The need for improvisations in software applications to cope with the rising demand for technological intervention in teaching and learning environments, disability studies, e-governance, forensic and defence sciences cannot be over emphasised. But what is necessary is the implementation of these changes in an integrated environment, and their modelling in the real world.
The way forward is the successful infusing of achievements in the academic field with technical expertise in real time systems — this was the point of focus at the IEEE international conference on Technology for Education (T4E) at IIT-Madras. The conference held recently had experts in technology sharing some of the state-of-the art technologies and insights into the latest research in the area of technology in education.
The speakers also discussed online examination frameworks possible in the country. Applications such as OnlineTT that provides content in various languages to facilitate online learning and evaluation were discussed.
It might be an accepted fact that accessibility to quality education will no longer be a far-fetched dream once the digital divide is broken, but how would laboratories and other working platforms be made online? Various dimensions to this concern were also brought to the fore in the event. The penetration and availability of technologies such as mobile phones, television and computers among the masses, coupled with some of the ingenious technologies presented in the conference, will improve accessibility to a great extent.
Pointing to the pedagogic lacuna, speakers said engineering students were rarely engaged in active learning and interdisciplinary studies. The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) is one such venture where the lectures from some of the top institutes in the country are available in the public domain. Speaking about it, M. S. Ananth, dean, IIT-M, said the programme was aimed at providing detailed and supplementary curricula to students enrolled in science and engineering institutions across the country. “It will fulfil the needs of learners with diverse backgrounds and expectations, and also train young faculty in educational institutions,” he said.
Critically evaluating the programme, Jayanti Ravi from the government of Gujarat presented a paper that emphasised the need for more choices of standardised courses and local language-based versions of the programme. The scaling up of NPTEL into a Virtual University Model was also proposed by many of the speakers. Experts from other countries shared their knowledge to help take forward the setting up of virtual universities in the country that would grant degrees and diplomas through the electronic media.
Some of the most advanced pedagogies enable group studies or seeking the advice of your mentor from a far flung land, submitting assignments or sharing notes anywhere anytime. In this context the need to shift focus from e-learning to m (mobile)-learning and further the u-learning or ubiquitous learning was also highlighted. U-learning adopts the mobile devices for learning. The learning can be accessed everywhere, anytime with any kind of presenting device. But it is equally important in this technology to transform the contents so that a range of handheld devices can support it, the speakers asserted.
Such technologies would be a step beyond passive learning, as they will enable active participation of the learners in the form of instant feedbacks, quick questioning and so on.
Addressing the shortage of experienced faculty caused by the “explosion of education institutes,” Surya Kiran Reddy and Sandhya Kode from International Institute of Information Technology presented suggestions in developing content using ‘learning by doing' methodologies. The focus of the presentation was making engineering graduates “employable” and bridging the gap between the rote learning that the education system largely focuses on, and equipping the teachers and engineers with necessary technical expertise.
The highlight of the event was on the need for using technology in the field of disability, either to create more technologically advanced assistive devices that help in reading, writing and visualising, or improving gesture recognition for sign language. “But the research in this area is still in its nascent stages and the various presentation would be an inspiration to carry out more research for this significant section of the population,” said Mangala Sunder Krishnan, General Chair, T4E.The design for software tools need to be made more advanced for effective summarisations to help persons with dyslexia understand the content better, said K. Nandhini and S.R. Balasundaram, from NIT, Tiruchi. Tailor-made applications depending on the severity of the problem for dyslexic learners and use of e-learning to aid students with memory problems would definitely help, the presentation concurred.