Different mechanisms with distinctive mode of delivery

Interview series

Prof. Supratik Chakraborty, IIT Bombay

Computer Science and Engineering

Mar 2018 (I) By Dr. Veenita Shah


Prof. Supratik Chakraborty shared some valuable insights on his take on MOOCs, and the future that lies with it. Prof. Chakraborty has mentored two MOOCs through IITBombayX, namely Introduction to Computer Programming and Object-Oriented Programming, along with Prof. D. B. Phatak.

"Overall, it has been a mixed experience for me. Though there are some commonalities between teaching in a classroom and teaching through MOOCs, there are also some fundamental differences between the two. MOOCs involve different mechanisms with distinctive mode of delivering instructions. It has been a lot of learning experience for me as well," says Prof. Chakraborty.

MOOC creation is demanding and requires tremendous diligence, with long hours of preparation and attention to detail from the instructors. Teaching a course can be extremely challenging when reaching out to a massive student community from diverse backgrounds. Prof. Chakraborty mentioned the exemplary lectures from Richard Feynman, a legendary American physicist, and how he looks up to him as well as other MOOCs methodology pioneers such as Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, who have perfected the art of speaking in front of a large audience. "It requires a certain amount of visualization in what the student at the other end might be finding difficult in the lecture, and then addressing those issues. So, it is a kind of an open-loop system. However, if we want to reach out to millions of students across the country and beyond, we do not have an alternative," says Prof. Chakraborty.


“There is no substitute to studying in a top-class university, but given that it is not feasible for everyone, MOOCs is the next best thing to access those pedagogic methodologies, knowledge, expertise and skills.”


MOOCs function with different modes of deliveries, namely instructor-paced, self-paced and hybrid MOOCs. Prof. Chakraborty, having conducted MOOCs in all these three modes, believes that the effectiveness of the mode of delivery depends on the context. In cases where it is possible to keep the class synchronized, and maintain the same pace in the course, the instructor-paced MOOCs are well suited. Self-paced MOOCs provide time flexibility to students, whereas hybrid MOOCs are particularly beneficial for students desiring interaction with the instructor. Each of these modes has their own niche applicability with distinctive characteristics.

The role of online learning in education has been a topic of debate for years. As a MOOC instructor, Prof. Chakraborty states that there can hardly be any debate on the benefits of classroom teaching by good teachers over online learning. In a more practical setting, however, there are advantages and disadvantages of both the methodologies.

Nevertheless, online learning is indispensable, and is here to stay. "Between face-to-face classroom teaching vs. online learning, I would any day prefer class room teaching with a face-to-face interaction with the students. However, we do not have this luxury today for a very large section of student body, which leaves us with no other option but online learning, which scales up the numbers easily. There is no substitute to studying in a top-class university, but given that it is not feasible for everyone, MOOCs is the next best thing to access those pedagogic methodologies, knowledge, expertise and skills. I think online learning will become an essential part of education in case we want to reach out to the masses with quality education," he says.


“The satisfaction at the end of it is that there are thousands of students who get benefitted from outside our institute, and hopefully all our efforts have a positive impact on these students.“


MOOCs come with their own set of challenges. One of the challenges that MOOC participants face is the inability to raise a query to the instructor during the course of a lecture. This in some way perhaps affects the level of understanding of the participants. Prof. Chakraborty encourages MOOC students to resolve such challenges by giving their best. "My way of addressing such MOOCs concerns is that students should take MOOCs with as much seriousness, sincerity and perseverance as a regular university course. It is not meant to be a spoon-feeding mechanism. There are some excellent instructors speaking at the other end of the camera but it does not take away the effort that is required by the students to learn the subject," says Prof. Chakraborty.

Prof Chakraborty requests the student community, not having access to subject experts, to view MOOCs as an excellent resource and an enormous opportunity, provided almost free of cost. "MOOCs are a versatile and potent way of education from skilled teachers to students who may never meet these teachers in their entire lives. It should be looked upon as a huge step taken forward in providing quality education right at their doorstep; however, they must open the doors and accept it. Learning requires commitment both from students' as well as instructors' side. MOOCs, a unique resource made available by some of the best instructors all over the world, provide material online that is more than what any student can absorb," he says.

Lastly, Prof Chakraborty pointed out the indispensable support from the IITBombayX team during his courses. "I don't think I would have been able to deliver MOOCs without the support of IITBombayX teams. I can't describe how much their help was instrumental. The way the team is set up and functions as a whole is excellent. The real effort that I had to put in was related to preparing for my recording, and the rest was seamlessly taken care by the team. So, a big thanks to IITBombayX team," he says.