Saturday, April 27, 2013

Information Technology Education in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan drummers at the opening of ICCSE 2013.
Sri Lankan drummers
at the opening of ICCSE 2013.
Greetings from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where I am attending the opening of the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013).
We started with a display of traditional Sri Lankan dancing and drums, followed by the national anthem and the lighting of an oil lamp. In his opening speech, the Sri Lanka Minister of Technology Research and Atomic Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka, emphasized the economic, environmental and social benefits of national investment in education.  The conference is organized by the China Research Council of Computer Education in Colleges & Universities, Foreign Affair Committee (CRC-CE), co-sponsored by IEEE's Sri Lankan chapter and hosted by the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT). I will chairing the e-learning session on Sunday and presenting on "Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: MOOCs with Books".

Boats on Canal in Colombo
Yesterday, before the formal conference, we had a tour of the main campus of SLIIT. This private institution is affiliated with numerous Australian universities, some UK ones and accredited to deliver programs in Sri Lanaka. SLIIT focuses on ICT and business courses. The main campus looks like that of an Australian vocational institution in the tropics.

The introductory briefing was conducted in a small lecture room for about 72 students. Interestingly they had very narrow tables (about 300 mm, which was just enough to accommodate my laptop) each seating four students in a row. There is a raised stage at the front. Video projection is direct to a white wall, with a freestanding white-board alongside.

I noticed a sign about mid semester one hour  examinations. SLIIT use Moodle for e-learning, but the primary teaching mode appears to be face-to-face in conventional classrooms. There is also a library seating about 140. The library appears to primarily provide multiple copies of textbooks for the students.We also looked at several computer labs with desktop PCs with LCD screens.

I noticed one course offered was Introduction to Renewable Energy from Curtin University. There may be scope for offering my ICT Sustainability course to the engineering, ICT and business students.

SLIIT has a startup incubator "Conceptnursery.Com", where students can lease a small office to work on their own start-up company. This is more lavishly equipped than Australian equivalents such as Fishburners and Entry 29. SLIIT provide a lockable office big enough for four staff, whereas the Australian equivalents offer just a time-shared desk in an open office for the base level. SLIIT might consider this option, as it would allow for many more startups.

An interesting issue is what effect will e-learning have on institutions like SLIIT.  Currently SLIIT acts as a satellite campus and feeder to for overseas institutions. Students can complete lower level qualifications at SLIIT and also travel to the overseas institution for advanced studies. However, if students can undertake much or all of their studies on-line, there may be less need for these partnerships. However, I think it is more likely that the services offered at campuses will change, as they are in Australia, with fewer lecture theaters and more informal spaces for small groups of students.

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