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October 3, 2010

India's Company Classrooms Challenge 'Chalk and Talk' Colleges By Jeffrey R. Young
Mysore, India The most high-tech classrooms in India are not at a university but at a technology company's training facility. At least that's what several experts told me recently, noting that companies here say they need to bypass the country's traditional universities, which they view as stymied by old-school teaching methods and a lack of practical computer education. (Professors at those institutions, however, counter that their methods are most effective for what they do.) To make up for those perceived deficiencies, Indian companies spent more than $1-billion last year on corporate-training programs for new employees, according to an industry group that has been pushing for change at universities. In search of why Indian companies go to such lengths, last month I traveled to the world's largest corporate-training center, run by Infosys, the software company that helped start India's booming technology sector. The secluded campus, a three-hour drive from Bangalore, South India's Silicon Valley, is a gated enclave with tight security and a sense of quiet that's hard to find in neighboring megacities. The center's librarian and de facto tour guide, Biligiri Ranga, let me wander onto the roof of the newest classroom building here to get a sense of the campus's scale. The architecture is grand and futuristic—one undulated building is designed to resemble origami, another is a spherical geodesic dome like the one at Disney's Epcot center, and another sports a four-story climbing wall on the outside. The 94 buildings here include a department store, a beauty salon, and a multiplex (in the dome). Each classroom bears the name of a famous innovator —Archimedes, J.P. Morgan, Steve Jobs. In a morning class in the Benjamin Franklin classroom, I observed about 100 students learning the Unix programming language. Each seat had its own PC,

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adding wifi. projectors. The colleges I visited in New Delhi and Bangalore last month were as likely to have such equipment as any college in the United States. "We thought what we had was actually appropriate. A few professors had tried PowerPoint.N. If they rack up enough A's by the end of the 23-week training program. called "freshers" because they are fresh out of college. five out of six professors I looked in on stuck to the chalkboard.. If they fail enough modules. "More technology would have meant a lot more knowledge. in Bangalore. with the professor lecturing at the front of the classroom. http://chronicle. Later in the day I sat down with a group of freshers and found out one reason they stay so alert. and most students had opened a copy of the instructor's PowerPoint presentation and followed along on their own screen. even though they taught in new classrooms. 2 of 5 10/6/10 7:34 AM . now we realized actually what we missed there. frequently interrupted to ask questions. and most everyone dutifully took notes and looked attentive. After washing the chalk off his hands. C.. and computers.. The trainees said that their undergraduate teaching had been delivered mostly in chalk-and-talk form. sometimes scrolling back to see what they had missed. they said. according to some officials here. I sat in the back but did not see a single screen open to Facebook or another diversion. sometimes looking ahead. The trainees." Power Chalk In fact. but even that was unusual. but now that we've come here and we've been trained and we see how technology has been used.com/article/ChalkTalk-Colleges-Are/124777/?s. On a tour of a brand-new classroom building at Christ University." said Parul Shlikla. they're fired. though. I asked if they wished their undergraduate experience had been more like the instruction in the Benjamin Franklin classroom here.'Chalk and Talk' Colleges Are Challenged by India's Company . their salary goes up (not a system colleges can easily mimic). But the professors said they had good reasons to stick to a traditional approach. Every three to five days. several of India's top colleges and universities recently smartened up their classrooms. Professors have been particularly slow to adopt new teaching methods. And the one person using PowerPoint was a guest speaker from a local business. they must take an online test on the "module" of material they have just learned. one trainee..

Computers aren't banned." he concluded. it takes a little time.. students resist. the students are good at the current system too. and I prove that I know my topic well" by lecturing at the chalkboard. and the students unanimously endorsed the status quo (and seemed puzzled that I would even ask). "I have great eye contact. He would switch to PowerPoint if it added value. to prove the place isn't antitechnology. he said." After all.. "And when the teachers experiment. And though most of the students owned laptops. he said. http://chronicle. director of IIT's Delhi campus. "The chalkboard is better.. offered a critique of India's top engineering colleges.'Chalk and Talk' Colleges Are Challenged by India's Company .) I asked students in two physics classes if they thought their professors should use more technology or otherwise change their teaching styles to be more interactive. he said.) "What I'm saying is. they said. the Rev. the Indian Institutes of Technology. but taking notes about physics equations and quickly writing down facts is easier with a paper notebook than a machine. argued that he was better able to keep students' attention when he "walks and talks" at the chalkboard than when he scrolls through slides. but he was not going to use technology for its own sake. and now he is pushing for a further reduction." said one. which Father Mathew said sometimes involves asking them to memorize a host of facts to be tested on. (Then he added that just using PowerPoint does not necessarily lead to better teaching. a silly comedy about misfit students. None of this surprised the university's vice chancellor. But he said that IIT 3 of 5 10/6/10 7:34 AM . an associate professor of management. As dean a few years back. Mathew. he succeeded in slightly reducing the number of required credits each term. packing in more material than comparable institutions in the United States or elsewhere." he said. Thomas C. He said he agreed that his institution attempted to teach too much in a given semester. (He did note that the department now administers examinations online using the Moodle course-management system.com/article/ChalkTalk-Colleges-Are/124777/?s. A Bollywood blockbuster film last summer called 3 Idiots. what he thought of the movie's message.. It portrayed the institutions as stodgy and so focused on cramming facts that students had no chance to dabble in high-tech pranks or creative mischief—activities that can lead to innovation. none had their computers with them. Kshetragna. "Indian teachers are really slow to change. I asked Surendra Prasad. and the classrooms have wifi.

And the classrooms were not as wired as they were a year ago. brings university professors to observe the Infosys training so they have a better idea of what the company is seeking from trainees.. er. "Some things you can't explain very well on the board. College 2. giving an eerie feeling of an abandoned city. After all.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. not scholars chasing ideas for the love of knowledge. 4 of 5 10/6/10 7:34 AM . was not reticent in stating the institution's mission: producing good employees. for instance. there were plenty of reminders that companies think differently about education than universities do. almost no one was around except workers cleaning the streets. Because some students were chatting online or goofing off. Its "campus connect" program. It turns out. At the University of Delhi. head of education and research for Infosys. while he gave me a tour of the facility last week.. an Institute of Lifelong Learning runs a new project to help professors develop and use animations. for instance. Paid to Study Back at Infosys." said A. the center now shuts off Internet access to the buildings during class. During my earlyafternoon tour of the campus. at this corporate campus. how wired the classrooms are is not the point—the style of teaching is much slower to change than the gear in the rooms.. Leading Indian universities are starting to make their own effort to reform teaching styles on campuses..'Chalk and Talk' Colleges Are Challenged by India's Company .com/article/ChalkTalk-Colleges-Are/124777/?s. he said. And he hoped that universities would soon do more to teach the kind of things Infosys does here. "We would very much like for the education system to fill in the gaps. Bakhshi. director of the center. Please send ideas to jeff. For instance. especially "soft skills." he said. the company would rather not part with the $184-million that it spends each year on its training centers. that the training center now offers. going to class is literally a job. http://chronicle. Srikantan Moorthy.com or @jryoung on Twitter.young@chronicle.K. online exercises." like communication and teamwork. and so everyone is in class from 9 to 5. considering how many alumni go on to graduate school at the finest universities in the world. working hours. and other high-tech tools. must be doing something right.

D..W.. The Chronicle of Higher Education 1255 Twenty-Third St..C.. N. Washington. 20037 5 of 5 10/6/10 7:34 AM .'Chalk and Talk' Colleges Are Challenged by India's Company . Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.com/article/ChalkTalk-Colleges-Are/124777/?s. http://chronicle.

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