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IIT Bombay's free online lectures
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July 24, 2008

Imagine sitting in the comfort of your home, brushing up on artificial intelligence or quantum physics. And by brushing up we don't mean flipping through a heavy tome that will have you dozing in no time, instead, you are watching a professor at IIT Bombay explain the intricacies of the subject complete with graphical presentations and visual aids.


Sounds made up? Well, thanks to a unique initiative launched by IIT Bombay, IIT lectures have now been made available at the click of a mouse -- and for free!


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Anyone, anywhere in the world can visit the website, check out the schedule and view any IIT lecture of their choice in real time.

Set up by the Centre for Distance Engineering Education Programme (CDEEP), the aim is to make knowledge available, says Rahul Deshmukh, who is spearheading the programme.  


To find out just how the programme works and how students can sign up, Shifra Menezes caught up with Deshmukh at the Powai campus in Mumbai. Excerpts from the interview:


About the programme

Whatever courses are available at IIT Bombay, we make available to the distance education students.


The motivation behind this was the aspirant vs admittant ratio. There are so many aspirants who want to gain admission into the IIT but there are limited seats available. This facility allows anyone to gain the benefit of the knowledge base we have at the IIT.


Secondly, there is a very small difference between 99 per cent and 98.5 per cent but only the student with 99 per cent gets in to IIT. The gap is marginal and huge at the same time. We created this programme to helps this community that is unfortunately unable to enter the IIT, yet is seeking quality education.


The attempt is to make whatever information is available at IIT available outside the IIT. Our motto is very clear: we will make knowledge available.


I would like to mention that apart from the lectures and presentations that we make available to interested participants through the distance education programme, we DO NOT issue any diploma, degree or certificate. It is only the knowledge that is made available and not the IIT degree.


There are options whereby participants can get a grading certificate, however that is expensive and is only recommended for corporate participants. Students from various institutes, educationalists and corporate participants (Wipro [Get Quote], TechMahindra and other corporates have already signed up) all sign up for this programme. MNCs also enroll their employees.


How it began

The programme has been in operation for seven years now, but the previous initiatives were not as far-reaching. Before the videos, we were using satellite technology in our tie-up with ISRO. They provided the bandwidth free and we provided the content free, for the Edusat programme.


The Edusat centres are within various institutes, engineering colleges. So primarily, the service is aimed at their own students for whom it is free. There were six or seven remote centres where one could view the satellite transfers. This made growth and availability very limited.


For satellite telecasts you need a satellite receiving antenna, the student had to go to the institute or centre that was the satellite receiving centre, you were part of the group that attended. So it was a community learning type initiative. Now we have come up with a new idea, which is solo learning. So individuals with a laptop or PC, with an internet connection of 100 kbps can take the course. Previously it was space-dependent, time-dependent, community-dependent, now our new format is 'whenever, wherever, whoever'.


How it works

For the last six months, we have been using the facility of webcasts, which has made the reach global.


All the available courses are listed on the website, for each semester. Students can opt to view them via satellite, webcasts or through video on demand. Five halls are available live, the timetable is available too for each of the 50 courses that we offer. When you click on Hall 1, the course name, faculty name and the video will appear. This service is free of cost. There is no need to register.


While the lecture is taped in real time, we create a virtual classroom, basically to keep students engaged.


Now with webcasts, we have introduced the 'Video-on-demand service' as well, which makes the lecture available at any point of time, for a period of six months. The transmission is live and after the transmission, within one hour it is available on video on demand.


We also offer the value-add pack, which requires a student to register. It costs Rs 1,000 for a semester-long course. You will get video on demand and the learning management system (LMS). The video on demand facility gives you time flexibility that is not available in the free mode. In the free mode, you have to watch it live.


The LMS is a platform where you can interact with the faculty, post your questions and the faculty will reply, the faculty's pdf files and presentations may be also uploaded among other learning aids.


Interested candidates may register online using internet banking with Mastercard or SBI [Get Quote] credit cards.


The response so far

We only keep track of our registered users. Last semester we had five courses, and had about 700 students register per course. That was the pilot project, we didn't advertise very vigorously or promote it since it was a learning experience for us as well. But the success of the pilot has prompted us to go for 50 courses this semester. Now we are saying join us!


The target this year

We are hoping to get around 2,000-3,000 registrations per course. The only problem we can foresee is scalability. With so many visitors to the site, bandwidth will be a problem. So, we have now got an external service provider so that our server is not overloaded.


The team

We have about 50 people on the team -- cameramen, editors, post-production crew, administration and IIT students who are research associates.


Everything is in-house.


The knowledge advantage

Apart from the obvious advantage of making knowledge available to anyone, anywhere there are added benefits.


Generally, the faculty that is taking the class, just enters class and starts teaching. However, when the faculty delivers a course in CDEEP, a live course, he has to be more organised. He needs to be able to publish a schedule -- on which day what topic will be taught. The course is thus more organised. Issues are pinpointed and not as general as they could be -- the world is watching, so that is always a consideration.


The second advantage is to do with professors who are retiring. We are recording and archiving their knowledge and content, so even though legendary professors are moving on, the knowledge is not lost.

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