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Go virtual with a pan-India S&T institute!

 Veteran technical educator, K.R. Srivathsan, has proposed a Virtual S&T Institute to over a critical national shortage of over 200,000 teachers. 
Till recently, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the world’s largest distance education provider, IGNOU and  formerly founder-Director of the International Institute of Information Technology and Management- Kerala (IITM-K), 2001-08, and earlier, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, Srivathsan  is currently based in the national capital region as Senior Professor in the Indus World School of Business - a part of the Career Launcher Education group.  
He  suggests that the'Virtual Institute of Science And Technology (VISAT)' could be extablished under the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) which is coordinated by all the older Indian Institutes of Technology for curricula oriented and refereed video and web content in almost 1000 courses.  We bring you extended sections from his proposal, to stimulate interest in the Indian technology arean in this  important subject.

With almost a million students joining undergraduate engineering education every year in the country and most of the colleges they enter being of recent origin, there is a severe and acute shortage of quality and experienced teachers. The shortfall is in excess of 200,000 teachers and there is no system to prepare and groom them in place. The teachers in these colleges are mostly young and need an environment of continuing education and formal education for career advancement. They further need a collaborative ecosystem of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) to support as well as contribute to the college education in their respective subject areas.
NPTEL is generating quality and refereed video and web-content aligned with the curricula for large number of courses in sciences and engineering for these colleges. These contents are being increasingly accepted and used by significant number of learners across India and the world, the increasing penetration of broadband, mobile and portable Internet access and content playing devices in the hands of students and teachers we are now entering an exciting and potential phase of establishing the Education Grid across institutions, universities and their colleges. In such an Education Grid, we need to synthesize appropriate structures and educational management processes integrated with capacity building of teachers to enable 'Quality Education to All, Independent of Geography.' This proposal is focused on achieving the same and concurrently enhancing the quality of education in sciences and engineering across the country by establishing a 'Virtual Institute for Science and Technology' (VISAT).
VISAT is driven by a whole new framework of Technology Enhanced Learning and Collaborative Education Management (TELCEM) that leverages upon the several ongoing initiatives in the country by the premier institutions like the IITs, Dayalabagh, Amrita Viswa Vidyapeetham (AVV), some of the NITs and IIITs. Some of the NME-ICT funded projects of relevance for the VISAT are:
-National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) – Coordinated by all the older IITs for curricula oriented and refereed video and web content in almost 1000 courses (targeted by 2012) in sciences and engineering areas of relevance to undergraduate and postgraduate education.
-Virtual Labs – under development by several institutions in diverse subjects.
-Pedagogy Project – coordinated by IIT Kharagpur
-Spoken Tutorials by IIT Bombay
All the above are funded under the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s National Mission on Education Through ICT. Of these the first --NPTEL --provides the large base for video and web content aligned with the common curricula for many courses in engineering and sciences. Besides the above we have a great deal of content from various universities across the world, the MIT Open Courseware, iLabs, several FOSS based applications and scientific packages, open scientific databases, Google Maps, Google Sky, digital libraries, ebooks and such others provide a whole new world of opportunities to reinvent our entire higher education system. The technology and education management framework we propose for VISAT is inclusive and allows various possible cloud servers hosted applications, content and SAAS to be integrated in a holistic and comprehensive TELCEM framework.
VISAT APPROACH: The initial objectives of VISAT are based upon two major needs in the engineering and sciences education. The first is the need for continuing education for teachers and professionals aligned with their career advancement in the education and industry sectors. The second is to boost the quality of postgraduate education through flexible M.Tech and M.S. Programmes which in turn will feed bright scholars to pursue Ph.D. In the premier institutions and in the affiliating universities. We propose to establish VISAT through the following steps. 1. Develop and commission the appropriate TELCEM framework for VISAT courses management. 2. Develop a system of 'Education Passbook' records management for students. Education Passbook will enable accumulation of credits leading to appropriate PG Diploma, and postgraduate degrees over time in interdisciplinary and multi-institutional driven systems of education. 3. MHRD to enact necessary legislation constituting the VISAT (it may choose an appropriate name for the university) as an institution offering courses in flexible mode with necessary statutes and ordinances. 4. VISAT will focus on Postgraduate programs starting with PG level 'Certificate of Proficiency' using NPTEL Courses for teachers in the colleges. The system of evaluation and assessment in these courses will be based upon the kind of cognitive and practical skill sets needed in teaching and conducting such courses. By cumulation of credits in Certificates of Proficiency, the teachers (and HR persons in industry and other organizations) may be declared formally as Certified Instructor in specific areas. 5.Commence M.Tech. / Executive M.Tech. and M.S. programs for teachers and employed professionals in the subject areas of their qualification. 6.Promote Ph.D. enrolment by identifying potential teachers with good performance in the VISAT PG programs to extend their study by registering and pursuing their Ph.D. under any premier institution.

