Open learning institutes embrace tech through apps, conversations

Topics education | Social Media

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Institutes of open learning face the issue of retaining and attracting students. Now, technology might be coming to their rescue.

In addition to the more popular platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, Kolktata-based Netaji Subhas Open University (NSOU) has partnered Schoolguru Eduserve, an online learning services company. It has installed the latter’s social networking platform Qube, which allows students from each of the classes to interact, discuss and share notes.

“Once the university introduced its app-based online learning platform, Lurningo (based on Qube), the solution has been an instant hit, with 400-500 new app log-ins (additional students downloading the app) every week. The live and virtual sessions in the app are being utilised by almost every department to conduct their sessions and communicate with learners,” says Lopamudra Ghosh, project head of the university’s ICT (information and communication technology) services. With the Lurningo app, NSOU saw student log-ins increase 25-30 per cent, compared to those logging in to the portal through laptop or desktop. It currently has about 45,000 students on the platform.

What & why

After adopting the social media way of engaging with them, the university has seen its student renewal rate going up from 60 per cent to 83 per cent. Students prefer using Qube, built into the Lurningo app, because of course-specific material and slides being more easily available there. They and the teachers do collaborate by using more conventional social media platforms like Facebook or WhatsApp as well but apps like these ensure the conversations are more focused.

“Platforms like Lurningo allow students to post queries. It also encourages interaction in the form of responses and explanations, rewarding the most relevant response in the form of ‘bonus points’ or ‘LurnPoints’ being given by the faculty or instructor,” said Shantanu Rooj, founder and chief executive of Schoolguru. This system of points and so on is a part of what is called gamification, to keep students involved and interested in the course material. With students spending a lot of time on other apps and platforms that incentivise usage through gamification, this is a step in the right direction.

“Social platforms specially used by colleges to reach students should be made interesting. Use of gamification, artificial intelligence and machine learning will ensure students learn and access the platform on the basis of their needs and learning abilities,” said Neeti Sharma, senior vice-president at recruiting firm TeamLease Services (which has equity stake in Schoolguru).

Other universities using Lurningo include Lalit Narayan Mithila University (about 65,000 students), Acharya Nagarjuna University in Andhra (5,000 students on platform), Aligarh Muslim University (5,000 students) and others.

Apart from Facebook and WhatsApp groups, and in-house apps like these, Google platforms like Sheets, Docs and Slides are also popular with both students and faculty. Twitter and Slack are not as popular for learning modules or coordination.

The University Grants Commission had asked universities to provide students with details of online grievance portals. This has also led universities to adopt platforms and to club these with learning modules. Given the low chance of face-to-face interaction with their students, open learning universities are adopting the technology much faster. And, “students have started preferring the university app these days as it provides many other facilities apart from interaction — content, tutorial videos, self-assessment quizzes, chat with teachers, virtual live sessions and student services,” says NSOU’s Ghosh.  

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