VIDYA Amrita Interview | Web Search Engine | Lecture

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In Focus - VIDYA

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The VIDYA Digital Knowledge Archive that is currently deployed in four campuses of Amrita University had its modest beginning in the year 2000. With an initial content volume of 64 Mb, VIDYA has grown to a 1600+ Gb knowledge base covering a wide spectrum of areas, comprising of extensive Audio/ Video lectures as well by leading academicians/ scientists from around the world. VIDYA over the years has become an indispensible resource for every devout seeker of knowledge making the dictum “ Study Locally, Learn Globally” a living reality ! website fascinated me immensely and that kept me occupied all through my post-routine working hours. Since I worked in the Computer Lab, I had lot of opportunities to interact closely with the students and faculty members and it was that interaction that gave me the triggering pulse towards building Vidya, To be more specific Interacting with Dr.K I Ramachandran ( Currently with CEN) and seeing him downloading PowerPoint presentations and lecture notes which he used to write on a CD and use it to prepare his course notes made me think of archiving it all in a way that could be used by the entire campus than just his class. So one day I asked him for his CD of downloaded tutorials, made a copy of it, configured a basic Windows web server and hosted the contents. It was a single webpage index pointing to tutorial specifically on Mechanical Engineering. I showed it to Ramachandran sir and few other people, they were quite excited seeing it. It was the sort of thing many at that time thought was possible only on the Internet. Thus the initial attempt at Vidya became the first “Intranet Portal” of Amrita. I was in fact enthralled seeing the reaction of students like Ajith Peter (now working on his PhD at IIT-Bombay), Srinivasa Varadhan ( now working for Cognizant Technologies, London) and Shyam Divakar( who just completed his PhD in Computational Neuroscience from University of Milan, Italy). For them it meant a lot, downloading learning material from the internet across a slow connection was not quite a feasible option for the students then…the idea of making a downloaded collection accessible across the LAN appealed to all of them and it is they who made me feel convinced of the enormous potential in developing ‘Vidya’. Every one needed quality material in the quickest way possible. This was the precursor to a series of convictions that followed eventually propelling me steadily towards developing ‘Vidya’ further. I never had to look back since then…I literally breathed and lived ‘Vidya’. Yes, I had a big price to pay, sacrifices to make and tough stances to take. In the end, it was all worth the effort. I have the joy of having the task accomplished leaving it with further possibilities of enhancement and enrichment. To me, Vidya beckoned as that course of work which will add more meaning to my existence providing our students the opportunities I missed as a student, so there was that passionate involvement. I feel the best way to express it would be to borrow the terms used by Dr.Deepak Gupta of ASB who remarked once “Vidya is a labour of love”. If you are to start building Vidya anew, how different it would be? Yes, it will be different and better organized with a content management system in place...and if it serves better , it is only because of what I learnt from building the current Vidya. What are the other reasons that prompted you begin building Vidya? Those days library used to be in the main block (opposite to staircase in the ground floor). That used to be one place I used to frequent, looking through magazines and journals to find relevant topics/ key words for downloading material. During one such visits to the library I found a good number of quality text books authored by renowned professors from universities abroad remaining untouched. When enquired many students expressed the view that they considered such text books abstruse. I knew that this view is rooted in slavish dependence on local, popular text books.
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Mr. Ajai Narendran (Content manager & Webmaster) and the Architect of ‘Vidya’ speaks on his experience of building ‘Vidya’ while responding to a barrage of questions. He elucidates on how Vidya could better be utilised in a way that helps redefine learning and revitalise teaching.

