Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Duplicating excellence in Baroda


I arrived in Baroda (also called Vadodara) in the early afternoon of May 2nd. I’d travelled there by car from Ahmedabad on the Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressway, which is a 98 km piece of the National Highways Development Project. The expressway has apparently cut travel time between Ahmedabad and Baroda from 2.5 hours to 1 hour. That’s about how long it took us do the trip.

In May it is hot anywhere in South India, and Baroda was no exception. I was scheduled to give a presentation to the faculty in the School of Educational Administration at the famous M.S. University, named for Maharaja Sayajirao, reformist ruler of Baroda from 1875 to 1939. Long before Indian independence, Maharaja Sayajirao banned child marriage, did away with untouchability and, in 1906, introduced compulsory, free primary education in his state of Gujarat—the state, by the way, in which Gandhi was born. Gandhi never acknowledged this in his autobiography, but I do wonder if his own enlightened views on such matters were informed by the Maharajah’s example and influence. The Maharajah also established the university where I was to give my seminar on educational technology. He gave one of his palaces to the university and it stands there proudly today amongst the hallowed halls of academe. One of the illustrious alumni of Baroda’s M.S. University is Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution.

I gave my presentation to an attentive, appreciative, and incisively questioning M.S.U. faculty. I had brought my laptop and projector along with me, but it turned out I didn’t need it. These people were on the ball. All I had to do was give my USB flash drive to Dr. Pushpadanam and, in no time at all, my presentation popped up on the screen.

One question that made me think came from a professor who specialized in the economics of educational administration. I had talked about “duplicating excellence,” a concept I conceived some years ago to describe the ease with which teachers can now share, on the internet, the teaching materials and ideas that they come up with every day. The professor raised his hand and asked: “What about peer review?”

Good question. I had to think for a moment, because no one had ever asked that before. But then it quickly occurred to me that peer review really is built into the World Wide Web. If people value your ideas they’ll come back to your website; they’ll tell everyone about it; they’ll hopefully quote you in their own papers. Quite literally, peer review takes care of itself. If you have nothing of value to offer, you’ll quickly disappear out of sight. If, on the other hand, you share material and ideas that are useful, maybe even valuable, they’ll be gobbled up and duplicated around the globe.

I spent two delightful evenings with Dr. Pushpanadham in the company of another M.S. University professor and her two children. They wined and dined me and made me feel very much at home. I have to tell you, though, that the first night I spent in the M.S. University guest house was horrible. My room was plagued with mosquitos and the air-conditioning didn’t work. I moved my bed directly underneath the ceiling fan and fell asleep right away after an exhausting day travelling and presenting. But the fan didn’t help much at all. I woke up at 2:00 in the morning to find that I’d been more or less eaten alive. I spent the rest of the night insanely killing mosquitos, but it was a losing battle. They had my scent and I had nowhere else to go. I bought mosquito repellant the next morning and left it plugged in all day long so that my second night was blissfully undisturbed.

I set my alarm for 4:30 am, May 5th. A taxi came to the guest house at 5:00 am to take me back to Ahmedabad for my flight to Hyderabad and thence to Tirupati, where I am now. Never did I think that I would ever travel around India lecturing like this. One of these days I’ll wake up and discover that it was all a dream.

1 comment:

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