We further ensure that VISAT does not become one more isolated institute or university. Since it offers programs over a National Education Grid where connectivity is provided by the NKN, NME-ICT and other broadband initiatives, we propose interfaces between VISAT and existing universities, deemed universities and institutions. We shall posit ways of making VISAT strengthen the technical and regular universities in making effective use of NPTEL in their education programs.
Particularly important for VISAT is defining and managing effective quality assuring education management framework that integrates the developments in the Pedagogy Project and Virtual Labs into the total 'Open Distributed Technology Enhanced Learning', or, (ODTEL) environment. The ODTEL environment is quite different from the existing 'Open and Distance Learning', or ODL that comes under the broad purview of the Distance Education Council (DEC) and IGNOU. VISAT from the very outset should be independent of the DEC purview as the latter is yet to catch up with state-of-the-art TELCEM systems, pedagogy and standards in education management. We present next the approach and methodology for VISAT and its programs.
CONTOUR AND METHODOLOGY: VISAT will be commenced as a postgraduate virtual institution that offers programs and courses for teachers and working professionals in flexible mode. It will have a strong development oriented R&D in educational technology as well as supporting the TELCEM related services.

The functional view of VISAT is based upon the following premises: VISAT is envisaged as an institution that will be initially driven as an autonomous (virtual) institution supported by the consortium of the seven established IITs and the IISc. As a precedence, we may note that IIT Kanpur was initially supported by a consortium of nine leading universities of USA under the Kanpur Indo-American Program. VISAT will be set up as an institution under the IIT Council. VISAT will co-opt the services of experts and eminent academicians from any institution, industry, R&D organization or retired persons as required to conduct its courses and develop the courses. The direct certificates, diplomas and degrees given by VISAT will be at the postgraduate level. Each IIT / IISc will have HD quality classrooms, video recording, streaming and associated facilities that is an extension of the present NPTEL facilities there and connected over the NKN to service the VISAT programs. Each IIT/IISc will support about 12 VISAT Study Centres (VISAT-SC) in its geographic neighbourhood. This will make about 100 Study Centres. Each Study Centre will be equipped with HD quality Remote Classroom set up and associated servicing facilities. VISAT will conduct courses using appropriately blended modes of online (centrally delivered online lectures), tutored video instruction, asynchronous web-interactions, offline listening of video lectures, etc. All announced courses will have credits associated and justified by a structured and calendered 'Course Pedagogy and Management Plan' (CPMP) published in the Vedyadhara Open Education Framework. CPMP is a critical instrument required to manage the course events and effectively synchronize course events and activities across multiple centres. CPMP will also justify the credit units associated with the course. CPMP will be developed by a team of Subject Matter Experts. CPMP may be reviewed and updated by SMEs before the next semester when it will be offered.
We next describe briefly the Vedyadhara Education Management Framework for VISAT.
Taking into account the NPTEL, Pedagogy Project, global developments in OERs, Open Technology, Open Knowledge Initiatives by leading universities like MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and many others, we need a TELCEM framework that will allow each course to pull in such content and resources as relevant to the conduct of its educational processes. Further we need Subject Matter Experts (SME) to spell out the educational processes and their sequencing in each course as appropriate from the pedagogic perspective. There are several levels of activities when we develop, deploy and manage any course. In a distributed education environment as envisaged in the multi-campus courses management, we need to have a whole suite of software systems and services. These services are to be managed over the complex mix of cloud mounted applications and services, the mass media management, the portable and mobile environment and the events driving processes. Hence it is not enough to think of different aspects of TELCEM like content, LMS, classes, social networking, resources access, etc. in isolation, but ensure that the interdependence of these component areas are managed effectively and concerned learners and teachers are engaged and participate in the stipulated activities as well as such asynchronous interactions and in group learning activities. We refer to this extended paradigm of education management involving open technology, open content and open learning resources a the Vedyadhara Open Education Framework, or VOEF. VOEF is an extensible framework that supports the four critical dimensions of education management in practically paperless ways, namely (a) A back office for the SME team and invited relevant officials to manage the formal processes of course approval, curriculum review, course related contents and documents repository, Academic Council related approval processes, etc. 
This area will also help manage the version control of the course materials or even their components. (b) Building and managing a comprehensive database system with federated databases like the students registration record, the teachers, teaching assistants, resource persons of different kinds, VISAT-SCs, SMEs, web-mentors, etc. These federated databases will be linked through a Data Model that is critical to support precision databases driven services like events alerts, individual learners support, alerts to teachers and ensuring their participation in course events schedules, etc. Such back end database management is essential for managing events, alerts, counselling and records over a geographically and courses-wise distributed set of students and others. (c) Course Community Dashboards – one for each program (we call it as Open Program Guide) and for each course in the program (Open Course Guide) that will provide the homing pages for them and allow different groups – teachers, teaching assistants, students, passive learners, web mentors, citizens at large, etc. To navigate themselves for providing or accessing every category of service or interaction they seel or need. 
These Community Dashboards will have back end links to any relevant component systems and their services like Course Community Wikis, LMS, Virtual Lab, contextualized library, etc. (d) Management of mass media, social networking, blogs, community alerts, etc. In appropriate contexts of the program and its courses constitute the fourth major area of services in the community driven and participating learning management.
The four quadrants of program and courses management together is referred to as the Vedyadhara Open Education Framework (VOEF). VOEF was evolved over the last ten years of developments in the Kerala Education Grid, KISSAN Kerala, close observations of users social behaviour in NPTEL and independent initiatives in IT enabling of IGNOU's programs.
In the context of VISAT, VOEF fills an important management gap in today's approaches to education management. Present systems like typical university managed virtual learning management and LMS address managing education communities for an 'Intranet' paradigm. However, with the kind of geographical, institutional, VISAT-SCs and the kind of learners and teachers engagements that has to be managed over the converged multimodal services network.
VOEF may be built using almost entirely using FOSS based software suites and it may also link to proprietary services supported by third parties as may be required in different courses. Our next challenge is establishing and managing over the distributed VISAT environment quality assured pedagogy and course management processes. This is discussed in the next section.