When did the idea of building Vidya strike you and how did it happen? The first spark of idea occurred way back in the year 2000, few months after I joined Amrita, Ettimadai. Well, my coming to Amrita appeared sheer coincidence then which I now understand as nothing but providence. I was previously trained in the area of Avionics Engineering and had no proper training in ‘computers. Since I joined the Systems Group ( Now ICTS) and was put in one of the computer labs I had no other option than to learn computers. Those were the times I used to spend almost the entire day in the lab ( 6.30am10pm), if routine jobs kept me busy during the day time, teaching myself the basics of computers kept me busy the rest of the time and it was great opportunity to interact with students as well. Since the campus did not have an informative website at that time I took upon myself to build a website, that meant learning HTML , JavaScript, and tools like MS-Frontrpage and HotMetalPro and later Dreamweaver. Here I must thank one of our alumni Mr.J Srinivasan ( Currently doing is Ph.D at Edinburgh University) who first showed me a website he made, his personal website. That was my initiation into the world of hyperlinks. It was just around that time Internet began to penetrate into the campus, we had a few machines with internet connectivity, if I remember right it was a 64Mbps divided connection. So, emails,browsing the web and building a

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Vidya Story- Contd ... A comparison of a few local text books and books authored by internationally renowned academicians revealed the fact that our students will end up missing quite a lot by the time they graduate if they relied only on local textbooks abhorring books that have found international acceptance. I tried getting presentation slides and class notes by the same authors and listed them in Vidya under different categories ( this was the beginning of subject-wise listing with a basic collection of material on various engineering topics based on UG programmes). In a few weeks time, I could see those untouched books of the library in circulation. Talking to the students revealed that the presentations helped them come out of the mindset and made them attempt towards learning from quality textbooks. This I would say, was the second conviction- adding a global touch to localized learning. On the other hand at the personal level I was going through a crisis that was emotionally gripping. I had to keep myself busy during waking hours to save myself from slipping into delirium. The best time to work on ‘Vidya’ was of course late nights because thats the time we used to get the best internet speed then. So it was just the perfect mix of reasons , both professional and personal, and what more could I ask for - if the very work I chose to plunge deep into ferreted out deeper meanings of my existence, enriching the lives of our student community. How was Vidya received initially by the campus community? There was a group of students and some faculty members who instantly realized Vidya’s potential, and of course there was the other category who watched it all with a kind of disbelief ( suspicion would be a better word I guess). For me what mattered the most was not the number of people who used Vidya, instead the difference Vidya can make in the lives of the few who used Vidya then. Some even felt that I encroached into other’s domain, I guess it is natural for them to think so because here’s this guy who is trained in avionics engineering working with the Systems group doing things on information science / knowledge management with no formal training either in IT or Information Science . I counted it as a real complement anyway no matter how thwarting many remarks were. Well, I remember a specific remark by some on Vidya during its fledgling days

