E R Ashok Kumar, Vice President, Cisco Services, Cisco India and SAARC
Today's educational institutions serve a large number of students, teachers, administrators, and support staff, all of whom have high expectations for secure, innovative 21st century learning environments. Therefore, schools, colleges, and universities are seeking new teaching methods and inspiring technologies to engage students, bring excitement to the classroom, and contribute to student employability and social equity.
By using the network as the platform it is possible to create solutions which allow students to interact with each other and their teachers anywhere, anytime. In order to provide enhanced learning experiences educational institutions can blend interactive audio, video, web collaboration, and instant messaging (IM) tools to create comprehensive learning solutions.
Integrated into a single, platform, these solutions unlock a world of new opportunities for collaboration and communication among students and staff. In addition to encouraging collaborative problem solving they bring about innovation, and media literacy. Accelerated communications between departments expand the learning community beyond the brick and mortar campus and help to keep faculty, students, parents and staff well connected and better informed.
Collaborative technology tools such as video conferencing help to extend the walls of physical classrooms in both space and time. Using these tools students of classes seven and eight in the villages of Bichali, Talmari and Tungabhadra of Raichur are able learn English by virtually connecting with their teachers in the nearby city. These tutoring services are provided thrice a week, using local vernacular language (Kannada) as the medium of instruction and offered to students online either in a group or in a personal setting for a small fee. While the students get extended support for learning, the tutors can reach out to new learners.
Closer home, the Delhi Public School (DPS) in Bangalore, is able to conduct two-way interactive classes from one room to other rooms in the school by using rich media collaboration on the cloud. These classes can also be viewed by the students of other DPS branches located in different parts of the city. Recorded classes can be posted online to be accessed by the absentees. Parents are provided with a login and password to view recorded classes online, from home and teach their children using the same methodology.
In addition to enhancing the learning process, employing collaborative technology enables better management of campus infrastructure. Solutions that streamline operations, contain costs, and facilitate real-time connectivity on any device help schools and universities to simplify day-to-day management, optimize school operations, drive energy and building efficiencies, and increase the safety and security of their institutions.
However, without the right resources and expertise, simply implementing the latest and greatest educational technologies alone is not sufficient. It is a risky and costly proposition. The basic requirement to enable an institution gain optimum benefits from technology is a robust suite of network services that help various departments, staff, administration and students to be connected on a single platform. Such services must transparently integrate several solutions together and enable the delivery of a broad range of communications platforms to the classroom and throughout the campus, benefiting students, administrators, faculty and staff.
Along with the right technology and architecture, these services can help educational institutes to reduce operational costs, improve operational efficiencies and expand their capabilities. In addition to fostering efficient communication between teachers, students, staff, and parents, they also help to expand training through distance learning and virtual meetings, thereby eliminating the need for travel and avoiding the hassle of bringing everyone to the same location.
While it is true that collaborative technologies help to create interactive secure learning environments for the 21st century, technology by itself is not the answer. A combination of a good architecture, relevant applications and efficient services is required to provide a dynamic collaborative learning platform to facilitate learning in both physical and virtual groups.
Additionally, the general mindset of the educators needs to change and the teaching faculty must learn new teaching methods facilitated by technology. More often than not, they are not open to that idea because the learning curve is very high. Sustained development efforts that involve hands-on, minds-on training will help educators realize the benefits of technology in education and enable more students to learn from facilities outside a traditional lecture-based classroom. Going forward, this will pave the way for students to be effective and successful in their workplace as well.