Tag Archives: education

Event Report: Transforming and Scaling Education – D.B. Phatak

(This is a live-blog of the talk D.B. Phatak gave at Grand Finale event of the Turing100 Lecture Series titled “Rethinking Education – Transforming and Scaling the Learning Model”. Note, this is a live blog, so please excuse the fact that it is unstructured, incomplete, and might contain errors. Note: this talk is being live-cast to 30+ colleges and other institutions all over India.)

Anand Deshpande’s introduction of D.B. Phatak

  • Prof. Phatak is my Guru. I have not been his student, formally, but I know him since early 90s and I always go to him for advice before anything important.
  • He did his engineering from Indore and PhD from IIT Bombay.
  • He got the Padmashree last year
  • He is a great speaker and anytime he is going a talk, you should always attend it.

Transforming and Scaling Education – by D.B. Phatak

  • This talk will touch upon these topics: 1) Learning, 2) Education, 3) Scaling, 4) Open Sourcing of Knowledge and 5) Technology Crystal Gazing


  • We are all familiar with learning in groups. Classroom learning. Fixed time slots. Typical: 1 teacher, 50 students, 1 hour. Teacher has (hopefully) pre-prepared the lecture. The students are supposed to listen with attention, throughout the hour, but this never happens.
  • So does learning happen in a classroom? Partially. Maximal learning happens when you try to apply knowledge that you’ve acquired.
  • All the advocates of e-learning and e-everything claim that if there is access to good quality knowledge, that is enough for anyone to learn. This is false. If just access to knowledge was good enough for learning, then librarians would be the smartest people on earth.
  • Learning needs applying knowledge, failing to apply that knowledge, correcting the failures. Without these steps, learning cannot happen.
  • Can an individual learn entirely on his/her own? Eklavya. Yes, there are cases of this. But don’t forget that here is only one Eklavya, but 7 billion non-Eklavya humans who also need to learn.
  • Why do we learn? Primarily for survival. Then betterment of ones life. Two other reasons which not everybody follows: learning for the sake of learning, and learning to advance human knowledge (research).
  • Unfortunately, we seem to have separated “research” and “education”). But research shouldn’t be just the domain of PhDs writing papers. The most important things needed in research should really be included in the mindset of everyone – Meticulousness. Curiosity. Precise Articulation. Diligence. Discipline. Rigor.
  • The most important learning happens from the age of 0 to 5 (-9months to 5 if you consider Abhimanyu), before the child goes to school. Social behavior. Basic Articulation. A second language. Ethics. Humility.


  • We think of education as a formal system of knowledge being imparted through training and/or research. But education is happening all the time. Every interaction with someone else is an opportunity for self-education.
  • Our existing system is broken. Too much emphasis on rote learning. Children cannot apply what they learn. Industry says that less than 25% of our engineers are employable (and apparently the number in China is even lower).
  • We as a society have concluded that getting a degree with good marks implies that your career will be successful. And also, that the manner in which the degree and marks are gained is irrelevant – so optimizations (classes, cheating, leaked papers) are widespread.
  • The teaching is syllabus driven, and the learning by students is examination driven. The teacher must stick to the syllabus because the exam papers will be checked by a different teacher based on a paper set by a third teacher.
  • Is autonomy the answer?
  • The problem is not that our existing system is broken. The problem is that our system refuses to break! It is so well-entrenched. So any solution cannot emerge from complete disruption. The change has to be incremental and needs to work with the system.


  • A claimed advantage of India is the demographic dividend. 300 million people under the age of 19. Educating them well can lead to huge gains for us. But we spend a very small fraction of our GDP (compared to other developing countries).
  • Gross enrollment ratio – the ratio of students who actually enroll for higher education to those actually eligible for higher education – is 60-80% in developed countries. In India it was 8% about 6 years ago. It has been brought to 13-14% now. We are hoping to bring it up to 30% by 2020. Double! To achieve that, we need to double all our educational institutions in 7 years. This is a tall order.
  • Another problem: last year, our engineering colleges’ capacity was 1.45million, whereas enrollment was 1.25million. So, while capacity is growing, enrollment is not growing. Parents and students have begun to believe that getting an engineering degree might not be worth it in all cases.
  • This is the situation with engineering education. It is much worse as you go lower.
  • Think of the problems we face, and the scale of the problems. And we need to solve them at that scale. If we double all our higher educational infrastructure in 7 years, and we convince students/parents to join the new schools, we’ll just get the enrollment ratio to just 30%. And we need to get to 80%
  • Teachers need to be convinced that their main job is not to teach. The main job is enable students to learn. The student should be able to transcend the knowledge of the teacher if/where needed. Also, student should be able to learn in the best possible manner for that student. The manner will be different for different students.
  • Our current education system allows a fixed amount of time for learning, but given that different human beings learn at different rates, it results in variable amount of learning. How does our education system deal with this difference? We grade the students. And denigrate the students who get lower marks. Not just society, friends and family start looking down on the student, but the student himself loses confidence and motivation.
  • What is needed is fixed amounts of learning in variable time (as long as the time is not too long). Is it possible to do this? Maybe – the technology, for the first time in human history, might allow this. Conventional education does not admit this possibility.

