Interview

Emphasizing the importance of Open Course Ware for Indian Education System : Professor Vijay Kumar, faculty member of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA

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 What is the philosophy of Open Course Ware (OCW)?

Open Course Ware (OCW) is about providing unfretted access to educational resources. From MIT’s perspective, one way to implement this kind of philosophy and vision is to make all its two thousand courses available on web for free. In that sense its not an MIT education as it does not give you a degree, but it provides you a ‘window’ to MIT education, a snap shot for what happens in MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), its courses, study notes etc.

  Can Open Course Ware really transform higher education in India?

If you look at not just at MIT open courses but Open Course Ware consortium and the alliances that have been created around open education resources, it implies that there is real possibility of having a large amount of good education content available and if you do the right kind of things both technically and organizationally, this can be contextualised and localized to meet the educational needs of different sections. Thus, in terms of providing extensive excess to high quality resources, OCW and similar initiatives points to the opportunity to very good educational content being available worldwide.

The other part of the vision is that because it is a global initiative, and the fact that this content is not just MIT or the USA, it has the opportunity to bring high quality content from anywhere in the world. This including the fact that India participation in this movement can actually contribute content it this alliance and to this large global repository.

One thing I want to add here is that when you talk about the vision, it is also about India participating as a key player in the global knowledge economy. This vision is not just about content; this is about setting up a global community of content providers, content consumers or people who are interacting with each other in a global knowledge economy.

  Would you elaborate a little further, can India really come into the picture as a content provider? Technology, do you see India becoming very big player in this whole movement?

Well, when we talk about OCW we have to remember two things, one is content itself and second thing is a model. It would be a wonderful for India to join OCW alliance and the OCW council. Various institutions in India have already expressed interests to participate. One way is, these organizations participate, so we have great initiatives like, Eklavya, which are already producing the key educational material whether video based, or others for consumption both within their institution or to put out to other institutions. Now, following the open model, one of the things you have to ensure is that they provide content in a consistent format, that is complete and that is easily sharable.

OCW produces complete courses. They are also able to take advantage of gaps in their offering by looking at the other offerings that are there and being able to leverage that. So when we talk about the India’s contribution to content, there are already initiatives that are creating content for utilizing the content which are being created for courses. So India can use the open courseware model to make its content widely available within India. It can participate in OCW alliance to not only take advantage of content it does not have, but to make some of its contents available to the world. So, there are the ways through which it can operate both as contributor of content as well as participant in this alliance.

  Is the Indian government taking any concerted efforts on building this kind of movement or participating in this movement? What is the role of the Knowledge Commission in this?

The Knowledge Commission looks at access and quality of education as one of its key charges. It wants to provide really high quality education to meet the needs of the different sectors in the knowledge economy. So we are trying to see how can we leverage and improve current initiatives as well as initiate new ones in order to meet its ambition of providing quality and access to education.

The Knowledge Commission has a lot to do with content access, knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination and e-Governance, because if you look at the knowledge cycle from the creation to the consumption of knowledge, many things come in, and on of the main goal of the Knowledge Commission to really provide excellence in education and improve current structures to provide this kind of excellence.

Again as I said, when you think about India, where a major part of the population is under 25 years old, when you think about various reports that has come from NASSCOM or the Mackenzie report where they talk about the need of IT sector and service sector in 2005, you need knowledge workers in India. India with all its resources and brain power, we needs to make sure that we have the right structures to become a key player in global knowledge economy, even in cases where we have islands of excellence.

  Do you see MIT collaboration with higher institutions in India?

Yes absolutely. It is happening now too through OCW alliance, i-Lab alliance. It happens through initiatives like this. There are individuals who also work or collaborative with individuals. When you talk about institutional kind of collaboration, we want to lead through good assets that we have like i-Labs, OCW projects like this, whole bunch of I- campus projects so what we want. We would like to look at how to enable and support adoption of some of the initiatives and have the players become participants. So works with the knowledge commission offers a very good opportunity to bring some of this initiatives, either directly or as models for India.

  Do you see MIT doing any direct partnership with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) or with state government ?

At this point I cannot say. There are only possibilities. We try to engage them. MIT is a big place, it has research labs, media lab, MIT faculty, there is a lot of collaboration going on. There are research collaboration going on between people in material science department with All India Institute of Medical Sciences and with what I am doing in OCW, and it is through these initiatives we are working together. So at this point there is no direct collaboration with either MHRD or any particular agency. So the unit that we are engaged with now is the National Knowledge Commission.

  What are those new critical factors that are really important for any successful alliance say between MIT and any other institution around OCW?

Open courses rules are pretty simple. One, we want to make sure there is quality content and quality resources. We also want to make sure that it is available in the kind of format that it is accessible to the world. So both in terms of quality and the rules that surround the material, we have to realize that this quality that it is going to be available to the world. The world is going to say how good it is and the world has to see it.

  The opportunities we see are immense but there must be some challenges too. What would you say as the most critical challenges?

Well, one challenge is that how do you really take these materials, which were created for other domains, for example MIT courses being created for MIT students, how do take them, manipulate and modulate them to suit the different context. This is a nontrivial challenge. Now, having said that, I want to say right now people are accessing things as they are and using it. So while the benefits can be tremendous once these materials are actually componentised and used in different context.

At UNESCO, couple of years ago we were talking about localization and contextualization, there were a couple of friends from African countries, who said just give us OCW and we will figure out what we want. So the content is there, some people use it as it is and while some people may want to take it a step ahead. So localization and contextualisation is one kind of challenge.

The other kind of challenge is that of infrastructure. India needs to have a very robust technical infrastructure network. Campuses have to be networked. Some of the simple lessons we learned in innovation diffusion, even regardless of how valuable it is, if it is too difficult to get to the value, people will not be interested. Difficulty can come either through a network, or sometimes the material can be so complex. Now the substance what I have to say got value, but if I had not been able to communicate simply, then you would not have derived the value. So one of the lesson you again learn that if complexities of deriving value is too high, you do not get the value. So innovation does not get adopted and it does not get diffused, as it is only a minority who can deal with the complexity that goes with.

The challenge is also contextualsation. The challenge is to make sure that there are adoptions. How do you create communities that will support earlier adopter of this content? How will you make sure educators will understand? The challenge is technical and organizational infrastructure to support the adoption. The challenge is also building the kind of service architecture such that you can actually support these materials to be used in different context. So all that the good stuffs you create does not become outdated in the next wave of technology. You have to create the content sufficiently separated from actual technology implementation. If you change this tomorrow, which you will, because new technology will come and you want to take advantage of this, your content is not rendered useless.

  Do you see ICT having real transformative power in education?

Indeed, ICT as a delivery mechanism, take, networks makes content accessible, application visible and sharable. Networks enable communities to collaborate and communicate with each other, which has real value in education. ICT today are enabling and transforming pedagogy. I used to design courses in the past where I would think about how do to leverage technology to create highly interactive experience. Use ICT to combine lab exercises- visualization is ICT, rich

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