Counting credits – NPTEL and MOOCs

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A short background

Higher education in engineering in India to this day sees a wide spectrum in terms of the available infrastructure, options and quality of teaching. Not everyone has the access to quality education institutions and highly qualified profs such as the ones at IIT. Certain local and private colleges even consider meritorious B.Tech./ M.Tech. students qualified enough to be assistant professors. It was to help the students of such institutes and provide them quality education for free, for which a MOOC platform for India was conceptualized. Methods for training young and inexperienced teachers to enable them carry out their academic responsibilities effectively are a must. The National Program for Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) can fill the gap and act as a competence building tool for junior professors as well.

To increase its outreach to students in various institutes across the country, NPTEL has constituted various local chapters in the country. These local chapters have a faculty mentor in the respective university who coordinate the courses and disseminate information. The mentor sees to whether the courses are active, students are submitting assignments, and provides able guides for the course. The local chapters aim to have a huge impact in the local colleges’ students, assisting their academic growth significantly.

What does it currently offer?

The NPTEL project had been segmented into phases. The first two phases aimed to create a basic database of most commonly taught science and engineering courses. The portal offers a variety of content through different modes of delivery. There are primarily two types of courses, web-based and video based. The former consists of lecture notes while the latter has segmented videos based on each topic within the course.

Courses per phase

Phase Web Courses Video Courses Total
Phase 1 125 138 263
Phase 2/3 296 374 670
Total 421 512 933

*As of Dec 2015

Courses per IIT:

Course Type IISc IITB IITD IITG IITK IITKGP IITM IITR Total
Video Course 60 69 47 25 190 211 226 61 889
Web Course 39 46 38 80 79 48 77 30 437
Total 99 115 85 105 269 259 303 91 1326

 

Phase 3 aimed to diversify the courses available on the website, as well as create content meant for postgraduate students. It also saw the initiation of the certification phase, and to create a formal framework for credit transfer.

Prof. Kushal Sen, the institute coordinator of NPTEL at IIT Delhi added that NPTEL is open to the commercial/industrial world. A faculty and a professional can give lectures in collaboration, and take the course from theory to application. If an industry finds the course specific to their work they can co-certify it along with NPTEL. This certification can be a powerful tool for students in their careers, and could very well see the bridging of the gap between industry and higher education. It could increase employability and provide the requisite skill-set to students for professional work.

Additionally, since the courses are distributed under a Creative Commons License, they can be monetised by private entities. NPTEL also allows companies to use the course free of cost for training purposes of their employees.

What lies in the future

The fourth phase aims to expand on the possibilities of certification and formal inclusion of NPTEL courses into the curricula of institutions.

Not all courses on NPTEL are available for certification. A separate portal “https://onlinecourses.nptel.ac.in/explorer” exists to handle certified courses. The courses run for the duration of a semester, during which enrolled students can watch videos, ask questions and complete assignments. At the end of the semester, a student must give a proctored examination at a convenient centre, to obtain a certificate.

As a part of the government’s initiative to push use of technology in education as well as other sectors, it has set up SWAYAM; or Study Webs of Active –Learning for Young Aspiring Minds to provide the best teaching resources to everyone in the country through a digital platform. This is accomplished by sourcing content not only from NPTEL, but also from other universities across the country in a number of disciplines such as law, linguistics, history, natural sciences and many more. SWAYAM accomplishes this through a four-pronged approach:

  1. Video Lectures
  2. Specially prepared reading material that can be downloaded/printed.
  3. Self-assessment tests through tests and quizzes
  4. An online discussion forum for clearing the doubts  

Although these courses are available free of cost, students desirous of a certificate are required to pay a nominal fee. At the end of each course, there is an assessment of the student through a proctored examination and the marks/grades secured in this exam can be transferred to the academic record of the students. The proctored exam is organised jointly by the local chapter of NPTEL, and the institute administering the course. UGC has already issued the UGC (Credit Framework for online learning courses through SWAYAM) Regulation 2016 advising the universities to identify courses where credits can be transferred on to the academic record of the students for courses done on SWAYAM. At the same time, these guidelines are not binding in nature and UGC permits institutions to formulate their own policy. The guidelines place a cap of 20% on the number of credits out of the total that may be obtained through MOOCs hosted by SWAYAM. This move is primarily targeted to institutions wherein there is unavailability of staff for teaching certain courses, or facilities for certain electives are absent.   

MOOC policy at IIT Delhi

As of now, IIT Delhi does not have a proper MOOC policy in its curriculum. The UGC guidelines have yet to be discussed and implemented in IIT, and can only be done so if passed by the Senate. Such a policy would go far in enhancing the flexibility in terms of what students can learn and study, and possibly provide incentive for extra course-work as well. It would also introduce flexibility in student’s schedule, making it easier to pursue endeavours such as start-ups and semester-long internships while simultaneously earning credits despite not attending classes. A small poll (~200 respondents) conducted online indicated a large positive response to this idea.

It is thus pertinent to get an idea of what policies some other colleges and universities follow pertaining to credit transfer via MOOCs. The following section is a small study of the same.


MOOC policies across colleges:

IIT Madras – Permits students to transfer credits from NPTEL courses. The procedure for doing so is as follows:

  1. Student intimates the academic section about the completion of a course by a letter from the faculty advisor and the HoD.
  2. Student forwards certificate of completion (after giving the required proctored exam), they must forward a copy of the same requesting for credit transfer. This must be approved by the faculty advisor.

For now, this provision is only available for ‘Free Category’ credits, which are the IIT Madras equivalent of OC’s. Yet, credit transfer may be permitted for core courses if the HoD of the department concerned deems fit. IIT Madras has a different credit structure from IIT Delhi, but the academic policy seems to suggest that up to 3 courses worth of credits may be completed through this method. However, these courses do not count towards one’s GPA, and only add to a student’s credit count.

This completion appears on the transcript without any grade, with the details of the course and associated number of credits.

 

University of Leeds

While MOOCs have become an integral part of the education ecosystem in USA, it was only recently and almost hesitatingly that they started being implemented at a formal level in the United Kingdom. It was the University of Leeds that lead the way (no pun intended). UoL partnered with FutureLearn, a social learning platform owned by the Open University whose current 3.6 million users are primarily based outside the UK. To take a programme learners must complete a series of short open courses and buy a certificate of achievement for each.

To complete programmes that attract an academic credit or offer a qualification, students may have to pay for and pass an assessment module. Universities will award credit against the grade achieved which will then count towards a degree.

 

Proponents argue that MOOCs unbundle higher education, and hand greater control to students, enabling them to find their interests or pursue subjects outside their major. On the other hand, they may not offer the kind of feedback of a traditional course. While making education more accessible, they may devalue the actual learning process and be unable to substitute a brick-and-mortar class, as evidenced by low completion rates, low grades and poor course quality.  

 

Malay Jain

Shreya Johri

Anmol

Sanyam Chhangani

 

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