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In Focus - VIDYA
Which is your most favourite section in Vidya? That’s hard to answer. Each section in Vidya is built with lot of care and it all had a specific reason behind it. For example it is on ‘Teacher’s Day’ that we decided to build a separate section on “ Teaching & Learning”… another section ‘Envisage’ , the animation repository in Vidya. There is a whole variety of such off beat sections in Vidya that has to be explored, to be experienced. I feel that it is the ‘Video Lecture Archive’ on a wide variety of areas that instantly elevates ‘Vidya’ to a unique position when compared to any other repository/ digital library in the world. Have you implemented all your ideas you have on Vidya? Not quite. What you now see as ‘Vidya’ is just the core around which many layers could be built. Better user interfaces, specific community portals, and a whole lot of dynamic elements could be built around. I have the architecture clear in my mind, it is impossible for a single person to build it all. I have always wished that I had atleast two more people good at programming with me. Had that been the case the look and feel of ‘Vidya’ would have been far too different. Of course people are trying to build layers around Vidya else where in our campuses…if all those attempts could be integrated we can make Vidya one of the most formidable knowledge archives in the world and this is something ‘Amrita’ alone can claim of. The core is built, the layers need to be added. Vidya , where it stands now is just a fractional materialization of the enhancement ideas I have on Vidya. Here I must say that two B.Tech teams have so far tried to build ‘search engines’ for Vidya, I must thank those teams and especially Mr. Adinarayanan of IT department and Mr.Shivpratap of CEN who guided them. We need more people like them and it is such people who can enhance Vidya and in turn enrich the lives of thousands of students. You must have showcased Vidya to numerous visitors, what was the response to Vidya? Yes, quite a good number of visitors from all over the world and Govt. of India ministry officials as well including the UGC team. All of them showed great interest in learning more about
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that ‘what’s the big deal…the information available in Vidya can easily be googled out’. I do not contest that point, but it takes lot of discerning effort to select the right ones for Vidya. The former remark is much akin to saying that ‘what ever available in a library is available in a big bookshop’, the point is we do not call bookshop a library though quantitatively the latter is a subset of the former. Vidya is a sincere attempt to implement the concept of ‘Selective dissemination of Information”. This approach is of increasing relevance in this era of information overload. How will you define Vidya? It is hard to define Vidya in any concrete terms because ‘Vidya’ has evolved and will continue to evolve, each phase of growth in tune with the vision that initiated it. Vidya is not a tutorial archive…it is much more. Vidya is envisaged to help one deepen one’s knowledge and expand one’s awareness harnessing the best of World Wide Web. I wish people get the experience of exploring a rainforest when they navigate through Vidya than just walking around a landscape. If every one who visits ‘Vidya’ finds something interesting and useful , then I believe ‘Vidya’ has defined the essence of its existence, in short ‘ Vidya’ in functional essence mean ‘Something for every one’. Is Vidya Accessible from outside the campus? No , ‘Vidya’ is not accessible from outside the campus except Amrita campuses across the ISRO-EduSat link. ‘Vidya’ is an intranet archive and it has to remain so adhering to the copyright regulations. A great part of ‘Vidya’ is integrated with the ‘Educational fair use’ laws that restricts the use of downloaded material to ‘ within the campus, for purely academic/ non-commercial purposes. Well, before we think of ‘out of the campus’ access to Vidya, let us get ‘Vidya’ accessible to all our hostels within the campus. I am sure it can bring in a big difference in the learning attitude of our students because I have observed ( I have lived in our hostels for the last 7 years) that most of our students study late into night. Yes, those without laptops need not feel out of place here, I am sure that people with laptops can group with the ones who do not own a laptop and have combined study sessions, this will significantly strengthen peer bonding as well. ANWESHI - ASTHA Newsmagazine

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Vidya Story - Contd ... how it is built and was awe struck at the variety of sections in Vidya. We had visitors from Chinmaya Mission Schools, Arvind Eye Hospitals and DRDO as well who spent hours with me discussing on the possibilities of building such archives. The most touching moments are those when I see students bring their parents to show Vidya . Do you think that Vidya’s full potential is effectively utilized by the students and faculty members? No, we are yet to even understand the potential of Vidya, let alone utilizing it fully. I have been interacting with students closely over the last seven years, right from day 1 of my joining Amrita. A lot of awareness on ‘Vidya’ had been spread through word of mouth, informal discussions etc. This does not work beyond a limit. I feel that the best ones to help students understand the usefulness of ‘Vidya’ are, the faculty members because they get that unique privilege of interacting with/ addressing no less than 50 students at a time. This does not seem to happen, students are never told about the learning resources we have and I can tell this with total conviction based on my interaction with the students. Innumerable times I have had students come to me and ask questions like “do you have tutorials on thermodynamics? … Do you have books on Networking? Do you have introductory lectures on Java? …etc. I feel that this would not have happened had they been made aware of the learning resource we have here. I have also had faculty members coming and asking me for material on areas that is already there in Vidya in abundance. So there is clear lack of awareness of our own resources among the students and the faculty members. The best thing I could do from my side was to map the entire B.Tech/ MCA syllabus to the content in Vidya. Despite this as well I feel many have no idea what Vidya is all about. Of course here I must say that there had been incredible support from faculty members , I must thank Dr.K.I.Ramachandran, Dr.Deepak Gupta of ASB, Prof Subba Rao of Chemical Engg Dept, Mr.Adinarayanan of IT Dept, Dr.Shanmugmavelayutham of CSE Dept, Dr.R K Suresh of Mech. Engg Dept, Dr.K P Soman, Mr.Rakesh Peter, Mr.Shivapratap, Mr.Loganathan of CEN. They are doing their best to bring Vidya closer to Amrita fraternity.