Open Sourcing of Knowledge

  • One of the important reasons for creation of the copyright and patent laws was to ensure that after a fixed amount of time, the knowledge contained there is available for all of humanity. But industry is manipulating the system to increase the amount of time.
  • The open source movement, creative commons are ways to get around the problems now being caused by copyright and patent problems.
  • There is lots of knowledge available on the net for free downloads, but because they are not appropriately licensed, it is not possible to distribute this knowledge in a system like Aakash. It is quite likely that the original author would have happily consented to the knowledge being used in this way, but often it is not possible to contact the person, or other problems get in the way. So good knowledge gets lost because of lack of awareness of open sourcing of knowledge.
  • However, if there are companies who are spending money on innovation, and would like to benefit monetarily from those innovations, it is only fair to expect that they use copyrights and licenses to enforce their rights. But as far as knowledge dissemination is concerned, open sourcing the knowledge is what will benefit the most people. There needs to be a balance between these two forces.
  • To do anything sustainably – including bringing changes into education – there needs to be revenues and financial management. But, for some reason, India has conferred a moral high ground to the education sector, and there is a belief that education sector should not be making money. That is not a sustainable thought.
  • Premji Foundation has an initiative in rural Karnataka where they are using computers to enhance education. They’re not teaching computers to the students – they are using computers to improve teaching of Kannada, Maths, etc. The program is funded by the foundation, the government, and the students. (There was a proposal to make this free for the students by taking more money from the government, but they found works better if the students pay.) The foundation has used controlled studies to show that the technology results in significant improvements in education.
  • IIT-Bombay runs a course to train teachers. It reaches 10000 teachers in 250 institutions across India. They’re trained by faculty from IIT Bombay. 4 of these centers are in Pune. This initiative is extremely well received. It is a costly model because it costs Rs. 6400 per teacher for a 2-week program – but by introducing a fee for teachers (because the teachers and colleges do benefit from this program) they’re hoping to reduce the cost to run this program.
  • MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courseware) like Coursera and MIT OCW are a new entrant with a lot of promise. IIT-Bombay has just concluded an MOU with edx and should be the first Indian university to offer an MOOC in about 6 months. Some courses can easily scale up to 1 lakh students. This would ensure that quality education will reach the masses.
  • Sam Pitroda makes a point that students who earn credits via MOOCs should be permitted to transferred credits/marks in their educational instituation. i.e. a COEP student taking an IIT-Bombay MOOC should be able to get COEP credits for passing that course.
  • Currently MOOCs are free, but there needs to be a revenue model for MOOCs. IIT-Bombay believes that knowledge should be free – so all the course material should be available using an open source license, but actual interaction can be paid.
  • But, one problem of MOOC is that often students don’t complete the course, or don’t take it seriously. One big advantage of actual physical classrooms is that in spite of all the distractions, you still end up paying attention to a significant fraction of the lecture.
  • These problems with MOOCs will be solved, and MOOCs will play a very large role in scalable education in India. Via internet. On the cloud.

Technology Crystal Gazing

  • MOOCs will be big – and will become the predominant technology platform for education. (IIT-Bombay picked edX instead of Coursera and others because edX is open source.)
  • Everything will be on the cloud
  • Bandwidth requirements will increase significantly
  • Every educational institution should plan for 1 gbps bandwidth.

Concluding remarks

  • Government must invest much more money in education. Government should not be a benevolent dictator. Education institutions, good or bad, need to get autonomy. Why do we have bad institutions who are simply degree factories? Because industry and society tremendously value degrees and marks. As soon as industry discovers that it can quickly and accurately evaluate students/job-seekers on the basis of their actual capabilities (as opposed to their marks and degrees), universities’ arrogance will disappear, and education will become much better.
  • The same technology which allows us to teach lakhs of students simultaneously and scalably, will also allow companies to assess and evaluate lakhs of students quickly and accurately.
  • Education does not end when you graduate from an educational institution. Education continues forever. Students and professionals need to understand this, and companies need to start focusing on this aspect.
  • Parents need to re-think their priorities. Forcing your child to prepare for JEE for 2 years is causing them to lose two years of their life that they could be using for actual education. And they’re learning to cheat – attending classes and skipping college, but getting “full attendance” at college anyway is being encouraged by parents.
  • It is well established that the best education of a child happens in his/her own mother tongue. Yet, most parents opt for English education. This is acceptable for parents who converse with the children in English on a regular basis. But this is a tiny fraction.
  • Students: enjoy education. Enjoy solving problems. Enjoy life. Dream big. But work hard.
  • There are 300 million Indians younger than 19, younger than the people in this room – and they’re waiting for us to do something for them. Independent of whatever else you are doing in your profession, you must think of making some contribution to making life more meaningful in terms of better learning and better education for those 300 million.

