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How BITS Pilani WILP is breaking new grounds in online higher education

BITS Pilani Work Integrated Learning Programmes (WILP) is the only institution with UGC approval which can provide technical degree courses (like M.Tech) in an off-campus setting. These remote and virtual labs can be accessed by students from across the world, 24x7 and 365 days a year. Prof Gurunarayanan, Dean of BITS Pilani WILP, shares more about the innovative model, designed and developed in collaboration with industry, exclusively for the working professionals

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At BITS Pilani Work Integrated Learning Programmes (WILP), which innovative tech implementations have helped in streamlining operations, particularly during the pandemic times?

Prof Gurunarayanan, Dean, BITS Pilani WILP

Due to our prior investments and constant focus on technology-based education management systems, BITS Pilani WILP operations have remained highly resilient and stable through the years (in general) and significantly immune to any potential operational disruptions that could have been caused by the pandemic as well. At the backend, a strong ERP system ensured that data and information flow was efficient and secure; while at the frontend, our various web-based information portals, CRM systems, and learning and content management systems kept us operational all the time and connected with various key stakeholders.

For instance, one of our key accomplishments during the pandemic time was to have our examinations conducted in a 100 per cent online mode, which we did by innovatively customising a leading online examination platform.

Overall, a robust and technology-enabled operating ecosystem with strong backend and user-friendly frontend, has ensured both education continuity as well as high efficiency of our operations.

How are BITS Pilani WILP Virtual Labs enabling an interactive and effective learning environment for students?

Experiential learning enables students to put into practice the concepts that they would have likely learnt about in the classrooms — via hands-on assignments, such as assimilations, modelling, and other practical assignments that involve use of hardware and software. It gives them a chance to address real-world or simulated problems at the workplace, by applying the concepts that were learnt in the course — thereby enabling them to connect practice with theory.

BITS Pilani WILP has designed and developed content in the form of exercise sheets and data sheets, demonstration videos, interactive case studies, and models that can be leveraged in (i) practice/ self-learning mode (ii) instructor-led laboratory/demonstration sessions or (iii) take-home assignments.

The remote and virtual labs are created with three primary principles:

(a) They should be enabled with remote control technologies.

(b) The physical changes should be clearly observable for the students who access them remotely.

(c) The students should be able to interact with the equipment by controlling various input parameters. This would help bring the same learning experience as that of conventional labs.

In addition to these, the other factors such as the user interface, digital content, and constant faculty support help engage the students in the learning process in an effective manner.

Please share with us the key features of WILP and how it is setting high benchmarks in enhancing learning experiences for working professionals.

The WILP programmes of BITS Pilani are designed to address academic improvements, which are required for and/or desired by the professionals in specific industry sectors. WILP is an innovative model of higher education, which is designed and developed in collaboration with industry exclusively for the working professionals; this particular aspect helps them gain a formal degree/diploma in a discipline that is related to their profession, enabling them to remain highly relevant and progress further in their careers.

These programmes have helped thousands of industry professionals acquire knowledge, expertise, and experience in their own domains through rigorous academic processes, without having to leave their current organisations. These programmes are identified primarily based on the requirements of students’ organisations and in consultation/ collaboration with industry on the expected learning outcomes. The flexibility related to students’ participation in lectures, structured self-study, labs, and/or remotely proctored assessments, also helps in enhancing their learning experiences even further.

According to you, which are the emerging technologies that will make a significant difference in how institutions are imparting education in India?

BITS Pilani WILP has invested significantly in developing leading and state-of-the-art infrastructure for electronic delivery of synchronous sessions for lectures, tutorials, and other student-faculty interactions. The synchronous delivery is enabled by desktop-based video-conferencing.

However, the next level of technologies will likely be focused on experiential learning. Our understanding of the mechanism of learning is changing the way in which instructions can be designed and presented to individuals, based on their learning preferences and comprehension. Learning analytics using AI-ML technologies will likely drive developments in this area. Offering immersive learning experience, particularly in professional education at scale, is a challenge for many. The emerging AR-VR technologies are promising, when it comes to addressing this challenge; however, we need to exercise caution in adopting them.

Your focus on innovation and new technologies that you are looking at in the near future.

BITS Pilani WILP is currently focussed on further enhancing the live lectures, by leveraging Information and Communications Technology (ICT). We intend to go far beyond video conferencing and make it even more interactive and engaging. The next area is experiential learning in sophisticated engineering domains, such as digital manufacturing, automotive electronics, fintech, etc.

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