Teaching #PSOSMonNPTEL in a country of a billion: Experiences and take aways

Recently finished teaching my first course on NPTEL (National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning). NPTEL is like a Coursera of India. It is a joint initiative of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and is managed by faculty from IIT, Madras.

I taught my signature course Privacy and Security in Online Social Media (PSOSM). The course was assigned noc16-cs07 number. I have taught this course previously at IIITD (CSE648, 4 times) and at Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil (2 times). Below is the flier and here is the teaser video we created and used for the promotion of the course. The registration started on May 1 and went till July 15, by the end of this deadline, I had about 2200 registrations, but that number went up manifold when the registration date was extended by a couple of days. All efforts in promoting the course paid well, I had 5250+ students signed up for the course.

I had four amazing TAs assisting me on this course, all being my own Ph.D. students. Anupama Aggarwal, Prateek Dewan, Srishti Gupta and Niharika Sachdeva. They not only helped with tutorials, quizzes and tests but also functioned as tech support throughout the course. Special thanks to Prateek who took care of editing the videos and responding to the mailing list (there were even emails to prateek, referring him as faculty of the course!) and Niharika for managing the entire NPTEL portal.

I was getting mentally prepared for spending more time in preparing for this course, but it took way more time than what I had foreseen. It was my first time using Camtasia for recording lectures. Previously I have had my lectures recorded while I taught physically in a class. It feels very natural teaching a class full of curious students, interacting with them, asking / answering questions, but it is quite a different feeling teaching a class consisting of only one laptop and that too in your own office!

After some initial teething problems with recording and uploading, the course went on smoothly. As of writing this blog, I have 23,000 views on all the lecture videos that we uploaded as part of the course. Apart from videos, I also had one AMA (Ask Me Anything) session and one physical meeting at IIITD, where students could ask questions, clarify doubts or share their concerns directly with me and the TAs.

What the students felt, I will share later in this blog but personally it was a very satisfying experience. Many students all over India got to know me. Students from many smaller towns have taken this course. I received emails from college principals from tier II, tier III cities saying they had made this course a part of their curriculum and they have their best students taking this course. In my opinion, this is the biggest advantage of such online courses, it breaks geographical barriers and makes quality education and knowledge accessible to a larger audience. Out of the 5250 students, 152 students registered for the final exam and appeared for the exam; students have to pay some nominal fee to take this exam. I was super excited to have so many students pay for the course and take the exam.

NPTEL maintains a mailing list of all students registered for the course and that acts as a good medium for all of us; faculty, TAs and students to interact on a regular basis. This is where I was told that I have an American accent when I speak L or that in some videos my voice was very feeble. Also, as a practice, NPTEL requests students to fill a feedback form and shares the feedback with the faculty teaching the course and students also sent some through the mailing list. It feels very heartening to see some comments from the students and I take this opportunity to thank and congratulate them for their time and effort in finishing the course and giving a constructive feedback on the course. Some comments:

  • “Thanks for giving me a sense of satisfaction of doing a course.“
  • “Thanks a million to the whole Team. One of the best online course I ever had. There were days when I started posting queries at 10PM in the forum and TA’s helped me till I get what I wanted, some of the discussions went on till 1AM too. This shows how dedicated the team is!.”
  • “Feedback for an awesome course like this is really worth. Thank you PK sir for opening up such a treasure of knowledge. The best part of the course and it actually made the course different was the meet up at IIITD and also the hangouts session. The tutorials are really nicely presented and challenging for us.”
  • “I have gone through couple of other NPTEL certifications in recent years but this one was the best I would say…. Special thanks to Dr. PK. He was very interactive and an enthusiast. “
  • “firstly i am happy for taking this course, i did well in exam and very very thanks to all.. teaching faculty.. all teaching faculty did beyond the expectations..now i realise what are the skills  i have..  and thank you PK sir..and  lastly i say thank u NPTEL team.”
  • “5/5… Thank you IIIT-D, PK sir and the awesome TAs.

Below is the certificate that my TAs got for helping with the course.

Lessons learned / suggestions for doing a good job with teaching on NPTEL:

  • Prepare the lectures and record it before-hand (well before the date of uploading)
  • Have wonderful TAs, they are the secret for success!
  • Try to have Ask Me Anything or physical meeting sessions at least a couple of times
  • Keep the mailing list very active
  • If you are teaching a course that you teach otherwise in campus, please be aware that the students taking the course are not so well equipped compared to students in your class in campus.

I would definitely love to teach a course on NPTEL again! Until then goodbye to the NPTEL community!

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Associate Professor @ IIIT-Delhi http://precog.iiitd.edu.in