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In Focus - VIDYA
make a positive difference no matter what you do… all these primary factors coupled with freedom at work can work wonders. Yes, I was fortunate enough to have that kind of freedom with no strings attached all through my seven years here. What is the point in having skills and ideas if one does not have the freedom. In my case I had the freedom in abundance and I owe a lot for it to Mr.M Sreeevalsan, Head , ICTS. What are the significant phases of growth Vidya went through? My work on Vidya started as a pleasant pass time activity, as one of my hobbies and soon it began to take huge chunk of my waking hours. Routine working hours kept me busy with other responsibilities, of which working on the website was the most demanding one for, it meant being on task 24X7. Vidya has benefited immensely from lot of events and people in terms of ideas, input and support. The first phase was of course archiving few PPTs and PDFs on Mechanical Engg. downloaded by Ramachandran sir and later we worked as a team. We shared the downloading tasks, he could get some of the best tutorials on Mech Engg and related areas and I began to do some kind of oscillating downloads on many other areas. My love for reading came to great help here, I never ran out of ideas on what to download on a specific day…I always had something to search for. It was just around the time I began developing Vidya, MIT released news on their OCW launch. The idea really fascinated me and I wrote to the then MIT President’s Office at once appraising them of our modest efforts in building local web archives. The reply from the MIT president’s office was really encouraging and that reinforced my belief in the potential of Vidya. So clearly the next major phase of development Vidya went through was with the development of MIT-OCW. We were perhaps the first ones in the world to systematically mirror locally the choicest best ( based on our requirements/ courses taught) of MIT-OCW right from the day OCW was launched to this day, this includes massive collection of audio/ video lectures as well. In Vidya you will find an exclusive MIT-OCW section categorized topic-wise and mapped to our Engineering curriculum. In fact it is with the addition of MIT-OCW materials, Vidya gained the recognition and trust of many in the campus, they believed they Contd... on page 29

To a newcomer , how will you explain the potential of Vidya? Assuming that the newcomer is a first year B.Tech student who is aiming for a career in the Industry or core R&D, I would present Vidya to him/her as the prime source in that campus that will help him learn with the aid of some of the finest tutorial material, ever created, from across the globe. Vidya is undoubtedly one of the best assemblages of Audio/ Video lectures on almost all major areas taught here. This is on the academic front. Looking at an individual’s overall development there is enough material on Humanities, Aptitude and Soft skills, Philosophy & Comparative Religion, Management Sciences , Journalism & Communication and an array of allied areas. So here is an archive that you can count on and grow along with. Vidya has also incorporated gateways to IEEE, ACM, Digital Engineering Libraries as well. Journal papers can be accessed through this gateway from any computer in the campus. The best thing that can come out of utilizing Vidya resources to the fullest extent is awareness that one has learnt / explored an area of interest listening to the masters from around the world. Isn’t it great if our students tell that they learnt Linear Algebra from people around plus through video lectures by none other than Prof. Gilbert Strang of MIT. Isn’t it great for our students to learn JAVA programming from the video lectures of the legendary Dr.Andy Vandam of Brown University - the same professor who taught programing to Prof.Randy Pausch. So here is an opportunity for our students not to feel second to any in the world when it comes to learning using globally accepted tutorials from some of the best universities/ research centers across the world. In short here’s a resource that will help you graduate with, immensely more than just a UG or PG degree. What is the single aspect or the most vital element that one requires to build an archive like Vidya? I cannot pin point ‘the single most thing’. I feel it is a combination of factors that contribute towards building something like Vidya. Still, if I am to generalize I would reduce everything down to that single word “Passion” – passion to gather, organize and disseminate information, passion to reach out and interact, passion to read,explore and learn, passion to share and give, passion to ANWESHI - ASTHA Newsmagazine

