Forced experience in online education is opening new possibilities


Indian origin academic Dr Sanjay Sarma, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and the Vice President for Open Learning explains why students dreaming to study abroad should use the lockdown as an opportunity to enrol in online courses introduced by prestigious universities. He co-founded the Auto-ID Center at MIT and developed many of the key technologies behind the EPC suite of RFID standards now used worldwide. In a lecture series organised by the US embassy in collaboration with Association of Indian Universities (AIU) Dr Sarma, an IIT Engineering graduate explained the evolution of teaching and learning post pandemic. Here are the excerpts of the interview:

Has the COVID pandemic changed the idea of internationalisation in education sector?

Yes. The hiatus in travel has forced universities and students to engage remotely. While good in-person education is always better than online education, this forced experience in online education is opening the academic institutions’ eyes to the possibilities. And this will lead to more internationalisation — among other modalities including doing internship while taking classes, for example.

Looking at the scenario, what would you suggest to students aspiring to study in American universities?

While the US education system is excellent, it isn’t accessible to most students. I recommend taking advantage of online resources such as MIT OpenCourseWare and edX.

Since many students are deciding against travelling to foreign countries for higher education. Do you think it is an opportunity for Indian universities to retain talent?

Demand outstrips supply in Indian education, and there is plenty of talent. What I hope Indian universities do is recognise that the campus experience should be much better than lectures over online-conferencing. The opportunity is not one of retaining talent — for it is an endless pool in India — but bringing it to life.

What are the measures that US universities should take to help students aspiring to study abroad?At MIT and edX, we introduced something called the MicroMasters — a new stackable online credential which leads to campus opportunities. I feel US universities will benefit from more entry ramps of this type.

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