IIT Madras start online learning program

IIT Madras to start online learning program

Didn’t make it into IIT this year? Don’t worry, you can still get an IIT education – on YouTube. In a few years’ time, you could even pick up a virtual IIT degree.

IIT-Madras is in the forefront of putting together an online learning programme that may soon lead to distance education graduates from India’s most prestigious technical institutions.

For the last five years, the National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) is creating material for 239 courses (equivalent to more than 9,500 hours of lecture) in core sciences as well as mechanical, civil, computer science, electrical and electronics and communication engineering, and making them available in web and video format.

NPTEL is a joint venture between the seven Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science, funded by the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development.

While 129 courses are available on the NPTEL website (http://nptel.iitm.ac.in) in HTML and PDF formats, the 110 video courses are regularly broadcast on DD Eklavya. This year, NPTEL is putting these 110 courses on YouTube (www.youtube.com/iit).

More than half the courses are already available.

“This will create the world’s largest repository of technical courses in the streaming video format,” says Mangala Sunder Krishnan, a Chemistry professor at IIT-M and the national web courses coordinator for the NPTEL project.

He is already thinking of the second phase of the project, which aims at covering all engineering and physical science disciplines with an additional 500 courses over the next three years.

The Rs.60-crore project, expected to be approved by MHRD within the next six months, will bring in the National Institutes of Technology, Central universities and other reputed universities, says Dr. Krishnan.

“We also want to integrate the web and video elements and explore the interface of multiple screens in the next phase,” he says.

Interactive elements such as chat are also being considered.

“This will lead to distance education in the long run,” says Dr. Krishnan. He expects by 2010, when almost 800 courses are in the repository, the IITs can start offering virtual degree programmes.

“We want to start the online programme in 3 to 4 years.We need all the IITs to agree to offer [it] collectively as one unit.”

To meet India’s needs, the IITs need to expand their reach to at least 40,000 students.

While seven new IITs were announced this year, physical campuses are becoming harder to establish due to paucity of land, funding and most of all, faculty, says Dr. Krishnan.

For the 2.3 million engineering students in the country, at least 150,000 teachers are needed.

However, there are less than 10,000 with M.Tech degrees available, he points out. In such a scenario, virtual learning is the way forward.

Apart from the repository of courses being built by the NPTEL, laboratories and some facilities for limited face-to-face interaction also need to be built before a distance education programme can be started.

In the meanwhile, engineering colleges, students and even industries across the country have already started taking advantage of NPTEL’s resources.

“Any student with a poor teacher can still take the initiative to learn from our professors in this way,” says Dr. Krishnan.

The project team has started making the courses available in offline formats as well.

All the web courses are available to private engineering colleges on a set of DVD-ROMs for a one-time payment of Rs.1 lakh.

This month, NPTEL started making the DVD set available to individual students for Rs. 500.

The video content, also available for Rs. 1 lakh, is being put onto three hard drives – one is ready, another will be finished next month, and the third will be available by the year-end.