chennai are becoming truly global in terms of emulating and accepting sophisticated standards in providing infrastructure to students.

Apart from the 80 new ‘smart' classrooms retrofitted with projectors, PCs and smart interactive boards, Anna University boasts of a 100 per cent Wi-Fi environment. “We have shelters built under trees called ‘Internet trees' to enable students to browse on their laptops whenever they want, comfortably,” says P. Mannar Jawahar, vice-chancellor, Anna University. About Rs. 300 crore from different funding institutions has been directed to improvise and standardise the university by installing modern machinery, he says.

“The students in our college are encouraged to learn by discovery, not by rote, that involves a lot of in-depth research,” says Leenus J. Martin, HoD, SRM (automobile engineering), adding that the college now has an Active Learning laboratory. The university has institutional membership with other leading libraries in the country such as ARAI and IIT. Hence the resources are shared by the faculty and students through correspondence. Leading E-journal materials such as ScienceDirect, IEEE, Elsevier, and Springer are also made available in the college library.

E-learning and web-conferencing have become regular modes of imparting education in colleges such as Madras Christian College. “With the advent of the electronic pad and mike, the teacher can draw a diagram or solve a problem and it would be captured live for later use,” a student of the college says.

Class III biological safety cabinet has been introduced in the department of Microbiology of Presidency College to enhance the safety measures while handling pathogens. The Department of Geology has an atomic absorption microscope worth Rs. 25 lakh to detect trace elements. Geology and some other departments have the facility of focussing the microscope and viewing the information through the computer monitor.

While the Computer science department at the Presidency provides Bachelor's in Computer Application for deaf and dumb students with the help of special equipment and teaching tools, Loyola College has a digital library for disabled students to help them cope with the curriculum using different technologies and audio software and touch tools.

Vice-Chancellor of Madras University G. Thiruvasagam says colleges have to provide necessary infrastructure to enable the students to adopt an application-oriented approach to studies. Most colleges today provide a personal Internet account with login and storage facilities for every student, and many also allow extra privileges to make sure their student communities do not lag behind.

“Colleges get very competitive during tech fests and research work, and infrastructure here matters a lot,” says Shreya Nataraj, a student at Loyola, adding that most teachers now teach using Power Point presentations to be part of this modernised learning.

More than 900 additional courses in 15 different disciplines are expected to be launched soon under the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, launched by the IITs, that would make quality technical education available to anyone with access to Internet.

“The teaching methods have definitely changed, and there's a lot of impetus given to laboratory work, we have labs for so many courses now,” says Vigneshwaran, a student at Loyola. The functioning of every college has become so autonomous and systematic, that every department functions as a different school altogether with its own customised facilities, laboratories, resource centres, etc., he says.

But there are a few who feel a lot of dependence on technology poses a threat to teacher-student interaction. “Traditional classrooms won't work any more as they are stereotyped as boring places where discipline is insisted upon; technology has helped us a great deal, but the personal intervention has also decreased because everything is so computer-dependent now,” says P. Arunachalam, a retired professor and a researcher now.