Susheela Venkataraman, MD, Internet Business Solutions Group, Cisco India
Over the last few years, education has undergone tremendous transformation. As it continues to evolve, Web 2.0 and social networking tools help facilitate collaborative learning in new ways. Delivery of content has also evolved dramatically and today it is possible for students and instructors across geographies to participate in live classes, record the entire classroom experience (including lectures, audiovisual and text materials, and both live and Web-based Q&A interactions) for review by any student or instructor anywhere in the world and conduct virtual meetings using audio, video, and IM tools for knowledge transfer.
Simultaneously, students today are increasingly becoming mobile and technology-savvy and use an array of mobility-enabled devices including PDAs, gaming devices, cameras, phones, and laptops for communication. This connected generation expects access to information anytime and anywhere. Collaborative technology solutions are viewed as key assets to help education institutions meet the needs of this mobile generation cost-effectively while also addressing the requirements of the faculty.
In order to provide enhanced learning experiences and reach students anywhere and anytime, educational institutions can blend interactive audio, video, web collaboration, and instant messaging (IM) tools to create comprehensive distance learning solutions. Integrated into a single, comprehensive platform, these services unlock a world of new opportunities for collaboration and communication among students and staff, and help to create a more engaging learning environment.
Collaborative technology tools help to extend the walls of physical classrooms in both space and time. Employing these tools, students in the small village of Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh, are able to reach out to teachers and tutors in the nearby city to learn English and Maths; without leaving their village. Using collaborative technology, these students get connected virtually with teachers who offer special after school tutoring services for a small fee. While the students get extended support for learning, the tutors can reach out to new learners. These tutoring services are offered to students online either in a group or in a personal setting.
A similar effort has helped students of classes seven and eight in the villages of Bichali, Talmari and Tungabhadra of Raichur to learn English. Employing collaborative technologies and using the network as the platform, teachers from the nearby city are delivering high quality supplementary courses remotely to the students thrice a week, using local vernacular language (Kannada) as the medium of instruction.
Deploying collaborative tools helps schools and colleges to differentiate themselves from their peers and extend classroom learning by offering new, unique learning opportunities beyond what has traditionally been available. By utilizing collaboration technologies, educational institutions are able to reach out to new students and communities, enrich coursework, enhance flexibility, attract the best faculty and create an immersive environment to teach.
A case in point is the Bapatla Engineering College, in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh. The College has deployed collaboration technology to extend the classroom environment and create anywhere, anytime learning experiences. Classrooms have been virtualized with remote broadcast of lectures where learning materials are available on-demand. Collaborative technologies are utilized to stream live sessions conducted by visiting professors and subject matter experts into the classrooms. These lectures can be viewed simultaneously online in both physical and virtual class rooms.
Collaboration solutions are also helping to simultaneously record and archive sessions, which students can refer to at their convenience even from their hostel rooms. The archived sessions are presented to the students over a video portal, that allows them to quickly browse, search, and view information interactively. Collaboration technologies like streaming video, rich media conferencing and telepresence make live distance learning situations interactive. The content is more dynamic when the student can talk to the instructor, ask questions, and offer knowledge from his or her own experience.
Rich media and telepresence
Rich media conferencing technologies provide an efficient, highly secure environment for sharing information. They offer remote students an engaging, interactive learning experience and help educa-tors collaborate and share research with colleagues and institutions across the globe. They also help facilitate meetings, conduct staff trainings, promote faculty productivity and offer remote support. Within a classroom, teachers can use these tools to monitor whether students are giving the class their full attention and ensure that students actively engage in the class.
Schools and colleges that are looking for new ways to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions can employ rich media conferencing to connect and share knowledge across geographies without leaving the campus. By taking advantage of web-based meetings, training, and conferencing capabilities afforded by these tools, educators can enhance communication internally and externally to keep all members of the education community on the same page.
Technologies like telepresence help deliver real-time, face-to-face interaction using advanced visual and audio tools. Distance and time differences evaporate and collaboration among remote groups can advance the learning process. This helps to scale expertise, foster innovation between academic and industry researchers and develop innovative distance learning programs that benefit from in-person collaboration.
Educational institutions facing challenges of fewer resources and increasing demands can benefit from the immersive, life-like communications experience provided by telepresence that is critical to the interactive nature of a classroom. Using this technology, educational institutions can bring teachers and professors together efficiently and economically and create new educational opportunities, such as global classrooms and customized executive education programs.
Virtual learning environments can underpin future changes in teaching and learning environments by merging the potential of student centered learning methodologies with interactive, rich media to create new collaborative educational experiences. Innovative solutions on and off campus can change the way students learn, communicate, produce, and study. Technologies like 'Cloud computing' can make the experience even better. The need of the hour is for a powerful, reliable, expandable, and secure infrastructure with adequate bandwidth like the National Knowledge Network (NKN) to disperse knowledge seamlessly! Such a robust and scalable network allows sharing of e-libraries and virtual classrooms, enhances the reach of education across all barriers-- geographic, social and economic- and creates new opportunities for global interaction.