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1. Socio-economic details about the engineering education within the state,
2. Cost-effectiveness of digital solutions,
3. Social acceptance of online as well as off-line materials, especially related to
effective questions, and cost-effectiveness of the existing Internet-based system,
4. Future expansions of this system, as well as expected costs involved,
5. Socio-economic impact and challenges in the immediate future.




A Case Study: Digital Engineering
Campus
Engineering colleges in Maharashtra state are spread all over the state and most of them
are in the rural areas. The students studying in these colleges face the following
difficulties:
a. Unavailability of expert staff for teaching,
b. Less number of industries available for summer training, and project work,
c. No career guidance centers,
d. Unavailability of renowned publications, books,
e. Lack of access to expert professors and students of urban engineering colleges.


As the Apex body at the central Government level, All India Council for Technical
Education (AICTE) has a responsibility of maintaining the quality of engineering


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350 Mahajan, Umrani & Chaudhari


education at the national level. The AICTE act, passed by the parliament, empowers
AICTE to provide as well as revoke the accreditation for each college depending upon
facilities provided by that college to students.
As the Apex body in state, the Higher and Technical education department of the
Government of Maharashtra state is responsible for providing all the necessary facilities
to engineering students and overcoming the difficulties stated above. Also it is
responsible for improving the quality of education in the state. Though very few colleges
in the state are Government run or Government funded, this department has a respon-
sibility for maintaining uniformity in education by controlling the admission process all
over the state.
The availability of Internet access in remotely located engineering colleges is still a real
problem. Here, AICTE has taken an initiative to provide all Engineering colleges with
financial support for establishing Internet facilities in their colleges. Also AICTE has
been forcing all colleges to set up a dedicated computer lab only for Internet browsing.
Thus, both state government, as well as AICTE (at national level) is helping technical
educational institutes in pursuing Digital E-learning tools to a large extent. Surely these
positive steps from government and the participation of NGOs are making an impact on
the digital solutions, and e-learning concepts.
As an initiative in this direction, while the Government of Maharashtra does not want to
commit any financial resources for this activity, it has supported an NGO, with one of the
authors (Mr. Sunil Umrani) as CEO (Sunind Systems Pvt. Ltd.), to pursue these activities.
This organization now has a functional “Digital Engineering Campus” (Web site: http:/
/www.engineeringcampus.com/) with hundreds of thousands of engineering students as
users, and hundreds of engineering teachers who interact with these students for
imparting a quality education.


Socio-Economic Details “ Some Observations

Engineering colleges in the state are divided in different categories as follows:
1. Government colleges “ Owned by government,
2. Semi-Government colleges “ Partially funded by government, and,
3. Private colleges “ Privately run colleges (self supporting “ financially).


State Government controls the admission process. The main reason for this control is to
ensure justice to a large number of candidates desiring the admission to limited seats.
A directive of the Supreme Court of India allows the private colleges to choose their own
fee structure (justifying it on the basis of their expenses). Subsequently, Government of
Maharashtra gave the freedom to private colleges to decide the amount of fees. However,
in September 2003, this led to the situation in which a majority of meritorious students
were forced to pay a huge amount of fees for their education, which they could not afford.
This effectively denied admission to a large number of such students belonging to the
families having average, and lower-income levels. Maharashtra state witnessed huge



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Digital Engineering Campus 351


social unrest disrupting the admission process. While the matter has now been referred
to special commissions, and courts, by and large, the existing fee structure in private
colleges is as follows:
(a) Free seats “ fee charged is same that of Government college,
(b) Paid seat “ fee charged is pretty high and is approximately eight to 10 times that
of free seat. (To control the social unrest, the state legislative assembly is in the
process of imposing directives about the fees for these seats.)


Cost-Effectiveness of Digital Solution

There is a scarcity of experienced professors in rural areas. Students in the colleges in
rural areas are bound to opt for private coaching classes or search for class notes of
renowned professors. They travel to different colleges in urban areas. They spend their
valuable time as well as money for this purpose. With a digital solution, they can get the
access to these professors at any given time from their computer system.
As a second example, engineering students have to undergo a summer internship
program and complete project work in industries in their final academic year. Due to
limited industries in many parts of the state, the students of colleges located in the remote
and underdeveloped areas have to travel to the industrially progressive belts where
industries are in ample numbers. For this they again spend thousands of rupees and
valuable time. In spite of spending a lot of money and time, it is not guaranteed that all
the students will get projects or summer training. Many of the students fall in traps and
buy dummy certificates and ready-made projects from small industries. This not only puts
students in monetary losses, but also hampers the quality of graduating engineers.
With Digital Engineering Campus, this situation is overcome by virtually bringing the
industries to every student, via the Internet. This site acts as a bridge between the
students and the industries. It is a give-and-take policy with a win-win situation, where
industries get a centralized database of all the students in the state, and the students get
access to the information about the industries. The industries select or search the
students™ list as per their criteria and inform the colleges through the Internet. Industries
also put up their requirements regarding the available projects and training on the web
portal. Students can view the list and then interact with the short-listed industries, and
personally call upon them or visit them.


