The Indira Gandhi National Open University will soon start using third generation mobile technology to impart education to students across the country.

The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is exploring the advantages of the 3G (third generation) mobile services in delivering education to the nook and corner of the country.

On October 29, the university signed a MoU with Ericsson India Pvt. Ltd. (EIL), an Indian chapter of Swedish multinational firm Ericsson, to start application of the third generation mobile in education delivery.

Students of IGNOU will soon get 3G mobile services at nominal rates. It will be only Rs.20 or Rs.25 more than what they are paying for the normal admissions.

Explaining the advantages of the new project, Vice Chancellor V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai told The Hindu EducationPlus that the country had recently launched the third generation mobile services.

“This MoU is aimed at the effective use of facilities supported by 3G mobile services in open and distance education. It is a state-of-the-art technology being used to connect the remote area learners,” he said.

Pointing out that the common SMS today is already used in the course management through SMS alert services, Prof. Pillai said that students will be supported with access to parts of the course web pages, downloading files like assignments and video clips with the introduction of the 3G services.

Stating that the 3G technology would reach out to the heterogeneous echelons of IGNOU student communities, K.R. Srivathsan, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university, who is spearheading the project, said that it is not the distance education alone, which will be the beneficiary of the 3G mobile services. “Even in the conventional university system, the students using the technology will have an edge over others,” he said.

Describing that the 3G technology creates wider scope for a learner, Prof. Srivathsan said that it is a small-screen mega performer which has a browser to scan, stream, build capacities of the users by getting materials at shortest possible application methods.

“The 3G technology helps a learner stream through video, audio and selective Internet browsing. Downloaded files may be played through laptop or personal computer. New notebooks will have built-in 3G chip sets with advanced e-learning services. This will allow consulting with academic counsellors, course coordinators, and peer-to-peer discussions,” he said.

Prof. Srivathsan said that a small laptop or a notebook with a built-in 3G chip can be a wonderful utility tool for the distance education teachers, particularly for areas where infrastructure and electricity are not available.

“The 3G technology ensures both web-mentoring and web-proctoring. Web-mentoring is studying through the 3G chip, consulting with counsellors and engaging in peer-to-peer discussions. The web-proctoring is more expert-driven. It means only the experts and researchers in the m-learning technologies can participate to effect better application modules. Web-proctoring will ensure not only the two-way audio and video interactive but also makes possible a delivery of classroom discussion or a seminar in a three-party module,” he said.

Giving an example of a student using sign language, Prof. Srivathsan said that the candidate could take his/her classes through the mobile screen of the 3G model of mobile telephony.

“His/her learning is more by watching the signs created by the interpreter. In this case a lecture is given at a place, the interpreter interpreting it through sign language is stationed at a different location and a speech and hearing impaired learner watching the signs of the interpreter from a different place. All activities at three points take place simultaneously. The 3G technology can make this possible,” he said.

Explaining the students profile at IGNOU, Prof. Pillai stressed the heterogeneity of the communities of IGNOU. “We are not like the conventional universities. Our students come from all types of communities of the country. They are disadvantaged BPL families, lower income groups, middle-class societies and also are highly articulate professionals like engineers, doctors, scientists, professors etc. We cater to all kinds of life of the country. Our 2.5 million student bases are powerful receptors of the 3G technology,” he said.

No financial burden

Dispelling doubts that the technology will be a financial burden for the student community, Prof. Pillai said that the university students earn and learn in most cases. “They can provide for the 3G mobile services for education. Even then, from this collaboration we will charge them hardly Rs.20 or Rs.25 for the 3G mobile services. But the real cost is likely to be from the TRAI and other services providers,” he said.

Elaborating on the agreement with IGNOU, Ericsson India president Gowton Achaibar said that Ericsson and IGNOU would create an eco-system for the 3G mobile technology applied in education. “India has about 20 per cent of the world’s population. If we create an ecosystem, delivery of education through the 3G Mobile will become a great success story,” he said.

According to the university estimates, the 3G technology has a niche area of functioning for the university.

The cost of the service will increasingly come down with enrolment figures going up. IGNOU will be at an advantage in this situation.

At present IGNOU disseminates education to over 8 million homes through the Edusat-mediate beams of DTH services.

The university is also implementing the latest Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) aimed at reaching out to the un-reached in the rural areas across the country.

Prof. Pillai said that scientists at IGNOU constantly evaluate the latest ICTs to use it for education services. This MoU by the university is yet another niche area specialisation for developing domain knowledge, he said.