Show Fondness and Devotion Towards Whatever You Love - Rik Das, Ph.D. (Tech.)

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1. Tell us more about your experience as an educator. 

I have never consciously planned my profession as an academician during my Engineering days. I have completed my B.E. in Information Technology in 2002 from the University of Burdwan amidst a global economic slowdown due to the collapse of the World Trade Centre. Conventional job offers as software developers from IT giants and bulk recruiters were daydreaming in those years of uncertainty and insecurity. However, I had a keen desire to stick to my trade of Information Technology and was not very keen to look for opportunities in any other domain. 

Hence, I thought of starting differently and my quest for job search off-campus landed me with a job offer from a barcoding solution provider (Great Eastern Impex Pvt. Ltd.) in business development and project sales. I accepted the offer since I knew that the profile would provide me a first-hand experience of interacting with prospective clients and stakeholders independently while understanding their business problems in real-time and offering technology-driven solutions to those bottlenecks by automating several business processes. Probably, initiation of my educator profile happened in my aforesaid job description right in my first job, although unknowingly. Henceforth, I joined Zenith Computers Ltd. followed by Development Credit Bank (DCB) as a Senior Marketing Executive and as a Sales Officer respectively. 

I had a keen interest to specialize in computer networking and I joined a course named Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). I got expert guidance and practical exposure in understanding and deploying computer networks along with clear fundamental concepts in computer networking. I landed my first job in academics as a Lecturer in the Dept. of Information Technology at Bengal Institute of Technology (B.I.T) (Techno India Group Institution), Kolkata, West Bengal. During my tenure at B.I.T, I was also a guest lecturer in some other Institutions under the West Bengal University of Technology (now Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology, West Bengal) and have mastered multitasking and multiskilling while maintaining the quality of delivery in each of my assignments.

Meanwhile, I have joined my M.Tech in Information Technology at the University of Calcutta and was awarded the degree in 2006. I never thought of restricting myself to a defined course of a professional journey or you may say I refrained from being typecast. My quest to diversify has provided me the opportunity to join Globsyn Business School in 2008 as a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems where the requirements are very different from that of my previous appointment in B.I.T. which is an Engineering College. I need to assimilate and realize the art of techno-managerial mix in delivery at Globsyn while following a case-based teaching approach. 

Henceforth, I joined as an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Information Technology at Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management and Engineering (MPSTME), Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (Deemed-to-be-University), Mumbai Maharashtra. I have joined a Ph.D. in Information Technology at the University of Calcutta simultaneously during my professional journey at MPSTME. Pursuing my Ph.D. in the domain of machine learning / deep learning applications for image data at the University of Calcutta simultaneously with my professional commitments as an academician has taught me some essential life lessons which include strong problem-solving skills with unbiased and stress-free thinking. My current appointment is with Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS), Ranchi as an Assistant Professor for the Programme of Information Technology. XISS is a Jesuit B-School that has provided me a profound platform to carry out my research fervently and blending the outcomes and learnings from it in regular lectures during class hours. 

At XISS, I got the opportunity to serve the marginalized and ignored souls in the society which is also an integral part of the curriculum in the Institute. My YouTube Channel ‘Curious Neuron’ is one of the media to support my motto of reaching out to the larger mass with free education using the disruptions of Education 4.0. My recent appointment as Distinguished Speaker by the Association of Computing Machinery, New York, USA has even provided me a global platform to interact with Technology Leaders and Innovators worldwide. I am actively getting involved as well as promoting research with a special thrust on medical imaging by authoring research articles, books with reputed and authentic International Publishers like IEEE, CRC Press, Springer, Wiley, etc. 

