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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

It's time for digital campuses, says panel

The Hindu. October 18, 2006

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Identifying digital campuses as the way ahead to meet the challenges posed by the "age of networked intelligence," the Oversight Committee on Implementation of the New Reservation Policy in Higher Educational Institutions has shown a model to emulate: the national project for technology-enhanced learning (NP-TEL), being implemented jointly by the seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc.).

Funded by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, the programme is geared to enhance the quality of engineering education by developing over 300 curriculum-based video and web courses. These courses are available to engineering students across the country. The NP-TEL courses are offered under Civil, Computer Science, Electrical, Electronics and Communication and Mechanical engineering streams. NP-TEL was launched on September 3.

In its final report, the Oversight Committee said the campuses had to be prepared with computing and communications infrastructure, ready for use by a "Net generation" of "plugged-in and digital savvy" students.

Interactive learning with computers, the report said, had literally changed the learning paradigm "from linear to hypermedia learning, from instruction to construction and discovery, teacher-centric to student-centric learning processes, from `while in school' to lifelong learning, `one size fits all' learning to customised learning, school as torture to school as fun and from teacher as transmitter to teacher as facilitator." The Oversight Committee report said there was a need for a "mindset change" and the laptop computer had to be seen as an entry device to get connected to the knowledge world in cyberspace. "Every student and every teacher should be given such a device on an ownership basis and the process should be facilitated by bank loans," the panel said.

Education mission

With Information and Communication Technology (ICT) emerging as a key tool for distance education, the report referred to the HRD Ministry's initiative to set up an ICT-enabled National Mission for Education in the distance mode.

IISc., Bangalore, along with all the IITs and some reputed universities are now busy with this project. Six anchor groups have been formed to address certain critical challenges to provide learning opportunities to every Indian using ICT. The anchor groups are focussing on standardisation and formatting of content, pedagogical research, development of very low-cost, low power-consuming access device, IPR issues, digital literacy and virtual labs. To cater for the "Net generation," the report emphasised the need for state-of-the-art information technology-enabled infrastructure. The idea was to connect students to the knowledge world in cyberspace and encourage them to become netizens and members of global cyber families. This, the report said, would help them embark on their own self-exploratory voyages and to enhance their self-learning skills.

Gyan Vahini project

The committee referred to the centrally planned and coordinated "Gyan Vahini" project to establish a "Knowledge Network" linking all major Central institutions. This network, connected by a fibre-optic cable backbone catering to 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps information traffic and with a 30 Tera-byte storage data centre, could be the backbone for countrywide classrooms with lectures retained in "store forward" mode and made available on demand.