Thursday, September 3, 2009

Time to write my blog

Its been a while since I blogged. I was quite caught up in starting off the MTech in Educational Technology at NIIT University.

Especially since we are configuring it to be 75% on the job and only 25% on the campus. A unique very high value proposition.

Anyway, an important learning in the process has come from not having written a blog for such a long time. I kept postponing thinking I will do it when I get some mindspace -- and in the process it kept getting pushed.

So now the learning is:
1. Inspirations dont stop
2. No inspiration is too small to share
3. Rhythm is what builds life

So here is the short one for today as a kick start - kick restart I might say for my blog.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Educational Technology at NIIT University


16 years back I joined NIIT with a group that was into creating Instructional Software or Computer Based Training -- something unheard of in India at that time. I remember I had a hard time explaining what I was doing to my relatives and friends. Since then the Education and Training Industry has grown and so has the use of technology based education delivery.

Unfortunately, while demand has increased, trained personnel are hard to come by. All eLearning and content development organizations have big-fat internal training for their staff and in addition a huge quality control department. Primary reason being lack of formal higher education and grounding in Education systems, processes and how to best leverage technology for education. Today, I would not be wrong in stating that most eLearning and content development organizations have people who trained and worked at NIIT in the Knowledge Solutions Business.

Ever since the time NIIT promoters have been planning the NIIT University, a program on Educational Technology has been on the agenda. Now this year, as NIIT University is being launched so is the MTech in Educational Technology. Its a two year program with deep Industry linkage and ample real-life projects built into the educational process. You can read more about NIIT University and the programs at http://www.niituniversity.in/.

We are going to have leaders from the Industry participating in curriculum design, real-life cases, projects, and also internship. I am very excited about this program as I can see it becoming a model in Education and Training Technology at a global level. Do check it out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jeevan Vidya

A couple of years back I came across a very scientific and deeply insightful education module that teaches what is life. And almost all of the last month we have been struggling with implementing this in our Slum training centers and also take it to our rural training centers.

The title of this education module explains succintly what it is -- Jeevan Vidya -- education that explains life as it is in reality. The belief is that once we understand life as it is, it will positively impact our decision making and hence impact our life in a way that is more tuned to harmonious living.

It all begins with understanding the lack of harmony generated in the World ever since the human beings came into being. The fact that human beings have the power of imagination but without understanding of reality we start taking wrong decisions and hence create problems and only compound them in the process of trying to solve them.

The philosophy itself will take a bit more to explain and you could look at the site Jeevan Vidya. Here is a teaser though:

Let's look at the following questions:
1. Do you believe that if you have lots of money and a method of making money it will lead to happiness?
2. Do you believe that happiness is synonymous with comfort?
3. Have you oscillated between materialism and spiritualism and not found a balance as far as happiness is concerned?
4. Are you confused between the means and ends towards the purpose of this life?
5. Are there certain relationships you believe are just impossible?
... and so on. Jeevan Vidya helps resolve all these and more.

Understanding life Jeevan Vidya style helps us understand reality and hence be able to address all problems in life (yes ... all :-)). Of course no one is saying it will be easy or comfortable and neither is it a religion or religion oriented philosophy. It is quite logical and something that all of us can learn to examine in our lives ourselves.

So one begins with examining the assumptions that we all are living with. For example, an assumption that most of us operate with is that when we fulfill the needs of the body - the 'I' becomes happy. Another way of saying the same thing is that we amass clothes or cars or even mobiles thinking they will fetch us respect from our fellow human beings. The premise being that all of us are seeking happiness and respect but since we confuse 'I' with the 'Body' we go all wrong in all major decisions of life.

If we take this one level deeper -- needs of the body --- food, clothing, shelter, exercise, rest -- are all limited in nature and also periodic. Whereas the needs of the 'I' are happiness, respect, trust etc that are by nature unlimited and required perpetually. When we understand this and look at our life -- our focus changes. Mine has.

We are realizing that all of us need to learn, understand and start examining our assumptions so that we dont continue to create models (of education and training) that are in themselves leading to creating even more disharmony in the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Including the Right Brain - Breaking Boundaries

Students and the Master
Students and the Master

In a mudra
In a mudra

Salaam Baalak Trust put up a dance show last week. It was out of the ordinary performance compared with performances by children from NGOs, that I have typically seen. The youth at Salaam Baalak (mostly kids who either do not have parents or have parents who dont want the kids) were trained by Astad Deboo in modern dance. The performance was brilliant and quite comparable to professional troops from Europe and Americas!! As Astad himself said on the stage that the students had shown immense persistence, hard work and picked up the 'modern dance vocabulary' in a very short time of 4 months. Astad lives in Mumbai and these youth are a mix of girls and boys spread over various Salaam Baalak homes in Gurgaon and Delhi. So Astad had to come periodically to train these youth. And the outcome is amazing.

