The Digital India programme, which plans to “transform India into a digitally empowered society”, comes at a time when most institutes in the country, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are grappling with an acute shortage of good faculty members. Experts believe that only digital solutions can help them beat the crunch, especially in the newly set up IITs and IIMs. As per the current set-up, the new institutes are mentored by the older ones and assisted with faculty members. “It is physically impossible to fly down good faculty members to new IIMs every time. About 10 months ago, we had sent a proposal to the HRD ministry to create a MOOC platform exclusively for management education, for which faculty members from old IIMs could come together to deliver the core courses of at least the first year to other IIMs. The proposal is still under consideration but technological interventions are the only solution to the existing faculty crunch, if we want to standardise delivery across top business schools. The new IIM students have the right to listen to the best faculty,” says Ashok Banerjee, professor, finance and control, IIM Calcutta.
However, some institutes have already been harnessing the power of technology.
IIT Mandi has been using the National Knowledge Network (NKN) through which faculty in other IITs, including Roorkee, Delhi, Madras and Bombay, offer courses to its (IIT Mandi) students. “In the last three years, mainly electives have been offered to provide a richer choice of courses to our students. From August 2011 to June 2015, faculty at other IITs taught 60 courses through the NKN to IIT Mandi students. The total enrolment in all these 60 courses was 1,700 students, which includes students of all four years of BTech, and also some MS and PhD students. In the early years, 2011-12, several basic core courses for the first and second year BTech students were taught through NKN, to compensate for the initial shortage of faculty in some areas,” informs professor Timothy A Gonsalves, director, IIT Mandi.
The blending of online learning with classroom teaching, often termed as ‘blended model’ is popular among most of these institutes of national importance. Lately, some of them have also tied up with the massive open online courses (MOOCs) providers and blended MOOCs with regular classroom teaching.
At IIT Bombay MOOCs are used to supplement face-to-face teaching. “This flipped classroom approach (through which students view and accesses lectures online band then come to the classroom) has been used by many teachers at IIT Bombay in the past few years. Our studies have indicated that the engagement level of students with the course increases significantly,” says Dr Deepak B Phatak, professor, department of computer science and engineering, IIT Bombay.
“A much greater engagement with students is essential, which is not possible in the current model based primarily on delivery of sermon-like lectures, delivered in successive classes,” Phatak adds.
IIT Bombay will be offering three courses in the first semester of the coming academic year in a blended model, in partnership with over 50 autonomous institutes.Each partnering institute will teach the course through usual face-to-face interactions, and the students will also register for the corresponding MOOCs. If syllabi at the institutes and IIT Bombay overlap, the teacher in the partner institute will choose the topics to use the flipped classroom.
“The most important part is that the final grade of a student in each subject will depend on both: the marks obtained in local exams and the scores in the online assessment of MOOCs. Each partnering institute has the freedom to decide the weightage percentage of the online evaluation, which should be factored in the final grade. We believe that this is a unique effort where regular students of so many institutes will simultaneously use a common MOOC to supplement their usual face-to-face learning,” says Phatak.
MOOCs are offered by IIT Bombay, on IITBombayX platform which has been built at the institute using the open source open-edX as the code base.
Discussions on joining the MOOCs bandwagon are underway at IIT Indore too. The institute is a part of NKN and uses available resources for its students, informs Dr Nirmala Menon, assistant professor.
“MOOCs and other online tools help supplement faculty teaching and student learning. For a new IIT, it is helpful to have access to lectures and classes from renowned faculty though online tools and we do make use of them in our classrooms. While it does not make up for a faculty crunch, it will enable institutes to ensure that students will not be at a loss if a particular subject expert is not available in any individual IIT,” says professor Pradeep Mathur, director, IIT Indore.
IIMs too have been keen on offering MOOCs. For instance, IIM Bangalore was the first management school from India to partner and create free MOOCs as a part of xConsortium at edX. The faculty shortage cannot be ignored across IIMs as well. “Not only do new IIMs face a faculty crunch during the first few years of their operation, even in old IIMs have the problem as there are specialisations for which it is extremely difficult to get good quality faculty. Only use of technology can solve the problem,” says professor Banerjee.
IIM Rohtak, one of the newer IIMs, for instance, has been using technology in the classroom to address faculty crunch. “We conduct video conferencing sessions from faculty members of global management institutes. It is easier to convince them to spend two or three hours on video conferencing instead of flying them down to Rohtak, and making them lose a lot of time in travelling,” says professor P Rameshan, director, IIM Rohtak.
Online learning has, however, replaced classroom teaching for many executive programmes at IIMs. IIM Calcutta offers certificate programmes enabling working executives to attend classes from their respective locations. Every year, the institute offers 15 to 20 such programmes in general management, finance and software project management. IIM Rohtak too offers an online postgraduate certification programme for working executives.
“We can record a lecture and take it to other places. What we cannot take is the classroom discussion. That’s where one institute differs from the other. However, basic concept remains the same for the theoretical part and students should spend more time on discussions in the classroom,” says Banerjee.
On similar lines, Professor MJ Xavier, former director, IIM Ranchi says, “While there are more than 500 faculty members in the IIM system, there is a shortage of faculty across IIMs. The fault lies in the way we are expanding. We still operate with the industrial age mindset where we are trying to replicate IIMs. Instead we could use technology to reach out to a larger number of needy people with the least resources. By this I am not saying that we can eliminate face-to-face learning. All formats of learning (face-to-face, blended, online and self-study) should be made available.”
IIM Bangalore: Will be launching about 10 MOOCs during the next one year with edX.
IIT Bombay: Offered three core courses on computer programming, thermodynamics and signals and systems that had 10,677, 3,074 and 3,500 enrolments respectively across various colleges
IIM Calcutta: Offers 15 to 20 certificate courses for working executives in online mode
IIT Mandi: About 60 courses were taught to 1,700 IIT Mandi students by other IITs
IIM Rohtak: Conducts lectures through video conferencing to address faculty crunch at the institute
IIT Indore: Conducts virtual lectures and workshops