by Shankar Venkat Founder/CEO, Azure Digital

Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages known to mankind. It is an ancient Indic language of  the  Indian  sub-continent, and dates back to over 5,000 years. The body of Sanskrit literature  encompasses a rich tradition of philosophical and religious texts, as well as poetry, music, drama, scientific, technical and other texts. It is the primary language of Hinduism.

Madras Sanskrit College (MSC)  in Chennai, India was established in 1906, dedicated to furthering Sanskrit education. Over the years, the college has grown to be a revered and renowned institution. The college offers degree courses in Sanskrit, and is  affiliated to Madras University.

Global interest and awareness about  Sanskrit  has also been increasing over the years. With increased usage of internet and online learning, there was an opportunity to develop and  promote learning of  Sanskrit online. The college assessed that there was a growing mass of ‘Casual Learners’ for Sanskrit – retirees, homemakers , millennials with interests to learn Sanskrit, etc.  MSC felt it could capitalise on this emerging opportunity, if it could develop an effective Online course for learning Sanskrit and offered it . This  will also  enable MSC to take Sanskrit learning beyond the confines of a  ‘Brick & Mortar’ classroom, into the digital world of Virtual Campus. MSC  decided to explore the idea of a ‘Digital Campus’, in discussions with Azure Digital Consultants.

Azure Digital was engaged and tasked  to develop a “Framework” for the Digital Campus. If the proposed framework was financially viable to MSC, Azure Digital was to mobilise resources, implement and manage the Project.  

The first task for Azure Digital was to develop the framework for the digital campus.  There were numerous aspects, issues and concerns that had to be addressed before embarking on designing and building a Digital Campus, as MSC was entering ‘Unchartered Waters” , and navigating these unchartered waters required guidance of experts, for which they relied on Azure Digital !

The  ‘Digital Campus Framework’ (DCF)  developed by Azure Digital, outlined the requirements for building a digital campus.   These included :

  • Website  for the college
  • Courses to be offered
  • Course duration
  • Course curriculum, syllabus and structure for digital learning
  • Content delivery platform and Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Digital content development – Video, Audio and visual content digital recording
  •  Online course assignments and quiz
  • Uploading and integration of digital content to the LMS
  • Hosting of LMS on Cloud
  • Payment Gateway Integration for Fees
  • Digital  certificate for course completion
  • Course Enrolment

The DCF developed by Azure Digital was proposed to the Board of the college and secured the ‘Go Ahead’ for the project implementation. DCF  provided the basis for commencing the project implementation, and also served as the foundation for detailed  Project implementation  Plan.

Azure Digital’s immediate task was to mobilize the technical resources to commence and begin execution of the project. The College nominated a senior member of the college’s board to oversee the project.

The project execution was spilt into 2 broad parts – (a) Curriculum & Content Development and (b) Learning Technology Implementation.  The first part ‘(a)’  was the responsibility of the college, as they were the creators, owners and custodians of the content. However, the college team did not have any prior experience in designing curriculum and developing content for Online learning. It is here, that Azure Digital along with its partner, provided the guidance to the college’s team around the  content development for digital learning.

The second part ‘(b)’  of the project  was implementation of learning technology, which involved  selection of the  most suitable Learning Management Systems (LMS), configuring the system, deploying the system on Cloud platform, uploading the digital content from (a), setting up payment gateway for fees, establishing online security related for users and college admin staff who will be managing the learning portal, integration of digital campus to the college’s web site, etc.

Digital Learning projects have to be envisaged as a complete ‘Student Lifecycle’ system, which comprises of (a) Course or Curriculum development (b) Student Enrolment (c) Online Learning process  and (d) Course Completion, as shown in the chart below :

The challenge and complexity with  the execution of an Online Learning  project  is  in the initial set-up.  Once the digital learning platform is set up and is running, adding new courses or curriculum is relatively less complex.  

Other aspects of the digital learning project that have to be considered and factored into the project framework are :

  • Student demographics –prospective students targeted, and their demographics
  • Online course design must factor the ‘Online Learning Experience’ , to ensure that the lessons, with audio and visuals engage student’s attention
  • Duration of the course, time required to complete the course and developing the criteria for course completion
  • Ensuring  online courses have universal appeal,  i.e., it must  appeal and attract students from all over the world
  • Pricing online courses  for global audience

Azure Digital,  is based out of Sydney, and the client – MSC,  is based in India. Azure Digital managed the entire project  remotely – planning, mobilising resources, co-ordinating the  execution and user testing – remotely using Skype video calls .

MSC’s Digital Campus went ‘Live’ on 7th April, 2017, approximately 10 months after the project was ‘Kicked Off’. First set of students signed up for the online course within the first month of the launch. The courses are run in batches, starting 1st day of every month. Since the launch,  43 batches have been completed .  There are 3 courses – Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced. For each successive course, the earlier course is a pre-requisite. Whilst the Foundation has no pre-requisite ; for Intermediate, Foundation course is the pre-req, and for the Advanced Course, Intermediate is the Pre-req.

Enabling 100 year old college which barely had a web-site and few PCs for administrative use, to go digital with its Digital Campus and succeed  is truly a transformative project.  This project also demonstrated that for organisations to succeed with digital transformation initiatives, the commitment of Top Management  is crucial and critical !