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Vidya Story - Contd ... could expect more and Vidya will deliver it. Improved internet connectivity , availability of a variety of download tools, advent of peer-to-peer networks…all these have considerably helped Vidya grow fast. The Indo-US initiative brought in a lot of eminent professors to our campus to deliver full length courses, expert / guest lectures. Most of these courses and lectures are recorded and archived in Vidya under the E-Learning video lecture series. This is something significant that happened to Vidya. Now we have our own video content and with that came into being our own institutional video repository. My colleague Ms.Lekshmi Prashant who joined to work on Vidya played a great role in giving a real face lift to Vidya at a time when it was needed the most. We could divide tasks, plan schedules and execute it in a systematic way. I could focus more on Content and Architecture and Lekshmi took up the arduous task of rebuilding the interface and discover more useful content on the web. Our working as a team for little over one year took Vidya through a significant phase of development. Lekshmi was instrumental in establishing Mindscape as well. She worked in a truly inspired manner with total dedication to the task at hand exploring new possibilities of enriching Vidya. Automation in Vidya was first tried out through integrating D-Space into Vidya. All the major video lecture collections and E-learning video lectures are now on D-Space platform. Now the video lectures are searchable through keywords (meta-tags) associated with each video lecture. Recently, realizing the importance of forming interest groups/ communities to help disseminate the content through annotated entries/ recommended links, we integrated “WikiMedia” as well to Vidya. Now the users can interact with each other and bring out information lying in the deep recesses of Vidya. We owe it to Mr.Rakesh Peter of CEN for deploying D-Space and WikiMedia in Vidya and I can never forget the day when he revived D-Space, when the server it was hosted almost crashed. I thoroughly enjoyed integrating content to D-Space and WikiMedia and I guess it debunked the myth that such specialized tasks can be done only by people belonging to certain fields. Associating meta-tags to each video lecture was an exercise

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In Focus - VIDYA
the oldest machine in the campus subject to the heaviest load. Right now the 1.6 TB archive on three different servers is running different services. Once this is done, one can think of embedding Vidya into a good content management system and giving external access through VPN ( restricted to our alumni) How do you decide on the content that goes into Vidya? Is the usage of Vidya monitored? Interaction with students and faculty members helps a lot towards deciding on the content. Besides, one should keep oneself well updated on the recent developments. General reading helps a lot here. Being a member of many online communities is of great advantage because of the free flow of information. For example I get regular updates on MIT-OCW additions, Howstuffworks, Edge and a number of other credible sources. There are seasonal variations in the usage of Vidya. After the exams, I see increased access of Humanities, Philosophy section and general reading sections. The placement season brings in maximum hits on almost all areas with specific focus on the “Career Guidance’ section in Vidya. When there is so much of information available on the Internet , when almost anything can be ‘googled’ out what is the contemporary relevance of Vidya? What you get when you search for something on the world wide web is primarily hundreds of links pointing to various information sources. A good search used will be easily possible through the right combination of key words. It is not the case any more, your search results depend a great deal on who owns the key word auctioned by the search engine giants. This was not quite the case few years back, page ranking took into account the merit of the content of a specific website judged by various factors. Now many more variables and business interests have crept in and all these combined, decides the positioning of the search results you get. In short a quick search need not take you to the right source of information if you go only by the top few listings. The links to the best source of information you look could be listed a few pages down, this is where human discretion comes in. Contd... on page 30

that was an eye-opener for me for, it is then my reading background played a decisive role in the most efficient way possible. Meeting and interacting people like Prof.Deepak Gupta of ASB added a lot of vigor to the development of Vidya. Deepak sir , Ramachandran sir, Dr.K P Soman (CEN), Prof, Gangadharan (Chairman, IT Dept) and Prof.Rakesh Kataria ( ASCOM) had always been excited about the new content added to Vidya and eager to incorporate it into their teaching as well. In fact had it not been for Deepak sir, I would not have possibly heard of some of the best names in the area of management education world wide. Getting to know many things thus helped me look for material on the net and archive it. Vidya blossomed further when our campuses at Kochi, Amritapuri and Bangalore expressed the desire to have Vidya mirrored in their campuses. I had been to Amritapuri and Bangalore campuses recently to deploy Vidya there, the entire Vidya is mirrored there. I also built a custom built archive for the Arts and Science campus in Kochi. Had it not been for Mr.Vipin Pavitran of Amritapuri campus, Mr.S Pyarilal of Bangalore campus and Dr.Krishnakumar of Kochi campus who took the initiative to mirror Vidya in their campuses, thousands of students there would have remained deprived of this precious learning/ teaching resource we have. Is updating Vidya here synchronized with the mirrored repositories in the other campuses? No, it is not fully synchronized and I feel it need not be. I feel that from this point onwards, Vidya in the respective campus must grow and attain its own identity in tune with the requirements and developments in the campus. It is like having four different gardens with the same set of flowers and more based on the climatic conditions of the respective place. Of course the best things collected at each campus must be shared across. Which is the next important phase you think Vidya ought to go through? The most vital phase is the next phase. Vidya must be hosted in a new- sturdy server as soon as possible. Lest, I see all possibility of Vidya crashing because the central repository of Vidya runs on a P-III machine, perhaps this machine is ANWESHI - ASTHA Newsmagazine

