The National Seminar on e-Learning & e-Learning Technologies concluded yesterday in Hyderabad in the JNTU campus. It was good to attend a conference on eLearning after very long. The ELELTECH India 2009 national conference was organized jointly by CDAC and JNTU.
The high point of the conference was the speech by the chief guest (Prof Ananth, Director IIT Madras). He talked about the need for experiential learning as the key to effective learning. He shared his vision of education for all and how the NPTEL program was working towards this vision through the virtual IIT classes.
NPTEL was certainly the theme on day one! Every speaker highlighted the effort dedicated to this project. The fact that MHRD has sanctioned around Rs 400 crore to this initiative made everybody in the room sit up and take notice.
Well, ELELTECH will soon release the highlights of the seminar including the talks on their website so I'll stick to a critical appreciation of the seminar.
Things that were good:
1) Good panel of speakers: It was a privilege listening to the speakers as they shared their experiences, practices, and visions. Here's a highlight of some of the interesting and passionate sessions:
a. Prof Mangala Sunder Krishnan (IIT Madras), who presented NPTEL in detail. It was great to get an insight into how they have conceptualized, planned, and executed this mammoth program. The next steps forward are evaluating the effectiveness of the program, gathering feedback from learners, teachers, and viewers, and more importantly building other instructional activities around this program. For example, creating certification programs, lab exercises, simulations, etc.
b. Prof Sahana Murthy, Assistant Prof, CDEEP, IIT Bombay: She presented a unique initiative by IIT Bombay called OSCAR. She used the project OSCAR case study to describe what makes eLearning successful. Despite some technological glitches at the venue, we could see interesting web-based interactive animations used to create a more engaging and challenging learning environment for students.
c. Prof Kavi Narayan Murthy, University of Hyderabad: This was an interesting presentation exploring the opportunities and challenges involved in using eLearning as a tool for language learning. He presented the toolkit developed by his group for Indian languages.
d. Ms Jhumpa Ghosh Ray, director Change Initiatives: She presented her experience about installing an eLearning device called Kyan in 65 state run schools in rural Bengal; the positive impact of this experiment on student turnout, teachers motivation, and overall learning effectiveness.
e. Dr Vinod Joshi, SKS Microfinance: This was the highlight of the second day when Dr Joshi presented the 3-tier review model for eLearning modules. He emphasized the need for an iterative review process where reviews should be performed in relationship with all other activities.
2) Wide coverage of presentations: There were presentations about eLearning technologies, glimpse into the latest work done on the educational campuses (open source learning systems, video conferencing tools, and innovative learning tools), best practices in corporates like Honeywell, innovations in learning technologies for the visually challenged, and other trends in eLearning.
3) The conference had talented speakers and practitioners from all industry, academia, and non-profit sectors.
Things that could be better:
1) Quality of presentations could be more consistent. There were great presentations while some of them were very basic and some were really poor. In a world-class seminar of this magnitude, there is a need for tighter and more stringent quality regulation.
2) Categorization of sessions: While the program schedule had pre-defined session titles and objectives, not all speakers/presentations adhered to this tightly. For example, during a session on Quality Assurance and Standards, we had a presentation about an open source eLearning platform, Brihaspathi, developed by IIT Kanpur. This was an amazing tool and a good presentation by Dr Y.N. Singh, but it didn't fit into the session category so it was an abrupt shift from QA discussions held through the session.
3) Over-emphasis on technology: Well people may disagree with me, but there was an over-emphasis on technology and not on learning. Also not all technology aspect was directly related to eLearning. Therefore these sessions seemed more like internal classroom presentations about what the department is dabbling with rather than cutting edge innovations in eLearning technology. Wish these were filtered early and quality monitored!
4) Parallel sessions: In conferences like these that cover a wide range of domains within one broad domain, it's a good practice to have parallel sessions. People can pick and choose the sessions they want to attend and make the most of their time that they spend at the conference. In fact, this makes the sessions more focused, interactions more defined, and exchange of information much better.
5) Balance between industry and academia: The seminar was more inclined towards academic world. Since most of these initiatives will affect adults, working men/woman, and students as they step into the industry, there should be more representation from the industry about research and innovations.
6) Lacking in innovative approach: It was ironical that a session on eLearning technologies was technically backwards! There was no innovative use of time of the great speakers who had gathered there. The breaks could have been used more imaginatively, web 2.0 technologies could have been used better.
- There could have been live streaming of the sessions, could have given it more reach and credibility
- There could be free wi-fi for people who would want to twitter and blog about the sessions
- They could have organized tables with ports and encouraged people to present to groups in an informal setting during breaks.
- The sessions should have been more interactive. People were bursting with questions to explore and discuss, but were cut short by the facilitators and moderators for lack of time.
- Since the objective was to enable people to share and interact, this could have been a conscious effort at all times. Maybe some imaginative ways to facilitate that.
7) Time allocation: Poor time management can be a pain point for all! Especially when you have spent money and devoting precious time attending a conference. Organizers must pay special attention to better time allocation and time management. In a sequential presentation format, it is obvious that time encroachment of one session can have a ripple effect on the schedules of others. Therefore, ideally inform speakers in advance about the maximum time they can spend on their sessions; and adhere to it closely irrespective of whether its an invited speaker, key note speaker or a chief guest.
Having said this, organizing a seminar is not easy and it involves more than a year's effort to organize something at this scale. Hat's off to CDAC and JNTU for executing this as best as they could. I hope the above points are taken as feedback to ensure that these seminars are a delight for attendees and participants!