BYOD comes to educational campuses

by Darinia Khongwir    Mar 25, 2013

BITS Pilani

Bring your own device is fast catching on even on education campuses. This was made possible due to the new IT deployment across BIT campuses. Prof Rahul Banerjee said that with this new deployment, BITS Pilani students can now use mutli-platform devices to catch up on lessons they may have missed.

“Because the new deployment allows for on-demand learning, students can also opt for out of classroom lessons and get back to it at a later stage,” said Prof Rahul Banerjee, Computer Science The BITSConnect 2.0 is also in collaboration with the BITS Pilani alumni association and it allows for real-time distance learning–where offsite students can log on and seek classes via telepresence and video conferencing. 

BITS, which has four geographically distributed campuses in PIlani, Goa, Hyderabad and Dubai, felt there was a need to connect all of them tightly for pedagogic as well as administrative reasons. It was also critical to enable the alumni to easily connect with all campuses (especially the new ones). BITS was also challenged with regards to campus placements because the same company had to visit different campuses multiple times.

Immersive Telepresence is just the starting point of the highly interactive multi-site collaborative learning environment at BITS Pilani. The next logical step is integrating it with 3-d holographic projection and manipulation technology
-Prof Rahul Banerjee, Computer Science, BITS Pilani

Additionally when an alumni or guests visited one campus, students in all campuses could not benefit from their wisdom. Guest lectures from abroad could be facilitated in only one campus at a time via video conferencing. Since these lecturers did not have time to repeat the same lecture four times, many students were deprived of knowledge transfer in real-time.

Faculty shortage in higher degree courses/ electives was a challenge across campuses because the need for specialized electives varied in extent across different campuses making it very difficult to launch electives in all fourcampuses.

To overcome these issues, BITS along with BITSAA, its alumni community, launched the BITSConnect 2.0, a multi-million dollar project that leverages Cisco’s collaboration portfolio to enhance teacher-student-alumni interaction across its campuses.

Network Solution

BITS Pilani began to evaluate the need for an integrated solution that could facilitate next-generation learning experience for its students across geographies. A very detailed evaluation process was undertaken with many vendors including Cisco. Cisco’s Immersive Telepresence, High-definition Video Conferencing, and Cisco’s Webex technologies were chosen to be part of the integrated solution. The primary reason for choosing Cisco was the breadth of its offerings in addition to the fact that the solutions are inter-operable and scalable. The project investigation began in Sept 2010 and the project was delivered in Jan 2013 well before the 2014 timeframe.

Using Cisco’s collaboration solution portfolio BITS has been able to facilitate knowledge transfer in real time more efficiently. Faculty and staff meetings are conducted via multi-party voice-conferencing (scheduled and on-demand with optional recording), and numerous voice-conferences are required each week between various campuses and collaborators (faculty for coursework discussion or between administrative staff). On an average about 10 meetings are conducted every day with about 2-8 users from each of the 3 campuses at any point and these meetings are supported in-house without reliance on a third party.

In addition to this web-conferencing with people outside BITS is also possible, where the alumni or Industry experts from outside BITS deliver lectures via audio/video/PPT into BITS classrooms and join meetings with the BITS faculty. On an average 3-5 such meetings take place every day with nearly 100 plus users.

The implementation has also made possible multi-campus classroom teaching whereby high-definition telepresence is used for teaching and helps provide multi-way HD Video and interactivity within the classrooms. One professor or an invited dignitary can interactively address students/ staff across all campuses from one of the designated classrooms in any given campus. The classroom is equipped with all necessary audio/video/presentation capabilities making it a seamless experience.

The interaction between the teacher and students is such that the teacher feels like it is a single classroom and any student can ask a question anytime. On an average eight such classes are conducted every day, each with about 20-60 students across the three campuses.

“Immersive Telepresence is just the starting point of the highly interactive multi-site collaborative learning environment at BITS Pilani. The next logical step is integrating it with 3-d holographic projection and manipulation technology,” said Prof Banerjee.