A large screen in the classroom shows students in Haifa, Los Angeles and Goa casually strolling into their respective classrooms. Students in Hyderabad sit with laptops open as they check the class notes and slides.
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The typical settling down that takes place prior to any class the world over takes place, except with a twist. Dr. Stephen Lu from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, a world renowned researcher, educator, entrepreneur and strategist in technological innovation asks, “Students in Technion, Haifa, can you see and hear us too? What about the students in BITS Goa and Hyderabad?”
“Yes,” comes the answer, and with that the students settle down attentively for a two hour class which would include a 20 minute explanation by Professor Mirian Eriz from Technion - Israel Institute of Technology of an upcoming cross cultural exercise that the class would be going through that is part of this international experience.
“I wait all week for this class,” said Dhruv Gambhir from the prestigious Birla Institute for Technology - Pilani's Hyderabad, India, campus. “It’s a welcome break from traditional classroom structure, and I am extremely happy that I took this course,” chimes in Taufeeq Rahmani, from the same university. BITS students have demonstrated a strong initiative to participate in and contribute to team projects.
An interactive cross-cultural exercise among USC, Technion and BITS students, led by the Technion faculty.
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering brought its classroom without borders, iPodia, to India this semester for the very first time. Taking advantage of the state-of-the art video conferencing facilities at the BITS Pilani campuses in Hyderabad and Goa, USC was able to conduct the class for the first time, with a 4-site connection – the first ever time two campuses of the same University took the iPodia class together. Students from BITS-Pilani, Hyderabad and Goa campuses take Professor Stephen Lu’s iPodia class on “Principles and Practice of Global Innovation” along with students from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in Los Angeles and from Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. Though in different countries and time zones, the students take the same class at the same time. It gives students a global experience without having to travel, and this concept has tremendous implications for higher education. “It is the next wave of distance learning, and not only is USC going to the world, the iPodia brings the world to USC, giving our students a global experience,” Lu said.
Geographical location is made irrelevant using technology. Students are expected to participate in lecture discussions, cross-cultural exercises, case studies, reading assignments and group projects. The Professor is able to track not just the readiness of each student for the class, but their progress for the duration of the class. He is able to adjust to the needs of students in the class on a week to week basis. A typical team for a group project would be made up of students from all the three countries giving them further opportunity for interaction.
The three universities participating in this class are all members of the iPodia Alliance administered by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Other Universities in the Alliance include Peking University in China, National Taiwan University in Taiwan, KAIST - Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, and RWTH University of Aachen in Germany. The Viterbi iPodia Office at the University of Southern California provides the required administrative support to all Alliance members free of charge. The iPodia Alliance is now expanding its memberships to include other leading universities such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, Africa.
The potential for this model, especially in India where the need for faculty outstrips the supply, is substantial as long as the universities invest in video conferencing facilities. As the world shrinks, global exposure for students is becoming essential. However, logistical hurdles make it difficult, if not impossible, to do so. Those problems could be surmounted using iPodia. While Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can provide the content, they have not been as successful as originally predicted, as they have experienced high dropout rates. They are unable to provide the kind of classroom interaction that is required for successful and sustained learning. The iPodia model addresses many of the issues that have caused the failure of MOOCs.
“I have been sitting in on this class, and I have learnt a lot myself” said Dr. Suman Kapur, Dean, International Programmes and Collaboration Division (University wide), BITS-Pilani. She was proactive in bringing iPodia to India. Dr. Patnaik from BITS-Pilani, Goa campus also provided strong support with student management. Both made available the help of technical staff personnel and other outstanding logistical support in their respective campuses to help make this historic class a success.