The Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) opened the doors for all their students from all five faculties of the university, to attend a virtual campus on the 18th of March this year, creating a milestone in the history of higher education in Sri Lanka.
This move which came in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak was an unprecedented success with over 8,000 students attending interactive lectures online daily.
Professor Lalith Gamage, CEO of SLIIT says, “We are on the cusp of transiting to the next generation of online learning, for us there is a silver lining in this very dreary situation, where we can use it as a laboratory for experimenting and learning how to communicate and teach students in a remote environment. Whilst we know we are well ahead in our delivery for an interactive lecture which is very close to a face-to-face teaching-learning experience, our faculty and management will find ways of further improving the quality and delivery of the lecture. In online delivery one key factor is availability of bandwidth and data, we are very thankful to SLT and Dialog for making data free of charge to our students during this time.”
SLIIT has joined top universities of the world in moving to online delivery of their lectures. Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Rochester and the State University of New York are some institutions that have already moved their campuses to the web.
In the Sri Lankan context, although the government has requested universities to consider online delivery, only SLIIT was ready to give a precise timeline for moving to an online platform. “Not only were we ready with the infrastructure, but most of our content was already online, at the time COVID-19 hit Sri Lanka last February. Online teaching is often misinterpreted as a system where students have access to an online repository of lecture material such as lecture slides, lecture notes or supplementary material. This can be facilitated by any traditional Learning Management System (LMS), but what we are providing our students is interactive and as close to a physical classroom experience as possible,” said Dr. Malitha Wijesundara, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Sciences at SLIIT.
SLIIT moved to an LMS platform in 2006 and from then on all their modules maintained a module page with the content for each week, including quizzes and assignments done online. But in 2018, SLIIT pilot-tested a technology developed by a start-up company in their Technology Incubator ‘eduscope.’ The technology was meant for lecture capture, which automatically records lectures and uploads to a common portal for students to view later.
“In 2019, the technology was fully deployed in several of our lecture theatres and it became very popular amongst students. We saw an increase in the number of students who opted for recorded lectures. The system provides detailed analytics on how the students view each lecture with a per-minute breakdown to indicate if they find some sections more challenging to understand,” says the Dean.
The system allows students to playback the lectures on their phones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs seamlessly. This gives the students a considerable advantage as they can playback and bookmark areas for revision and make short notes on unclear areas to get further instruction on. Such information becomes visible to the lecturer who can intervene immediately to support the students.
To supplement this system, SLIIT has now rolled out a live teaching technology by partnering with Cisco. The Cisco WebEx platform allows lecturers and students to stay in their homes while they teach and learn, and students follow lectures in real-time.
SLIIT uses both platforms i.e. the Lecture capture technology and Cisco WebEx in their online delivery, which currently supports over 10,000 students who have access to 300 academics providing learning.
Dr. Wijesundara says, “while we may face many challenges in rolling out our online campus, we believe this is a great breakthrough and our students are benefitting vastly from it.”