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Classes Go Hi-Tech

How technology has transformed the way educational institutions function

Classes Go Hi-Tech

Illustration by Raj Verma

Institutes of higher education in India have been looking beyond physical classrooms and paper-pen assessments for a long time. In spite of this, adoption of education technology, or EdTech, did not become a huge trend. The Covid-19 outbreak has changed this. As the pandemic forced education institutions to abandon face-to-face teaching, educators turned to technology for everything, right from conducting entrance exams and course delivery to assessments and managing their knowledge repositories. Digital whiteboards, hybrid classrooms, adaptive tracking camera systems, display equipment and audio-visual technologies are the new buzzwords at education institutes.

"Today, India finds itself doing well in the global EdTech Index with Bangalore and Delhi at 7th and 14th positions, respectively, globally. While the EdTech space had been growing at a steady pace over the years, the pandemic accelerated this growth, making way for a massive expansion in the sector," says Raj Mruthyunjayappa, MD & SVP, International Operations, Anthology Inc, a global company which sells solutions that augment classroom learning.

According to RBSA Advisors, India's EdTech market is estimated to be close to $700 million. It is expected to touch $30 billion in the next 10 years. "There is higher demand for technology in higher education than school education. Most higher education institutions are investing in EdTech solutions to facilitate better learning and assessment," says Chandrashekar Ramanathan, Dean of Academics & Faculty In-charge Computing, International Institute of Information Technology, Ban- galore (IIIT-B).

Course Delivery

Premier institutes such as IIIT-B have been enhancing classroom experience using tools such as smart boards for years. IIIT-B, for instance, introduced its first smart board in 2006. It started live-transmitting classes to multiple classrooms in 2001. Around 2010, it, along with other leading institutes, adopted Learning Management System (LMS), a software for creating, distributing and managing educational content. This remained on institutes' internal servers and available on intranet. The pandemic has forced IIIT-B and others to put LMS on the internet so that it can be accessed from anywhere. Even the Karnataka government is rolling out a unified LMS for government institutions.

"Although the concept of blended learning focused on online tools in initial years, there still existed a significant component of instruction which was synchronous (live interaction between teacher and students, online or in-person). This was soon to be transformed into an asynchronous mode (no live interaction between students and teachers). Here, the content is pre-recorded in high-quality video/audio format. The LMS aids delivery of content and enables each student to learn at his/her convenience," says Professor Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM-Indore.

"While institutions have been using LMS, email and collaboration tools over the past decade, Covid-19 has given a fillip to digital transformation in higher education. Virtual classrooms enabled by Zoom, apart from short videos, simulations, case studies in virtual classes and polling apps are some of the tools being widely used to extend physical class to a virtual setting," says Shailaja Jha, Associate Professor & Area Head, Information Management at Bhavans SPJIMR. Bhavan's extensively uses video-conferencing tools (Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Meet), instant messaging tools (WhatsApp, Telegram) and educational apps (Google Classroom) along with platforms such as Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams. Similarly, Gurgaon-based MDI is using Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams, besides Zoom and Webex. "We have also adopted Impartus, which offers interactive smart classes, in our learning system," says Prof. Sangeeta Shah Bharadwaj, Chairperson, Digital Infrastructure, MDI Gurgaon.

The penetration of internet and advancements in LMS software have also paved the way for the spread of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), which have been helping lakhs of students attend lectures from universities around the world. The government and AICTE, too, have been encouraging MOOCs through an initiative named SWAYAM. Coursera For Campus provides access to content from over 200 top universities and industry educators, helping higher education institutions enhance their curricula with critical skills. "Since its launch in October 2019, over 4,000 academic institutions, including leading Indian ones like Manipal Academy of Higher Education, NMIMS, Shiv Nadar University, UPES-Dehradun, Pearl Academy and KL University, have used the platform to provide industry-relevant online learning to their students, faculty and staff," says Raghav Gupta, Managing Director, India and APAC, Coursera.