So then what is so special here?

Let me begin with what I saw -- there were 20 youth - girls and boys who were dancing on the stage like professionals. The demeanor and whole attitude represented confidence and satisfaction in self -- a clear 'am equal to you' feeling. And this with a short training of 4 months. Some of those youth are now going to get into professional dance units and make a career out of it as well. The earning in this profession starts at what a typical Engineer gets on graduating after 4 years of study.

I am thinking that we have been really working hard to give all left-brain skills to the underprivileged with the assumption that such training will raise their being, make them employable, and move towards equitability with the rest of us. The process is slow, and quite frustrating.

But here it was right brain activity and completely broke all barriers that might have been perceived. It appears that right brained activity is accepted much more readily and creates self-confidence and self-esteem. Of course they are being trained by Astad Deboo -- that does make a difference. But when I start looking at cases where students have taken up right brained activity they have actually been more successful -- whether it is photography, or dance or painting or even puppeteering. Salaam Baalak actually thrives on such.

This is a point I would appreciate inputs on.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sixth Sense -- Game Changing Technology

Recently, Ron Mukherjee forwarded me an amazing link on game changing technology from MIT Media Lab. Am sharing the link and video here. At this time it is not clear how far away this is from commercial application though they expecting the cost already to be same as a good mobile phone. But whenever it comes the applications suggested in the video are only a limited view of the enormous possibilities it opens up. They have linked a mobile with camera with video projection and built intelligence in the system to resolve and take decisions on the basis of video imagery and actions of 4 fingers. So a simple view is the projector projects a key board on any surface and as you touch the keyboard - -the camera picks up and takes the alphabets touched as input to any computing device/telephone etc. The thing is getting developed by a person of Indian origin - Pranav Mistry. Enjoy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Slum-based Learning Centers

Last week we inaugurated our second slum-based learning center. We are calling these NIIT Yuva Star Career Development Centers. Another 18 are in the process -- by Sep 09 - all will be operational.

The centers are focusing on providing key employability skills in a short time frame to the employable youth inside jhuggi jhonpri and settlement colonies.

Why slum youth?

In the last two decades urban slum population in India has more than doubled. Rural people move to urban centers in the hope of better livelihood. However, lacking the necessary skills required for employment in the fast growing industrial and knowledge society, most of these people continue to live in abject poverty. And even though the living conditions are worse than their village life, they continue to stay on in the cities with hope and are just not able to go back to villages. They and their children see the wealth and opulence just next door causing helplessness with an increasing feeling of deprivation. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that a high percentage of them are susceptible to exploitation and crime. The life of misery continues from one generation to the next.

These centers, that we are setting up, are focusing on providing the same quality of training as any other city NIIT center. The key difference is that the slum youth get this training at a fraction of the regular center fee. The other key aspect is ensuring corporates come to the center and recruit from the trained youth.

The challenge is sustaining and scaling.

Check out www.niitaffirmativeaction.com for more on this initiative.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Applying the next billion cameras

A couple of weeks back I attended a very interesting presentation by Dr Ramesh Raskar from the MIT Media Labs. Presentation talked about the thousands and thousands of cameras that are coming into play due to the camera phones. The first billion cameras took centuries to be there and now in a short period another billion are almost there. This phenomena opens up a huge world of possibilities. The trends show that in the next 5-7 years most cellphones will be able to transmit as well as receive photos and video.

Of course for us to be able to leverage or even realize the possibilities a large number of digital processing techniques and software have to be figured out. Here is a quick snapshot of what I heard:

MIT is working on various technologies to leverage the next billion cameras - a few of them listed here:
1. Digital technology for focusing the image after it has been shot -- he did demonstrate this and it seemed quite plausible. No longer does one need to worry about the photographers skills.
2. Creating a 3D picture out of a 2D photo - imagine the range of applications this will open up.
3. Creating 6D images -- I wondered what 6D would be -- he explained that we know 2D -- then we add perspectives to the image on the horizontal and vertical planes -- making it a 4D image. Now, if an image can respond to lighting and reflections in a real environment -- like a real object -- then we have a 6D image.

And some applications that will have quick impact:
1. Visual Social computing thru photo synthesis: An extension of crowdsourcing. A district/municipal segment could build real imagery of a location through photo submissions by local citizens. A much more accurate and reliable view.
2. Photo-analysis is tough for any computing system -- whereas the human eye can identify much faster -- so using again the power of the people -- putting out a photo on the net for recognition of elements or items within it.

So then can we start thinking of applications that educate and empower leveraging the next billion cameras?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ignorance of Ability Brings Disability

I came across this video on Phani Raj's blog. It is an amazing short film that highlights our prejudices about what we believe disabled people can do.


