How tech advancements have significantly enhanced learning experiences in the field of Work Integrated Learning Programmes
By Prof. K. R. Anupama, an Associate Dean with BITS Pilani Work Integrated Learning Programmes (WILP)
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a few countries with not-so-good digital infrastructure and insignificant experience in online learning, experience a considerable decline in the quality of education. Unsurprisingly, post the pandemic, UNESCO has come up with a series of policies in support of digital innovations that can be incorporated into learning. Also, several digital innovations, such as Learning Management Platforms (Coursera, Canvas, Moodle, EdX, etc.) have seen significant growth; many of them provide several features that potentially have a deep impact on student-faculty interaction, via inbuilt chats, discussion forums, study groups, etc.
The digital divide is reducing at a rapid pace, making up for the increase in the geographical divide
Digital learning platforms allow an instructor to present videos, and reading material, and conduct and evaluate assignments and quizzes — all digitally. They also provide conferencing software via which faculty can provide online lectures. So, the geographical divide between faculty and student may be increasing; however, the digital divide is reducing too, thereby ensuring that the quality of education either remains unaffected or keeps improving even further.
What you learn may not be that useful, unless you practice what you learn. Very few students especially in developing countries have access to good lab infrastructure; for such students, remote labs or cloud-based simulators could prove to be highly beneficial. The remote labs can be equipped with high-end equipment, which helps learners from any geographic zone to access such labs and carry out lab experiments.
Online proctored exams that are AI-enabled allows the student to attend their exams from their workplace or home. Using a multi-camera setting, the algorithms can check for any kind of malpractice. They can also perform plagiarism checks on assignments.
BITS Pilani Work Integrated Learning Programmes division (WILP) has been successfully using various digital innovations (such as above) for almost a decade now in a highly effective manner. Over 20,000 students of WILP have also benefited immensely from the use of digital pedagogy.
Virtual AI chatbots, Digital Twins, and many more — all aiming to enhance learning experiences
If we talk about digital transformation and Education 4.0 (the period in which the education settings integrate Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to develop instructional, pedagogical, and technological processes), there are many more digital innovations that are coming up.
Virtual AI chatbots have personal attention on students and their learning habits. They closely observe the pattern of studying and content consumption; based on that, they can help students excel in their streams. With such intelligent tutoring systems, schools can deliver personalized learning experiences. Not all students understand and learn in the same way; some even could be differently abled. To cater to the needs of every student in terms of complex topics or subjects, chatbots can customize the learning plan and make sure that students gain maximum knowledge, not just within the classroom, but outside of it as well. They help students with the required study material, as and when they need it. Chatbots are also capable of interacting with students and answering their questions when needed.
Digital Twins is one other such innovation, which allows students to acquire the experience of actually building a system, taking a machine apart, or dissecting an animal, performing an in-depth study into human anatomy through the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Digital Twinning of any machinery will allow a learner to take it apart piece by piece and put it together again; this helps the students to understand the role of every component in the machine and understands its working. Digital Twins can also be used to twin fabrication clean rooms to which students have no access, where they can actually be a part of the Integrated Circuits fabrication process through the use of AR-VR.
Stanford University is already on board and is working on Digital Twins. Several startups are in the process of creating digital twins for teachers, where a combination of Machine Learning, AR, and VR are used. Teachers deliver lectures and answer questions in a regular classroom setup. The ML algorithms learn from this experience. AR and VR are used to project a 3D image of the teacher in the class and the digital twin answers question in the same manner as the teacher would.
These ML algorithms have access to a huge knowledge base and the Digital Twin may end up being version 2.0 of the teacher. Digital Twin Technology gives a personalized learning experience, where there may be no need to share the lab equipment or even the instructor with any other student.
Imagine a scenario, where Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) create course content in terms of videos and reading material, and train the Digital Twin to conduct contact classes. Remote labs, cloud-based simulators, and Digital Twinning can be used by students to design systems, analyze them, and record results. Students participate actively in study groups to enhance peer learning. Chatbots will track their progress and assist them. Proctored online exams with automated evaluation of answer scripts. Here, every student has access to the best teachers, lab equipment, and fair evaluation. This could potentially be a true Utopia of education.
How can India gear up for Education 4.0?
A country like India which has sailed through the pandemic period in a relatively seamless manner, primarily due to good digital infrastructure and its adaptability to all things digital, has a lot to gain from the digital transformation of education. There are over 4400 Engineering colleges in India and very few that currently appear in the world rankings. A NASSCOM survey in 2019 had revealed that about 15 lakh engineers graduate every year from these colleges, and only about 2.5 lakh engineers land jobs. Lack of access to good teachers and lab infrastructures could be some of the prime reasons.
Some of the top universities around the world have invested heavily in online education; for instance — Stanford, Harvard, Berkley, and MIT — all of them have very strong online programs. Separate infrastructure and personnel are dedicated to online education in these universities, and they leverage most of the new digital techniques that are available.
It is time that India could consider doing the same, especially keeping in mind that a significant populace in the country still does not have access to high-quality education; this may be possible only if India increases the budget significantly to make way for the digital transformation of education, which can help us address various challenges and opportunities effectively. Digital innovations in education will help facilitate access to leading teachers, pedagogical techniques, and lab infrastructure for all the deserving learners in