The IITs for the last few years have been focusing on the online platforms, for example National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), coordinated by IIT Madras where all IITs are partners. “It is the most watched YouTube channel compared to anything in the world. That has been happening for quite a few years now, but that is a one-way kind of thing where faculties of IITs record lectures and post them. It is available for free and entirely funded by MHRD, Govt of India,” says Prof V Ramgopal Rao, Director, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, adding that the purpose of doing that was to help the second tier and other institutions in the country get access to quality education material and also for students to have access to these lectures. NPTEL is now very widely used.
The next stage was to introduce a more interactive platform. That is where MOOCs became popular. This was also entirely funded by MHRD, free and a social benefit kind of an initiative. “We have never been looking at these platforms for money, it was essentially to help the other institutions in the country. We are doing a lot of MOOC courses, at IIT Delhi for example, every semester, we have 15-20 courses which are online and taught to whoever wants to register. All these efforts have so far been on helping institutions who need quality education content,” states Prof Rao, pointing out that that MHRD has also been generous in providing funds for the same.
Last year MHRD also funded the IIT PAL (Professor Assisted Learning) initiative. Prof Rao explains that this is primarily because to enter any IIT, the exams have become very competitive, and unless one goes to coaching institutions which are very expensive, it is difficult to get admission. For IIT PAL programme, top teachers from IITs were identified and lectures were uploaded for 11th and 12th standard students. There are 800 hrs of lectures – 200 hrs each for Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. “IIT PAL is widely used now … the last count had one million students aspiring to get into IITs, are making use of this programme,” he adds.
IIT PAL lectures can also be accessed through Swayam Prabha, a project under which high quality lectures are available free on television, through 32 DTH channels.
“Starting from students who want to enter IITs to students in engineering streams who need access to quality education, this is freely available,” says Prof Rao.
All IIT Delhi classrooms are web enabled with recording facilities. “These recordings are available to the students. On account of the coronavirus problem and subsequent lockdown, the institution is ramping up its activities on the online platform,” mentions Prof Rao.
IIT Delhi has been experimenting with flip classrooms, where the students already have the material, and are expected to go through the material before hand and the classroom becomes a discussion session.
The Virtual Labs project which IIT Delhi is coordinating for MHRD at national level is also making a lot of inroads.
IITs being engineering institutions, laboratory training is an important aspect. Virtual Labs by IIT Delhi, enables conducting experiments online using virtual reality (VR) tools. However, Prof Rao concedes that hands-on training cannot be substituted by these modes of learning.
Prof Rao points out that since almost a decade many free online initiatives have been made available, however if a working professional wants to take certification from an IIT, e.g. in AI/ ML kind of areas, it is not possible. “For instance a one year certification where a 1000 people can register from anywhere in the world, attend lectures online and also take examination online so that IITs can award them a certificate is currently not happening. We are very quality conscious, have a brand to protect and do not want to give away certificates freely without testing procedures. This has been bothering us from sometime. We are also looking at earning additional revenues. IIT system has not scaled much because of the quality consciousness and tough examinations. IIT Delhi is now looking at online certification programmes, leading to diplomas eventually. However, we do not have the infrastructure to conduct exams for 10,000 people from across the world … IIT Delhi is looking at tying up with companies in the education space.”
There have been in talks with some of these organisations and they have come up with a policy to offer IIT Delhi courses online using one of these education services as a partner. “There are plans to launch these certification programmes in a few months. And also charge a market fee. It will start with an AI course certification, which 10,000 people can take,” reveals Prof Rao.
The next one year will see IIT Delhi joining hands with private companies and offering certificates to thousands of people. It will be a revenue earning model.
AI based attendance
In terms of innovative systems, IIT Delhi has an interesting attendance system called Timble , which is an AI based face recognition technology. There is no biometric, students can access this through their mobile phones. Timble is a startup from IIT Delhi which has developed this infrastructure. “All the attendance for staff and students is done online since last one year. This has been very successful. As paper based and biometric attendance is a challenge in the current times, this AI based attendance is corona friendly,” remarks Prof Rao.
“We are also looking at paperless examination system, for example JEE and GATE, two large exams IITs conduct is completely moved online, taken by a million students. Since we are able to do this online even for the internal exams in IITs we are slowly looking at moving to paperless examination system. The advantage of the paperless system is that though the exams are subjective, we are also now testing jointly with some companies the grading system for subjective examination using machines. This is where AI and ML come in very handy. So we are looking at some of these methodologies for machine learning based grading of subjective examination,” states Prof Rao. Within a year in IIT Delhi this will be implemented.
Scaling up of quality education
He believes that one thing that needs to happen is that quality education needs to scale and in India that has not happened. “At IITs despite the brand value that we gave we have not been able to reach out to a large number of people. Our model has been a huge entry barrier as the exams are so tough. I personally believe we need to reduce the entry barrier barrier, but create an exit barrier. More people would be able to take our courses and get benefited from that but a few will get certified by IITs to have cleared those exams. That needs to happen in the IIT system. Scaling quality education is very important for a country like India,” asserts Prof Rao.
“A huge disruption will happen in the education sector and IITs will lead some of these disruptions in India. You will see many IITs joining hands with private players and offer certification programmes. Some of these startups in education space are already valued at billion dollars and have tens of thousands of students enrolled with them. We need to join them,” says Prof Rao.
Prof Rao feels that AI and ML will also impact in many ways, it will take away jobs but also create new opportunities, so upgradation of skills is very important.