There are many takers for the recently launched Application Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
When the PC and networking led to the Internet age of global information-sharing it was widely believed that the Internet would revolutionise education in terms of its sheer reach and content. But that has not happened. Educational technology and advancement of quality education have not gone hand-in-hand.
However, an application that holds much promise is the recently launched Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) on the Internet. It involves the participation of professors of leading Universities like MIT, Stanford and so on, who put out online courses on the Internet and which are available free. More than 10,000 people have registered for this application. Lectures are delivered on the web along with demonstrations, tests, quizzes, and term papers are evaluated with the aim of simulating teacher-student interactions in a real university. Students can interact with each other through bulletin boards and social networking sites like Facebook and discuss what is being taught. However, no degrees or diplomas are offered on successful completion of the course. The reason for this is that there is still no reliable way of ensuring that the tests have been taken by the person who has registered for a course. MOOC may become popular in India, where there are a huge number of engineering colleges but also a lack of well-trained faculty.
However, the student taking MOOC courses is likely to stay enrolled in his college as he is interested in a degree certificate and a job after completion of his studies.
Dr. Shreepad Karmalkar, Professor, Electrical Engineering and formerly (2003-2004) in-charge of the Educational Technology Cell (ETC) of Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M), who has considerable experience in designing innovative methods with the purpose of improving teaching and knowledge absorption by the student, spoke to The Hindu . ETC was a unit separate from the electrical engineering department, and catered to the whole institute. After October 2004, it was absorbed in Centre for Continuing Education (CCE).
Dr. Ajit Kumar Kolar, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Department and present Chairman, CCE (a unit separate from the mechanical engineering department, and catering to the whole institute) also presented his views.
According to Dr. Karmalkar, about 10 years ago interest in using technology innovatively for teaching increased at IIT-M. Soon other IITs also got interested. The first innovation was a recording studio that recorded lectures, which were made available to other colleges for a reasonable price.
In 2003, the NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) was launched by the Ministry of Human Resources to create Web courses by the various IITs on engineering streams that are widely available. Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi, then Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Science & Technology asked: why not video courses? IIT-M got into the act and started offering video courses as well on various engineering subjects on the Web. The courses offered by IIT-M cater to a range from average students to teachers and also those who want to be teachers. One of the main advantages of web-based learning is that there is no time constraint and the user can learn at his or her own pace.
Talking about other innovative teaching aids Dr. Kamlakar says that without Power Point, certain types of lectures are not possible, such as demonstrating processes which involve a large number of steps. But it encourages students to not take notes and in extreme cases leads to absenteeism as the PP prints are made available to the students after a teaching session.
Also, take the example of the much-touted smart board. It is a teaching aid that showed much promise as it featured advanced touch screen technology combined with computer software and hardware enabling the teacher to demonstrate difficult to grasp concepts through display of animations, 3-D modelling of molecular structures etc. Though many schools and colleges in Chennai have the smart board in their class rooms, the technology has failed to deliver on its promise because of paucity of content.
Dr. Kolar says that by June 2013, 600 courses (comprising 40 hours of video lectures each) by faculty of IITs will go live on the web.
At present there are 250 such courses on the web and receive several million hits many with comments sent back to faculty.
The plan for the future involves including MOOC, and leaders in the IT industry such as TCS and Cognizant, through joint ventures who would select those passing such courses for employment. The ultimate goal is to create a virtual university where candidates can register for degrees.
However, Mr. Kolar cautions that Internet technology cannot replace physical presence of the teacher and deliver quality education. It only addresses the logistics problem.
The teacher’s facial expressions, gestures, pitch of voice and body language convey a lot.
The teacher also, through this live interaction, gets new ideas to explain concepts.
By June 2013, 600 courses by faculty of IITs will go live on the web.