Higher Education: A Virtual Experiment



Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon, experimented with deploying virtual classes technology for one of its program. The objective behind this deployment was to create a classroom experience for students attending classes from multiple locations away from the campus. Hence a typical classroom would have 4 multiple locations including MDI. Around 5-15 students would be at MDI location and one student each at multiple locations.



The institute was looking for a solution that could fit the following requirements:

  • Not just one-way communication but many-to-many communication. Therefore broadcasting of communication was needed. Also, whenever in a class, a student wanted to communicate anything, it should be communicated to all. Students spread across multiple locations can communicate with each other and simultaneously everyone can hear and add to the communication.
  • Sharing of presentation by students as well as faculty.
  • Videoconferencing for off-site students to see faculty and in-class students and vice versa to create a face-to-face classroom experience.

In order to address the above challenges, MDI deployed the following technologies:

  • Cisco WebEx Software: This cost-effective solution is available as a service based on number of licenses on monthly subscription basis. However MDI wanted to include a videoconferencing solution for the classes.
  • People Link Videoconferencing Solution: People Link PVCS Pro is a PC based desktop videoconferencing. With this technology, we were able to implement the most advanced video technology for viewing both meeting participants as well as data collaboration, including live sharing of PPTs, docs, excel sheets, and video files, informs Sangeeta Shah Bharadwaj, associate professor, Information Management and chairperson, Computer Center. Its audio system provided an in-built echo cancellation, background noise suppression, and is highly resilient to network errors common on the internet.


The experience with technology adoption has been a mixed one for the institute. It was realized that the classroom arrangement is not same as the round-table arrangement for meetings. Proper number of speakers had to be arranged for capturing the communication from all the students and broadcasting the communication to all.



It was very convenient for the students who were off-site, they did not have to travel to MDI for attending the classes, especially when students connected for classes from all over India and Singapore. Off-site students just needed a laptop with a webcam and internet connectivity to connect. Thus, except for connectivity challenges at their end, MDI did not face many issues. "Although we faced challenges in training the faculty in adapting to the new technology," adds Bharadwaj. The faculty felt restrained in their movement in the class with this new technology.


Challenges


At times continuously engaging the off-site participants was also a challenge. It is very difficult to replace a real-time classroom with a virtual technology, especially when it addresses management education which is very discussion oriented and interactive. All the participants are active members; always eager to share their thoughts. Thus managing the same through technology intervention takes the steam away from discussions.

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