Life and Times of Alan Turing by Mathai Joseph

InnoVidya and IUCAA invite everyone to a lecture on the life and time of Alan Turing, widely considered the father of computer science, by Dr. Mathai Joseph, who can be considered one of the senior most computer scientists in Pune.

Alan Turing, was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, giving a formalisation of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. The most important award in computer science, the Turing Award, is named after Alan Turing.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth, and hence we are celebrating it with a talk on his life and his contributions to computer science. This talk is targeted towards anyone interested in computers – no special knowledge of computer science will be assumed.

About the Speaker – Dr. Mathai Joseph

Dr. Mathai Joseph did his PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK, and joined the Tata Institute of F undamental Research in 1968. He was appointed to a Chair in Computer Science at the University of Warwick in 1985. At various times, he has been a visiting professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, Eindhoven University of Technology, University of Warwick and University of York.

He joined Tata Consultancy Services in 1997 as an Executive Vice President and was the Executive Director of the Tata Research Development and Design Centre until his retirement in 2007.

He was Chairman of the Board of the International Institute for Software Technology from 2 005-2007 . He has written several books and numerous papers.

Mathai Joseph was elected as a Member-at-Large of the ACM Council in 2008. He is the President of ACM India and has been a member of the ACM India Council since it was formed in 2009.

About InnoVidya

InnoVidya is a group of educators and industry professionals who want to reach out to students, teachers, trainers and working professionals and catalyze significant improvements in their learning ecosystems. In addition to the InnoVidya website and the InnoVidya mailing list, we also hold public lectures on the 4th Saturday of every month. Lectures usually involve talks by senior educators, industry visionaries, or social and/or for-profit entrepreneurs working in the space of higher education.

We are currently based in Pune, but we expect that this initiative will expand all over India.

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to email/RSS updates at: http://innovidya.org.

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, January 19 , 2013, at 11am, at the Chandrashekhar Auditorium, IUCAA, at University of Pune campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. There is no need to register.

Very high-powered India/US education conference in Pune – Dec 5-7

From 5 to 8 December, Pune will play host to a very high powered conference on education, featuring some of the top names in education from India and US. And by top names, I really mean the top: everyone’s listed as speakers and panelists, from ministers (Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde, and others), Governors, bureaucrats (from planning commission, AICTE, UGC), heads of various universities and colleges too numerous to mention (including Kadam, DY Patil, Navale, Karad, Mujumdar – all the big names in Maharashtra’s higher education), and a whole lot of others.

From the US there are members of congress and senators, top officials from Princeton, UC Berkeley, and a bunch of other universities. Just look at the detailed agenda for a full list. This is the first time this conference is being organized, so there is no track record, and I don’t know whether all the listed speakers will indeed show up, or there will be bunches of last minute cancellations, but even if a fraction of them show up, it will still be one of the most impressive collection of movers and shakers in the higher education space. Just look at the delegation coming from the US

The conference is organized by three organizations: Alliance for US India Business (AUSIB), State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF), and Dr. D Y Patil University.

For more details, see the AUSIB website.

You can register for the conference here. It costs Rs. 5000 per person.

InnoVidya meeting: Changing Higher Education – 26 Nov

The gap between what our engineering colleges produce and what our industry would like to consume is widening, and will become an increasingly severe problem for the health of the software industry in India. Everybody realizes there is a problem, and there are lots of people working on this issue from various angles. Entrepreneurs are rushing in to fill the gaps, educators, especially those in independent institutes are trying interesting new experiments, and social media has the potential to change everything. InnoVidya is a platform that aims to bring together the people at the forefront of this revolution.

On November 26, we invite you to the first InnoVidya event – where the speakers will include Dr. Anil Sahasrabudhe, Director of CoEP, Mohit Gundecha, CEO of hot and recently funded startup, YourNextLeap, and Arun Prabhudesai, CTO of My Open Campus, a startup that aims to change how students interact with everybody. But the excellent line-up of speakers is not the main reason to attend this meeting – come for the audience: trustees of colleges, directors and HODs of educational institutes, heads of software companies who are desperately searching for solutions, and other Pune entrepreneurs who are looking to get rich as the Indian education system is forced to transform itself by inexorable global changes.

