MOOC is not a mere use of technology in classroom teaching

Interview series

Deepak B Phatak, IIT Bombay

Computer Science and Engineering

Sept, 2018 By Dr. Veenita Shah


Prof. Deepak B Phatak has been working with IIT Bombay since 1971, and has been a recipient of many awards and accolades including ‘Padma Shri’ by the Government of India. He focused on improvement in quality of education since 1998, by starting the Distance Education Program, and the MOOCs platform – IITBombayX in 2014. He has offered several MOOC courses himself including, Introduction to Computer Programming, Foundation Program in ICT for education, Programming Basics, to name a few.

Sharing the development of MOOCs in IIT Bombay in 2013, Prof. Phatak told, “With the emergence of MOOCs from leading players like edX, Coursera and Udacity, we also decided to participate. We wanted to partner with some global entity so that our courses can benefit learners across the globe. The committee appointment, including myself, zeroed on to the edx consortium for two reasons: 1) edX itself is a not for profit company, which was closer to the intents of IITBombay, and 2) edX had announced that they will release their entire platform code in open source, which meant that IIT Bombay could jump start the activities by adapting that open source. While we offered some courses on Edx, which we still continue to offer, we also started offering courses for Indian students by developing an Indian platform, called as IITBombayX. Subsequently, we developed a blended MOOCs approach and pedagogy to integrate the advantages of online education with face-to-face teaching-learning. Overall, it has been an excellent experience, and IIT Bombay has become one of the leading providers of MOOCs, probably the only provider of blended MOOCs in the country, and perhaps one of the few in the world.”


“IIT Bombay has become one of the leading providers of MOOCs, probably the only provider of blended MOOCs in the country, and perhaps one of the few in the world.”


The conduct of MOOCs requires three major teams, including the teachers and teaching assistants, content team, and a video team. Prof. Phatak shared that since IIT Bombay conducts large-scale online teacher training programs, the teams already existed which contributed towards the MOOCs efforts. “In fact we started conducting large-scale teacher training programs using a blend of online learning and face-to-face interactions,” he shared. Regarding his view on blended approach of MOOCs, Prof. Phatak told, “Though it was not termed as blended learning earlier, online resources have regularly been used by teachers in conventional classrooms since years. Classroom teaching can be augmented by providing MOOCs platform to students, where classroom interactions can be largely used for discussions and problem solving, which certainly results in a much better learning. I am convinced that in future, the blended learning will be the way forward.”

Many MOOC critics compare traditional classroom teaching with MOOCs. However, Prof. Phatak believes that there is no real comparison between the two. “I think it’s a very unfair comparison since these are two completely different mechanisms. The classroom teaching and learning exists for more than 400 years, whereas MOOCs has come up only in the last 5 years. So it is too early to become judgemental about the effectiveness of MOOCs. However, what MOOCs has achieved so far is extensive outreach at scale, and there is no comparison of this outreach with the conventional classroom teaching model.”


“It is too early to become judgemental about the effectiveness of MOOCs.“


Self-paced mode in MOOCs is essentially intended for learners to study at their own time and pace without any compulsion of completing a segment in a particular time frame. In comparison, an instructor-paced MOOC provides an environment with rigid time-table and precise deadlines, which learners are required to meet. Prof. Phatak believes that these two modes are meant for two completely different objectives and purposes. “A learner in self-paced mode needs to be extremely disciplined, and the onus of learning is essentially on the student. However, in an instructor-paced mode, the onus of learning is still truly on the learner, but there is an external disposition of certain discipline which helps the learner to learn better,” he explained.

Assessment in MOOCs has always been a debated topic. Based on his experience with MOOCs, Prof. Phatak stated there are some assessment design strategies in MOOCs, which are impossible in a standard paper-pencil examination. “There is a huge randomization possible in multiple choice questions which practically eliminates the worry of cheating. The weakest link in MOOC assessment is the subjective question type. Efforts are being made, like the peer-review mechanism, and development in machine learning to automatically grade subjective answers, which will take some time,” he told.

Designing of MOOCs is a critical learning in itself. Many teachers misinterpret MOOCs as mere use of technology in classroom teaching. Prof. Phatak states that it is important to clear such misconceptions, which led IIT Bombay in designing of four special MOOCs, called as MOOCs on MOOCs. Describing these MOOCs, Prof. Phatak added, “The first MOOC is based on planning a MOOC, the second is based on designing the MOOC content, the third is on how to conduct a MOOC, and the last one explains how to adapt a MOOC. The main challenge lies in proper conceptualization, planning, content creation, conduct and adaption of MOOCs. Thus, these kinds of trainings are absolutely essential for all teachers who wish to offer MOOCs.”

Teachers lacking resources to create a MOOC can still utilize the courses available on any open source platforms. Prof. Phatak informed that IITBombayX is developing a configurable version of the platform, which can be installed in local servers by any institution. “This will allow any teacher at such an institute to either import the courses of IITBombayX and use them as they are, or adapt a course by slightly modifying the existing MOOC. They can also create their own MOOC with enough resources and training on MOOC delivery. Thus, the possibilities are enormous.”

Prof. Phatak believes that the limitations of MOOCs are primarily psychological. He mentioned that our teachers and students are used to the conventional mode of teaching-learning. He further added, “I think one of the biggest limitation is that the adaption to MOOCs is not happening at a faster pace. However, it will happen as more learners start benefitting from it. The other limitation is regarding MOOC adaption in our educational systems. Although the government of India has made rules and regulations on earning and transfer of MOOC credits, the autonomous organizations do not automatically accept the credits earned from another university. Thus, the learners shy away from spending extra time on something, which does not necessarily result in recognition. This is the fundamental reason why the MOOCs dropout rate is so high. The moment there is an amalgamation of MOOCs with the regular educational framework, this dropout rate will vanish. These mechanisms are yet to evolve for MOOCs.”


“The main challenge lies in proper conceptualization, planning, content creation, conduct and adaption of MOOCs.”


According to Prof. Phatak, the two major impediments for a MOOC learner are availability of an affordable device, and the internet connectivity. “The internet bandwidth is still not good enough in many locations to accommodate thousands of students accessing the platform at the same time. Secondly, not all students have an affordable access device with them. I believe, in the coming years, both these limitations will be addressed through evolution of our educational ecosystem,” he told.

The impact of online learning in future of education is being predicted to be tremendous. Sharing his view on it, Prof. Phatak added, “Utilizing teachers with expertise has always been an intention of the education system, resulting in reference books by experts. MOOCs provide us with the facility to learn entire courses by such experts. Therefore, the biggest impact of MOOCs is the availability and accessibility of education to all learners. Although the current MOOCs in the country concentrates on higher education, I am convinced that its utility is tremendous in skill and professional development, and even in school education.” He further concluded by stating that, “MOOCs for India have perhaps the greatest impact possibility that we ever had, and it can actually transform the entire Indian education system in the coming years.”