I am also editing book volumes with globally recognized publishers to curate and promote quality research work and to bring them in front of relevant communities worldwide. I felt humbled to get featured in the uLektz wall of fame as one of the top 50 tech-savvy educators across India. I also extend my support as an International Advisory Board Member of AI Forum, UK, and as Editorial Board Member and Program Committee Member for various International Journals and Conferences. I always feel delighted to share and give back to society my two cents of knowledge and experiences with budding professionals and students during my invited and/or guest lecture sessions in Management Development Programs, Faculty Development Programs, Conferences, Seminars, and Webinars across India. 

My parents have laid the foundation stone in me to aspire for quality over quantity and to serve with dedication and perfection which is harnessed and nurtured well by my wife and two kids. I have always found my better half as a source of relentless inspiration and a profound pillar of support and sacrifice during all my quests for restructuring and redefining myself to stay relevant. Whenever I look back now, I found my journey as an educator to be truly enriching and rewarding which has made me a better human being with each passing phase. 

2. What is your opinion of the Indian education system and how would you like to change that? 

Indian Education System has a rich heritage that is globally accepted and revered. The system is so powerful and dignified that one can get all essential awareness and intellect to lead a value-based life with a perfect balance of ethics and professionalism. Thus, in my opinion, a change in mindset is required towards understanding the richness of the education system and simultaneous capacity building ineffective adoption of the fruitful teaching-learning process. I am willing to take the example of the PGDM Programme in Information Technology at Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi in this regard. 

Keeping in mind the dynamic global requirements pertaining to VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world, we have embraced essential topics like open source programming languages, data analytics, deep learning, machine learning, and many other disruptive skillsets as a part of our curriculum. Program of Information Technology at Xavier Institute of Social Service has carefully curated and crafted the course which is one of its kind. The uniqueness of the course has its mainstay in creating Industry 4.0 ready professionals by grooming students from any academic background with essential skill sets which are highly relevant to make them employable. The AICTE approved PGDM in Information Technology from XISS, Ranchi has consistently landed dream jobs for its post-graduates since its inception.

The beauty of the Indian Education System is its adaptability and evolving nature which is well established by the SWAYAM platform launched by the Government of India. I am acting as a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for the SWAYAM program at XISS, Ranchi. SWAYAM is an acronym for Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds. The program is developed to achieve three essential traits of education, namely, access, equity, and quality.

The noble objectives of this initiative are to reach out to everybody including the most disadvantaged and deprived of the best teaching-learning resources. The platform offers Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) designed by eminent school teachers, Professors from IITs and IIMs, and other prominent Institutions. All these courses are offered for free and one can access it anywhere and anytime in their personal gadgets. The program in its mission to serve the underprivileged and to bridge the digital divide has launched SWAYAM PRABHA, a group of 32 DTH channels devoted to telecasting of high-quality educational programs on a 24X7 basis using the GSAT-15 satellite. 

All these resources are available absolutely for free to one and all to reap the benefits of knowledge and education initiating from school and extended up-to college specialization. Apart from SWAYAM, there are several scholarships and other similar schemes offered by statutory bodies like UGC and AICTE which can further promote the intellect produced by the Indian Education System. 

Thus, as an Educator, one must be well versed in adopting and demonstrating subsequent domain of expertise inside the classroom with enough real-life examples to enable the students to justify their learning outcomes. This is only possible if the academician is in constant touch with Industry practitioners as well as with educators from diverse domain and continuously collaborate with them in projects and research activities. Teaching is more of a facilitating these days since all the information is already available to the students via the internet. A smart student will hardly feel engaged during a session if the repetition of already available knowledge is carried out during the regular classroom lectures. 

Hence, the educator or the facilitator must bring out and discuss some unknown aspects of a subject which is a real-time scenario and can’t be realized with theoretical knowledge alone. Moreover, I personally feel that any educator has the moral responsibility to groom a student in a wholesome manner. Thus, my responsibility as an educator is not completed with the termination of my daily lecture schedule. I must try to inculcate qualities like critical thinking and the ability to deal with failures in my students to make them the leaders of tomorrow.