This is a free and open event, on Saturday, November 26th, from 10:30am to 12:30pm, at Venture Center, NCL Innovation Park, Pashan Road. Please register here.

Agenda for this Meet

  • 5-minute InnoVidya Introduction by Raja Bellare
  • 30-minute talk by Dr. Anil Sahasrabudhe, Director CoEP + 15 min Q&A
  • 20-minute pitch by Mohit Gundecha, Co-Founder & CEO YourNextLeap + 10 min Q&A
  • 20-minute pitch by Arun Prabhudesai, CTO MyOpenCampus + 10 min Q&A
  • followed by free time for hallway conversations.

Higher Education in India – Changing Scenarios – Anil Sahasrabudhe, Director, COEP

Anil is the Director of College of Engineering Pune (COEP). Anil joined COEP as the director in 2006. He holds a vision to take COEP to the next level with a view to enriching the life of every student who enters COEP.

Anil will talk about the changing scenarios in higher education in India.

Anil did his BE Karnataka University (Gold Medalist) and has a PhD from IISc Bangalore. In the past he has been a researcher at IISc, faculty at NERIST, Itanagar, and Professor at IIT Guwahati.

YourNextLeap – Smart Career Counseling and College Decisions

YourNextLeap is a recommendation engine which acts as a virtual career counselor to help students make smarter career and college decisions. It involves a suite of applications, which use psychometric evaluations and math models on past admission patterns, to give out personalized suggestions. Team YourNextLeap is excited about its mission to enhance the way millions of students and young professionals treat their careers. The team comprises of students from top US and Indian universities like BITS, NID, COEP, PICT, USC and Stanford University. More at http://yournextleap.com

About the Speaker – Mohit Gundecha

Mohit is the CEO & Co-founder of YourNextLeap. He was an early team member and head of India Operations for mig33, a mobile community with more than 50 million users. Prior to mig33, Mohit studied at Stanford University, where he co-founded Mobile Momentum with Prof. Tom Kosnik. Mohit has also co-authored a widely referenced mobile industry report, ‘Future of Mobile VAS in India’.

My Open Campus – Online Community for Faculty, Students, Employers and others

My Open Campus brings seamless collaboration to colleges, communities and closed user groups . MOC aims to bring all stakeholders (for e.g: students, faculties & administrators in a college) on single easy to use unified platform, where they can communicate and carry out all regular activities online.

MOC offers secure messaging, online assessments & exams, Information repository, student & Alumni groups, event management, Student database management, discussion forums, placements along with host of other features..

The vision of My Open Campus is to create employable intelligent students. There cannot be knowledge enhancement in an isolated and restrictive environment. Hence MOC brings together all stakeholders on a single platform to make learning a fun & social activity.

About the Speaker – Arun Prabhudesai

Arun is the CTO of Enhanced Education, the company behind MyOpenCampus. Having worked for over 15 years in I.T Industry across the globe, Arun returned back to India to pursue his dream of starting on his own. He has been quite active in Startup and Entrepreneur community is always in forefront in advising upcoming Entrepreneurs.

About InnoVidya

InnoVidya is a group of educators and industry professionals who want to reach out to students, teachers, trainers and working professionals and catalyze significant improvements in their learning ecosystems. In addition to the InnoVidya website and the InnoVidya mailing list, we also hold public lectures on the 4th Saturday of every month. Lectures usually involve talks by senior educators, industry visionaries, or social and/or for-profit entrepreneurs working in the space of higher education.

We are currently based in Pune, but we expect that this initiative will expand all over India.

More at: http://innovidya.org

And please join the mailing list: http://groups.google.com/group/innovidya

Venue Sponsor – Venture Center

Entrepreneurship Development Center (Venture Center) – a CSIR initiative – is a not-for-profit company hosted by the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune. Venture Center strives to nucleate and nurture technology and knowledge-based enterprises by leveraging the scientific and engineering competencies of the institutions in the Pune region in India. The Venture Center is a technology business incubator specializing in technology enterprises offering products and services exploiting scientific expertise in the areas of materials, chemicals and biological sciences & engineering.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Please register here. And join the InnoVidya mailing list (optional).

Pune Startup YourNextLeap.com get Series A Funding

Pune based startup, YourNextLeap.com, whom we covered last November as a company to watch, has just announced that they have received Series A funding from Nirvana Venture Advisors.

YourNextLeap is a website targeting students and provides guidance on what university they can/should apply to after engineering, or after 12th std. They have online tools like University Suggestor and College Suggestor which help students decide which university/college to apply to, to maximize probability of getting admitted, and Branch Suggestor helps students choose which branch they would do well in.

With this round of funding, Amit Patni, from the Patni Family and Rajan Mehra, formerly the Country Head for eBay in India, join the Board of Directors. Nickhil Jakatdar, CEO of VuClip and Alok Kejriwal, CEO of Games2Win are already on the Advisory board of the Company.

