Harnessing the Benefits of Digital Learning in Assam Agricultural University
The Agricultural Innovation Partnership (AIP) has collaborated with Assam Agricultural University (AAU) on multiple fronts to harness the potential of digital learning to benefit the educational community at large.
Among all others, the most significant advantage that e-learning has over traditional learning systems is that learners/trainers can connect from any location, anytime. This Just-In-Time (JIT) benefit can ignite the lives of millions of students for whom classroom education is a distant dream either due to long distances or due to economic constraints. Dr. Jyoti Gogoi, Professor-In-Charge, Agricultural Research Information System (ARIS) Cell, AAU, Jorhat, Assam opines that in order to maximize the spread of education to the underprivileged in the state, the educational system must take initiatives in experimenting with the tools that information and communication technology have to offer. He shares his thoughts on the necessity and impact of e-learning in Assam and the transformation it will bring about in the educational system of the state. With his extensive research in digital learning, he tells us why e-learning is necessary in Assam and the ways it will transform the approach to teaching/learning in the state.

1. Do you believe that in India we need to change our approach to teaching-learning methodologies?
Yes. We need to groom our students to be better employable and industry-ready. To be honest, the curricula that many of the Indian institutions of higher education follow now was set years ago. What we device now will be followed by later generations. Therefore, the onus is on us to ensure that we rightly empower the later generations to shoulder their responsibilities and succeed in their careers. We should use technology optimally to ensure a better future for all.

2. What is your institution’s approach towards adopting technology in learning?
At AAU we believe that technology will completely transform education in the next few decades. This transformation will entail the way we teach, learn, delegate, inform, disseminate, and convey information. AAU has joined hands with the Agricultural Innovation Partnership. We have adopted the lecture capture technology in many of our classrooms to digitize and archive the lectures to enable present and future generation of students readily access the resources anytime, anywhere. This will help us preserve our training sessions forever, share with the world and avoid duplication of efforts.

3. Have you been associated with such interventions in the past?
In the past, there have been some interventions in the area of technology adoption in the University. However, this is for the first time ever that we are closely working as part of an international development project in adopting technology in the curricula so thoroughly and effectively.

4. In what ways these interventions have benefited AAU?
The greatest beneficiaries of these interventions are the students. They feel that the use of lecture capture technology will help them improve their grades. The story of technology adoption has inspired several other universities to adopt the technology. In the near future, we plan to collaborate with other Indian agricultural universities to develop lectures. This will help faculty members save more time to devote to research, brush up on their skills and knowledge, and enhance their learning curves. On an experimental basis, as of now, we have captured a few lectures and put them online. We will shortly go live with the Online Learning and Training (OLAT) web application, actually a learning management system that will help us create great learning materials.

We have plans to coach our peers at other educational institutions in the state and beyond since we would like to ensure that we do not confine the knowledge and benefits just to ourselves. We envisage AAU as a knowledge hub to benefit other organizations.

5. What kind of infrastructure did the university have to support e-learning before AIP’s intervention?
Technology-enabled learning is a relatively new concept in this part of the world. Though we have been thinking of adopting it, we did not have the infrastructure and expertise to support it. With AIP’s assistance and sponsorship, we got the equipment, software and hardware in place and made about 16 classrooms available to support lecture capture.

6. What are your expectations from these interventions?
Well, I am counting on these to improve the grades of my students, save their time for self-development, build competency, promote critical thinking in them, save faculty members’ time, enable them concentrate more on research-oriented activities, promote blended learning and archive content. In about a year or two, we would like to deliver course content through podcasts, mobile devices, laptops, or high-definition presentation using the lecture capture technology.

7. What kind of change do you visualize in the teaching-learning scenario in the state due to these involvements?
Definitely, positive changes. I believe we have taken the first step towards transforming the educational system, our mindsets and assessing teachers’ performances in the classrooms. The fact that students are able to review and watch the lectures repeatedly, also empower them to rate the sessions. For the faculty members here it is like assessing ourselves through our students. We now look at the future with a lot of hope. We believe that with optimal use of technology, we can compete with some of the most advanced universities in the world.

8. Could you share some of your recent experiences after adopting e-learning in classroom?
Some of the students have talked about the great, new learning experiences that they are having. These students are experiencing this for the first time ever. I feel proud when they appreciate the university’s efforts in adopting digital learning. One of the issues in adopting technology is our attitude of being afraid of technology, not taking up technology-oriented training programs to update our knowledge base.

9. What are the interventions that AIP has taken to promote e-learning in your institution?
AIP has successfully facilitated technology adoption for AAU. AIP sponsored the Audio/Video equipment necessary for capturing lectures in the classroom and later publishing them. Through several training programs during 2012, AIP trained the faculty members at AAU. We are thankful to Stefan Einarson and Christopher H. Knight of Cornell University and Mr Anantha Murthy of Sathguru Management Consultants for the trainings imparted to many of us here.

10. Do you think AIP could trigger a change through these contributions?
You see, with technology adoption, positive changes are already in the offing. We are witnessing a tremendous change in both teaching and learning. The teachers believe that the overall grades of the students are definitely going to improve and even average/below average students will fare better. In a few years from now, we plan to switch over to blended learning system, where students would be provided with full time online support, apart from their classroom training sessions. For us this incredible achievement will definitely change the way we used to teach and learn.

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