Compact and scalable online lectures


Interview series

Prof. P Sunthar, IIT Bombay

Chemical Engineering



 

Apr 2018 (I) By Dr. Veenita Shah

Professor P Sunthar has acquainted us with some of the features of MOOCs, and his experience with it. He has mentored a MOOC named Technical Communication for Scientists and Engineers as the principal instructor, in addition to several other MOOCs as co-instructor. Prof. Sunthar strongly believes in the idea of flipped classroom, which is the underlying concept of MOOCs hybrid platform of IITBombayX. He feels that it helps the students to be more prepared for the lecture if they have at least heard about the involved concepts before they are re-iterated in the class.

Regarding his experience on MOOCs, Prof. Sunthar says, “Due to the lecture time constraints, instructors plan MOOCs lectures much more rigidly. The key points need to be compressed, and the essence of the topic is to be delivered concisely. A good amount of standardization and hard work goes in the process of content preparation and delivery. Since Technical Communication for Scientists and Engineers was a multi-faculty course ( ̴10 faculty), one of the biggest challenges that we faced was the coordination amongst faculty, with their busy teaching schedules. Thanks to the well-greased effort of IITBombayX, which made it all possible in a seamless manner.

"I see it as a complementary approach, and not something to replace the classroom teaching, which of course can’t be scaled up as MOOCs."

When asked on his take on MOOCs, Prof. Sunthar told that he views MOOCs as more like lectures on demand where the students can go through the concept over and over again. “It’s like having a book and reading it anytime. I see it as a complementary approach, and not something to replace the classroom teaching, which of course can’t be scaled up as MOOCs. This concept of short online lectures with its compactness and scalability, reaching out to the masses, is here to stay,” he said.

Courses that are valuable to one learner may not necessarily be appreciated by others. Similarly, different instructors have different views on the several modes of deliveries available through MOOCs. Prof. Sunthar shares his opinion on the same as, “I have not conducted self-paced model; however as much as I have gathered from experience, I feel instructor-paced MOOC in a hybrid model, with a local tutor for discipline and periodic grading, will be much more effective. Unless you are mature enough to follow a disciplined routine, you may tend to drop out of self-paced courses.”

As much as we envisage the online higher education as a chance for educators to expand access to quality education across the world, it is not that simple. The biggest challenge today that our country faces towards online education is the internet connectivity, says Prof. Sunthar. “Many remote areas in India still do not have broadband connectivity. The poor connectivity results in disturbed and interrupted lectures, which gets tiresome. The YouTube doesn’t allow download in MOOCs platform. Such offline functionalities, if rectified and implemented on the MOOCs platform, will benefit towards this open educational resource.”

"“The biggest challenge today that our country faces towards online education is the internet connectivity.”

 

While MOOC providers regularly cite convincing testimonials from learners, in remote locations, who have benefited from their courses, there is a lot more to be achieved to appreciate online learning in impacting the future in education. MOOC providers must promote the cause of online education amongst learners. “Using the carrot and stick approach, the academic authorities should encourage online learning amongst students. In addition, bodies such as IITBombayX should work towards creating visibility amongst the companies to make these courses as certified programs, as per their respective employment and skill requirements. Another consideration, for the MOOC providers, should be to upgrade evaluation and feedback in a more effective and personalized manner, which will interest more learners,” says Prof. Sunthar.

We wait to see the evolution of MOOCs over time. But more than that, it has provided us some great insights into education. Let us hope to learn some of these teachings at scale.