See full press release

Write Tech Articles for PING – PICT’s Student Newsletter

PICT’s IEEE Student Branch publishes a tech newsletter, called PING, that is distributed to various students and faculty of engineering colleges all over Pune. In the interest of increasing industry-student connections, we would like to encourage industry professionals to write some articles to be published in PING.

Pune Institute of Computer Technology (PICT), which is one of the top engineering colleges in the city, has an IEEE Student Branch which is one of the more active student groups around. Every semester, they hold a big event. In the odd semester, they have Credenz, a 3-day tech event with competitions, and talks and other events, and in the even semester they have Credenz Tech Days, a series of technical seminars. Both these events are attended by students from all over Maharashtra, and also students from other parts of India.

PING is published to coincide with Credenz and Credenz Tech days, and goes to over a 1000 students and faculty from various engineering colleges.

This time, we think it would be a good idea for PING to have articles from experienced industry professionals in addition to student written articles. The students have suggested the following topics in which they would like to see articles from Industry:

-Mobile Application Development
-Cloud Computing
-Ruby on RAILS
-Digital Scent Technology
-Face Recognition Technology
-Quantum Cryptography
-Social Networking Security Algorithms
-Brain Computer Interface
-Cluster Computing
-Linux Kernel 2.6

This only represents the list that the students came up with. But you should spend some time thinking about other topics that students should know about, and write an article on that topic.

Here is why we think you should take the effort of writing an article:

  • To help students: For many students who read PING, this will probably be their first exposure to what people in industry think. It gives them exposure, it gives them ideas, and you might inspire someone to take up an interesting subject.
  • To let students know about the cool things your company is working on. What better way to ‘market’ your company, than a technical article on an interesting topic, to be read by a 1000 students who were motivated enough to attend a tech fest? (But please make the article about the topic, not about your company. The ‘About the Author’ section can contain information about the company.)
  • To establish yourself as an expert in an area. Not only will these articles go in the newsletter, but will also go up on websites that students as well as professionals read. This is a good way to get some visibility for yourself.

Please write an article, and (send it to us)[mailto:punetech@punetech.com] at punetech@punetech.com. If you’re the kind of person who is good technically but not so good at writing article, don’t worry, contact us and we’ll help with the writing part. If you would prefer to simply talk to someone on the phone about the topic you’re interested in, and would like that someone to write the article based on the phone conversation, contact us and we can work something out.

Many industry professionals accuse today’s students of not being interested. Well, here is a bunch of students who are interested – now it is your turn to reciprocate.

eduVARTA – SMS-based education/jobs info-service for rural college students

eduVARTA is a new

eduVARTA provides informational SMS updates to rural and semi-urban college students with a focus on educational, jobs, and skills information. The idea is to empower students, and increase the opportunities they get, in terms of more education, employment and self-employment opportunities.

eduVARTA hopes to reach 5 lakhs rural and semi-urban college students (11th std. and up). Considering that the people behind this initiative are the same as those behind SMSOne, which is already reaching 5 lakhs rural and semi-urban households with local updates and ads, it should not be difficult for them to achieve their target quickly.

There is a pressing need for a service like. While students of colleges in cities like Pune are very aware of what is going on in the world, and usually end up getting decent jobs, there are millions of students elsewhere who are so devoid of information, basic skills, and confidence that even a little trickle of information can pay huge dividends. And, at this time, there is no better way to reach this population than SMS.

The eduVARTA website points out that provide the students with this kind of information:

  • Notices, announcements, alerts, decisions
  • Courses, admission, fees, due dates
  • Trainings, workshops, seminars, guest lectures, camps, study tours
  • Researches, articles, references, books, publications
  • Competition, Events, youth festivals, programs, gathering
  • Exams, competitive exams, results, forms
  • Sports, magazine, cultural, social committee activities
  • Higher education, job opportunities
  • Facilities, needs, demands
  • Achievements, appointments, success news, sad news
  • Alumni news, guest visits
  • Scholarships, awards, prizes

And the information comes from the following sources:

  • National Innovation Foundation, IIM, Ahmedabad
  • CIET, National Center for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi
  • Stanford Mobile Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Network, USA
  • Youth Employment Summit, USA & New Delhi
  • Youth & Sports Committee of Planning Commission, GoI
  • Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi
  • NASSCOM Foundation, Mumbai
  • Development Communication India, New Delhi
  • Nehru Yuva Kendra Sanghathan (NYKS), New Delhi
  • National Service Scheme (NSS), Maharashtra
  • National Youth Awardees Association
  • Universities, Researchers, Career guidance organizations
  • and many individual honorary contributors…

A few days back, at the mbillionth awards 2011, eduVARTA was given the VODAFONE “Mobile for Good” Award by VODAFONE INDIA Foundation & Digital Empowerment Foundation. The award carries a cash prize of Rs. 10L.