Nevertheless, all these are not possible if I, as an educator, do not practice the same. Therefore, an educator must aspire to prove himself as a multi-talented individual to whom the students can look up to. The person must try relentlessly to network, set milestones in research and consultancies, create a global presence in multiple forums, be a good mentor, be a good organizer and serve the deprived with empathy and compassion. Hence, the approach for any Educator these days towards excellence should be interdisciplinary and should not be restricted inside the limits of textbooks or archived lecture notes. 

3. What changes in the teaching methodologies have you seen in recent times? 

The teaching methodology is experiencing massive changes with the rising popularity of Education 4.0 which has emphasized on blended learning approach by combining the benefits of online with traditional place-based classroom methods. The sudden breakdown of the COVID 19 pandemic has even triggered the transformation process. I have started observing this paradigm shift for the last couple of years with the growing popularity of assorted online learning platforms offering cutting edge certifications. However, I have got the first-hand experience to be an integral part of this transformation while I got appointed as the coordinator of the digital committee at Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS) and simultaneously launched my YouTube channel ‘Curious Neuron’ with pre-recorded lectures.

The knowledge I gained while creating the uploads for my YouTube channel has immensely helped me to contribute actively as a co-ordinator of the digital committee. The committee comprised of faculty representatives from each of the five programs at XISS, Ranchi. The team is instrumental in establishing online facilities to continue lecture sessions for the existing batch of students as well as for the new entrants of the 2020-22 session. The entire process involved a series of change management scenarios that involved the committee members to strategize the process of safe transformation during a pandemic by introducing online training for the faculty members as well as for the students to get acquainted smoothly with the new platform. 

Implementing the process at XISS, Ranchi is a joyful experience with lots of learning to embrace and realize these changes with cooperation from the committee members and all my colleagues and students who have developed a positive mindset to welcome Education 4.0 to create professionals with a difference. 

Apart from this, I have witnessed for quite some time now, that students have diverse online service providers at their disposal for any topic they wish to learn and master. The contribution of YouTube in this regard cannot be ignored where any knowledge seeker can have meaningful insights for free. Recent times have witnessed the popularity of remote, self-paced learning by adopting the technique of Accelerated Remote Learning. Students are experiencing personalized guidance for their learning process with continuous integration of artificial intelligence and cloud computing with the delivery platforms. 

The popular concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has even extended the freedom to the aspirants of choosing their preferred gadget for absorbing knowledge while attending flipped classrooms and blended learning approaches of teaching. Learning has become more of project-based exercises which are principally capstone project-driven approaches. The students get high-end hands-on exposure which makes their learning profound and sustainable while ensuring industry 4.0 ready employable skills inside an individual. 

Therefore, the entire teaching methodology has experienced a paradigm shift by getting student-centric from the traditional teacher-centric model. 

4. How does education help one do well in their career? 

Education is a broad term and it has never been restricted to textbooks. We have seen many stalwarts doing exceedingly well in the subsequent domain of professional career without attending or receiving any conventional mode of education for that matter. However, that does not indicate any theory of becoming a dropout to become successful or never promote becoming a dropout as an essential qualification to prove the unconventional intellect of any individual. What I mean is very simple and straightforward. 

Those respected individuals who have achieved excellence in a professional career by even becoming a dropout have one thing in common which is their love for their work they are good at. Fondness and devotion towards whatever they have done were their primary and most significant traits which have never been keen to achieve any materialistic output by showing or selling their expertise. Their primary objective was to address the problem of mass and to add value to the lives of people around them, even if it is trivial initially. Success and fame are by-products that they have achieved since they were honest to themselves and to their work. 

Most importantly they believed in own-selves and their ideas due to which the world believed in them. The notion of self-belief is a difficult pursuit and learning in itself which requires a lot of conviction. The confidence of those individuals has frequently got adversely affected given the evolving nature of challenges and repeated failures surrounding all of us. But they maintained firmness and consistency against all odds to prove the merit of their ideas which is a mammoth task even for any highly qualified individual under the traditional education system. 

