Monday, February 18, 2008

Teachers’ shortage & Internet's magic wand - III

The break in writing at Marketer's Kaleidoscope has been longer than intended, one only hopes such long breaks will not be repeated. To wit :

Here is a online initiative in higher education that looks like it's going to be larger than any other initiative to date in India and, I would argue, in the world.

6. The NPTEL project

The IIT’s last month put online on You Tube (i.e. for free in video format) ,13 engineering courses. Each course was a complete 40 lectures affair of 1 hour duration each.

This is part of the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) initiative that was started a few years ago as a joint project of 7 IITs, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and the Union HRD Ministry. NPTEL’s objective is to make available for free or at a minimal charge the knowledge and learning of the IITs to the other 1500 plus engineering colleges of the country, thereby raising the overall standard of tech education in the country.

The plan is to have - by March 2008, in Phase I of the project, a total of 110 courses in video (4500 video hours in all in Phase I). The number will go up to 400 video courses and 16000 video hours in Phase II. When created, NPTEL believes this will probably be the largest single repository of technical courses in streaming video format on any single website in the world.

In addition, in Phase I, 129 courses are to be put online - in web (text / html) format.Which means that about 110 courses will be in both html & video format and an additional 19 courses will be in html only.

The courses span 5 branches of engineering viz. civil, computer science & engineering, electrical, electronics & mechanical as well as the core courses in science that all engineers must know.

This project has been a massive, long-term team effort. Each of the 8 Institutes has a NPTEL cell and has developed expertise in creating such multimedia content. The content generation is very nearly, evenly spread across all eight institutions. IIT Roorkee and IIT Guwahati have in Phase I of this project taken a lighter load than others as they both are nascent IITs and have considerably less number of faculties than other IITs.
A large number of the courses have been completed, also reviewed by two or three faculty from colleges and their suggestions have been incorporated. The access is free and open, subject to copyrights. A move is being made towards implementing Creative Commons license in this programme. Several mirror sites are also being added for improving access to course contents.

Here are some value-adds that NPTEL is providing:
• In the course content, emphasis has been laid on “core concepts” so that the courses will hopefully have longevity i.e. remain relevant for an extended period of time.
• The course curricula have been “localized” i.e. as per the engineering syllabi of the AICTE and some large universities. Local case studies have been used. Currently, engineering colleges use international textbooks - which are difficult or costly to obtain - and which do not match well with the college syllabi.
• Simple English has been used.
• Various teaching tools have been used within the videos so as to create or sustain interest.
• Workshops are envisaged for interaction between faculty of these engineering colleges and IIT faculty.
• Online interaction tools e.g. bulletin board too are foreseen.Some other value-adds planned are: question banks, supplementary reading material for overachievers as well as anecdotes and historical information.
• There is a mechanism for assurance of quality and certification of courseware.
• The course content will be made into CDs, DVDs or printed too if need be.

Some or all of the above features can make this a runaway success in other countries, too.

Video courses have also been broadcast over DD’s Eklavya Channel. Further, colleges are to also stream content over local servers / Intranet by payment of a moderate amount, reportedly Rs. 1 lakh payment.

7. Why the NPTEL project is a "big deal"

1. Top quality content (selected faculty from IITs and quality process of content creation).
2. Localized content and in simple English.
3. Will be the largest video streaming site for engineering or higher education in the world.
4. Possibly the largest or second largest web content too for engineering (400 courses as opposed to 1800 courses in MIT) .
5. Leverages social media: Posting video content - for 13 courses to date - on You Tube has enabled viewers (students) to post ratings and comments on each course. This will serve as a self-evaluation tool for the faculty/ NPTEL and give directions for further improvement.
6. Interaction with teachers planned through Open Workshops.
7. NPTEL appears to be a selfless, sincere attempt on part of the players (IITs and Indian Institute of Science) to share knowledge.

In contrast, the other comparable-in-size effort viz. MIT’s OCW does not have any interactivity with the students. In many cases it’s course content is incomplete, with just outline material et al. And a very-well endowed institution MIT has a posting on the OCW website asking for corporate sponsorship (no idea why). One would have expected some munificence from them, instead.

In other words, NPTEL is a magic wand which will help improve the quality of engineering education - across over 300, 000 students and faculty in over 1500 engineering colleges each year in India alone - as well as many more from the world over.

As I write this post, there comes the news that a 24 x 7 education channel called Topper - that focuses primarily on CBSE curriculum for Classes 9 to 12 – has been launched yesterday. This will initially be available on DTH platforms like Tata Sky and Dish TV. The company promoting this channel Greycells 18 Media Pvt. Ltd. is a joint venture of TV company Network 18, education company Educomp and two senior executives from the TV industry. Allied to it is a website where the students can take tests and interact with expert faculty on lessons that they have received on TV. Doordarshan’s Gyan Darshan & Vyas are two other educational channels currently available in the country, though both have low viewership.

Disclaimer: I currently work at education company Aptech.This may have - inadvertently - influenced my views in these last three posts on teachers & the Internet somewhat; of course, the views herein are mine alone.


  1. That is indeed intersting. I hope this helps to some extent in improving the employability of students from Non-IIT,Non-NIT engineering colleges, which is a real concern for India Inc. today.

    Munish Kaushal

  2. Hello sir,
    Thanks for your mgs and help. I was travlling from last 15 days so cant reply back..I have send you mail also about the same.
    Online studies are going to be popular and I had seen how easy it had made the things.