Check out the eduVARTA About Us Page to find out more about them.

Overview of Wikipedia Campus Ambassador Program in Pune

The Wikimedia Foundation has recently launched the India Education Program. The goal is to encourage professors in India to join a growing global community of educators who use Wikipedia as a teaching tool in their classes. Both teachers and students will receive guidance and support from Wikipedia experts as well as free educational materials developed by the Foundation and tested at first class universities in the United States like Harvard, Berkeley, and others.

This is the first time that they have tried the initiative outside the US. As a first step they have decided to run the program at select universities in Pune. This would give students the opportunity to participate in the world’s largest online encyclopedia and to improve their media literacy skills. Hisham Mundol the coordinator of the program in India shared with us that ‘Information about India and contributions from India is not adequately represented on Wikipedia, and we want to change that.’

As part of the plan they will have a number of Campus Ambassadors – volunteers chosen by the Wikimedia team, who would train students on how to write and edit articles on Wikipedia. These Campus Ambassadors will support both students and teachers during the course of the semester. This program generated an overwhelming response. ‘We got more than 700 applications and enquiries from all over the country. It’s been heartening and inspiring!’ says Hisham. They have selected 22 people who will work with educators in Pune.

At the core of the program, they propose to replace some coursework that students do (projects/reports/homework) with working on Wikipedia articles. The Campus Ambassadors would work with professors and teachers to identify potential articles on Wikipedia that can be created or improved through coursework for that particular semester.

Hisham and his team have been working closely with teachers and administrators in various institutions in Pune to evince interest in the program. ‘We also conducted detailed faculty workshops for 6 institutions in Pune where nearly 30 teachers and administrators attended. This was for the institutions that we have selected for the very first roll-outs. I’ve also visited Pune to support the training for the first lot of Campus Ambassadors that we have.’

They saw Pune as the ideal location for this program for a number of reasons. The large number of colleges and universities with over than 2,00,000 students attending was one of the main attractions. ‘Pune’s student community comes from all over the country, making it an ideal place to engage a diverse group of participants. In addition, the largest part of the success of any Wikimedia program is the community of volunteers, of which there is a vibrant and active community in Pune.’ Says Hisham.

Free web-development courses by Ozran Academy, Pune

Ozran is a small web development company in Kondhwa, Pune. This European company founded by Andor Admiraal and Rajesh Shet has some very unique policies and a different outlook from most other IT firms. One of their unique initiatives is that they offer completely free web courses to IT, Arts and Maths freshers. They even have a couple of free women-centric courses on offer.

We chatted with Andor one of the founders of the company to find out more about this unique firm and the rationale behind the way they are.

Though they are small they are an end-to-end company. They come up with web concepts, design, development, marketing, they maintain and work with copy as well. Not everyone can handle this, so recruitment becomes something of a challenge for them. ‘I can teach someone ColdFusion, jQuery or CSS. But I cannot teach someone to think critically, be curious, defend their own ideas, take responsibility or to find pride even in the mistakes they make. But in our company, we consider these key skills.’ says Andor.

So while hiring they look for the right personality, one who will fit into their organization rather than just for a list of technical qualifications. And they find that the best way to do this is during a short course. Andor also believes that this method of hiring fits well into the learning culture at Ozran. All the employees are required to study for an hour every day. A number of books, videos, online courses are made available to employees. They want their people to grow continually. ‘Our cleaning girl studies English on the computer once she is done with her work – it’s just who we are as a company. And why go through hours of tedious job interviews, when we can do something infinitely more fun and useful?’ Says Andor.

Coming from Europe Andor found many cultural differences in India. The differences between the sexes made up a large part of this. ‘Many women in India do not work after getting married or having children. This means the end of their careers even before they are 30.’ Andor felt that this was a pure waste of talent. So through women-only courses they hope to tap into this group of dedicated professionals that would otherwise remain on the outside. ‘We are looking at offering part time jobs to women who have family responsibilities. The women-only HTML5/CSS3 course is therefore a prelude to this flexible hours coding team.’ Says Andor.

The training programs are a week long and this gives them plenty of time to find out who’s asking the smart questions, who struggles but is trying really hard, and who is completely lost or cannot really communicate. They feel that this sort of information is valuable when making decisions on whom to hire or offer a traineeship to. Some of the free courses they offer are web page coding, web design, coldfusion and web analytics. ‘But the participants benefit alot as well; six nights is just enough time to learn one aspect of a technology really well. The exams are tough, so an Ozran Academy-certificate on the CV really means something.’ Says Andor. They hope to build a reputation this way especially if participants spread the word around after attending the course. ‘Slowly but surely, Pune will get to know that we’re here and that we’re a pretty cool company to work for. That should help us attract the best people, which in turn makes us grow as a company.’

