NALSAR University of Law (officially the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research) is a premier legal studies institution located in Hyderabad, Telangana.
Since September 2015, NALSAR has been actively engaging the public in legal issues by sharing university lectures, panel discussions, and debates on its famous YouTube channel.
With over 140 videos and more than 1300 subscribers on its channel, NALSAR’s push towards YouTube education has been impressive. Its channel features speeches by famous people like Arun Shourie, Swapan Dasgupta, P Sainath, Indira Jaising, and CJI Tirath Thakur. The debates encompass significant topics like human rights, the uniform civil code, farmer suicides, judicial review, political ideology, media ethics etc.
Needless to say, the debates are from a legal perspective, as such the scope of gaining knowledge by the viewer is tremendous. It comes as no surprise, then, that the venture has become popular with the public, with each video garnering thousands of views. Sharing university lectures online is a growing trend that is being championed by many public and private educational institutions. Such videos increase the scope of the lectures by exponentially increasing and diversifying the audience. Thereby, this concept has great potential.
The Logical Indian spoke with Assistant Professor Sidharth Chauhan about NALSAR’s YouTube programme. Mr Chauhan has been coordinating the YouTube programme from the faculty side, and was kind enough to shed light on the programme and its scope.
What inspired the faculty/students to begin this venture?
NALSAR is now nearly two decades old and has earned a reputation for producing competent law graduates. However, owing to its small size (we presently have 40 faculty members and nearly 600 full-time students), it had limited visibility in the larger universe of higher education. So we thought that uploading the content of our guest lectures and programmes would be a good way of increasing the digital presence of the institution. Apart from recording this content for our own discussions and subsequent use, we were keen to make it publicly available. Highly selective institutions like NALSAR are relatively privileged in terms of academic and professional networks and hence it is important to distribute the benefits that accrue from these networks. I must specifically acknowledge the inputs of Debarpan Ghosh, Ajey Karthik, and Jaideep Kodalli (all three were students in the 2011-2016 batch) in this regard.
Is there a full-time team dedicated solely to the maintenance and promotion of your online platform?
The ‘NALSAR University of Law’ YouTube channel is maintained by our Information Technology (IT) staff, namely Mohammed Irfan, SMR. Basha, and Frank Kennedy. They have taken on the responsibility of recording the lectures and uploading them, which is over and above their usual responsibilities of maintaining the computers and internet facilities on our campus. They have frequently worked overtime in order to do this.
NALSAR’s videos parallel the rising popularity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), mainly the ones provided by sites like Coursera, edX, and Udacity. Does NALSAR have plans to initiate wholesome online courses certified by the institution and open to the public?
Over the last two academic years (largely since September 2015), we have uploaded the recordings of guest lectures, sessions from thematic conferences and workshops, and three short courses that were funded by the Global Initiative for Academic Networks (GIAN). We do host several short courses by visiting scholars and experts from time to time. In the future, we can upload the content of some of these courses if the resource-persons give their consent.
We have not discussed the possibility of uploading the content of regular courses which are taught to undergraduate and postgraduate students. We will need to have wider consultations among our faculty members and student body before moving in that direction.
While it is relatively easy to upload recordings of lectures and discussions, conducting meaningful assessment through an online mode might pose several difficulties. We will need to study the models adopted by other universities before thinking about certified courses of this nature. From our point of view, the public dissemination of knowledge is more important than earning revenue through this route.
At the same time, we do have a department for proximate education, which offers diplomas in Patent Law, Cyber Law, Media Laws, and International Humanitarian Law. These diplomas are usually offered to working professionals through contact classes. It is quite conceivable that in the future these diplomas could be delivered through a format resembling MOOCs.
In your personal opinion, how is online education different from (due to lack of a better word) “traditional” forms of education?
The biggest difference is that online education can reach out to a larger and more dispersed audience. With recorded lectures being made available online, a viewer can engage with the material at their own pace and time of choosing. There are, of course, some products which allow online education in real-time, where teachers and students can engage with each other. These are all very exciting developments.
However, in my personal opinion, online education should be seen as a supplement to formal education inside the classroom and, in some cases, it can be used to compensate for deficiencies in the latter. It cannot replace classroom instruction in the substantive sense.
Digital education could become the next big thing, as internet penetration in India improves and the government pushes for “Digital India”. How can digital education spread and made more inclusive and efficient?
The government has already taken some steps in this direction. For instance, the University Grants Commission (UGC) had launched the E-Pathshala project where subject experts create lectures that are meant for a broader audience. I believe that the pilot projects were directed at students who have enrolled for courses with the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). The UGC Regulations for Recruitment and Promotion of Teaching Staff also give weightage for contributing to the creation of learning materials that can be delivered online. Hopefully, this will encourage many teachers to contribute to the same.
Some of the older central and state universities should also take the initiative to record lectures given by well-known professors and subject experts. They can easily make this content available for a larger audience. It is also very important to provide specialist knowledge in languages other than English, so as to reach a larger audience. Private universities like Azim Premji University have already demonstrated these possibilities.
One can argue that online education is not as wholesome as offline education, that it cannot substitute the advantages of a teacher physically present in a classroom clarifying doubts real-time. Does such a view hold merits? If so, how can this obstacle be tackled?
As I had mentioned earlier, there are now some products which do allow for the delivery of online education in real-time. This is akin to video-conferencing where participants seated in different locations can meaningfully interact with each other. If this can happen in specialised academic conferences surely the technology can enable us to deliver classes for a larger number of students.
However, online education cannot create or capture the familiarity or the social occasions that are created through regular classes where teachers meet their students in a structured environment. Teachers are able to speak more effectively and meaningfully when they can respond to the non-verbal cues given by their students. A face-to-face interaction is likely to create more engaged conversations as opposed to those mediated by computer screens.
The videos you have covered, while excellent and enlightening, can also be very erudite for a large portion of the population. These are people without the necessary basics in history, economics or political theory. How can internet education, particularly NALSAR’s, be made simpler so that a larger portion of the population can benefit from it?
We have received such feedback from several viewers. Since the lectures held on our campus are primarily targeted at our law students, there might be numerous assumptions made about the background knowledge of the audience. The same content may not resonate with viewers who have backgrounds in other fields but are curious about topics related to constitutional law, public policy, the legal profession and the functioning of our courts.
We do hope to make amends by starting another series of videos which will provide short introductions to important legal concepts and procedures. For instance, many viewers would be interested in learning about the steps involved in the investigation and trial of crimes. Similarly, remedies available under laws such as the Motor Vehicles Act, Transfer of Property Act, Consumer Protection Act, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, and Negotiable Instruments Act can be easily explained through such videos. Given the location of our institution, we have also uploaded some of the proceedings from workshops that were conducted in Telugu.
The Logical Indian community applauds NALSAR’s efforts in dispensing legal education to more people. Its YouTube channel is both informative and important; such videos educate the general public about crucial topics which tend to be known to a select few. Now, thanks to ventures like the one by Mr Chauhan and his team, previously hard-to-understand topics are made simpler and the audience made extensive and inclusive. What is more is that such topics are taught by significant public personalities.
Such ventures will go a long way in educating the public about important issues and debates so that we can form an informed opinion.
You can go through NALSAR’s YouTube channel here.