Learning Beyond Conventional Classrooms: MOOCs

Learning Beyond Conventional Classrooms: MOOCs

Learning in this day and age has become a complex ordeal. Apart from coping up with the college academic curriculum, there're competitive exams to excel in, internships to bag and practical training to master. All this is not just to add a feather in the cap of your resume but a necessity to survive in the rat race placements, college and life.

This is where online learning steps in. Here is to how NIT Rourkela has kept up so far.

MOOC stands for a massive open online course. They are courses delivered online and accessible to all for free auditing. Not only for vocational training but also helpful for clearing doubts and the flexibility with which you can access knowledge at your convenience is an add-on benefit too. Owing to these factors, a few colleges accredit online courses and a few colleges have their online courses (Eg: IITBombayX in IIT Bombay). However, it can not replicate classroom teaching in terms of its interactive space and the discipline it instils.

Team MM conducted a survey to find out what method of learning does the NIT Rourkela crowd prefer.

 

 

The Junta speaks

The stats clearly show a humongous number of students opting for online over classroom teaching. It's ironic that most students have to attend the classes regularly, owing to the inescapable requirement of 85% attendance in every subject, creating a major loophole in the administrative structure of the organization. This along with vested interests of students to explore and learn what is included in the conventional curriculum has made students fall back om online platforms like Coursera, EdX, Udemy, Neso etc.

Speaking about how online platforms cater to the dynamic needs of students, Ishaan Wassan, a pre-final year student associated with Unacademy in the past as an educator says,

Well, technically online teaching helps in portraying a concept in a more student-friendly way. Online teaching doesn't only involve a person reading out the concepts, but with graphical tools, they try their level best to portray the whole concept so that it could be easily understood by the audience.

He further adds:

In comparison to the classroom, it has its own pros and cons. Pros being you can go through a lecture, anytime anywhere. No restrictions on timings and you end up saving the travel time between the classroom and your home/hostel. As mentioned before, graphical tools can aid in a better understanding, that's totally up to the creativity of the educator. From an educator's point of view, almost every educator plans their course and lessons in Advance. This helps in covering topics as per schedule, which is the main drawback of classroom learning as due to external factors, a professor might not be able to complete a course on time. Also, once the online course is ready, it gives the educator the opportunity to refine their students via other material which they can easily prepare due to availability of time.

A student from NIT Rourkela, expressing assent with this strongly, says:

I never really listen to the Professors in the classroom. I've managed to study by listening to online video lectures. If there were no compulsory attendance, I'd barely go to the class.

So, is compulsory attendance the only criterion for students to fall back on online credit platforms? Well, the general nerve of students as gathered by our survey can be put in another student’s words:

It's incorrect on the administration's part to demand time and attendance from students when they fail to deliver sufficient preparation for the curriculum.

Naturally, there are other factors that do contribute to online teaching holding a candle to classroom teaching. When we asked the NIT Rourkela junta to reason out the factors, the results were:

 

One of the important keywords from the above data is Optimised curriculum. The factors among themselves aren’t mutually exclusive. It is the growing demand of a better teaching style combined with the need of the hour (eg: Industry oriented curriculum, time flexibility or competitive exam preparations) to offer a dynamic form of education, that is tailored for all sort of students at their own pace.

The provision of taking courses from NPTEL/SWAYAM which can contribute to the usual credits for students is a proposal which if passed by the senate will bring a revolutionary amend in the academic curriculum of NIT Rourkela much to the ease of students.

ANKCTEL- How far has NITR kept up with the inception of Technology Enabled Learning?

This isn’t a lesser-known fact how much the student fraternity depends on last-minute cramming and binge-watching online lecture videos they find relevant. With the inception of ANKCTEL (A N Khosla Centre for Technology Enabled Learning) back in 2015, a small seed of potential prowess of NIT Rourkela’s quality technical education and information and communication technology was sown. ANKCTEL was meant to set up a bridge between professors and students to bring classroom lectures of professors to our students anytime anywhere. The goals of ANKCTEL were then extrapolated to create a National Digital library, offer workshops, blended MOOC courses, provide video lectures among creating an active learning process, Flip-classrooms and such far-fetched goals.

Four years hence, little has been done to realize these objectives of ANKCTEL. With a redundant functioning website (and old video lectures that do not play), a harrowing budget of only 1.5 lacs (club budgets seem manna here) and a production team of only 5 supervised ably under Prof. Manoj Kumar Moharana (PIC, ANKCTEL), team Monday Morning found a vacuum-sized underdevelopment in the area of Technology Enabled Learning in our very own haven. Professors voluntarily take up making video lectures after advertisements from the ANKCTEL team every year. In spite of the ANKCTEL team’s willingness to accommodate requests, the catch is- the professors have to request first! Well, just 5 courses in this semester being virtualised in ANKCTEL among a hundred floated across all years and branches doesn’t say much about the willingness to switch to e-learning for students. Let’s dig deeper;

Let’s hear what Prof. Moharana has to say

Video lecturing gives an opportunity to a teacher to present his teaching beyond his classroom. This also helps our students to re-learn what has been taught in a conventional classroom as many times as they want. The videos are only available to our students in our institute server. I do not know which website you are referring to as older one. The website is in operation in the last 2.5 years.

