Open Access to Engineering Education

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The Live Webcast project at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay provides web based distance education solution for  engineering aspirants and benefits those living in remote areas

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By Rahul Deshmukh

The live webcast course at Center of Distance Education Programme (CDEEP) IIT Bombay has been started with the objective of providing quality education in the field of science and engineering, to any willing individual, free of cost. Live webcast courses are ideally suited for individualised learning. They seek to benefit all those who live in remote areas, and those who want to update their knowledge. With the spread of the virtual classroom, CDEEP is proving that distance is no longer an obstacle to learning. The project provides web based distance education solution for those wanting to pursue an engineering degree. 

Why Distance Education?

About 500,000 students enroll in engineering studies in India every year at the undergraduate level which is only 2.5% of the age group. Although only a select group studies engineering, according to McKinsey report, only 25% of the engineering graduates of India are employable. The main reason for this state of affairs is deficiency of quality faculty in the engineering colleges of India. Because of this dismal state, not many students with a Bachelor's degree in engineering are ready to go for higher studies. Moreover, less than 1% of them can hope to enroll in Masters programs. This has resulted in a big shortage of Masters and Ph.D graduates in India.Also, out of the astounding number of students who throng to give the engineering entrance exams, only 1% of the aspirants succeed in getting admitted to the IITs.

Major structural changes are required in order to solve the creases facing engineering education in India. Distance education and the internet are the tool though which effective transformation of the situation can be brought about.

Live Webcast Course

IIT Bombay has been active in distance education for the past eight years with the satellite transmission. In January 2008, IIT Bombay signed a MoU with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to transmit its courses, free and unencrypted, through the satellite EDUSAT. In return, ISRO has agreed to provide free bandwidth. Any institution that has a student interactive terminal (SIT) May receive the courses free of cost, but May not record them without IITB's explicit approval.

The project is basically designed to target the individual as an audience called “SOLO  mode”. It intends to give complete time flexibility through the video on demand service. It also provides off line interactivity through the learning management system.

With the spread of the virtual classroom, CDEEP is proving that distance is no longer an obstacle to learning. The project provides web based distance education solution for those wanting to pursue an engineering degree

 Looking in to the cost and availability of bandwidth in India and to minimise the cost per view, streaming was done on 100kbps so that the common user with 128kbps dialup/broadband connectivity can also participate in the program. With internet being used as the tool for communication, the project has a global reach. The project has also transmitted courses from virtual sets with the best presentation tool like ticker, document camera, presentation, presenter and edutainment  concept. The learning management system gives a platform to the external student to interact with the faculty and other fellow students through discussion forum and chat. All the presentations, class notes, assignments, question paper and sample solutions are made available on LMS. Video on Demand provides the time flexibility for reruns and for better understanding.

The Pilot Phase

The project started with a pilot of 600 students and 32 faculties of different engineering colleges from the state of Gujarat. Five courses were beamed in the pilot phase. Till date more than 100 courses are transmitted on live webcast of different disciplines of science and engineering from IIT Bombay.

The project has more than one lakh beneficiaries including students, faculty, working professionals, researchers and individuals. The Government College of Engineering Poona (COEP) has accepted the courses of CDEEP IIT Bombay as plug in replacement for their regular courses.It has also attracted international participation from countries like USA, UK, Australia, Japan, China, France, Norway, Pakistan, UAE etc. Apart from the educational institutes and individuals, corporate like Wipro Ltd., Persistent, Tech Mahindra Ltd. have used the courses for quality improvement and as refresher courses for their employees. The same service is also being used by the Ministry of Human Resource Development for their teacher training programs.

Project OSCAR

The internet boom in the world today has resulted in the introduction of several educational initiatives for the benefit of the student community. It has now become a prominent mode of instruction for diverse courses meant to be transmitted through distance learning. Technology is now being extensively used and newer opportunities are being explored as a means to support different education methodologies.

However, the dearth of relevant course material is one of the constraining factors in distance education. Even in situations where the content is available, they often tend to be costly and May also lack quality. There has been a severe want of cost effective and high quality software, which would facilitate an interactive setting for students so that they can gain easy access to course material and also provide for a wider dissemination of education.

In this background, Project OSCAR (Open Source Courseware Animations Repository) was launched with the objective of creating a wide repository of web-based interactive animations of different concepts and technologies. Concepts have been taken from numerous quarters ranging from topics taught in school to advanced subjects. Attempt has also been made to translate animations to local languages. Coursewares and animations that have been developed are brought together and transferred to a compact disc at regular intervals. These are then distributed to interested organisations. Material can also be obtained through open source and under the Creative Common license. Students can use and download the material for non commercial purposes.

The Project OSCAR portal enables subject experts, school/ college teachers to register as mentors while programmers and students can register as developers. Mentors suggest topics where animations would be useful. Developers build these animations using the Project OSCAR development methodology and tool kit, with periodic feedback from mentors. Project OSCAR provides communication channels like email, a discussion forum and a bulletin board, for interaction between mentors and developers.

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