Therefore, whether one is keen to pursue conventional education or gives priority to own thoughts and ideas is immaterial unless the individual is confident and clear about what he/she wants out of life. In my opinion, one first needs to have a clear conversation with own-self to get a clear picture of the several conflicts deep inside and to recognize the priorities from those. In the process of doing so, the person will receive awareness in the form of education which will help the individual to move ahead in career by leaving a trail for others to follow. 

5. Do you think teaching as a profession is viewed at par with corporate jobs? 

The motivation and Objectives of teaching and corporate jobs are traditionally dissimilar. The demarcation is progressively getting thinner though with changing requirements worldwide. I personally feel that it is quite unjustified to compare professions to one another since it creates a disconnect in pursuing fruitful collaboration and to proceed with harmony creating values in an interdisciplinary manner. I rarely came across scenarios where I observed questions pertaining to comparison of the medical profession to corporate jobs or a career in sports, media, films, etc. to corporate jobs for that matter. 

Probably, this comparison is prominent in the case of professionals with technical backgrounds taking up teaching as a profession instead of moving into a conventional corporate profile. I have observed that the comparison is made protuberant more by the family members of respective professionals rather than the professionals themselves. My question is why a corporate job be at all compared to a teaching job when they are complementing each other. There are so many examples like Prof. (Dr.) Geoffrey Hinton, Prof. (Dr.) Andrew Ng and many more who are renowned academicians and corporate leaders simultaneously. 

Professors in several Universities hold dual appointments as Adjunct Professors and Industry Professionals at the same time. On the other hand, Industry leaders are Professors of Practice in multiple prominent Institutions in India and abroad. Even if we analyze the remunerations and earnings of professionals from both the sectors in question, hardly any disparity can be observed due to the diverse assignments they are involved in and delivering professionally as consultants with their intellectual abilities. 

None of the professions, be it corporate job or teaching is holding back the professionals to explore possibilities of diversification and collaboration and to contribute to the well being of the society. Hence, making a comparison will be an injustice as well as a matter of disgrace to the stalwarts of both the professions. 

6. How can we adopt technology to make teaching more effective? 

This is a very interesting question in the current context. Adoption of technology has become imperative for any sort of teaching process these days due to the current lockdown scenario. Nevertheless, the process of adopting and including technology as a platform to deliver sessions is not a cakewalk for many. Therefore, technology adoption may turn out to be a disaster if not done correctly in an attempt to make teaching more effective. The reason being the diverse background of academicians and everyone may not be as tech-savvy as expected to adhere to a technology-based teaching platform. 

We can divide the adoption of technology broadly into two different categories, namely, for physical (traditional face to face) classes and for online sessions, respectively. 

In the case of traditional classroom-based approaches, we are already using smartboards, laser pointers, computer simulations for quite some time. Nonetheless, some significant augmentations are observed recently due to the high demand for Industry 4.0 ready skills. They are the use of open-source programming languages in cloud-based platforms like Kaggle, Google Colaboratory, and so on. I have specifically named these two cloud-based platforms because of their free of cost resourceful offerings to the aspirants who wish to experience coding with high-end Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and Tensor Processing Units (TPUs). 

The data analytics based interdisciplinary approaches in recent times have frequently created requirements for high processing power in case of bulk data for students from almost all the disciplines. Students and Professors in many Institutions may not have direct access to such high-end computers due to various reasons. Under these circumstances, incorporation of these cloud-based computing platforms is significantly helpful in learning cutting edge skillsets as well as getting accustomed to new-age teaching-learning processes. 

In the case of online delivery, it has two major subdivisions, namely, live classes and pre-recorded sessions. In the case of live sessions, a professor from any background (technical or non-technical) is expected to know the very basics like getting online via video calling facilities and to share a screen for demonstrating presentations, case studies, coding exercises, etc. I am quite sure that with the popularity of instant messaging services and video calling facilities in smartphones these days, all are by and large conversant with the technical basics required to conduct live sessions. 

