In the classroom of a private engineering and management college in Shivamogga in central Karnataka, students got a glimpse of virtual reality (VR) thanks to a young professor, Arvind Mallik. In a VR pilot he ran last year, Mallik showcased the impact of the technology in influencing “consumer behaviour” by changing perceptions.
Mallik, a techno-optimist and assistant professor at PES Institute of Technology and Management, Shivamogga, loves experimenting with teaching methodologies. Armed with the learnings garnered from the pilot, he now wants to integrate VR better in an upcoming course on integrated marketing communication.
Mallik has won many awards and found himself a place in the India Book of Records for his innovative teaching methods. And the students love his sessions, which reflects in their high pass rate — 97%.
But Mallik still finds himself shackled in the constraints of a conservative education system.
“The education industry is getting dragged by old hedgehogs. They don’t want to move even one step away from their current direction, forget taking a larger leap” — Arvind Mallik
He’s not the only one. More often than not, managements of educational institutions cling to status quo and old methods of imparting education. They’re usually apathetic and unreceptive to experiments with every cog in the wheel being geared towards achieving higher ‘pass’ numbers and getting students placed (irrespective of the company).
Mallik finds himself stuck in a system that rewards going by the textbook and ensuring students score in a staid evaluation process. The prevailing thought seems to be that if it isn’t in the book, it’s a waste of time.
Even when Mallik wanted to introduce something as simple as flipped classrooms, the university and even the students (they came around later though) were resistant. “When I started doing this, some professors even laughed at me,” he says.
So, all of Mallik’s experiments have been personal initiatives. He learnt how to build a site, set up his own videography equipment, and is now working with content providers to source free or cheap content that he can use to showcase the power of VR to students.
Although not bogged down by the lack of support, Mallik feels that his initiatives will remain limited and ad-hoc because this apathy from the institution
Although not bogged down by the lack of support, Mallik feels that his initiatives will remain limited and ad-hoc because this apathy from the institution. For instance, in order to better integrate VR into the course curriculum, there needs to be ground up work to build unique content with service providers, but he feels the institute will never go for this.
“The education industry is getting dragged by old hedgehogs. They don’t want to move even one step away from their current direction, forget taking a larger leap,” says Mallik.
The professor and VR
Mallik’s tryst with technology started when he joined academics in 2011 and decided to create his own brand of teaching to differentiate himself from his peers. Since then, he’s been experimenting with what he views as the best way to make education “interesting and practical.”
He started out by latching on to the trending “flipped classrooms” concept and converted his classroom sessions on ‘How to build a startup’ into practical workshops, leaving the students to do textbook reading and watch video lectures in their own time. He created mock startup teams and even gave the the students designations, and then asked these imaginary startups to pitch their ideas and come up with a vision and a plan on how to take the business forward. At the end of the course, the teams had to pitch their businesses to a panel.
He then started videotaping his classroom sessions, built a website for himself (ednext.in) and started sharing the videos of his classes with his students. With WhatsApp gaining popularity over the last few years, he started using it extensively to share content and enable conversations beyond the classrooms.
His penchant for experimenting with technology is only matched by his zeal to collect awards. He has won five national awards and three international awards for his teaching experiments, apart from setting five world records. Soon, he plans to apply to the Limca Book of Records as well.
Forging ahead, alone
At times, his techno-optimism sounds too giddy, perhaps even gimmicky. He reels off terms like “design thinking”, “flipped classrooms” and “virtual reality” in staccato bursts. Do these ultimately serve the purpose of providing great learning outcomes?
Mallik says that the students enjoy the experience. “More importantly, I have a 97% pass rate among the students in my class,” he says, revealing that ultimately he had to revert to the staid definitions of learning success that the institute mandates.
Mallik says that the students enjoy the experience. “More importantly, I have a 97% pass rate among the students in my class,” he says
While merely using technology may not significantly improve education outcomes, systematic experiments seem to be the only way forward to rehaul our teaching methods. For far too long, we’ve relied on the same ways of teaching and passing on knowledge to students, and these methods are turning out to be increasingly irrelevant. And this is where Mallik’s experiments may lead to a more impactful, systematic use of technology to make learning relevant and flexible.
Support or no support, Mallik relentlessly continues to incorporate the latest technology in his teaching. “I am planning to integrate chatbots on my website to provide basic answers to students even without my presence,” he says, speaking of his next move.
For Mallik, this is another step forward. For the system, it’s another reminder of how far they lag behind.
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