Other ways in which Ozran tries to differ from regular companies:

  • All employees are expected to study for an hour every day.
  • Unlike other small companies, they don’t work in any technology that they happen to get work in, but limit themselves to very few technologies and believe in becoming experts in those areas.
  • They believe in giving a lot more responsibility even to their junior most staff. ‘Making mistakes means you are not afraid to try new things. A company that does not allow its people to make mistakes does not allow them to grow.’ remarks Andor candidly.

‘Pune is such a dynamic place, with so many young people bursting with ideas and ambitions. We as Ozran hope to contribute to people discovering some of these things for themselves. That starts with our free courses in web development, and of course I hope a lot of your readers will sign up!’ says Andor

This year’s free courses are in:

  • Webpage Coding (HTML5/CSS3 – this is a women only course)
  • ColdFusion
  • Web Design
  • Web Analytics

For more information about Ozran’s free web courses, see the Ozran Academy website

Interview with Vikas Joshi – CEO of Harbinger, Pune-based e-learning products company

(The Harbinger Group is a Pune-based software company that has products in the e-Learning space (http://harbingerknowledge.com), and also provides software outsourcing services (http://harbinger-systems.com) to software product companies all over the world. As an example of a successful product company out of Pune, as an example of a company that managed to do both, products and services, and as an example of a company that uses latest technologies in a hot field (e-learning), we felt that PuneTech readers would find it interesting. This article is based on a conversation Navin Kabra and Amit Paranjape from PuneTech had with Vikas Joshi, CEO of Harbinger)

The Harbinger Story

Harbinger was started in 1990 as a software services company. Vikas had just returned after doing a Masters in Computer Science from Syracuse in the U.S. and was a visiting faculty at the University of Pune. He, along with Swati Ketkar (one of his students) were the cofounders of Harbinger.

They started “Intelligent Tutoring Systems” and Agrawal Classes was their first customer. The first 10 years, they grew very slowly, with customers mainly in Pune/Mumbai, and only a few in Bangalore/Delhi. By 2000, they had grown to 28 employees. This was a period when they learnt the basics of how to do business, slowly and painfully.

In these early years, they were mainly helping companies with building CAD automation, and other systems that help in the engineering lifecycle. A few of their projects involved the use of computers/multimedia in training. Around this time they created their own product, CBTPro (Computer Based Training), which, in 1998,  won MCCIA’s prestigious Parkhe Award (given to companies with the most interesting new products and ideas). From this point onwards they really started growing fast, both on the services side as well as the products.

From the beginning, while Harbinger was focusing on domestic customers, the Indian IT industry had been heavily involved in “body-shopping” (i.e. sending Indian programmers to the US for outsourced (but on-site) work). Harbinger were very clear that they did not want to do this. By 1999-2000 internet in India had advanced to a stage where it became clear that it would be possible to take on outsourcing work from the US without the need for programmers be moved to the US. This is when, after 10 years of existence, Harbinger went international. From that point on they have grown their international business to a point where the Indian market is now an insignificant part of their revenues.

Their services business has 300+ employees, and their portfolio is in these major areas: e-learning, web development, testing, and mobile development. Microsoft is a major customer.

Harbinger’s products are described in more detail in the next section.

Harbinger’s Products

While services business was being built up, product business (CBTPro and e-learning) was going well in India. In 2002 they actively started exporting the products.

Their product business started based on a pattern they were seeing in their services business. They noticed that existing e-learning solutions were not interactive. In terms of technology, it was clear that adding Adobe Flash to e-learning products would easily give the required interactivity – but there was big gap in the industry between instructional designers and flash developers. Flash developers were engineers who were not good at designing instructional content, and instruction designers did not have enough programming skills to be able to create content in Flash.

This led Harbinger to their Raptivity product line. Basically, Raptivity is an interactivity building tool, which includes a huge library of ready-made interactions, which can be used by non-technical people to quickly add interactivity to e-learning content.

The main customers of Harbinger’s products fall in these segments: US High-tech companies, US Traditional Companies, US Educational/Non-Profit/Government organizations, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and India-MiddleEast-Africa.

Some interesting drivers of Harbinger’s success

One major decision that Raptivity took early on, was that they would make it work with other authoring tools (not just Harbinger’s authoring tool). This was a key decision, which reduced the barrier to entry for customers. As a result of this decision, they have to stay in close contact with various authoring tools (including new ones), and work with them to integrate Raptivity. In the process of interacting with the vendors of any authoring tool, they are very open about disclosing Harbinger’s own authoring tool.