Ignorance of Ability brings disability on Vimeo.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Deafness and Approach to Inclusion of the Deaf

Inclusion of people with disabilities into mainstream is a topical subject with much discussion as well as research. I came across deafness through a school for the deaf that my friend runs. Through the last two years I have gotten a sense of how inclusion is being attempted for the deaf - both right and wrong.

Nobody really has a count of the deaf in India - some estimates put it at 50 million and there are others that indicate it is closer to 15 million. It probably is on the higher side since it's a disability that the families want to hide. The families consider the birth of a deaf child a curse and would go to extremes like hiding the child forever in their homes -- letting them lead miserable isolated lives. Also, the deaf do not have sympathy value - they look perfectly normal till you attempt to communicate with them. And because of this - they often get missed out in education, support and acknowledgement of their being different.

Inclusiveness for the deaf has been approached in a very odd way in India (continues most places even now). The schools, special educators and the doctors force the deaf to learn to speak and have them participate in the same class and school as the hearing children. I fail to understand the logic - they can't hear - so even if you can make them speak - they still can't hear! So how do they learn? It is logical that they communicate with a different language - a language that is not spoken but is visual. Sign Language.

Inclusiveness would here require the hearing people to expand their own selves and use sign language to communicate with the deaf, just as we expect the deaf to be able to speak with us using voice. Schools in India that use sign language as the medium of instruction are proving to be very effective. See www.noidadeafsociety.net to get an idea.

I have created a page here that initiates the hearing to the world of sign language - Indian sign language.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Breaking through mind-sets

Sometime in Dec 08, I attended a session by Erehwon (www.erehwonconsulting.com) where they had presentations from a few Indian organizations that had generated break-through products - something rare for Indian organizations. What I appreciated was the visible shift in the deep rooted beliefs of the organizations. This shift had enabled them to create the break-through that they had. I share here briefly from that experience - more can be seen on the respective websites of the organizations.

Titan slim: You have heard of the Titan slim watch and so had I - and also advertisements claiming that it's the slimmest watch in the Universe. What I didn't know was that it to make it the slimmest was not just a gimmick but break-through engineering and product design! The story behind making it the slimmest is where the inspiration comes from.

Titan Slim is 3.5mm with a movement of 1.15mm with the nearest competitor in the World (the Swiss - Swatch!!) at 1.75mm movement and 3.95mm watch. Here our indigenous Titan innovators started the process as most other product creators do - go out and check with the best in the world. The Swiss watchmakers in this case. They checked for thin watch movements and if any of them could help make it thinner. Also they checked for the glass - which is the other part that contributes to the watch thickness. Interestingly, the Titan folks were told that it cant be done - both for the glass and for the watch movement. Typically, if 'they' cant do it - it cant be done and we settle for the second best. This is where the Titan R&D people took a different approach from most other product creators from India. For them it was a potential opportunity to be the best in the world. They got down to creating a whole new watch movement as well work out the new glass approach. And we have the Titan slim as a clear outcome that has demonstrated that even 'Indians' can do what the Swiss believed was not possible.

Kirloskar Compressor/pumps: Narmada dam and project has been long in the news. One of the linked projects - though not as popular is the Narmada canal project that probably is the longest canal (500+ kms) project. In the flow of the canal there is a segment where the whole canal needed to be lifted up due the peculiar topography.

Existing companies in the business quoted in the range of INR 25000 million for setting up pumping stations to move up over 440,000 litres of water every second. The government didn't have the budget to spend that kind of money and was looking for a break-through solution that would be 20% of the proposed costs (INR 5000 mill).

Kirloskar pumps (a company whose annual turnover had been till then in the range of INR 2000 mill), worked out a technology that was quite unique and different from traditional approach. They created new method of siphoning large amounts of water and in the process landed a technology that was well within the government budgets. They have delivered this pumping option at only INR 4440 mill. Of course one key fall out for them is that in just one year their annual turnover has increased ten fold. The technology is in much demand across the country.

Additional inputs at the session:

Difference between Creativity and Innovation: Creativity is about generating newer and more ideas whereas Innovation is about making the ideas work in reality.

Difference between piloting and prototyping: Pilot looks are failure or success of the idea whereas prototyping figures out ways to make the idea a success.

Additional product innovations to look at are: Tata Ace, Sukam large size inverters.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welcome

Welcome and greetings!

Two years back I moved out of a business role and moved onto figuring out how to impact the larger part of society. I experienced first hand what many others who have done the same had written about. About the plight of millions of Indians, about what is the real India, about what the government should be doing or what the Industry should focus on, or the most favorite punching bag for all - state of education in India.

But that is not what I want to write about or discuss about - those are views and also consequences of past decisions. Instead, what I would like to focus on is what is out there already ... ideas, thoughts, efforts, initiatives, pilots of different kinds in different areas that can and do inspire more and more people to take positive action. These are not limited in time, space, society or culture and not even limited by technology or lack of it.