Why Open Classware?

‘Unlocking Knowledge, Empowering Minds’, the legend on MIT’s homepage underscores the objective of the Open Course Ware (OCW) movement they started in 2001. Today MIT’s OCW includes over 2,000 courses, accessed by over 35 million users worldwide. A number of leading universities in every continent has launched similar projects to leverage the availability of the worldwide web.

In India, the OCW movement has been tentative, embodied in the government-sponsored National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), to improve the quality of engineering education. It is anchored by seven IITs and the IISc, Bangalore. Another variant of OCW in India has been the Flexilearn portal of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, which not only offers a lot of free course material, but also enables online enrolment of students. Both are largely limited to the use of technology in delivering education, rather than unlocking knowledge and empowering minds.

While OCW has found enthusiastic takers across the world, including China, our top business schools have been lethargic in seizing the initiative. The only exception was IIM Bangalore which had at least a portal called OCW@IIMB. The portal seems no longer operational. When last operational, it had some ten odd courses across, with many without any published courses. It currently has a portal for ‘open education consortium’.

India needs hundreds of thousands of managers, even without factoring make in India initiative. And then there are the tens of thousands of SMEs, NGOs, micro-finance and other micro enterprises, crying out for managers in millions, of some acceptable quality. With 90% of our labour force in the unorganised sector, we need even more managers to steer them towards organised industries.
We have some 4000 odd management schools, some 99% of which run with abysmally sub-standard faculty. Properly qualified faculty with PhDs in management to prepare these managers are in short supply. And what is more, each of the IIMs awards doctorates in single digits annually, adding a very thin trickle of the potential management faculty pool for a country our size.
Imagine the opportunity for the well-established IIMs, if they could spread management education by taking their classes online, by just affixing a camera inside the classrooms of their best teachers! Wouldn’t that be like the prizewinning corn farmer whose secret of success was to share his seeds with the neighbours, because then, when the wind blew, their seeds blew his way enriching his corn?

Surprisingly, when this idea was mooted to IIM, Ahmedabad, members of the Institute’s board were apprehensive that this may dilute their brand equity! And yet, the tag-line of IIMA logo is: ‘Vidhya Viniyogadwikasaha’, meaning, the more you spread knowledge, the more it spreads! After all, MIT’s brand has not been diluted by OCW. It has added to MIT’s sheen several notches worldwide.

What the leading IIMs need to appreciate is that their competitiveness stem not from their course contents. Their true assets are the quality of their faculty, students, systems, processes and infrastructure and what they can do with these. Ideally by now, IIMs should have been in the thick of the OCW movement.
In short, the top IIMs need to do what MIT did for Course-ware. They could take the classrooms (ClassWare) rather than just the course contents (Courseware), online to millions of students out there. IIMs have better quality faculty than most. What if each and every course taught at an IIM, by the best of its teachers in every course, were beamed online to hundreds of thousands of students in thousands of private b-schools across the country or in Reliance Web-World-like outlets?
These outlets could be manned by coordinators trained at IIMs to help coordinate assignments, clarify doubts, set and evaluate examinations and quizzes, and highlight learning points. Online classes could deliver superior understanding of management principles to online students than what sub-standard faculty can do face to face.
The private schools could decide which of the Class-ware classes to subscribe to; other private students may opt for classes only in say, finance or marketing leading to certificate courses in those disciplines; they could pace their learning in an open university framework , say an IIM Online diploma . Thus, IIMs could penetrate every corner of India, and even beyond. The incremental cost of such ClassWare open to tens or hundreds of thousands of students would be negligible, compared to full-time education.
Given India’s skills in IT and our need to ramp up the quality of our managers, Open ClassWare may be an idea which is overdue. If we don’t do it, we may be passing on the initiative to an MIT or a Stanford. Actually, we may already be losing the race in this direction.

About the Author:

Dr. Viswanathan Raghunathan (born 1954) is an academic, author, columnist, hobbyist and a CEO. Since 2005, he has been the CEO of GMR Varalakshmi Foundation. Earlier he was President, ING Vysya Bank (2001-2004) and Managing Director, GMR Industries Ltd (2007-2008), GMR Group. He has been an Adjunct Professor at the Bocconi University, Milan, Italy, since 1990, where he lectures in behavioural finance every year. He taught finance and accounting at IIM, Ahmedabad from 1982 to 2001, where he held various positions, including Chairman, Post Graduate Programme. He is the author of Duryodhana (Harper Collins, 2014), Locks Mahabharata & Mathematics (Harper Collins, 2013), Ganesha on the Dashboard(Penguin 2012), The Corruption Conundrum And Other Paradoxes And Dilemmas (Penguin 2010), Don’t Sprint The Marathon (Harper Collins, 2010), Games Indians Play (Penguin 2006), and several other books in Corporate Finance.

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