A flexible and potent way of learning

Interview series

Prof. Uday N. Gaitonde, IIT Bombay

Mechanical Engineering

Mar 2018 (II) By Dr. Veenita Shah



Professor Uday N. Gaitonde from the department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Bombay has been serving in the institute since 1980. With 37 years of teaching expertise in IIT Bombay, and also having conducted MOOCs, he is a perfect exemplar of experience from both worlds — the traditional classroom teaching and online education. The interview uncovers the main pedagogical mission of MOOCs, driven by the dedicated instructors and institutions.

The faculty participating in MOOCs is obviously open to experimentation with this new educational innovation, and the consequences associated with it. One of these experimenters, Prof. Gaitonde finds MOOCs as an extremely flexible mode of teaching and learning. “Looking at a captive and interested audience to receive immediate feedback through their faces and body language is a huge advantage in classroom teaching. However, for an experienced teacher, who has taught the subject a reasonable number of times, it should not be difficult to teach an imaginative live audience in front of him/her in a sterile and sanitized atmosphere such as the recording room of MOOCs.”


“Online learning through MOOCs also helps the student community, who has no breathing space in the classroom.”


Exemplifying the schedule of his course Thermodynamics, Prof. Gaitonde said, “Educationalists have realized and suggested sub-modules (10-15 min) for MOOCs, keeping the shorter attention span of students in mind. Our course was essentially a 36-hour course, spanning over 12 weeks with 209 appropriately structured videos, each of about 10 min. It worked very well for us.” Prof. Gaitonde believes that a normal class has a spectrum of students with different intellectual abilities and different prior backgrounds. “Classroom teaching is conducted at one pace, which may not be easy for students who can’t assimilate around 45 min of monologue so rapidly. Thus, online learning through MOOCs also helps the student community, who has no breathing space in the classroom, since they can now go over and over the same content at their own leisure. In addition, with a shortage of quality teaching resources and ever increasing competitive environment in India, MOOCs will turn out to be an excellent channel of knowledge, if exploited appropriately,” he said.

There has been a constant and ongoing debate on whether MOOCs can improve the overall quality of higher education in our system. In this regard, Prof. Gaitonde presents the example of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing press when knowledge became available to everyone through books; or the discovery of internet, which furthered the cause massively. Both of these sources became perpetual and additional channels to knowledge, in addition to traditional classroom learning through teachers, which can never be replaced. At the same time, he says, “Classroom teaching should not be the only mode of learning, and students today should make use of all available facilities. MOOCs are another very flexible and potent way of learning, available at a negligible cost. Finally, an equilibrium will be established where classroom learning, textbooks, libraries, internet-based learning and MOOCs will collectively enrich our education system.”


“MOOCs should not be compared with college education since the two serve different purposes in their respective ways“


Although the benefits of MOOCs are quite obvious, they have received extensive critique from the educationalists. The truth is that there are no inherent disadvantages associated with MOOCs; except a number of apprehensions in our minds, making us reluctant to accept it. Prof. Gaitonde says, “MOOCs are created by a few faculty members, and thus their views will influence it. If a student beholds MOOC as the sole source to learn a subject, then it becomes a disadvantage created by the MOOC user by using it in an inappropriate manner. Referring to other modes of learning, and seeking education from experienced teachers in person, whenever possible, is vital for participants to enrich their learning process.”

Prof. Gaitonde believes that MOOCs have already begun to show a positive influence on the campus-teaching through flipped classroom and hybrid mode of teaching. “The MOOC has made instructors rethink about their approach towards teaching. I feel instructors should spend enough time in communicating with the participants since many students find it challenging to accept this new mode of learning over the traditional teaching-learning methodology,” he says. Instructor’s interaction with the participants will motivate them to complete the course, and benefit from it. At the same time, Prof. Gaitonde thinks that MOOCs success has nothing to do with the dropout rates of the same. “I have taken, and completed a few MOOCs myself, and learnt greatly. At the same time, I have not gone through their evaluation, which makes me a dropout. However, I beg to differ here since I accomplished the purpose behind my registration for the course i.e. seeking knowledge. Thus, MOOCs should not be compared with college education since the two serve different purposes in their respective ways,” he said.

Building and executing MOOCs requires institutional resources and robust technical support to cater to various MOOC-specific components. Prof. Gaitonde states that the support and back-up provided by IITBombayX, including scheduling of events, video recordings, editing and management of online activities, is exceptional. Realizing the highly labor-intensive nature of the process, and the resources and efforts required by various teams involved in delivering MOOCs, the learners should make the most of this high-quality educational content and information, which has been made accessible to them.