E-learning, Skype classes to bring distance education closer to reality


CHENNAI: Students enrolling for undergraduate, postgraduate and other courses at the Institute of Distance Education (IDE) of University of Madras from the next academic year can chuck their printed study material and get a feel of being part of the regular stream from the comfort of their homes.

The university is in the midst of revamping the IDE completely, going digital and making processes simpler and similar to that of the regular courses. Lessons will be available in the form of e-books, and students will be able to participate in discussion forums and self-testing lessons on Facebook. There will be 'kype lectures' too. Moreover, the semester system and choice-based credit system will be introduced to let students take more courses, currently impossible in a rigid system.

Distance education is preferred by those who are unable to attend regular classes. IDE gets an enrolment of 35,000-40,000 every year, which is 10 times that of a big college. However, even in the age of learning apps, printed notes are the recommended study material. Also, learning is left to the student due to lack of regular contact with lecturers.

"We want to ensure that the delivery mechanism for courses in the regular and distance mode is the same," said P Duraisamy, vice-chancellor.

Students who have a distance mode degree are not seen as favourably as those with regular degrees by prospective employers. The revamp is a step to change that mentality as well as equipping students with the same skill and knowledge, said Duraisamy.

Reforming distance education and adopting e-learning mechanism has been on Duraisamy's to-do list since he took over in May. Several committee meetings have been held since and a sizeable investment to procure computers, servers and other infrastructure is in the pipeline. Students will also be able to take 20% of the credits in each semester from the Massive Open Online Courses, a platform for free online courses. Apart from this, a student of an affiliated college forced to drop out midway will be able to continue the same degree in distance mode through the university. Another ambitious plan is to offer portability between affiliated colleges and IDE in both directions. For instance a student can quit IDE halfway and join an affiliated college and vice-versa, Duraisamy said.

Skype classes and e-learning will be a game changer, said students. At present, IDE students attend classes at the end of the year which are known as personal contact programmes. But the quality of teaching is poor, say students.

IDE is important for any university. Figures for the 2016-17 academic year show that 2,681 students were on the university campus, while 93,000 were there in the distance mode. IDE contributes handsomely to the revenue, which has come down due to several factors, administrative neglect being one.

By Siddharth Prabhakar