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Vidya Story - Contd ... The content in Vidya is carefully chosen and one must not forget that Vidya has material collected right from the year 2000, of which a good quantity of information is not available any more on the world wide web. The relevance of Vidya in terms of the information archived lies in the time span it consistently covered and careful content selection. Here I must add, Vidya owes a great deal to Google search results and another lesser known but effective search engine called “Vivisimo” that gives categorized search results. In short in this era if information overload, Vidya does a load balancing act through selective information dissemination. Has Vidya been presented in any Symposiums or Conferences? Yes, in 2005 we had in this campus an International conference on digital libraries ( ACDL 2005) with participants from the American and European universities. I had presented Vidya as our initiative towards building a comprehensive digital library and they showed a lot of interest in the way we do things. I must thank Prof.Prashant Nair ( Asst.Chairman, IT Dept) for organizing ACDL 2005 and giving me an opportunity to represent Amrita. Few months back I got an invitation to speak at the Conclave - Freed.in 2008 organized by Jawaharlal Nehru University , New Delhi and SARAI Research Centre. They became interested to know more when they heard about Vidya and this is a clear indication of how the world looks at Vidya. Do you ever get the feeling that Vidya might make lazy students lazier ? Vidya can make lazy students smarter, not lazier. I guess you meant this - students resorting to the copy+paste method of solving problems and completing assignments. It is quite akin to an open book exam( which is not despicable at all). I am only happy that the students could spot the information they need from Vidya and I call that smartness. Now, it is for the teacher to use his discretion to judge the originality of such submissions. The nature of what a student writes will have a clear imprint of the students style of talking and other abilities (analytical/verbal) displayed in the class. A smart teacher will immediately figure out the anomaly and

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archive of Vidya) in the class when there was a delay on starting the project presentations session. Such attempts are real exemplifications of how an inspired teacher can inspire a whole class of students and how well we can use Vidya in effective ways for the overall development of our students. I have also been overwhelmed seeing the enthusiasm of Mr.Satheesh Babu of Chemistry department every time I added a new collection of Chemistry material in Vidya. This is the openness needed and it is good that we have people like them. How different is Vidya from other knowldege bases and digital libraries? Let me change the word ‘difference’ to ‘uniqueness’. The term ‘digital library’ is something that is getting redefined. There was a time when ‘digital library’ meant a separate enclosure adjacent to the central library with a few machines dedicated to access digital contents. This is the concept of the 90’s. Digital content is best disseminated if it is distributed across the network . The very term ‘digital’ means communication at the speed of light. If some one has to walk across a few blocks to access digital content in a an environment of LAN and WiFi, I feel we are following the ‘vacuum tube generation’ practices in the ‘digital era’ .But it is great to have a centralized location where people can meet and discuss. Looking at this way, Vidya is a floating presence across the campus, it reaches every one any time, one need not walk to it. All formidable digital libraries will have gateways to a wide variety of online journal subscriptions and other repositories, this surely needs seamless internet connectivity . Vidya has IEEE, ACM, Dig Engg Library gateways. We need to add more any way. The uniqueness of Vidya lies in the variety of material locally archived (even when internet is down, people can continue to learn using global resources. Vidya is something one can explore and experience almost any where in the campus across the LAN. One must consider each repository a unique one because it is built primarily to cater to the community it belongs. The true potential of Vidya can be unleashed to our student community only if Vidya is made accessible across the campus WiFi , then Vidya will begin to evolve into a ‘Learning Resource Centre’ Contd... on page 31

