WALTHAM, MA—Digital learning can change the world, but the question is how to bring it to the rural areas of developing countries where most of the time there is no electricity and no network connectivity. Well, Vijay Kumar, Associate Dean of Digital Learning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is trying to do that.
“It does require innovative approaches to design solutions and approaches for resource constrained environments. For instance, a significant challenge nowadays is the availability of adequate and reliable network connectivity,” says Kumar. “In fact, for our India project, one of our friends suggested that every school be provided with solar panels for power to support their effort.”
Kumar has taken academics out of the classroom: from theory to practice. He currently leads Strategic Educational Initiatives in MIT’s Office of Digital Learning where he serves as Associate Dean of Digital Learning. In India, he is involved in a digital learning campaign that runs across several states, in collaboration with industrial giant Tata Group. He co-leads the Tata-MIT CLIx initiative to advance educational quality and access through technology in underserved Indian schools.
On Oct. 28, Kumar will receive the Excellence in Academics Award at New England Choice Awards gala at the Westin Hotel in Waltham, MA. About 400 entrepreneurs, corporate executives, philanthropists, educators and community leaders are expected to attend the awards gala, which is presented by INE MultiMedia in collaboration with INDIA New England News, the region’s oldest and largest online, print and video magazine serving the South Asian community.
Kumar said that to meet the challenges of digital learning, educators need to have an innovative and solution-oriented approach.
“We try to design for ‘sometimes connected’ environments so that we do not have to sacrifice all the benefit of online connectivity such a data sharing or downloading education materials,” Kumar said. “We also try to leverage different modalities, for example mobile phone applications (such a Whatsapp, Telegram) for forums and discussions along with the Internet or local network. Also, sometimes we may use other media – CDs or even Radio to hare resources. One of things that we have done with MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) materials is to create local Mirror sites in connectivity challenged areas such as Sub Sahara Africa or even Haiti.”
Kumar says a general approach to digital learning is to apply specially acquired resource to show the compelling value of digital learning while working with government, industry, policy makers and providers to scale the effort.
“In some countries such as India we work with the central and state governments through their schemes to provide computers in rural schools. In some countries, private companies and foundations provide resource. There is great opportunity for public-private partnerships in this area,” Kumar said.
Kumar provides leadership for sustainable technology-enabled educational innovation at MIT. In his prior roles at MIT as Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Assistant Provost and Director of Academic Computing, as well at other institutions, Kumar has been responsible for strategy development and leading units engaged in the effective integration of information technology and media services in education.
He was the Principal Investigator of the Open Knowledge Initiative, a MIT-led collaborative project to develop an open architecture for enterprise educational applications. He is a member of the Faculty Advisory Committee of MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW). He is the Executive Officer for MIT’s Council on Educational Technology. He was a member of the steering committee for I-Campus, the MIT-Microsoft Alliance initiative for educational technology.
Kumar’s research, as well as his engagements as advisor/consultant, is directed toward strategy, planning and implementing technological innovations for education. These engagements include: Smithsonian (Advisor for Digital Futures); India National Knowledge Commission, (honorary advisor 2006- 2009).; UNESCO (developing strategies for open educational resources, open technology and policy); Open University of Catalonia (Educational Innovation); Singapore University of Technology and Design (IT) ; Qatar Foundation International (educational technology and innovation); and Massachusetts STEM Council’s Network Operations Board.
Kumar received B.Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT, Madras and an M.S. Industrial Management from that institute as well; and an Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.