A vexing problem in Indian affiliating university education system is in the area of managing the quality of education. Presently education has been reduced to preparing students for mass university examinations where the teacher is reduced to conducting classes to coach the students for such examinations. This goes against the grain of essential principles of any good pedagogy. This has resulted in the entire university based higher education system into and administered enforcement of persistent mediocrity. Unless this situation is appreciated and we understand quality assurance in education, India's education will not be of global standards 
In the context of VISAT, we propose the following approach. First is the need for embedding the pedagogy into the educational processes of course management. Second is developing what we may call as 'Community Instrumentation' using an active template that we refer to as the 'Course Pedagogy and Management Plan' (CPMP) for each course that is posted on the Open Course Guide (OCG) the management aspect of courses management over the VOEF in which we have to embed quality assuring processes.
In the present scenario of India's education system we need a few critical issues to be addressed. The first is the crying need for grooming teachers. The vast numbers of new colleges and almost a few hundred new universities getting added are facing acute shortage of quality and experienced teachers. With NPTEL and the IITs backing the VISAT, the first program to be launched should target postgraduate level teachers education. The number of teachers to be trained in technical education alone will be in excess of 2 lakhs.
Concurrently we may start Executive M.Tech. for employed professionals and those graduates seeking career advancements. Thirdly we shall offer M.Tech. In Engineering Education for teachers in blended mode of some courses in flexible mode and add concluding courses with projects in identified postgraduate institutions. By identifying those who perform well in the PG program for teachers we may extend them to do Ph.D.
VISAT will also work to build capacity in TELCEM for the working professionals in the colleges, universities and the HR development segments of the industry. Through the trained teachers, working with the affiliating universities, VISAT will make a deep impact in  enhancing quality and inclusion in all of higher education.
1. Washington Accord: Essential spirit of Washington Accord is described in the paper, “Graduate Attributes and Professional Competencies”. The latest version may be downloaded from  
2. “Balridge Education Criteria for Performance Excellence” is a document under the Malcolm Balridge Quality standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Though it is USA specific, it provides effective approach to assess educational institutions on parameters of relevance to providing quality education. It may be accessed from:  
3. Toru Iiyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar, “Opening Up Education”, Book published by MIT Press, 2008. E-Book version may be downloaded from the Internet. 
4. National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL): Details may be had from:  
5 Virtual Labs: Visit  Virtual Labs is a project funded by MHRD the NME-ICT. (The project aims to provide online accessed virtual labs for performing experiments and practicals in remote mode for education in sciences and engineering). 
6 K.R. Srivathsan, “Management of Refereed Content Generation and Utilization in Formal Education”, Global Journal of Flexible Systems Management, Vol. 4, 2003, Download from  
7. K.R. Srivathsan, “Future ICT Infrastructure for Education”, The ICFAI Journal of Infrastructure, Vol. III, No. 4, Dec. 2005. Download from  
9. K.R. Srivathsan, “Open Distributed Technology Enhanced Learning (ODTEL) – A Unified e-Learning Framework”, Download from  
10. K.R. Srivathsan, “Invitation to ODTEL”, 2009, Download from  
11. K.R. Srivathsan, “Reaching E-Learning to the Unreached Through Technology Enhanced Open Learning”, Circulated Paper in IGNOU, Aug. 2010.