Saturday, December 19, 2009

Volunteering assignment at NPTEL

When I got this non-paying assignment I was just as excited as I was when I landed my job years ago.

Around 3 months ago I heard about a program called NPTEL, being run in my alma mater. Very briefly, NPTEL is an effort by the Indian Government to develop web- and video-based courses for all engineering disciplines and make them available to the public for free. In Chennai, I am volunteering my time and abilities to the effort.

For the past three months we are working on creating awareness (mainly among engineering faculty in the numerous Engineering colleges that have come up in South India) and in trying to reach out to students. I am helping coordinate workshops with these faculty members – they tell us what’s working and what needs to be tweaked in these web courses.

Volunteering for NPTEL provides me with two things I was hoping for: Scalability and no requirement about me having to spend long durations at any particular office.

For the past 6 months, my wife and I have been talking to a number of people in the public service domain, looking at different volunteering opportunities. Most of the suggestions we received were very generic or they were targeted at very small groups of individuals. As a matter of personal preference, I wanted something that had a larger scope.

For me, NPTEL fits the bill nicely. I fully realize that huge hurdles exist to learning difficult engineering concepts from the Web. This project falls under the HRD Ministry’s very ambitious National Mission for Education (NME) effort. The vision in NME is to expand the NPTEL effort to have courses developed for students of all ages, right from kindergarten to post-graduate courses in all disciplines, not just for engineering.

I will definitely post more about NPTEL later. Meanwhile, if you have acquaintances who are currently enrolled in an engineering degree, direct them to NPTEL’s Official Website.

Over 250 full courses (~40 lectures of 1 hour duration each per course) can be viewed via Youtube’s iit channel. If you have heard of MIT’s OpenCourseWare, this is very similar in the Indian context, and is based strongly on a commonly agreed-upon curriculum.

I don’t have an official designation in the NPTEL office. My initial goal is to just help build awareness. Effectiveness will take time, but will eventually follow after a number of iterations.


uk said...

Awesome work by NPTEl and it looks like your retirement is one good adventure. Keep us updated on your work. It would be great if there were NPTEL centers around the country where students could meet with part time faculty to discuss solutions to homework problems.

Ram said...

Hi UK:

You are very right about the need for students to get together with faculty in some forum to discuss homework and problems and to enhance comprehension.

In Phase II (currently ongoing) the attempt is to have discussion forums and wikis and even paid faculty members who will monitor the boards and respond to genuine questions. It will be a virtual meetingplace, but it is better than nothing.

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