When Maharashtra closed educational institutions from March 16 due to the coronavirus outbreak, Mumbai-based S.P.Jain Institute of Management & Research (Bhavan's SPJIMR) went live with online classes the very next day. It could do so because of advance planning, but, more importantly, due to tie-up with technology enablers such as Zoom for meetings, TCS iON for enterprise resource planning (ERP), ExamSoft and eKOSH for online assessments and Padlet for collaboration among students.
SPJIMR is not alone. Technology providers are fast taking over B-school campuses with the promise of better student engagement and learning outcomes. The change has been happening for years, but the pandemic, and the need for technology to enable remote teaching, have encouraged them to press the pedal. "The pandemic made virtual examination platforms indispensable to education continuity for every institution and a lot of B-Schools started leveraging these," says Siddhartha Gupta, CEO, Mercer | Mettl, remote proctoring and online examination partner of a number of leading B-schools.
The booming B-School segment that Mercer | Mettl is a part of has, apart from providers of specialised online courses such as Coursera, edEX and IIMBx, technology providers such as CoCubes that are using AI/ML to ensure students do not cheat during exams, and RemoteXs and McGraw Hill that are helping students access the best e-content globally with a few clicks.
The reason all these players are upbeat is simple. Technology spend at B-school campuses across India is expected to cross $100 million per year over the next five years by growing at 7 per cent a year, a market large enough to encourage innovation. For instance, Impartus, which offers interactive smart classes, has deployed its complete video conferencing solution in IIM-B, Manipal University, IFIM Bangalore, Jaipuria Institute of Management and Bharati Vidyapeeth University. The platform enables editing/distribution of content, apart from offering a discussion forum, content library, analytics and gamification of content. It charges $1,000 per month for online classes for 1,000 students annually. It also offers an offline-to-online model where it sets up a minimum of five classrooms. The set-up includes third-party hardware, software and online classes. The cost for hardware and software (one-time) is Rs 20 lakh. This is in addition to a recurring fee of $1,000 a month. The offline-online model is effective for courses such as finance and operations, with equations and formulas, that cannot be taught using just Power Point presentations and involves setting up a few smart classrooms where a professor walks in and conducts his class on the board as students watch him live.
"The challenge with video conferencing apps such as Google Meet and Zoom is that a separate link and password is created for every class. As hundreds of links and passwords are being sent to students on a daily basis, there is need for automation," says Teja Gudluru, Founder & CEO, UDo, which offers Deify Box, an 'institution in a box' solution with features such as online classes, recorded classes, library, assessments, code learning, fee collection and more.
Higher education institutes, catering to the digital-first generation, have opened up to investing in technology like never before. They are also looking to tap the rising number of working professionals investing in upskilling. Even corporates have now opened up to the idea of helping employees take higher education courses with the help of technology without hampering work. "The investment that B-schools are making in technology should be given the same importance as investment in buildings and other facilities," says Anindya Mallick, Partner, Deloitte India.
India has over 5,000 MBA institutes, of which 250 are considered good. Technology spends fall under various categories, including recruitment- and enrolment-related, classroom-based content simulation, gamification and AI/ML-based systems to manage student outcomes. "Although enterprise application and IT spends in the education sector are projected to grow at around 7 per cent CAGR, to $800 million by 2023, hardly 10 per cent of this will go into B-schools. With the NEP (New Education Policy) framework and Covid-19 disruption, institutions will have to reinvent teaching and learning outcomes. Most of the spending will be around student-centric outcome-driven systems," says Raj Mruthyunjayappa, SVP & MD, International Operations, Anthology Inc., which is working with 100-plus B-Schools to provide ERP solutions.
Learning platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, edX and IIMBx are transforming management education by providing access to best faculty and specialised courses. IIM-B had started offering massive open online courses in 2014 through its digital learning initiative, IIMBx, in partnership with edX, a not-for-profit online initiative of Harvard University and MIT. IIMBx offers open online courses in all areas of management - data and insights, economics, finance, marketing, people management, operations and strategy. Similarly, Coursera For Campus provides access to content from 200 top universities and industry educators, helping higher education institutions enhance their curricula with critical skills. Coursera has over 3,600 specialised courses. Institutes such as TAPMI are even issuing students a licence that they can use to access any course free of cost.
