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Technology enables learner-centric approach at Vidyalankar Group

From augmented labs to high performance computing, from blockchain based authentication of certificates to integrating data analytics with student performance, the Vidyalankar Group of institutions is looking at experimenting with exciting technology projects, says Dr Saurabh Mehta, Chief Academic Officer and Professor at Vidyalankar Institute of Technology, Mumbai

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Established in 1960 by Professor C S Deshpande, the Vidyalankar Group is known for providing quality education at affordable prices across various educational streams – training institutes to colleges and subjects range from engineering to management examinations to preparation for studying abroad. The Vidyalankar Group of institutions today include Vidyalankar Polytechnic, Vidyalankar Institute of Technology, Vidyalankar School of Information Technology, Vidyalankar Institute for International Education, Vidyalankar School of Business.

“Our focus at Vidyalankar has always been to shift from the traditional teaching paradigm – i.e. from the teacher centric approach to the much required learner – learning centric approach. To make this transition successful, we work on a three-fold strategy: creating new technology infrastructures; creating tools and opportunities for students using new technologies, and most importantly, equip our teaching and technical staff with new technology skill sets and constantly honing their soft skills in pedagogy,” says Dr Saurabh Mehta, Chief Academic Officer and Professor at Vidyalankar Institute of Technology, Mumbai, informing that with the latest ICT technology, they have also implemented various new pedagogy methods like ‘learning on the job’, ‘collaborative peer learning’, ‘Flip Class rooms’ and remote learning’, among others. “These methods have created multiple opportunities for students to enrich and enhance their learning experiences, while our faculty also keeps them engaged with newer styles of teaching – thus making it a more effective learner centric environment,” he affirms.

The Vidyalankar Group is focused on creating newer opportunities to enhance the learning experience – be it virtual classrooms or in house new age technologies to explain concepts better. “In this quest, we have set up multiple approaches like lecture capture (which help us record live sessions and stream them at the same time), Learning Management Systems (LMS), remote labs, interactive boards, project and research based learning, labs in classrooms, MOOCs and integrating social media in coursework, among others. At the end of the day, our effort is to always manage a blended learning reality while also streamlining operations,” mentions Dr Mehta.

Sharing his views on how can higher education institutions leverage technology for dealing with unprecedented situations like the coronavirus outbreak, Dr Mehta says, “Unprecedented, and rather unfortunate situations like the current times is when we look to technology for a solution that can help us keep up the quality and subject matter relevance. This also serves as a learning moment for the entire world – not just higher education institutions – to have safe, secure and quality controlled back up plans to ensure work doesn’t stop, and neither does it affect the people associated.” He reminds that using ICT technology in higher education institutes can help create a 24x7x365 learning experience for students. “In my opinion it has changed the definition of learning and has broken all the barriers of distance, language, and age,” remarks Dr Mehta.

He points out that the support from Vidyalankar’s management team has been tremendous in training their focus on two aspects – one, to create a technological infrastructure, and second, equip the teaching and technical staff with new technology skill sets and honing their soft skills in teaching pedagogy. “For the same we have purchased many new software, hardware, and have conducted multiple training sessions for staff members in new age education technologies and pedagogies. We have taken multiple steps in putting an eco-system in place that can foster and inculcate new innovative ideas and approaches in teaching. We have also built our strong knowledge bank with many case studies, success stories, and best practices. We have taken multiple steps towards the process of standardisation and bench-marking our teaching-learning process in line with world best practices,” elaborates Dr Mehta.

There are a few emerging technologies that will make a significant difference in the education sector. According to Dr Mehta, three technologies will completely disrupt the education sector in near future – first, augmented reality, which will take the student learning experience to a completely new level. Second, data analytics, which will help teachers create a better customised course for students and will also help teachers understand various learning and understanding patterns of students. “I am sure with right analytics data teachers will be able to take many preventive and predictive steps towards the students learning. Third, artificial intelligence (AI) which will save students and teachers’ efforts and help students learn concepts and real life applications. As a technical professional I am really excited to create some good use cases of these technologies in the education sector,” says Dr Mehta.

The Vidyalankar Group is looking at experimenting with several exciting projects like augmented labs, high performance computing/ supercomputer facility, a common integrated platform for learning, blockchain based authentication of certificates, integrating data analytics with student performance, cloud based repository with third party/open source contribution, among others. “It is important to also understand that as a technology enthusiast myself, I’m extremely thrilled to be a part of these experiments, especially when we have a team that supports newer ideas and implementations,” he states.

While technological advances will keep happening, Dr Mehta believes that higher education, as an industry, needs to work on human resource capacity building in terms of soft skills, pedagogy education and teaching philosophies. “Only when both these aspects go hand in hand, can we reason achieving true learning-centric approach,” he asserts.

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