test the student thoroughly instead of blindly awarding grades based on submissions by the student. A smart teacher will be discerning enough thus. So the equation gets reduced to these facts: 1. Vidya can make a lazy students smarter. 2. Smart teachers can make lazy students work harder and do better. 3. Only lazy teachers can make lazy students lazier. ...and I am sure one cannot afford to get lazy in Amrita campus. Well, it is like this-here’s a set of tools and book of rules, one can either build a stepping stone or stumbling block. It all depends on individual perceptions and attitudes. There is a comprehensive section in Vidya called “Academic Integrity” that has well organized information on plagiarism, copyright regulations etc. It is good for students to be aware of all this from their first year itself. In the near future do you see video lectures in Vidya being an integral part of class room sessions, Can it be an alternative to the teaching methodology followed in most universities in India? I wish it happens that way and it does not take much time for such things to happen. A good resolve to teach better and learn better can make it happen right away. Students do take these video lectures and watch it on their laptops, but then not all can afford laptops. So one section of students miss out this mode of learning completely if they are not in a position to see video lectures even in the computer labs. There is a lot our teachers could also benefit from viewing these video lectures. So when a teacher is benefited thus, the whole class in turn gets benefited. For example Mr. J Shrikrishnan of Cisco Academy plays Vidya video lectures in his class and he remarked that such exercises make the class more lively and interactive. I wish there are more practitioners of this approach. In fact finding right kind of video lectures to play in the classrooms is not difficult at all since the entire curriculum is mapped to Vidya resources. I must tell that Ms.Smrithi Rekha of CSE department has tried out playing motivational/ inspirational videos from Vidya in her computer science classes which was well received. I was really surprised when she told one day that she played a short video ( from the Social Sciences ANWESHI - ASTHA Newsmagazine

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Vidya Story - Contd ... Which is the best feedback/ testimonial you have received from students on your work on Vidya? These are the times of online communities and social networking portals, and testimonials seem to be the spontaneous and easiest way (some times frivolous and superfluous too) one can gift the other person expecting the same in return. So I do not want to dig out anything specific. Being with students really meant playing the changing roles of a friend, critique and mentor and brother. I have tried to do my best . But, there are two reflections from students I would cherish unto my last even if I am to lose the rest of my credentials and testimonials : This is my testimonial ....................................... ( for the man who has silently engineered an ecstasy called 'Vidya' Amrita's Digital library ) Karthik Sankar.R M.Sc 2005 Batch

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In Focus - VIDYA VIDYA - The e-Guru@Amrita
...While the infrastructure development has been at a rocketing pace in Amrita, which scores well over many contemporary institutions, I feel that the single largest influence that changed the learning attitude of students was initiated by Vidya – the e-Learning repository of Amrita. When I was a student (2002) Vidya was in Her fledgling stage (compared to what She is now), but even then She was my saviour for 2 of my final year electives (FEM & Mechatronics). Vidya for me was an inspiration and guide to my future of opportunities, teaching me the essentials of engineering, management, philosophy, humanities, spirituality, and creativity – all capsuled within a mouse-click. Within a couple of years Vidya has changed academic attitudes of students from that of routine education to meaningful learning and holistic development: the latter being the actual purpose of the former. Vidya transcends beyond teaching subjects, for She guides students how to Learn. Nowhere else could I have got to meet Chanakya, Oscar Schindler, Einstein, Patanjali, Edward de Bono, Jack Welch, Prof. March, Sri Gandhi, Richard Feynman and Amma, over one single table! And imagine arriving at a confluence of their ideas and contemplating over them? That’s exactly what Vidya made me do: Think. But, that is the power of Vidya, showing you the broader aspects of learning and giving you an opportunity to assimilate within. She was (is) the gateway of access to any personality I wanted to learn about, and Oscar Schindler was a great influence on my concepts of ethics and morality. Nowhere else could I have imagined to meet Schindler! Today, I find that students are in a greater pace than we were, but still finding it hard to keep up with Vidya. From the latest video lectures to ground breaking scientific inventions, Vidya has more to offer than the students could possibly want. But I am immensely happy that students have fully realised the indispensability of Vidya and are working together to redefine the process of learning. Vidya, in many ways, has positively influenced the peer bonding within Amrita. Today, students stay back during vacations to enjoy the absolute bliss of learning through Vidya, for the fun of it (purpose will follow later!). As probably the most frequently visiting alumnus of Ettimadai campus, I have been able to witness the silent transformation in the students’ learning mode, getting healthier every month, as further confirmed through my interaction with them. Vidya has touched and changed lives at Ettimadai, and She will continue to guide generations of students to come.

