Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

Archive for October 2013

Turning Around Universities

with 7 comments


Prof Deepak B Phatak

 I recently heard Prof. Deepak Phatak (IIT Mumbai).   He envisages a scenario where MOOC becomes the backbone, dramatically changing the role of a traditional University. Here are my notes from the talk he gave at the recently concluded TechForSeva conference held in Pune in September 2013.

A lot is talked about the access to knowledge.  Prof. Phatak emphasized that access is not the problem.  It’s about assimilation.

In this new world, role of the teacher is set to change – or has already changed – dramatically.  The teacher’s job is not about teaching anymore.  They have to be the facilitators.  They need to help students apply the knowledge, explore the knowledge and use the knowledge.

No matter how advanced the technology or how easy the access – the human intervention is still critical.

Integration of MOOC (Massively Online Open Courses) and teacher interaction is the key.  At IIT, they now use the “Flip Classroom” model.  In olden days one attended the lectures in the college and did homework at the hostel or at home.  Now, with MOOC, you listen to the lectures at home, hostel or anywhere you choose and solve problems in the class.  The class is where you would have the facilitator teacher in person to work with.

Today teachers spend up to 90% of their time in preparation, delivery, setting question papers and evaluation.  In the new model, all that time could be saved!  With MOOC, the best of the best lectures would be available instantly and the teacher will no more be required to prepare and deliver in the first place.  Even the setting of question papers and evaluation is part of MOOC.  All the teacher’s energy can now be spent on solving the problems and applying the knowledge in the real world. 

With this model, some questions that are worrying teachers can be answered easily.  Will MOOC make the professors redundant?  No. Will that lead to the loss of self-esteem of regular University professors?  No.   Earlier, the good teacher was supposed to prepare and deliver.  Now they will need to mentor, guide and discuss.  Note that the new responsibilities will have a far more impact.   The new role is far more challenging too.

Our Universities will have to adapt to this new model.  In fact Prof. Phatak envisages a scenario where a typical University STOPS creating curriculum and even conducting examinations.  They can use the MOOC of world’s leading colleges – and use the physical space of the local University to collaborate, discuss and solve problems.

In the course of his address, Prof. Phatak quoted Sougat Mitra.  When asked if the current education system is broke, Sougat Mitra replied, “no it’s solid.  Actually it’s so solid and unyielding that we can’t even break it. So – it is better to bypass it”.

More about Prof. Deepak Phatak

Prof. Phatak narrated an encounter as he opened his talk.

He was once invited to a tribal area near Thane to deliver a talk to the school students in that area.  When he landed there, he was told to talk on “Information Technology” – in Marathi! “माहिती तंत्रज्ञान”.  That was the first time he spoke in Marathi on that topic.  He was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent questions asked by the young students.

After the talk he was surrounded by children – jostling for his autograph!  That was a first again.  He saw a boy standing a little away.

Do you want my autograph?
No sir, I want to talk to you.
OK, I will be with you in a few minutes.

And then a few volunteers came to Professor and told him that the local politician (MLA) was waiting for him at the snacks table.  As Prof. Phatak was about to leave with them, the boy grabbed him by his sleeves.

Sir, you promised to talk to me.
Yes – but the MLA saheb is waiting for me.
Sir, I have walked 10 kilometers to listen to you.
What? Don’t you have any public transport – bus or tempo here?
We do have.  Not affordable though. I walk 6 Km everyday to my school.

By this time Professor had lost his interest in the politician.

Sir, I am in 8th grade. I always stand first in my class. What would it take for me to become an expert in IT?

Professor gave him the usual spiel on the entrance exams, engineering colleges and all that. And then asked.

Why do you want to become an IT expert?
Your Nandan Nilekani founded Infosys, right? I want to found a company like that.

Here Professor Phatak shared that it was such incidents that made him make “access to education” his life mission.


Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

October 2, 2013 at 10:07 am

Posted in Education, IIT