India’s universities aren’t exactly frozen in time, but just looking at the pace of change in everything around them, let’s face it, they have much to learn. While the world has become borderless, India’s university education system is still largely bound by physical classrooms and the closest thing to having a truly global reach is the occasional course lecture surfacing on YouTube.
Now, an ambitious new project conceived by U.S.-based alumni of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, part of what is the Indian Ivy league, seeks to change that. The multi-million dollar BITSConnect 2.0, being implemented jointly by BITS and its alumni, uses state-of-the art telepresence technology from CISCO and Webex web conferencing to connect the institute’s four campuses in Pilani, Goa, Hyderabad and Dubai not only to each other but to the world.
“This is path breaking. This platform delivers an experience that is not your typical virtual. You can brainstorm with peers at a university in Europe or U.S., have interviews with potential employers anywhere on the globe or attend a class thousands of miles away and still feel like you are there…and these are just a few examples,” Raju Reddy (see image - left: right), chairman of the BITS Alumni Association or BITSAA, told India-West at the alumni reunion at the Hilton Hotel here April 28. “The quality and scale of this project is a first in its field and we envision this to be model that is adopted by educational institutions across India. BITS putting its considerable prestige and brand behind this speaks of the amazing potential this has,” he added.
The alumni association, which is funding the project alongside BITS, is on a mission to contribute $600,000 to BITSConnect 2.0 and has already raised $370,000. The association is raising more funds via Sevathon, an annual walkathon that promotes the spirit of “Seva” or service to others, and brings together over 50 Bay Area profits under a single umbrella.
The Sevathon torch was passed on to BITSAA Silicon Valley at the reunion event, marking the group’s participation in Sevathon. The symbolic torch is travelling across Bay Area cities, being passed from one nonprofit to another, and will return to its home at the India Community Center in Milpitas on the day of the main event, July 15
The project has been a year in the making and is expected to launch later this year. Prem Jain, the global chair and mentor for BITSConnect 2.0 and the man who made BITS Pilani the first campus in India to have gigabit internet, IP telephony and wireless access everywhere, says it won’t be long before this technology moves out of the multi-million dollar club to being available for everyone.
“BITSConnect is about making quality education possible for everyone and in a few more years the advancement in technology will make this cheaper and more accessible, allowing every school and college in India to create platforms like BITSConnect 2.0,” Jain told India-West. “For us, getting this off the ground is just one part of it; we will be making this platform better, more efficient every step of the way.”
Under Jain’s mentorship are hundreds of alumni working to make BITSConnect 2.0 live. Shashikant Khandelwal (see image - top left: left) says it’s not always easy juggling a career as an entrepreneur and volunteering at what is a commercial-scale project, but then that’s what makes BITSians unique.
“Our alumni are a group of very smart people, working in some of the most innovative companies across the world. Their collective expertise is behind this project for start to finish and then ongoing. Everyone works full time jobs and spend hundreds of hours a month on this only to make sure we deliver the right solution that is state-of-the-art in every aspect. This is about making education better for students, teachers and our community and we have made sure we make no compromises. We evaluated products from a range of companies, we look at the types of technologies were available and created an integrated solution,” said Khandelwal, who is co-chairing BITSConnect 2.0 along with Sarath Kolla.
“Part of our vision for this project is making course available online and some of it will be free. World class professors and lectures will be available at the click of a button and students can collaborate on a global scale. This may be a BITS project but our vision is for the world,” he added.
Readers can learn more about BITSConnect 2.0 at http://bitsconnect20.bitsaa.org/ and raise funds for it by participating in Sevathon; visit www.indiacc.org/sevathon.