Socio-Economic Acceptance of Digital Solution

In 2001, the acceptance of such a new, innovative idea was slow. However, the response
is improving very fast. Support of the government in these activities facilitates the
expansion of this digital Internet-based, e-learning system. Government recognition
plays a very important role in the initial phase, until the time the users of the site are well
aware of the usefulness of the contents.
In the study material section, discipline-wise courseware notes designed by subject
experts will be provided. Last minute revision is an added advantage. This is to help the


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permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.
352 Mahajan, Umrani & Chaudhari


students save valuable time, by doing away with referring many books for each and every
topic. Subject experts have designed the study material, after extracting information from
various books, so as to give the students the best possible course material.
University Question papers of previous years are available to the students. Viva and the
Oral Exams section help the students in preparing for the examinations through the Online
Oral Exams. In the Forum section, students can place their queries related to their
discipline, which are answered by the Subject Experts. This is especially useful for
students located in remote areas who can interact with the subject experts at any given
time and get their problems tackled on a one-to-one basis. Also, there is the facility to
browse the Question Archives and a few more features are included. Students have
already reported saving of their precious time and money.


Details and Future Expansion

The facilities provided on the Web site “EngineeringCampus.com” are listed separately
(in Appendix A). As a future expansion, a video-conferencing facility will be added to
the web portal. This is an innovative module being incorporated into the web-based e-
learning program. As the name suggests, the students can not only listen to the lectures
(Video Streaming), but also get in touch and interact with (Video Conferencing) eminent
lecturers, professors, distinguished persons from within the state or other parts of the
country by prior arrangements. Students are informed about the upcoming lectures and
seminars by group messages.


Socio-Economic Impact and Challenges in the
Immediate Future

Socio-economic impact involves far-reaching positive consequences. It is a gradual and
ongoing process where students, especially those from rural areas will benefit im-
mensely. Due to a tie-up with various industries for projects and placements, opportu-
nities for jobs will greatly increase. These trends will motivate the students to excel in
academics and at the same time gradually elevate the economic status.
The implementation of this web-based, e-learning portal incorporates distance learning,
advanced teaching models, development, visualization, delivery mechanisms of
courseware, video-conferencing, use of web browsing and e-mail facilities, facilities
which generate employment opportunities, etc.
Acceptance of this innovative e-learning concept as a supplement to the traditional
education system is a challenge. Interacting with thousands of students, colleges,
universities, faculties, and industries and bringing them all together on a single platform
poses an exciting prospect and a challenge. Penetrating rural areas with this latest
technology and its implementation is also a formidable task.




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permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.
Digital Engineering Campus 353


Benefits to the Student Community

We briefly give a list of some of the benefits of this initiative to students:
1. Study material, compiled by the highly qualified and experienced faculty, inter-
views and discussions involving eminent persons and constant contact with these
faculties for getting problems and queries solved,
2. Students can send solved answer papers and the experts will evaluate and suggest
changes and provide tips, etc.,
3. Students can put forth their views and interact with the elite panel,
4. Students can gain confidence of attending the much-dreaded “Vivas” by going
through a question bank of subjective and objective questions with model
answers,
5. Placements, summer training, and projects can be selected by interacting with the
various industries online, thus saving valuable time,
6. Guidance on the methods of preparation, handy hints and schedules of Post
Graduation and other competitive examinations (GATE, TOFFEL / GRE / CAT / CET,
etc.) and venues and other relevant details are easily available,
7. Being in touch with the latest developments in the field of science and technology
is possible, through publishing of white papers,
8. Placing orders and subsequent door delivery of engineering books (including
those which are difficult to procure), as well as CBT kits is done online,
9. Interaction with fellow students of different colleges, for exchange of information
like college festivals, picnics, and resale of engineering tools and instruments,
hostels, etc., is possible,
10. E-mail and chat facilities are provided,
11. Experts, college authorities and other people from the education department can
be contacted easily throughout the year for queries.


More details of digital solutions provided on engineeringcampus.com are given sepa-
rately in an Appendix A.




Concluding Remarks
Many facets of the web-based model of education have evolved in the last decade, and
advanced countries already have tools for implementing many of such important facets.
Some of the most important features of web-based education are: (i) learning by doing,
(ii) learning through discussion (boards), with the ability to review discussion threads,
(iii) quick self-evaluation, and (iv) guided feedback. Companies like Blackboard have
already well-established tools for implementing such features. Evaluation of effective-



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permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.
354 Mahajan, Umrani & Chaudhari


ness of these technologies is frequently carried out in advanced countries. The results
of such studies lead to continuous improvements in tools for developing web-based
education.
Developing countries like India have tremendous growth potential in web-based educa-
tion. NGO™s have been supplementing such efforts in India. A lot remains to be done
about systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of these efforts. However, in general
the advantages derived by experiments like “Digital Engineering Campus” are highly
useful from socio-economic considerations.




