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Education Next (The Week Series VI)

Minhaj Zia, Director Collaboration Business, Cisco India and SAARC

Siddharth is a first year engineering student who is sitting along with his batch mates in a lecture hall in Hyderabad listening intently to the screen in front of him. The lecture hall is filled with students like him but has no teachers or professors. Eyes glued to the wall in front, all the students are watching the screen in rapt attention. It is not a cricket match or a documentary that keeps them engaged, but, a lecturer from Dubai. Welcome to Education 2.0, where the physical presence of a teacher is no longer necessary for students to learn.

Like Siddharth, Vikas attends virtual lectures delivered by professors from Singapore as part of a management course from the French Management School INSEAD. Over 90 students from various parts of India, along with Vikas are able to connect with their teachers and peers over high definition video (Telepresence) which has made it possible to extend the classroom environment and create anywhere, anytime learning experience. With classrooms being virtualized and lectures being broadcast remotely, on demand learning is as easy as the click of a button.

Technology in education

The use of technology as a tool to collaborate and change the way classrooms function, arose out of a need to provide education related information to students in remote areas, where there is a huge shortage of teachers and professors. While they continue to serve that purpose, collaboration tools are enabling the students of today to extend their learning environment and attend guest lectures of interest by experts from outside their faculty, besides learning about things beyond regular curriculum.

Next Gen students of today who have the flexibility to access information from anywhere within or outside their campus using their own laptop/mobile phone or Tablet, which are web-enabled, can connect with experts and peers and benefit from a connected education experience.

Technology advancements in video-conferencing and unified communication are making it possible for teachers and professors to deliver lectures to a bigger group of students simultaneously irrespective of their physical location. A case in point is the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, which recently connected four of its campuses-in Goa, Hyderabad, Dubai and Pilani through video and put in place a new model of education that allows students to join live classroom sessions without having to travel.

Similar examples are the Delhi University and the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi which began the first 'Meta University' in the country. Envisaged as a boundary-less education model promoted by the central government, the Meta University will enable collaboration between various institutions via programmes and activities reach out to large number of students and promote joint research.

The ability to share course content in new ways, including video and online communities, helps to promote a more active learning process and create a generation of students that is more engaged and takes ownership in the learning process.

Challenges enroute

While technological advancements enable large sections of students to come under the umbrella of learning, the network infrastructure is of prime importance to enable connectivity. It must be upgraded to levels that will sustain the load of high-definition data exchange. Educationists (teachers, professors) need to become more open-minded to technology implementations. Proper training has to be provided to teachers in collaboration with industry experts either through conferences or seminars so they can be acclimatized to impart education in a better way.

Given the above, various organizations along with the government are working to overcome the hurdles and enable better connectivity and information exchange. The Indian Government has played a significant role and is helping to increase broadband connectivity, which is crucial for Education 2.0, across the country.

What's in store?

The wheels of change are moving fast and the remarkable blend of technology and education will bring an all-round change in the way our next generation absorbs information. This means, the day is not far off when virtual labs will become the order of the day and 3-D black boards will be the norm.

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