HYDERABAD, India, July 2, 2020 — Analytics from the Virtual Labs initiative released by the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIITH) has shown an increasing trend in the usage of Science and Engineering-related online laboratory materials over the last 6 months.
Coinciding with the imposition of the lockdown in India, statistics show a steep rise in page views of the materials – from 628,300 in March 25 to nearly 4 million in June 2020. “We’ve seen a surge in the number of usages due to the recent COVID-19 situation. This reiterates the importance of virtual labs for students across the country and also across the world,” says Dr. Venkatesh Choppella, Principal Investigator (PI) for Virtual Labs, IIITH. For users across the world, he is referring to the US, Colombia, the UAE, Philippines and Malaysia who are currently some of the leading non-Indian users contributing to more than 15% of the total usage.
From providing remote access to labs to a complete learning management system, the Virtual Labs initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) includes additional web-resources, video-lectures, animated demonstrations and self evaluation for undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as research scholars. This digital project which was officially kicked off in 2012 to make accessible high quality and expensive equipment to all those constrained by time, geography, and sufficiently trained teachers, sees the participation of six IITs along with other institutes such as the IIITH, Amrita Vishwa VidyaPeetham, College of Engineering, Pune, Dayalbagh Institute, and NIT Surathkal.
In addition to creating content, the team at IIITH under the Virtual Labs Engineering, Architecture and Design (VLEAD) is also primarily responsible for developing and maintaining the central engineering platform which hosts over 1,000 experiments created by the partner institutes. “All the backend infrastructure that is required for the Virtual Labs – the hosting, the analytics, and the UI – all this is done by IIITH. We’re also maintaining the Outreach portal which gives information on the workshops and other outreach activities,” says Dr. Choppella.
In keeping with IIITH’s core focus on Computer Science and Electronics, the labs developed by this institute are mainly related to Problem Solving, Data Structures, VLSI, Language Processing, Pattern Recognition, Artificial Neural Networks, among others. Interestingly, many of these feature in the top 10 labs listed by number of users. The Computer Programming and Data Structures labs, both built by IIITH are in the Top 10 most popular labs with a combined usage of over 225,000.
Director of IIITH, Prof P J Narayanan says, “IIITH is a pioneer in this field. Prof Jayanthi Sivaswamy started computer-based demonstrations to aid teaching science for secondary schools in 2004 funded by Media Labs Asia, now called Digital India, under MeitY. There was also emphasis on enabling the teachers to create their own content to connect with everyday science. Some of those were distributed to schools in the state and were also displayed in the Birla Science Museum more than a decade ago. The MHRD-funded Virtual Labs effort started in 2009 for college-level courses. IIIT Hyderabad’s experience played a strong role in making it happen. Over 20 of the institute faculty members developed Virtual Labs in their areas of expertise and are available on the platform for the world to use. In the later part, IIITH took up the role of managing the backend as well as ruggedizing the virtual labs in the system. The Virtual Labs could be an important tool for college students even in normal times; the Covid days have brought that to the fore forcefully. I am glad of this development and the institute’s role in this endeavour. However, there is plenty of room for growth as 4 million hits is still a tiny number in the Indian scenario.”
Details on virtual labs at http://www.vlab.co.in