Dear Ajai Sir. I am reaching out to you at this juncture where I really should be viewed from a different frame of reference, and none else than you sir. I think, currently, there are so many stuff running in my mind that I feel I have temporarily lost the clarity to think objectively. As you know me, I didn’t think twice about reaching out to for your help… please guide me. When I watched the movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’, I couldn’t help recalling you as teacher Nikhumb and myself as the dyslexic student. Without your guidance I wouldn’t have scaled the initial loss of IIT during first year, and all that I learnt later… And as a person who knows me inside out in the context discussed above, I felt it more than necessary to reach out to you. Kindly let me know your thoughts sir…This is something that I can’t discuss at home or friends or siblings (as I have none)…. It’s over to you……… Mar 6, 2008 ( This alumnus (2004 batch) is a successful professional in Europe) Identity protected as requested by the
writer.

This is what I earned and I feel all the struggle was well worth it. What were the most unforgettable experiences related to your work on Vidya? There are many incidents associated with building Vidya and my life in the campus, in fact too many of them. Some day I will narrate it all in a novel I am gearing up to write. I have worked on Vidya with the conviction that every speck of information that goes to Vidya is precious, it could inspire, inform and transform some one’s life and that is just what I have experienced all through the process of building Vidya. At the personal level, looking back in retrospect, I cherish those moments of utter restlessness and vigor that facilitated rigorous creative outpour… forgetting to eat, sleep or any other recreation oblivious of the passage of time, I was totally engrossed (to the point of obsession) in adding more to Vidya. Now I wonder how did all that happen. When I see digital library initiatives around involving huge funding and large number of people involved, I really marvel at Vidya because it is perhaps the best example of creating the most economical digital archive. Students like J.Chandrasekhar ( Mech-2008 batch) provided great support consistently convincing me that there are many takers who are eager for anything good that goes into Vidya.The tag line of Vidya is the mission of Vidya - To Inform, Inspire and Innovate. As far as my work in Amrita is concerned, it is the last two years that saw an effective consolidation of everything I was involved with. It is work on Vidya that eventually lead to conceiving ‘MINDSCAPE’- The Documentary Screening Group , later forming ‘ASTHA’ - Amrita Science and Technology Action Forum and ‘ANWESHI’-The Newsmagazine. I must thank the students Mr.Binit Bhatia ( IT, 2007 batch) Rajesh Rajan ( Mech 2008 batch) and Meenal Purohit (CSE 2008 batch) who were instrumental in establishing Mindscape. Had it not been for the spirited efforts of Rajesh Rajan, Meenal Purohit, Kothai Priyadharshini ( CSE 2009 batch) and the team, Mindscape and ASTHA would not have reached where it is today. I have great faith in the current batch of students and I am sure that they will take the initiatives further. I thank every one who supported and sustained me in all my endeavors. It’s been a real privilege, Thank You! ANWESHI - ASTHA Newsmagazine

Srinivasa Varadhan Cognizant Technologies, London ( Former Amrita Alumni Vice President 2005-2007 )

ANWESHI

May 2008

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In Depth - VIDYA

ANWESHI - ASTHA Newsmagazine

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