Technology is key in LPU
Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, Lovely Professional University (LPU)
“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” American writer Stewart Brand says it loud and clear: shape up or shrivel away.
Today, technology has permeated every sphere of life from healthcare, aviation, military, and tourism to hospitality. Universities across the globe, too, are using it to invigorate their academic and administrative processes.
IT has eased key tasks such as issuance of mark sheets, marking attendance and maintaining vast database of students.
Take biometric systems to mark attendance for one. Although they have put the students in a spot of bother, such technology is proving to be a boon to the educationists and parents alike.
For instance, when we decided to introduce the smart card system on the campus, the students felt a bit uneasy, but we felt it was important to keep a watch on their movement. The facility not only records the attendance of every student, but also works as plastic money and library card. The mechanism is simple: Parents deposit some money with the university officials, and the credit is entered in a student’s smart card. All they need to do is swipe the card at machines fixed in the cafeteria, library, fee counter and fine counter. The system does not allow proxy attendance. The machines, which work on the biometric system, ask for the students’ fingerprint every time they attend a class.
Soon, we will attach the system with the main hostel gates so that we get to know as to when a student goes in or comes out. This will do away with the need for marking the evening attendance manually.
LPU realized way back in 2005 that the older ways of maintaining data were inefficient, unreliable and outdated. What we needed was a confidential yet retrievable database of current and past students. Moving to a carefully chosen IT-based information management system proved to be a great solution.
The easiest option was to adopt readymade ERP systems developed by international software giants like SAP and ORACLE. However, these had been developed for the education system of schools in the USA. We needed a new system with inbuilt checks to avoid even a single mistake, such as not allowing a student to sit for examination because of wrong calculation of attendance or failing a student because of wrong calculation.
Therefore, we decided to develop an ERP system of our own to fulfill the unique needs of the fast-growing university. This was not easy, because the entire work process had to be mapped so that a customizable solution could be developed. The first module was put together with data from the admission process. Then module by module, the system was developed. Over three to four months, the entire records of every student of LPU from admission to convocation were made available on real time basis at the click of a mouse.
The system has been so designed that not only the staff but also students can access all information related to their career at LPU on the intranet. They can get the most recent and updated information on attendance, assignments, schedule, important notifications, syllabi etc from anywhere in the world. What’s more, a student can submit assignments online and never miss a deadline.
This software has reduced the unnecessary workload on administrative staff, and freed up their time and energy for more value-added activities that improve the end deliverables to students. Encouraged by the success of this initiative, we evolved another solution to ease the administrative burden on the 2,000 strong human resources of faculty and staff.
The new administrative module helps keep track of work habits of employees without being invasive. The recruitment and appraisal process is now transparent—details of who interviewed who, on what date, what comments were made, when he joined, what appraisal he got and all other relevant information is available on the system. The next phase of development will be the integration of technology by our teachers.
In the classroom, we harness technology at three levels: physical, functional, and philosophical.
Physical: the teacher should use technology to teach in the classroom and the students should be using technology in their learning.
Functional: depends on the accessibility of technology to the students. In the last year or so, we have deployed Wi-Fi installations on our campus which is spread across 600 acres with the help of optical fiber which runs to about 11 kms.
There are more than 750 access points across the campus to give the user reliable and fastest data transfer. Besides, we have put in the best of the ERP Solutions that reside on more than 30 blade servers from IBM and HP with core switch from Nortel.
LPU has now moved from the analog based telephonic system to PRI based telephonic system, which gives digital quality to all calls within the campus. To ensure anywhere anytime access to data, the university has put in state-of-the-art wireless networks by Cisco and Rukus who are considered leaders in this domain.
We have recently started the Distance Education programme, for which we will be adding new servers and voiceovers IP. LPU has also installed 2,000 cameras in the university. Soon, 3000 more will be added, and we have plans to create a data recovery site, too.
In a one of its kind initiative, we have ‘recruited’ own students to give them on-the-job experience and projects that simulate the real work environment.
This is how the module works: we have set up five software development teams who are responsible for developing and maintaining the software used by the university. Each team comprising 3-5 students handles one particular domain, including all the LMS for regular education, website and content development, systems for open and distance learning, software development for the administrative process of the university as well as to manage the network and Wi-Fi set up of the university.