Once we showed him how the links are directed to the same old website, Prof. Moharana told Monday Morning about a web developer contracted  2 years back after which his contract couldn’t be renewed and the post not filled since. The lack of a fully-fledged development staff has no doubt created impediments to a functional website at the very least.  A nominally minimal budget of 1.5 lacs and a special grant from the director for a projector this year (1.3 lacs INR alone) has been achieved, but the question is with affordability constraints and lethargic responses from administrative procedures it is evident that NIT Rourkela has to wait to see a fully developed Technological learning-enabled hub unless the process speeds up.

With regards to the reception of ANKCTEL, MM reached out to Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, who is engaged with making video lectures for ANKCTEL this semester. Excerpts:

MM: Why did you start making online lecture videos? How did this idea come up?

SC: Previously, three years down the lane, I was recording some online lectures on fuzzy equations. The primary reason for initializing this was that many students were not attending classes, they didn’t have a proper approach for studying in the classrooms. So I thought trying an alternate approach may pique their interest in the subject and will be effective for them. While recording video lectures even the teachers become more careful and responsible to not go wrong and be precise.

MM: How do you think it benefits students?

SC: There’s a radical change in the approach of students towards learning, so we as teachers also need to reform our teaching methods a bit to make the teaching-learning process cogent. The majority of the students are not more willing to make notes while attending lectures as they can find them later on as well, but they problems understanding the concepts, which is where I feel video lectures can do wonders. No matter where they are, what time is it they can always have access to these lectures. It serves as a credible method for them to revise the subject in the penultimate moments and also for group studies. Moreover, if a student misses any lecture due to some valid reason they can make use of these online video lectures. A student from a different branch/stream, it wants to gain knowledge regarding a particular course that is not taught in the classroom as part of their curriculum can refer to these lectures and be benefitted.

MM: Why are the teachers not coming up to make ANKCTEL videos? Considering this semester only five professors volunteered.

SC: As teachers, we feel satisfied when we get some effective feedback from the students. You can see in the comment section of my video lectures that there students from across the world giving impressive comments regarding the video lectures. These small tokens of appreciation are our gift and motivation to work more extensively in this regard. As of NITR  is concerned, I feel the institute should promote and encourage the professors to undertake this task. They should value the efforts of the professors and there should be some sort of appreciation for their notable work.

MM: In a course of time, do you think these online courses can come up as a potent substitute for classroom teaching?

SC: I believe there should be an amalgamation of both the methods to produce more compelling results. There are many perks of these e-learning processes but I still feel students need to value classroom teaching methods as well. The interaction that occurs between the students and teachers in a classroom is really important and indispensable. There may be a possible reform in the academic process in which an efficacious system should be devised combining both the conventional and non-conventional teaching methods.

MOOC is what students these days want to or have to study from. But the thing is can our education system move to a MOOC based system rather than classroom-based system? This is what Harsh Mohan, an intern who worked on MOOCs of IIT Bombay had to say;

1. When you talk about MOOC it's not just some videos but a complete course with its the curriculum. It does not only involves delivering the content but assessment too. We have ANKTEL in our institute compare that with premier MOOC platforms like Edx and Corsa. They can neither offer that amount of content nor of the same quality.

2. In India, we have NPTEL by MHRD with collaboration with IITs. A simple scroll through its contents would reveal that an unproportionate majority of them are related to technical fields like engineering in comparison to the number of students who are in enrolled with engineering in India. What about the people enrolled with law, arts, medical, music, agriculture, fashion?

Should they not have the capability to leverage the power of MOOCs?

The point that comes in is they do not have the technical resources and technical capability to host their own MOOC platforms.

This is where IITBombayX comes in.

Imagine the massive flow of knowledge this country would see when overnight small state and district colleges and not just the premier technical institutions would have their own MOOC platform on just a set of commodity hardware. It would have, just like MM a Learner's management system for students as well as the Content management system for professors to create courses and evaluate students. IITBombayX is a MOOC platform built and customised by IIT Bombay on top of OpenEdx, the open-source version of Edx. During my internship, I aimed at packaging this platform such that other institutions can set up, customize, host and use their own platform with the least amount of expertise.

- Harsh Mohan

A mass-scale distribution of, not MOOCs but MOOC platform can bring about a change and complete overall of the education system in India. The most important aspect he mentions is that whenever we speak of the MOOC platform, it implies their own platform without having shared interests with the likes of Coursera but at the same time courses being shared amongst institutions.

MOOCs vs Convention Classrom; A win-win?

MOOCs have an edge over classroom teaching methodologies in terms of offering time flexibility to students in completing their courses. But in some cases, we can find students taking this plus as granted and not being competent enough. In contrast, classroom teaching inculcates a sense of mannerism and discipline which isn’t possible with e-learning techniques. There’s a sense of healthy competitiveness that develops among students in a classroom and there are lots of life skills they learn while interacting in a classroom which help them develop an individuality of their own. Interaction with peers in classrooms give room for the emergence of new ideas and curiosities. MOOCs, on the other hand, provide a wide domain of courses to take up. It allows students to learn things of their interest which may not be a part of their classroom teaching curriculum. As every individual is different from the other in their own ways, so is their ability to grasp new things and understand concepts. In classroom teaching, there’s only a one time opportunity to learn things, but what if a particular student doesn’t cope up with it? MOOCs provide a solution for this, as it gives us an ample amount of opportunities to learn and explore. Both MOOCs and conventional teaching methods have their own merits and demerits. For making the teaching-learning process more effective and convenient, its high time to implement certain radical changes. An academic curriculum inculcated with positive prospects from both online (MOOCs) learning methods and conventional teaching methods can be a step towards a progressive change.

 

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