"The workforce is under pressure to upskill to stay job-relevant. Many learners have enrolled in Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Machine Learning and Coding courses and specialisations during the lockdown. As organisations look to strengthen their capabilities in AI and automation, we can expect continued uptake of specialised content," says Raghav Gupta, Managing Director, India and APAC, Coursera.
While students can attend classes online, problems arise when they seek access to books and journals. US-based EBSCO, a provider of library solutions, McGraw Hill Education and DELNET, have helped Lovely Professional University make available a repository of over 2.5 lakh e-resources, e-books, e-journals, e-magazines, e-research papers, along with other study material, by hosting their URLs on the unified management system for students and faculty.
McGraw-Hill India has been supporting the education community in transitioning to online delivery. It is even assisting with course design and implementation of McGraw-Hill learning technologies. Some institutes are making ebooks available on Kindle as well.
US-based RemoteXs offers a cloud-based service model that enables libraries to create digital portals. It provides secured access to scattered e-resources of the institution, bringing them under one umbrella, along with subscribed e-journals, e-books and other e-content from anywhere. The Vikram Sarabhai Library of IIM-A provides RemoteXs facility to current students and faculty which is accessible to current IIM-A students and faculty members. MDI Gurgaon has also been using RemoteXs along with digitised study material from publishers.
Group Projects/Online Tests
Student collaboration is one of the key aspects of management learning. Video conferencing solutions such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex have emerged as preferred solutions for this. But some B-schools have opted for Padlet, which allows groups to share notes, videos, images and even post on a common whiteboard. Institutes are also experimenting with Ment.io, which offers digital discussion boards, by integrating it with learning management systems or Microsoft Teams.
Due to the lockdown, B-Schools are looking beyond traditional ways of conducting assessments. This involves conducting online examinations through innovative, application-oriented and quiz-based question paper that also covers short case-based scenarios. "Our Course evaluations included quizzes, term-end exams, project submissions and simulations," says Dr. Anil Vaidya, Professor and Area Head, Information Management at SPJIMR. Redesigning the question paper format was done in-house at SPJIMR. A number of institutes are switching to online examination by outsourcing to companies with proctoring expertise such as CoCubes, a virtual examination solution, which uses AI to flag suspicious activity and identifies possible malpractitioners with accuracy - before, during & after the exam - through live video feed, facial recognition, impersonation and object detection. It works at low internet speeds too. It has been adopted by MDI Gurgaon.
Mercer | Mettl is the remote proctoring and online examination partner of most top IIMs, ISB Hyderabad, BML Munjal University and other institutes in India and abroad. It is working with over 100 institutes in India.
Placements are also happening virtually. Most institutes have taken a licence for web-conferencing solutions for online recruitments. "Instead of in-campus interviews, our summer internship and placements are going online. Our placement group already has dedicated Zoom and Microsoft Teams licences," says Professor Sangeeta Shah Bharadwaj, Chairperson, Digital Infrastructure, MDI Gurgaon.
Upscaling technology for going online was much easier for institutions that had invested in ERP software. These solutions helped them with data compilation and streamlining operations. While it automates administration work, ERP also has the potential to elevate student and faculty engagement and experience.
"ERP facilitates the entire student lifecycle from admission to graduation for each student at IIM-Udaipur. It helps in processes such as course bidding, course registration, attendance management, feedback, fee accounting. We are also partly managing our alumni network through ERP," says Professor Janat Shah, Director, IIM Udaipur. ERP brings everything under a single window - admission, course selection, timetable, access to assignments, even collaboration.
"The Indian ecosystem has adopted a unified ERP system. The kind of flexi-learning the NEP has allowed can't be executed without all three pieces of automation (administration automation, student involvement and faculty involvement)," says Anthology's Mruthyunjayappa.
Generation of automated reports with ERP is also helping colleges switch to data-driven decisions and counselling. "Earlier, the data that was captured was used for day-to-day operational purposes. Today, predictive analytics can tell with reasonable precision how the new applicant will go through in the two years of distant education. Data and correlation analysis can tell you a lot about a student, a course or even its adoption in the industry. Analytics is going to change a lot that was not possible before," says Narayanan Ramaswamy, National Leader, Education and Skill Development, KPMG in India. For instance, Bangalore-based KopyKitab is using AI/ML to help institutes track users and make more accurate recommendations based on language, city, campus, grade level, renting history, etc. It is also helping B-Schools identify specific needs of students.
What the pandemic has managed to do is fast-forward many technological changes that were till now on the drawing board. It's for the B-Schools to carry them forward in the years to come.