Sunday, August 18, 2013

MOOCs click with Indians

Sankalp Garud, 17, has taken a course in mathematical thinking at Stanford, calculus at UPenn , social psychology at Wesleyan and mechanics at MIT. All while staying put in Ghatkopar, Mumbai. In Delhi, media manager Tituraj Kashyap is learning about the history of photojournalism from the star professors at University of London and is topping it with a songwriting course from the Boston-based Berklee College of Music. Techie Anand Sathe's academic basket includes eight courses ranging from machine learning to the theory of irrational behavior (the latter  --- taught by Dan Ariely from Duke University --- is one of the most popular MOOCs).

They are a rapidly growing number of Indians opting for MOOCs --- massive open online courses that have made global classrooms a reality. For Indians, who have a thirst for premium, western education, MOOCs make perfect sense. If you can't make it to the Ivies, why not bring Ivy-level learning to you, and that too for free.

The three top US-based MOOCs --- Coursera, Udacity and EdX --- now have a huge percentage of Indian students. The biggest of these Coursera --- it has 4.3 million students from across the world --- says it is 'astounded and humbled' by the interest shown by Indians.

"Our students in India represent the largest percentage of Coursera students outside of the US, roughly 10%. In the past 6 months, Coursera has seen a 139% increase in India student enrollment," says Stanford professor Daphne Koller who, along with her other computer science colleague Andrew Y NG, set up Coursera. EdX, a non-profit created by Harvard and MIT, has pegged its Indian participation at 13% and Udacity says that India is one of its "top geographic drivers of traffic". Hardly surprising then that IIT-Bombay is set to join the group of institutions that are partnering with EdX.

MOOCs are seemingly easy to do --- you sign up for a course which could stretch over 12 to 15 weeks and dedicate a certain number of hours of study time per week entirely at your convenience. The 'workload' could be lectures, reading assignments, quizzes, tests, demo videos and so on. At Coursera you could if you wish ask for a certificate (called Signature Track) or even a web-supervised exam --- these are charged and make for an important part of Coursera's revenues.

A lot of students juggle multiple courses. These serial MOOCers often start with a course, take introductory classes and then drop out or move on to other subjects. This flexibility is also MOOC's biggest disadvantage. The fact that the course is free, designed for ease and does not have to end in a degree means that you need supreme levels of self discipline to complete a course. "The focus on self-learning means you have to devote enough time to not only watch lectures/read papers but also do background reading as needed," says Sathe. Quite a few MOOC addicts agree that the quality of MOOCs can fluctuate wildly from excellent to mediocre.

Big MOOCs like Coursera have an eclectic mix of courses --- ranging from programming to Beethoven's piano music --- that could appeal to techies, students, or hobbyists. Udacity, on the other hand, sticks to more serious, career-centric stuff. "We have chosen to focus on computer science, programming, mathematics, engineering, design, sciences, and entrepreneurship as we have strong relationships with industry in these fields and our goal is not to just advance our students' education, but also their career opportunities ," says Clarissa Shen, VP of strategic business and marketing at Udacity.

For a lot of driven Indian youngsters like Garud, MOOCs are a big part of resume building (he has taken both a Signature Track and a supervised exam for around $150) and, of course, a means to supplement school learning. He has managed to crack calculus at levels way beyond his classmates thanks to MOOC. "Maths lessons in school tend to be so boring," says Garud who is doing his bit for the MOOC wave by creating free, fun math videos for school children in his locality.


Dispassionate observers point out that MOOCs work best for broad-based subjects. "If breadth is what you desire, these courses work fine. Depth is not something you are going to get given the lack of interactivity and the compressed format. So 'Introduction to Mayan mathematics' might work well but 'An in-depth look at the role of sodium in the human' would likely fail," says Sathe. It is unlikely MOOCs will ever even partially replace classroom education. As Koller says, they can at best bolster the existing systems. "In India, where meeting capacity over the next few years means building and staffing new 1,500 universities, we see Coursera playing a new role in increasing institutional capacity by augmenting in-class teaching with online content," she says.

