Virtual classrooms for IIM Ranchi from next year

Being physically present in a classroom would soon be a passe for students at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ranchi. As from next year, they would attend virtual classrooms, sitting in their hostels. Lectures will be broadcast live and students would just have to log in through a laptop or PC to attend classes.

Prof MJ Xavier, director at IIM Ranchi said that the institute would help those who did not like attending classes. “I have noticed that not many students like to attend classes but they love to spend time online and on social networks. So, why not give them what they like,” he said.

IIM Ranchi will provide students with laptops or tablet computers with biometric sensors and cameras that would help students interact with the faculty. Students would be required to register their thumb impression using the biometric sensor every half an hour, to help keep a check on them. Prof Xavier added that students would prepare their subject notes in a separate module, which would be used to evaluate their understanding of the subject.

An extra 15 minutes will be provided after every lecture for the students to take notes. These would then be compared to a set of key words that the faculty would have prepared for that particular lecture. “If the student’s learning and the lecturer’s key words match, it would be fine. If not, marks will be deducted,” the director said. IIM Ranchi has decided to keep 70% of the marks for ‘virtual classroom participation’ and only 30 percent for the exams.

The virtual classroom will also allow students to ask questions and get answers immediately as in a real classroom. The institute is likely to experiment with virtual classrooms for the executive MBA programme as well. Over time, the programme will ensure that students of the executive programme do not visit the campus at all and attend lectures from wherever they are.

Students though seem optimistic about the idea, also have a few reservations. Shubhankar Rai, a student of IIM Ranchi said, “The idea of virtual classrooms sure seems interesting. Every industry has embraced technology with time, be it FMCG (RFID chips), banking (ATM, online banking), travel, etc then why not the education sector — the pioneers in conceptualisation and research. Though, I feel the idea is ahead of its time I am unsure as to how the various stakeholders involved like the infrastructure providers, candidates, etc would receive this.”

So far, IIM Ranchi has not pumped in any money into the venture. Thanks to Prof Xavier’s multiple visits to various dealers across the country, the project won’t require much capital. “I have met and discussed my ideas with so many dealers that now I know how this works. I met a number of big players in the industry, who gave me an estimate; so I know how must is the logical cost. What costs Rs 1 crore with them actually costs a little over Rs 5 lakh in the market.” According to the deal worked out, while the dealers will not charge IIM Ranchi anything at this point, they will be able to replicate this technology for others in future.

The only expenditure that IIM Ranchi will incur, as of now, is transforming the classroom into a high-tech one. “But that too may come free if some company decides to experiment with us and later sell the technology,” assured Prof Xavier. He further clarified that the entire exercise was at an experimental stage and only post June would things become clearer.

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