A fauji at heart
An account of Shib Sankar Das, Network Engineer (VC), Centre for Educational Technology, and one of the superstars leading the initiative of eLearning through online classroom at IIT KGP
I had joined the Indian Air Force (IAF) on October 31, 1981, as an Airman after completing my high school. I underwent training in Belgaum and Bangalore before being posted to Chandigarh in April 1984 to serve as a Radio Fitter in the AN-12 Transport aircraft. During the training I was adjudged the Best in Education, Best in Trade and Best All Rounder, and passed out as Leading Aircraftsman (LAC).
From the beginning of my service career, my target had been to improve my academic background. To fulfil my aspiration, I had joined the Graduate program of the Institution of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers (IETE) during my service in Chandigarh. I cleared the Grad. IETE examination in 1989 and after serving in IAF for about nine-and-a-half years, I took voluntary retirement from defence service on April 4, 1991 to join the Punjab Wireless Systems Ltd. (A Govt. of Punjab Enterprise) as an Executive Engineer.
I was, however, desperate to return to West Bengal as my family in Kolkata was going through a difficult phase and needed my support. Soon after my confirmation at the Punjab Wireless Systems Limited, I resigned, and joined IIT Kharagpur as a Technical Assistant in the Department of Electronics and Electrical Communications in April 1992. Although my career took a step back, but I could now be with my family. Thankfully, I have not had to look back.
During my tenure in the Department of E&ECE, I joined a research project in the area of developing low cost ultrasound Doppler System on lien. The project was guided by Prof. Swapna Banerjee and Prof. Anindya Sundar Dhar and I actively contributed in the development of the front end circuitry of the prototype model. The teamwork led us to an Indian Patent in Developing an improved apparatus for ultrasonography using a continuous wave Doppler system. During this period, I also started working towards developing a non-invasive blood glucose monitor.
On completion of my deputation in the project in 2000, I was transferred to the Technology Telecom Centre to take care of its activities. During my two years’ tenure there, I developed necessary infrastructure for in-house testing and repair facilities of telephone instruments and underground telephone cable fault detection system.
In 2002, I joined back the E&ECE Department as part of the department’s technical resource pool. I completed my MTech in Microelectronics & VLSI Design from IIT Kharagpur in 2007. During this phase, I tried my best to advance the non-invasive blood glucose monitoring research projects that I was earlier associated, with active support from L&T, which could source us the required sensors and ICs. Our hard work bore fruit as our biomedical research work led by Prof. Swapna Banerjee and Prof. Anindya Sundar Dhar was recognized with the grant of an Indian patent in developing non-invasive photoacoustic blood glucose measurement.
It was under the tenure of Prof. Damodar Acharya as Director that I was transferred to the Centre for Educational Technology in 2009 to develop the virtual classroom infrastructure of the Institute in 15 locations spread across Kharagpur and the extension centres at Kolkata and Bhubaneswar. The primary aim was to start online MTech program in the disciplines of ECE, EE and ICT, to improve the quality of teaching for teachers in engineering colleges and also benefit industry professionals.
It was a very challenging task to design and oversee the development of the classrooms in terms of acoustics, lighting and air-conditioning, installation and testing of video conferencing equipment at these locations alone without the help of any support staff. Continuous travel to all three locations was the need of the day and at one point things became very difficult to manage. The administration appreciated my concern and gave me a free hand to choose my team to help me with the job.
Later, following the Institute’s MoU with the Govt. of Chattisgarh and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, I developed two more virtual classrooms in Raipur and brought Port Blair into our virtual classroom network. We installed the VSAT facility to connect Kharagpur with Port Blair for online teaching. During 2010-2013, I looked after the complete operation and maintenance of the 3-year MTech program from all five locations with the support of a few contractual staff members.
I have always loved to take up new challenges, and creating the infrastructure for the countrywide classroom program under the T10KT and NKN virtual classroom was one such challenge. It was quite difficult to design the T10KT studios in the basement of Kalidas Auditorium and three NKN classrooms in the Departments of ECE, Industrial and System Engineering (later shifted to Sir JCB Lab Complex) and GSSST, but I now feel happy that everything went well and we are still continuing to use all the infrastructure for their intended uses successfully.
A job well executed is always gratifying. I have derived immense pleasure from managing the NPTEL online certification program since the third quarter of 2015, when Prof. Anupam Basu assigned me this responsibility. Till 2015, IIT Kharagpur did not participate in the NPTEL Online Certification Program and it was primarily other IITs/IISc who offered industry focused online courses to bridge the gap between the academia and industry as per the inputs from the NASSCOM group of companies.
I took the initiative to join other Institutes in offering the NPTEL online courses in 2016 with just 12 courses. There has been a phenomenal growth in terms of scaling of the operations since then. Now we can proudly say that IIT Kharagpur is the single largest contributor of SWAYAM-NPTEL MOOCs in the country. More than 500 courses have been offered by the Institute so far. In the ongoing Jan-Apr 2020 semester, out of the total 391 NPTEL online courses, IIT Kharagpur alone is offering 94 courses.
To popularize the SWAYAM-NPTEL activities across the Eastern Zone, I have conducted more than 60 awareness workshops across the states of Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Sikkim and other North-eastern states. This has resulted in the acceptance of these courses by many universities for credit transfer and earning Honours degree in engineering programs. The result is reflected in the increase in the number of registered examinees from a mere 120 in 2016 to more than 25,000 now in West Bengal alone.
I also look after the day-to-day operation of SWAYAM Prabha DTH educational channels 11 & 13 of MHRD, coordinated by IIT Kharagpur. Besides the virtual meeting infrastructure of the Institute, I coordinate the recording and live streaming activities of ISWT, GIAN, LEAP, Annual Convocation, GES, etc.
In the face of COVID-19 related lockdown, the challenge before the Institute was to continue with the regular academic activities through online mode. I helped organize YouTube live based online teaching for the 1st Year UG students during 8 am-6 pm. The program has been hugely successful, garnering a thousand or more viewers.
With inputs from CIC, I interacted with CISCO to get 200 WebEx licenses for our ongoing online teaching activity free of cost for a period of 3 months. Till the summer break, this helped our teachers to carry on with the classes as normally as possible. Around 80 per cent of our students have been able to attend these classes.
The Institute bestowed Best Employee Award in Group A category to me in 2018. Besides the regular institutional activities, I am also associated with the IIT Kharagpur Alumni Foundation (India) as its Treasurer since 2019.
I am thankful to the discipline that my career in the armed forces taught me when I was young. But a fauji at heart, I always like to fight in the trenches instead of coming to the forefront.