Pre-recorded sessions are a bit challenging for academicians from both technical and non-technical backgrounds since it has both functional and non-functional requirements. The functional requirements include a thorough knowledge of various software services to prepare a pre-recorded session. The fundamental requirements for a session like this are a screen recorder and video editing software. There are a couple of free software services available in this regard which one can google for. 

The non-functional requirements are even more important which involves the strategic breaking down of sessions into limited time intervals. The Professor or the resource person has to be careful enough to design a block of the session in a concise yet elaborate manner to fit within a time limit while ensuring to raise the curiosity component of the learner for the next session. Otherwise, the student will lose interest and will leave the course halfway in case there is no compulsion. 

However, a strong internet connection is a backbone for any sort of online sessions due to obvious reasons. 

That is why I have already mentioned that current education practices are more student-centric than teacher-centric while delivering invited speeches and/or training sessions on the adoption of online learning platforms on several occasions across the country. An educator needs to blend technology efficiently and intelligently with the content to be delivered to stay relevant during this transformation phase to education 4.0 and must nurture an interdisciplinary mindset to learn and get conversant with recent technology trends in education practices. 

7. Why does India need more educators like you? 

Probably, the requirement is of educators with an open mindset to diversify and respond fast to the dynamics of the VUCA world. Simultaneously, I wish to clarify that each educator has a distinct style and strategy of content delivery. Thus, it is infeasible to compare the uniqueness of knowledge transfer techniques in multiple educators having diversified teaching skills. Thus, I have my own way of facilitating and mentoring my students which is a blended learning approach to a great extent. I am sure that educators from different parts of the country are slowly but steadily getting accustomed to the transformed requirements of education 4.0. 

If we observe the EdTech setups, we will be amazed to find a lot of Industry practitioners as resource persons in those platforms instead of conventional academicians. Even if we find academicians delivering sessions in those setups, they are limited in number and have a strong background in industry collaborations. Thus, in my opinion, India requires more educators with a perfect blend of understanding of best practices in the industry as well as in academia, since the entire education scenario, even for traditional Institutions and Universities, are fast shifting towards technology-driven interdisciplinary approaches. The students must be trained with skills which not only make them industry ready but also develop their intellect to think and decide independently. 

There is probably a dearth of the aforesaid mix of skills in our fraternity, given the number of active professional Institutes in India, due to which the employability of the students gets questionable many times. Moreover, quality research output is also seldom seen on multiple occasions. It is high time to understand that research and project works are integral parts of the teaching-learning process and are food for thought to any educator. In my opinion, these are the ways to contribute significantly towards advancements of existing concepts and literature towards further novel paradigms. 

That is the very reason I have filed two patents consecutively during the year 2018 and 2019 and have ardently collaborated with professionals from prominent multinationals for pursuing real-time research in medical imaging. I have also encouraged my students to publish their internship projects as research articles and many of them have successfully done so. The activities have readily added values to their resumes as per the feedback received from their recruiters. I think an educator must come out of any cocoon providing a feeling of the comfort zone and must not feel contended with a secured job with age-old outdated offerings to students. 

Our fraternity must also fix a target to achieve sequential excellence in designing useful solutions serving as commodities to the society at large and must collaborate with the world outside to diversify their skillsets and knowledge beyond the boundaries and comfort of classrooms and lectures. 

Rik Das, Ph.D. (Tech.) 

Assistant Professor, Programme of Information Technology, Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi 

SPOC – SWAYAM (XISS – Local Chapter), A program of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India 

ACM Distinguished Speaker, Association for Computing Machinery, New York, USA 

ACM Professional Member, Association for Computing Machinery, New York, USA 

Member of International Advisory Board, AI Forum, UK 

Interview By - Sandeep Virothu 

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