The EduData Summit is one of the flagship events hosted by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a platform for top academic leaders to share best practices, knowledge, latest research trends, and foster international collaborations. While 2020 was celebrated as the year of digital learning, a year on, the focus has shifted to addressing challenges and barriers to education, specifically the digital divide and technological inequalities, to achieve the UN’s SDGs and understand educational policies’ impact on teaching-learning outcomes.

The program was organized by QS in collaboration with the University of Auckland, New Zealand, from June 8 to 11, 2021. The theme of the conference this year titled, "Access Education: Building an Inclusive and Sustainable EduData Pipeline", covered a host of topics focusing on initiatives backed by data to realize different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The distinguished speakers represented the best of academic leadership and the industry. 

Dawn Freshwater, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Auckland, a globally recognized educational leader, was one of the speakers at the Summit. In addition, Inderpal Bhandari, Global Chief Data Officer, IBM, currently spearheading IBM’s AI-powered Cognitive Enterprise Blueprint, Padma Shri awardee and Yidan Prize for Education Development Laureate recipient Anant Agarwal, CEO, edX, and Ben Sowter, Senior Vice President (QS) and Managing Director (QSIU), QS also spoke at the event.  

Prof. Raghu Raman (Director of Amrita Center for Rankings, Accreditations and Eminence (Amrita CARE)) and Prof. Krishnashree Achuthan (Dean of Post Graduate Programs and Head for Center for Cybersecurity Systems & Networks), presented a talk on Virtual Labs (VLabs) at the EduData Summit 2021. The conference theme is closely aligned with the vision of Amrita's Chancellor, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Amma, to provide inclusive and quality equitable education for all. 

Chancellor Amma on the United Nations Academic Impact said, “Today, universities are ranked mainly based on funding, the number of papers they publish and their intellectual caliber, but we should also consider how much their research can serve the lowest and most vulnerable stratas of society. Only by strengthening the base of the society does the entire edifice grow healthy and strong.” The recent THE Rankings on SDGs ranked Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham as one of the top 100 universities globally and No. 1 in India. 

VLabs, One of Amrita’s Contributions towards Achieving Inclusive Education

The talk delivered by Prof. Raghu Raman and Prof. Krishnashree Achuthan titled, 'Massively Open Online Laboratories (MOOLs) Virtual Labs from India', focused on end-user data. VLabs is a Government of India, Ministry of Education initiative under the National Mission on Education through ICT, focused on creating digital solutions for inclusive education. 

Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is the top contributor to the consortium of premier universities that include IIT Bombay, IIT Kanpur, IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, and IIT Madras. Over the last few years, Amrita Varsity has developed over 35 VLabs. The latest VLabs launched include Biosignal Processing and Analysis Lab and Bioinformatics and Data Science in Biotechnology Lab

Access to based labs is still a significant problem faced by students across the world. To bridge this gap, the pedagogical approach adopted by VLabs makes simulations easily accessible to students globally. Through VLabs, students receive an opportunity to visualize experiments that would have otherwise been impossible to observe in a physical lab. 

Increase in User base during the Pandemic

The impact generated by VLabs, during these unprecedented times, is evident from the end-user data. The data indicates an increase in new and returning users after the first countrywide lockdown in March 2020. The extension of the lockdown in August 2020 translated into an increase in returning users and new users. In addition, as final exams were approaching in late November 2020, an increasing number of returning users was observed.  

Analysis of the user data revealed that over 4300 users accessed VLab from Africa between September 2020 and April 2021. On average, each user clocked in 1.5 sessions with 6500 sessions in total. Each session lasted around two minutes. This ICT tool helped transcend geographical borders and barriers faced by the student community granting access to labs. 

The active role played by Amrita Nodal Centers is a crucial driver and helped expand the network. The Principal institutes are connected to different Nodal centers, and top-performing nodal centers are recognized as Regional nodal centers. The Regional centers help maximize outreach. In 2010, 5 nodal centers were established, and as of 2019, there are over 147 Nodal centers. 

Training workshops are explicitly designed for inclusivity to ensure equal opportunities to underrepresented groups, like women. Also, when the experimental self-efficacy was studied, some of the different parameters to check conceptual understanding, understand procedural complexity, identify laboratory hazards, and access sufficient resources. Despite the innumerable challenges posed by the pandemic, VLabs have helped learners pursue their education.  

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