Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Open learning

The recent move by the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management-Kerala to ‘open’ up its courses is welcome, but much more can be done.

Late last year, around November 2007, as part of its move to promote quality education, the State-owned Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management-Kerala (IIITM-K), based in Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram, announced that it would soon offer its classroom courses in the “open mode”.

What this means is that the institute’s courses will now be available to a wider range of professionals, especially from the information technology (IT) field. IIITM-K believes that the opening up of its courses to IT professionals and the academia is “an important and logical extension of the Institute’s commitment to promote technology-enhanced education in the State.”

IIITM-K was established by the Government of Kerala in 2001 with the stated goal of advancing the state of the art in IT and its applications in science, industry and society through research, projects and teaching. The present move to extend its academic reach is part of that goal.

The courses will be taught by IIITM-K’s faculty, who hold doctorates from universities in India, the US and Canada. The Institute claims its faculty have over 200 scientific publications in national and international journals.

Their work spans a wide range of fields in Science, Engineering and Management, including Theoretical and Applied Computer Science, Software Engineering, Computational Sciences, Control Systems, Geo-informatics, Grid Computing, e-Governance and Rural Enterprise Management.

These are the subject areas to be covered in this year’s offering for professionals pursuing their career in and around Technopark, where they can spare a few hours every week to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

The idea is to offer a semi-flexible package, with rigorous instructional delivery combined with a degree of flexible timing, so that they can earn adequate number of credits through different courses, complete relevant project or term paper work and obtain IITM-K’s post-graduate diploma in information technology (PGDIT).

The institute is also upgrading its present PGDIT to a full-time M Tech programme. With Technopark’s working population of 15,000 set to grow further, the new open PGDIT programme is expected to help a number of IT professionals advance their capabilities.

While the idea of extending its courses to a larger population is commendable, what IIITM-K is offering is not truly “open” in the sense of the path-breaking OpenCourseWare (OCW) offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

OCW is a free publication of course materialsused at MIT, which allows anyone with an Internet connection to get lecture notes, problem sets, labs and more, watch lecture videos and demonstrations, and study a wide variety of subjects. However, OCW is not an MIT education. It does not grant degrees or certificates, nor does it provide access to MIT faculty, and the materials offered online may not reflect the entire content of the course.

According to MIT, the OCW is an idea – and an ideal – developed, supported, and embraced by the MIT faculty, who share the Institute’s mission to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship to best serve the world.

In 1999 the Faculty considered how to take best advantage of the Internet to advance education, and in 2000 proposed OCW.

In 2001 OCW was announced in The New York Times. In 2007 the OCW Web site traffic set a new monthly record of over 2 million visits. Publication of virtually all MIT courses has been completed, and next year will see the transition to “steady state” of 200 new and updated courses per year.

Now other institutions are working with MIT to create their own OCWs, and the first mirror site has been established in Africa. Importantly, OCW puts out all content under the Creative Commons licence.

The Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation devoted to expanding the range of creative work available for others legally to build upon and share. The organisation has released several copyright licenses known as Creative Commons licences, which, depending on the one chosen, restrict only certain rights (or none) of the work.

The Creative Commons licences enable copyright holders to grant some or all of their rights to the public while retaining others through a variety of licensing and contract schemes, including dedication to the public domain or open content licensing terms.

The intention is to avoid the problems current copyright laws create for the sharing of information. A Creative Commons license is based on copyright and applies to all works that are protected by copyright law, like books, Web sites, blogs, photographs, films, videos, songs and other audio and visual recordings.

Creative Commons licenses give the owners the ability to dictate how others may exercise their copyright rights – such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright, including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing.

These are the sort of options that institutions of higher learning like the IITM-K ought to be exploring as they seek to “open” up their portals of knowledge.


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