Source: The Times of India, August 18, 2013
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Monday, August 12, 2013

Research pays for Indian universities

Asian universities may rank lower than western ones on many research-linked parameters in global listings but their researchers make more money when adjusting their earnings for a currency’s real purchasing power, also known as purchasing power parity (PPP). These are the findings of the World Academic Summit Innovation Index, compiled for the first time by Times Higher Education ahead of its inaugural World Academic Summit in Singapore in October.

The results show academics from South Korea to be the most commercially valuable, with companies investing nearly $100,000 each in South Korean scholars to conduct research on their behalf. Singapore came second, with researchers earning an average $84,500 each. The Netherlands was third ($72,800) and South Africa came fourth ($64,400).

Nine Asian countries feature in the table, with five of their institutions in the top 10 — more than any other continent. Taiwan ranks sixth ($53,900), China is seventh ($50,500) and India ranks 10th ($36,900). In contrast, Canada ranks 13th, the US 14th and the UK 26th.

The index first converted all cash values into US dollars, then used PPP to factor in the cost of living in each country featured in the study, adjusting the value per researcher up or down to make it relative to a currency’s purchasing power.

Though India is ranked the fifth most commercially valuable country in Asia, and 10th globally, the three Indian institutions featured in the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2013 survey — IIT-Kharagpur, IIT-Bombay and IIT-Roorkee—are all ranked below 226.

“While many Indian institutions struggle to perform strongly across all of our rankings indicators, which are dominated by research performance indicators, they do have a strong and proven track record of working successfully with industry,” Phil Baty, Editor-at-Large, Times Higher Education, said in an e-mailed reply.
“Indeed, this is one of their great strengths...on a more level-playing field (after PPP) with the developed world, India’s IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) do very well indeed,” Baty said.

“It would seem that in recent years, the world’s increasing enthusiasm for technological advancement and computer science has seen big business shift its attention eastward to Asia,” the report said. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), for instance, collaborated with Samsung Electronics Co. to develop the world’s first humanoid robot, Mahru-Z, which receives its intelligence from a wireless computer. Scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) showed off their so-called invisibility cloak by making a cat and a goldfish vanish.

The top three
Technology executives believe the US, China and India are the top three countries with the potential to drive technology breakthroughs in the next four years, according to the 2013 Global Technology Innovation Survey released by consultancy KPMG Llp in July. Moreover, India ranked second as an innovation centre, as the third most promising nation for disruptive breakthroughs, and the fourth friendliest technology innovation country.

Regardless, India has a long way to go. For one, India dropped two places to 66 this year on the Global Innovation Index 2013, released in July. The index ranks 142 countries on their innovation capacity and efficiency and is published by Cornell University, INSEAD, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Since 1947, India has achieved self-sufficiency in foodgrain production, launched a space programme that has enabled satellite launches and a moon mission; has an autonomic energy programme; indigenously developed missiles and aircraft; and exports biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and information-technology services.

Yet, India lags other key countries in research investment and output. Global investments in science, technology and innovation were estimated at $1.2 trillion as of 2009. India’s spending on research and development (R&D) is less than 2.5% of this, and under 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The relatively low share of Indian papers in the top 1% of journals — one of the parameters used for assessing the global impact of a country’s science and technology system — has always been a concern. India ranks 9th in the number of scientific publications and 12th in the number of patents filed. India requires, among many other policy-based actions, larger investments in R&D and more full-time equivalent R&D professionals, say experts.

China increased its share of researchers from 13.9% in 2002 (8.1 million researchers) to 19.7% by 2007 (14.25 million), while India’s share fell from 2.3% in 2002 (1.16 million) to 2.2% in 2007 (1.55 million), Thomson Reuters said.

To be sure, India has declared increasing its gross domestic expenditure on R&D to 2% of GDP as a national goal in the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2013. But to achieve this, the government will have to encourage more academia-research-industry partnerships, promote inter-disciplinary research and create a national scientific temper, say experts.

Source: Mint, August 12, 2013
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