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Interview series

Prof. Ajit A Diwan, IIT Bombay

Computer Science and Engineering



 

May 2018 (II) By Dr. Veenita Shah

Prof. Ajit A Diwan, from IIT Bombay, has contributed towards MOOCs as an instructor for a course named Foundation of data structures. With his MOOC experience, he presented his views as a teacher regarding the pros and cons of MOOCs, and the divide between the traditional teaching and digital learning.

The perception of experienced teachers in traditional universities, regarding digital learning using technology is important. On his experience of conducting MOOCs, Prof. Diwan says, “It was quite a new experience for a traditional teacher like me who still uses a blackboard in class. In a classroom, we generally go with a rough content matter in mind which materializes spontaneously in the class. However, here the refined content, in form of slides, needs to be finalized before the lecture. The content should be broken down to sub-modules and presented precisely.”

"The students demand for a qualitative assessment feedback, which is important for their conceptual understanding."

While most of the MOOCs provide high-quality university content to students, the experience of spontaneous feedback from students goes missing. “In MOOCs, we receive feedback on student’s understanding of a topic after a week through evaluations. In case the evaluations are not satisfactory, the instructor obviously can’t undo the teaching manner for that topic in the same offering. In contrast, in a classroom, I have the liberty of spontaneously taking a different route on a topic depending on student’s reactions on it,” he told. According to Prof. Diwan, the evaluation strategy in MOOCs is also a misfit for certain courses, where participants need more personalized feedback on their assessments. “In programming courses instructed by me, it is not enough to just evaluate if a program works correctly or not. The students demand for a qualitative assessment feedback, which is important for their conceptual understanding. There is no direct way for instructors like me to resolve such issues as of now, but we certainly need to think in that direction,” he explained. This kind of individual and personalized feedback to learners will also encourage them to successfully complete the course.

Self-paced versus synchronous mode of delivery is one of the major considerations while running a MOOC. Though there is no clear-cut answer to which one of these should be preferred, Prof. Diwan thinks that it depends on the kind of audience taking the course. Different learners react differently to such courses. “Self-paced courses are ideal for self-motivated learners, whereas learners lacking keen interest, and for audience at large, regular discipline should be enforced through instructor-paced MOOC. Blended MOOC will further promote their motivation towards learning and course completion. Additionally, in my programming courses, the subject matter differs greatly from that taught in a regular college. It is targeted more towards the IIT crowd category which may sometimes lead to mismatch in expectations from students. This perhaps result in MOOC drop outs after enrollments due to the nature and complexity of the subject,” he told.

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"The recurrent offerings of a MOOC do not require intensive effort from the instructor, but benefit thousands of learners every time it is offered."

 

Prof. Diwan talked about the structure of MOOCs, which sometimes makes it challenging for instructors to deliver. “The limitations of MOOCs are more in the format of the course since it becomes difficult to break some of the conceptual courses into sub-modules. These small segments may work well to provide them with an overall picture of the concept; however, it may not deliver a comprehensive learning experience for all kinds of courses. Such topics when taught through MOOCs may give a wrong impression of thorough understanding on the subject, whilst there is much more to it,” he told. However, the greatest advantage of MOOCs, which overweighs all the other shortcomings pointed out by MOOCs critics, is obviously its massive reach to learners across geographical limits. With its enormous reach, a fine faculty-developed course can be made accessible to learners across the nation. In addition, Prof. Diwan points out the recurrent offerings of a MOOC do not require intensive effort from the instructor, but benefit thousands of learners every time it is offered.

Prof. Diwan concluded by appreciating the enthusiastic and strong support from the IITBombayX team in his MOOC offerings and course management.