IIT-M projects aim to reduce dropouts, improve learning

NEW DELHI: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras are working on two projects that useand data analytics to improve learning outcomes for students.

They are analysing data from open-access learning portal NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) in order to reduce dropouts and improve understanding.

NPTEL is a platform where teachers from the IITs put up videos on subjects generally related to engineering and science. Students can view them and get certifications for the courses they complete, at a nominal fee of Rs 1,000. In fact, engineering colleges have been mandated by AICTE (AllCouncil for Technical Education), the apex body for technical education in India, to cover 15-20% of their undergraduate syllabus through NPTEL.

“Many engineering colleges in smaller cities rely on NPTEL videos,” said Arun Rajkumar, one of the lead investigators in the project. “We want to make it as accessible as possible.”

According to Rajkumar, the completion rate of students who sign up for a course is only 10%. The rest drop out. The NPTEL page onhas 1.5 million subscribers and 348 million views. According to Rajkumar, over 300,000 people have signed up on the website so far.

Rajkumar said they want to understand why people drop out and design ways to prevent that. For instance, if they get to know that students are leaving because they don’t understand a basic concept, they can prompt the students to watch a video on basics first. A researcher from IIT Palakkad is also working on this project.

The programme will be supported by theCentre for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (RBC DSAI) at IIT Madras.

IIT Madras researchers are also working on a project that analyses data to improve education — this time, among school students. Nandan Sudarsanam, the principal investigator of the project, said they are working with the Tamil Nadu government to improve literacy and mathematical abilities among students from classes 9 to 12.

“Education is one of the best mediums for societal impact,” said Sudarsanam.

The project, started in July this year with a funding of Rs 46.4 lakh from the Tamil Nadu government to IIT Madras, is being executed at RBC DSAI. The researchers have so far been able to identify the “hot spots” — or critical areas which need attention — in the curriculum. They plan to conduct experiments on what kind of additional content —generated internally by school teachers, or available for free in the public domain — can help improve learning. “For example, does a video help, or an animated video help better? How much augmentation with Tamil helps? The project will be able to answer questions like that,” said Sudarsanam. “The digital medium truly enables the use of AI to make meaningful improvements.”

The intervention will be carried out in the hi-tech labs that the Tamil Nadu government is in the process of setting up in over 6,000 schools in the state. These labs will have 10 computers each, projectors and internet, among other facilities.