"Digital technology makes access to education easier and reduces the cost without affecting the quality"

  Photo: UOC

Photo: UOC

Teresa Bau
Vijay Kumar, Associate Dean of Digital Learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Vijay Kumar is Associate Dean of Digital Learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the world's most prestigious universities in the field of science and technology. Kumar recently took part in the international symposium Next Generation Student Success, organized by the DXtera Institute, the German Alliance for Education, Strada Education Network and the UOC, which has the aim of improving learning through data collection and analysis.


What's your relationship with the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)?

I've been working with the UOC for many years. We began by collaborating as part of MIT's Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI). From the start, the UOC has embraced innovation when it comes to using technology to move ahead in education.

How does MIT introduce innovation into its education system?

We're really lucky, as our teaching staff are extremely interested in innovation. I've been working here for 22 years and we've always tried to innovate to improve the learning experience for our students. We have digital learning specialists throughout our departments who foster innovation in their different fields. We have also created the right conditions – economic, infrastructure and personal commitment – to make innovation possible.

Can you give me any examples of the most successful educational innovations?

All of the students who start at MIT have to take an introductory Physics course. A classroom with 400 students is not the most suitable educational experience. We asked ourselves how we could improve this experience to educate large numbers of students while at the same time enabling them to interact in small groups. So, in 2005, we created tech-enabled active learning (TEAL), a format that combines master classes, simulations and computer experiments.

Another innovation has been the open courses (MIT OpenCourseWare). We decided to publish our courses as open and make them available to everyone. Now, with the data we gather, we are able to know how students learn and therefore create better platforms and experiences.

What possibilities does big data analysis give to online education?

Through EdX, a platform with open courses in the best universities in the world, we're able to gather and analyse a lot of data on how students learn. This way, we can create learning experiences adapted to different student profiles. And give professors the roles that best suit them. That is the great opportunity.

Do you think that online education can break down the economic barrier of access to education?

Yes, I think so. The number of people who have access to education has risen significantly thanks to online courses. I recall the words of John Daniels, the Open University's third vice-chancellor: “Access, Cost and Quality are an iron triangle. If access is very high and the cost low, the quality will be lower. If the cost is high and access low, the quality will be greater”. That's what traditionally happened. However, digital technology makes access to education easier and reduces the cost without affecting the quality. Open online education can be of excellent quality. However, we should also remember that you need good infrastructures and adequate policies.  Only that way can there be real change.

How do you see the UOC in this new technological age?

The UOC has a great advantage, which is that it already has the new technological society as its target audience. In light of the great changes we're experiencing, we have also to think of the educational values we want to preserve – active, hands-on learning – and also the inherent values of good teachers – empathy and compassion.