Another important area is the sales channel. Harbinger has its own sales force, but also sells a lot through resellers and other channel sales. One major mistake many companies make when using channel sales, according to Vikas, is to think of the sales channel as an external entity. Much better results can be obtained if you think of them as a part of your team. What does this mean? Include them on road-trips, conferences, and education about your products. The channel employee assigned to you should be treated as your salesperson. Because he is your salesperson.

A third area that a products company needs to be aware of is that the value proposition for a sales channel, and the value proposition to the end customer are two different things. Sometimes they are aligned, but sometimes, they can conflict. So, both need to be managed separately.

This means that the various sales channels should be segmented carefully, and the company should create unique product offerings for each channel. For example, in case of Harbinger’s products, one channel is Training System Integrators, and these vendors are interested in building the most comprehensive and feature rich system possible. They are not as interested in margins as they are interested in the fact that your products should be cutting edge and should have all the important features. By contrast there are “box pushers” (hardware vendors) who are more interested in margins and volumes. A third category of resellers is companies who wish to be seen as thought leaders, influencers and visionaries. Their motivations on selling your products is very different from those of the previous two categories.

Thoughts on Future Trends in e-Learning

Vikas believes that the primary pain point that they were focusing on (i.e. allowing e-learning authors to easily incorporate interactivity in their systems) is now a solved problem. The next challenges will come from these areas:

  • Touch Tablets: Touch tablets are likely to have a profound impact on this industry. Not only does this give rise to a wide variety of screen sizes and hardware capabilities (which was rather limited in the PC/Desktop days), but also the fact that touch is a fundamentally different form of interaction.
    • For example, a customer recently rolled out 1500 iPads to their entire sales force and would like the desktop/laptop e-learning products “ported” to the iPad. However, iPad is a very different beast, with a different paradigm. A simplistic port will fail. It needs to be re-thought from the ground up and a completely new offering needs to be released for this market.
    • Harbinger believes it is well positioned to play in this space because of their research on interactivity (and a couple of patents they have in this area)
  • New forms of interactivity. With Kinect and other forms of interactivity becoming a reality now, very soon, there will be an opportunity to use them in e-learning/training systems
  • Testing the limits of what is possible. For example, one person used Harbinger’s products and created 250 courses over 5 years and trained 20,000 users. A huge impact possible by doing such things – as compared to traditional training. There is an opportunity for e-learning technology companies to provide more and more tools to make such things possible.
  • Using e-learning/interactivity concepts in other areas: Capabilities of human-computer-interface systems are the plumbing. Interesting products are possible if we use the latest plumbing and build the most interesting, compelling, and impactful interactive products on top of it. Examples:
    • Classroom Training
      • Every student has a internet connected device
      • And can be used to enhance class participation
      • And the presentation changes based on participation
    • Richer business presentations
      • Using a Raptivity-like technique in presentations (PPT)
      • e.g. interactive graphs pack
        • Don’t show all information at once
        • Bring relevant information up via interactivity

Thoughts on the Indian Market

Right now, the Indian Market for technology products is very small. As mentioned earlier, it makes up for a small fraction of Harbinger’s revenues even though Harbinger started off as a purely domestic company. However, Vikas points out that the Indian Market is still extremely important. Without Indian market, Harbinger wouldn’t have gotten started, and the first trip to US was only possible due to the sales in the Indian market. Also, for the future, Vikas is extremely optimistic about the Indian Market. Things are changing so rapidly here, so while he is not sure of when exactly it will take off, but take off it will.

Advice to Young Entrepreneurs

Vikas writes a blog at http://teamharbinger.blogspot.com where he regularly gives advice based on his experiences. He points out though that his advice would be applicable only to people who are not more than 10 years younger than he is. Basically, someone who is very far ahead of you (and age is a very rough indicator of this), should no longer be considered a subject matter expert in the challenges you face, since they’ve forgotten what it was like to be in your position.

An important point Vikas makes is that the patterns of entrepreneur mistakes – haven’t changed in 20 years. The biggest one is that early entrepreneurs (especially the technology entrepreneurs who abound in Pune) tend to focus too much on the product itself and the features of the product. It takes quite a while for them to transition to the next stage of entrepreneurship – which is to be able to see their offerings not in terms of products and features, but in terms of benefits that customers get from using their products. During the sales process, the entrepreneur needs to clearly be able to articulate the benefits, and this is the most important thing for an fresh entrepreneur to learn.

The next step for an entrepreneur is to be able to transition from simply talking about the benefits of using their products, to creating or painting a vision of experiences for the customer. A 43-year old accountant wants to zip through downtown on a motorbike. Is there anything in your product that gives him a fraction of that experience. How do you give your customer that feeling? This is a very advanced art, and the ultimate goal for an entrepreneur.