New Delhi: A proposal by the Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, for virtual labs is gathering dust even as the ministry of human resource development makes a strong case for integrating technology in education. The proposal needs at least Rs50 crore to start. IITs have asked the ministry for funding, but say there has been no word from it.
“We are waiting and are hopeful about the funds to get started,” Surendra Prasad, director of IIT Delhi, told Mint. Ministry officials, however, declined to comment.
Based on the idea that online laboratories—real laboratories accessed through the Internet—can expand the range of experiments science and engineering students are exposed to, IITs had proposed these labs to meet demands of a rising number of learners.
The proposal by IIT Madras director M.S. Ananth is based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) iLabs which, as part of the university’s open courseware consortium, displays lecture notes, previous exams and study materials for anyone to access. Proponents had said it was one way to deal with the faculty shortage at engineering colleges in India.
At MIT, iLab teams have created remote laboratories in micro-electronics, chemical engineering, polymer crystallization, structural engineering, and signal processing as case studies to understand the requirements of operating remote lab experiments and scaling their use to larger groups of students at the institute and around the world.
“Buoyed by the success of the National Programme for Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) project where IITs have put up engineering courses online for students, we have proposed to set up virtual laboratories and the plan is still on,” Prasad said.
Once the proposal is funded, the online labs will be developed by Prasad—initially to help students who are benefiting from the NPTEL project to perform lab experiments as well. The labs are likely to be fully integrated with NPTEL in its advanced stage.
“We want at least 500 courses to be ready and uploaded on NPTEL by then... Virtual labs on the Web would help students to carry out experiments equivalent to lab experiments,” Prasad said.
The NPTEL project provides online access to five streams of engineering—civil, computer science, electronics and communication, electrical and mechanical—in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, to 70,000 students registered with it.
“Our vision is to share expensive equipment and educational material as broadly as possible with students wanting to access them,” Prasad said.
The proposed labs also aim to meet the growing demand for engineering courses. Currently, engineering colleges in the country have been growing at 20% a year. But India still needs well over 10,000 PhDs and twice as many postgraduates in technology.