How Maharaja Sayajirao University Baroda has created a digital learning environment

EDU's picture

How Maharaja Sayajirao University Baroda has created a digital learning environment

While most university campuses abroad are Wi-Fi enabled, Indian universities lag behind in giving Internet access to students. Interestingly, one of the early decisions of the new central government through the Ministry of Human Resource Development is to Wi-Fi enable 600 universities and 20,000 colleges. Called ‘Campus Connect,’ this initiative is expected to Wi-Fi enable 4.2 lakh classrooms and benefit over 1.5 crore students. Universities would receive free Wi-Fi with speeds up to 1 Gbps, while colleges will receive speeds of 10 Mbps. However, students will only be given access to academically relevant websites.

The 5WH in brief

Who: Professor A C Sharma, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Science, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda

What: Is leading the implementation of Wi-Fi across the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda campus.

When: Since 2012

Why: To improve how the university communicates with students and faculty, and to enable students to access digital learning and referential content.

Where: Baroda

How: By implementing Wi-Fi in phases and choosing the best technical and financial proposition.

Affordability: Barrier to internet access

With the advent of digitalisation, universities are increasingly communicating with students and staff through their websites, so too Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (MSU). “Examination notices, admission related information, teaching schedules, syllabi—everything is posted on the website. The challenge in making such communiqués effective is: not all students can afford mobile data packages to access the internet,” says Professor A C Sharma, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Science, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

In time, Professor Sharma also envisages an increasing role for digital content, but points out this cannot happen until internet access is freely available—“We want to provide students with more digital learning resources, text and videos as notes and reference material. But universities cannot assume that students will make their own arrangements to access the internet.” 

Internet access for all

One of only a few universities in India to have rolled out Wi-Fi across its entire campus of its own accord is Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) of Baroda. Professor Sharma explains why: “We feel it is the university’s responsibility to help students to access such information. So in 2012 we started to design the technical and financial aspects of a tender that invited companies to Wi-Fi the campus.”

Wi-Fi at MSU finally became a reality in 2014. The proposal needed the sanction of MSUs Purchase Committee, Financial Committee and then the Syndicate before it could be implemented. Here’s how MSU has gone about doing so: 

IMPLEMENT WI-FI IN PHASE: Implementing Wi-Fi is a huge task, best implemented in phases. Phase-wise implementation allows university authorities more time to make available the funds for the job. “At the outset, we created Wi-Fi enabled islands in five university buildings—the Faculty of Technology and Engineering, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Family and Community Sciences, Halls of Residence and university head office. Phase one cost us Rs.2.25 crore. Phase-wise implementation allows you to test the waters and ensures that initial glitches can be easily corrected and aren’t repeated across the entire campus,” says Professor Sharma. The total cost of implementing Wi-Fi across MSU has exceeded Rs.5 crore. To meet the expenditure, the university has dug into its savings and a UGC five year grant, which includes expenditure on ICT.

WORK WITH OEMs: MSU had installed a fibre optic network to strengthen connectivity across the campus in 2000. This meant the university had that much less wiring to do up to the access points. Now it identified its additional hardware and solution requirements for implementing Wi-Fi as 1100 access points (phase one), a controller, a policy manager and Windows Active Directory Server. Phase two necessitated another 700 access points and a few more controllers.

“We were determined to install the best technology at the most competitive price,” says Professor Sharma. So MSU decided to invite only original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to bid for the contract. It shortlisted five companies: Cisco, Aruba Networks, HP, Motorola and Ruckus. “We also insisted that we would allow only one local system integrator. It is a common practice for hardware vendors to work through local system integrators. But we wanted to work with only the best firm. Having only one player involved (as opposed to many) helps ensure accountability and we made the OEM responsible as well for any problems arising after implementation,” he explains. Based on the technical and financial bids submitted, MSU selected Aruba Networks and their local system integrator was Ishan Infotech, a company based in Ahmedabad. 

IMPLEMENT STRINGENT SECURITY MEASURES: MSU has installed a dual-layered security system to ensure that only authenticated users can avail the Wi-Fi. Students and staff members desirous of using the facility must register themselves as well as their devices—laptops, mobile handsets and tablet—at the office of the respective faculty dean, section head and respective warden of the hostel. Students can login with their PRN number and employees with their Employee IDs. Users are additionally provided with a password to access the Wi-Fi network.

“We have implemented this security measure through Windows Active Directory Server. We have also installed a Unified Threat Management solution to secure the network gateway,” shares Dr Apurva Shah, Honorary Director, Computer Centre, MSU, who is guiding the technical implementation of the system.  

To ensure appropriate use, MSU has blocked a few domains. “But social networking sites, messaging apps and popular email servers have not been blocked,” adds Dr Shah.

INSIST ON AFTER-SALES: MSU’s contract provides for three years of after sales services. This will help cut maintenance costs, important because the university has no plans to charge students for the Wi-Fi use—“at least not at present,” says Professor Sharma. “We are billing it under student facilities, and charge students a paltry Rs.25 per head per annum for that.”

Connected campus

In phase one, as many as 5000 students and staff were registered on the MSU Wi-Fi system. They are accessing Wi-Fi from their laptops/tablets/mobile phones and they are happy for the facility. “Students are accessing digital content on the Inflibnet site and in our library, which was our aim,” says Professor Sharma.

The MAC addresses of the remaining students and staff, numbering about 35000 are in the process of being registered.

MSU has truly entered the digital age thanks to this initiative, which was the brainchild of Vice Chancellor Professor Yogesh Singh. He says: “I envisaged a paperless university, which this connectivity has made possible. Already, every officer is processing files and documents online. We no longer move paper documents. Student admission and examination procedures are also web-enabled. It’s time for universities in India to go digital in every aspect.”

Maharaja Sayajirao University Baroda believes that implementing Wi-Fi across the campus improves communication and paves the way for teaching to be reshaped.