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Learning through collaboration

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DQI Bureau
New Update

BITS Pilani has carved a niche for itself in engineering education over the years. It has topped consistently on many surveys for its academic excellence with a benchmarked course curriculum. BITS Pilani also tops the charts when it comes to institute-industry interface with its wide ranging tie-ups. A good learning environment calls for some of the best of breed technologies, and in line with that BITS is a pioneer when it comes to adopting tech. For instance ‘BITS Connect' program, over the years has enabled it to offer gigabit internet, IP telephony, video conferencing, and wireless access on campus way back in 2002. BITS has leveraged technology infrastructure to bring state of the art knowledge from industry and academia into the campus.

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INTEGRATION PANGS

Unlike core industries, education in many ways is a different vertical with its unique requirements. If we take BITS, it has geographically distributed campuses and this geographical spread has called for seamless integration.

There was the need to enable the alumni to easily connect with all campuses (especially the new ones). Additionally when an alumni or a dignitary visited one campus, students in all campuses could not benefit from their wisdom. If we look at some of the challenges akin to education, from BITS perspective the lack of integration was felt more in cases like when guest lectures from abroad happen, it could be facilitated in only one campus at a time via video conferencing. Since these lecturers did not have time to repeat the same lecture across campuses and hence many students were deprived of knowledge transfer in real-time.

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Other challenges like faculty shortage in higher degree courses/electives and the need for specialized electives was devoid of uniformity across different campuses.

SEAMLESS COLLABORATION

With this backdrop, BITS began to evaluate integrated solutions that could facilitate next-generation learning experience for its students across geographies. A very detailed evaluation process was undertaken with many vendors. In the end BITS along with BITSAA, its alumni community, launched the BITSConnect 2.0, a multi-million dollar project that leverages Cisco's collaboration portfolio to enhance teacher-student-alumni interaction across its campuses.

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REACHING OUT

Implementing a collaborative framework in place, BITS has been able to facilitate knowledge transfer in real-time more efficiently. Faculty and staff meetings are conducted via multi-party voice-conferencing.

The integration made huge impact. For instance on an average about 10 meetings were conducted everyday, with about 2-8 users from each of the three campuses at any point. With new solution in place the institution transitioned to a more efficient platform that enabled whole lot of deliverables in addition to ones like web-conferencing with people outside BITS, where the alumni or industry experts from outside BITS deliver lectures via audio/video/PPT into BITS classrooms, and join meetings with the BITS faculty. On an average 3-5 such meetings takes place everyday with nearly 100 plus users.

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This new framework has also made it possible for multi-campus classroom teaching, whereby high-definition telepresence is used for teaching and that enabled it to provide multi-way HD video and interactivity within the classrooms. One professor or an invited dignitary can interactively address students/staff across all campuses from one of the designated classrooms in any given campus.

The classroom is equipped with all necessary audio/video/presentation capabilities making it a seamless experience. The networking solution has also helped administrative staff meetings. Providing HD quality face-face interaction, allows the administrators of BITS Pilani to conduct multi-campus meetings simultaneously. Additionally BITSConnect 2.0 helps mentoring budding entrepreneurs by alumni who are entrepreneurs or venture capitalists.

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

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The three campuses of BITS Pilani are now connected together. Previously, for most meetings where important decisions had to be made, the administration or faculty used to travel and get together in person at one campus. Now they can collaborate effectively over telepresence. This has resulted in significant time and cost savings.

The implementation has also ensured better resource utilization. Using Cisco solutions, qualified faculty can teach electives like ‘Network Security', ‘VLSI Architecture' etc, across multiple campuses. Moreover BITSConnect 2.0 also provides a huge competitive advantage because the institute can now pool its resources effectively together to leap ahead in both pedagogy and research. Every faculty now has a bigger pool of students to work with for their research. Every student has a bigger pool of courses which he can take. Every student has a bigger pool of recruiters/companies that he can interview at and get jobs pertaining to his specific discipline.

Among other benefits, teaching under the ‘Work Integrated Learning Program' run by BITS Pilani is now enhanced using Webex. Students in any campus can sit for placements from companies visiting any campus. Similarly, recruiters have much larger student pool to interview to find the perfect match for their company.

Commenting on the benefits professor Bijendra Nath Jain, vice chancellor BITS Pilani said, "This is the largest and first-of-its-kind implementation in India. Additionally, it has enabled us to build relationships with industry partners, government agencies, research organizations, educational institutions, and alumni from across the globe."

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