Knowledge Repository

Deccan College, a postgraduate research institute in Pune, made available its wide collection of ejournals and ebooks for students. These included ebooks made available by National Digital Library through INFLIBNET, the South Asian Archive and the World ebook library. INFLIBNET, or Information and Library Network, is an autonomous inter-university centre of the University Grants Commission. The South Asia Archive is an online digital archive with millions of documents ranging from mid-18th to mid-20th century.

ibraries of higher education institutes today have more digital than traditional resources. US-based EBSCO, a provider of library solutions, McGraw Hill Education and DELNET (Developing Library Network) have helped Lovely Professional University make available to students its repository of over 2.5 lakh e-resources, e-books, e-journals, e-magazines, e-research papers, along with other study material by hosting their URLs. IIM-Rohtak, Bennett University, Dehradun Institute of Technology, MDI-Gurgaon, UPES-Dehradun, Rajiv Gandhi Proudyogiki Vishwavidyalaya, Visvesvaraya Technological University and Indira Gandhi Agricultural University are some of the institutes that are accessing Bangalore-based KopyKitab's digital collection of ebooks & branded digital content. KopyKitab has recorded over eight million organic downloads. "Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are being used to get insights about students, their behavior, study patterns and consumption," says Sumeet Verma, CEO & Co-founder, KopyKitab. This helps KopyKitab identify specific needs of students and make more accurate recommendations on the basis of factors such as language, city, campus, grade level and renting history.

Focused Learning

Technology is playing a role in improving learning outcomes too. For instance, BML Munjal University is personalising the learning experience by using smart books by various publishers, including Tata McGraw Hill and Pearson. It uses AI bots to monitor students' academic performance, proctor exams, suggest choice of electives/specialisations, even track attendance. Analytics and AI/ML and augmented reality/virtual reality are also helping educators track the extent of students' engagement with the study material. Jaskiran Arora, Associate Dean-Academic Operations, BML Munjal University, gives an example. "The smartbook prescribed for Human Resource Management tracks the number of minutes students spend on reading a topic. It tracks responses to multiple-choice questions and allots more practice questions from topics that students get wrong. It makes the entire experience customised for the student," says Arora.

Similarly, platforms such as Coursera offer personalised search and discovery, AI-driven learning features such as In-Course Coach, Smart Review Material and Goal Setting to help learners succeed, apart from a mobile app that enables course downloads and offline learning for those with limited connectivity.

hat is not all. "There are several major areas that are being targeted by EdTech players like predicting learning needs on the basis of assessments, personalised learning, building learner-tutor networks and platforms and gamification of learning," says Kamlesh Vyas, Partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP, adding, "VR applications can make learning immersive, especially in knowledge areas where actual situations are difficult to create, while AR can add to the ease and depth of learning in a real-life/laboratory setting." Educators are also using analytics to decide curriculum, pace and sequencing of learning.

Most premier institutes have also been using online video conferencing solutions such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex for collaboration among students. Ment.io's app for Microsoft Teams is also being used for peer to peer collaboration. Bhavan's has opted for Padlets. Students use these platforms to cooperate for projects, solve simulation exercises, work on cases or consult a client

Online Tests/Assessments

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been widespread adoption of online assessment examination engines using application-oriented and quiz-based question papers that also cover short case-based scenarios. Institutes, including IIM-Sambalpur, IIM-Calcutta, NMIMS, Christ University, IIM-Lucknow, BML Munjal University and IFIM Business School, are using Mercer | Mettl's remote proctoring and online examination solution. "We help these institutions conduct end-to-end examinations, create question banks, including chemical and mathematical equations, upload large-format answers through scanning QR codes, apart from AI-based remote proctoring, evaluation and declaration of results," says Siddhartha Gupta, CEO at Mercer | Mettl.

Paperless Admissions

Even before the pandemic, the admission process in most higher education institutions had gone online. Right from the point where the student expresses interest in the university, fills the form, pays the application fee, speaks to the counsellor and finally gets enrolled, the entire journey at BML Munjal University has been automated by LeadSquared. Similarly, IMT Group of Institutes, IMI-New Delhi, REVA University, Bangalore, and ADAMAS University have been using NoPaperForms for automating admissions. Start-ups in this space use AI and ML to verify student certificates. Interviews are also conducted virtually. Moreover, most entrance exams are now computer-based, which helps managements avoid issues like cheating, paper leaks, lost answer sheets, negligent or unfair evaluation, etc. "It has also helped authorities save considerable time and resources which previously had to be spent to conduct physical exams," says Nishant Agarwal, Founder, Proctur.

Future: Hybrid Classrooms

At the beginning of the pandemic, West Bengal-based private ADAMAS University used Google Classes, and moved to Microsoft Teams for online classes and TCSion for uploading all learning resources. Over the last quarter, it has been migrating to the CANVAS platform, used by Ivy League universities. However, going forward, a blended approach will be adopted. "So, physical plus digital (Phygital) will continue. Use of LMS for academic delivery, proctored online exams, Microsoft Teams or Zoom or Google Meet classes will continue. But practical work, group work, lab or studio based tests, etc, will be physical," says Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury, Pro Vice Chancellor of Adamas University.

@nidhisingal

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