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Digital Engineering Campus 355


Appendix

Brief Overview of “Digital Engineering Campus”

The students get registered on the Web site and are provided unique user names and
passwords for logging onto the Web site and making use of the facilities provided. A joint
committee, comprising of company employees and officials from the education depart-
ment co-ordinates and monitors the progress and oversees the implementation.
The examples of Digital Engineering Campus (www.engineeringcampus.com) implemen-
tation in Maharashtra and Assam states of India are highly encouraging. Maharashtra
has nearly 150,000 students pursuing various engineering courses. Here, the project has
been successfully implemented at some colleges. Similarly, it is in the process of being
implemented in the northeastern state of Assam, which is remotely located and has a hilly
terrain. Thus, Digital Engineering Campus is a boon to the engineering students of
Assam, who can interact with the best academicians and gain the knowledge in spite of
being remotely located. Industries in the country are accessible for summer training,
projects and placements.
In Assam, an implementation of a pilot project for the students and faculty of the
Government College of Engineering “ Guwahati pursuing Bachelor™s degree and Post
Graduation various disciplines of Engineering has been done. The contents displayed
on the web-based, e-learning program are made available to all the students and faculty
of the concerned disciplines, separately. Staff and students of the Government College
of Engineering “ Guwahati are able to access the data pertaining to their disciplines, by
use of unique user names and passwords, provided by the company Sunind Systems Pvt.
Ltd. (SSPL).


Details of Implementation in Maharashtra State

More than 18 facilities offered to the students are broadly classified under five headings,
namely:
1. Academics
2. Industry
3. General
4. User
5. Others


1. The Academics section deals with all the academic requirements of the students
and provides guidance in the form of study material/question papers/forum to
interact with experts/video streaming/video-conferencing, etc. Highly qualified
and experienced (10 years+) Experts™ panel is responsible for handling the respec-
tive disciplines.


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356 Mahajan, Umrani & Chaudhari


2. Industry as the name suggests, provides unlimited opportunities to the students
to explore avenues for projects, summer training and jobs. This innovative facility
for the first time brings the students and the industry together on a common
platform.
3. Facilities like Online Bookstore, post-graduation (PG) “ higher education oppor-
tunities, contacts, News from Directorate of Technical Education, etc., are provided
in the General section.
4. In the User section, information about self (academic/medical/personal), enhanc-
ing general knowledge, tests and quiz, being in touch with classmates and other
fun-filled activities, etc., are possible.
5. Others section provides information of the college (disciplines/number of seats/
staff strength/facilities, etc.) and also helps the parents keep track of their wards™
progress in the college.


A brief description of each of the sections is given in the following:


Academics

Study Material: As the name suggests, discipline wise courseware notes designed by
subject experts, conforming to the university syllabi, is provided in this section. Last
minute revision is an added advantage. This is to help the students save valuable time,
by doing away with referring to many books for each and every topic. Subject experts
have designed the study material, after extracting information from various books/
journals/ papers, etc., so as to give the students the best possible course material.
Graphical representations, animations, 3-D models, etc., of theories, mathematical calcu-
lations, structural and functional aspects of different systems, are incorporated for better
understanding of the subjects. Procedures encouraged by the Dept. of IT “ Government
of India, like development of courseware, various teaching models, distance learning,
etc., have been incorporated here.
Oral Exams: Students face problems during Vivas. This section helps the students in
preparing for the oral examinations through the provision of subjective and objective
question bank. Students can assess their knowledge by undertaking practice and online
tests, where they can attempt to answer a set of questions. At the end, their performance
analysis (based on the topics / number of wrong answers, list of wrong answers) is given.
This facility can also help the students for competitive exam preparations.
Question Papers: University Question papers of the previous five years are available to
the students. Moreover, Model Answer Sets prepared by the Subject Experts can also
be obtained. A question bank is also maintained, which can be used by the students for
self-assessment. Solved question papers can be sent to respective subject experts
(through us) for assessment and valuable tips can be gained.
Emerging Technology: Students are kept abreast of the global emerging trends and
technologies, through this section. White papers on these latest technologies are
provided to the students. Details of projects successfully implemented by the ex-



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permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.
Digital Engineering Campus 357


students at the industry level are published so as to encourage the thought processes
and motivate the students.
Video Streaming & Conferencing: These are two innovative modules being incorpo-
rated into the web-based, e-learning program. As the names suggest, the students can
not only listen to the lectures (Video Streaming), but also get in touch and interact with
(Video Conferencing) eminent lecturers, professors, distinguished persons from within
the state / other parts of the country by prior arrangements. Students are informed about
the upcoming lectures and seminars by group messages.
Forum: In this section, students place their queries related to their discipline / career,
which are answered by the Subject Experts. This is especially useful for students who
are shy and feel hesitant to get their problems tackled on a one-to-one basis. Facility to
browse the Question Archives for questions that have been asked by fellow students
and few more features are also included.


Industry

This facility offers a common meeting ground for the student community and the
industry. Here, the academic performances and other details of all the students are made
available to the industries from all over the country. Industries put up details of their
profiles for the benefit of the student community. Industries can easily tap the right

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