Research a priority at Apiit


By KAREN CHAPMAN

RESEARCH and development plays an important role at the Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology (Apiit).  

The college encourages and helps students to incubate their ideas so that they become more tangible. 

Any research carried out at the college has to be of commercial value as there is no point in encouraging something really wild which is not marketable, shares Apiit managing director Parmjit Singh. 

''Research is a priority here,'' he says, adding that Apiit has received research grants from the Multimedia Development Corporation. 

TEAMWORK: Students learn to share thoughts and ideas and anticipate problems.

As an example, the college was recently awarded RM1mil from the Multimedia Grant Scheme (MGS) for a research project called ''Fileshield'', a software product that would allow network administrators and parents to scan the hard disk drives and external drives of computers for image files with pornographic content. 

Parmjit says the grant not only represented a commitment to the objectives of the Multimedia Super Corridor but was also a contribution towards research that would add value to society. 

The research and development unit at Apiit was established in 1998 with the goal of becoming a nationally recognised centre in niche areas of computer science. 

To date, it has developed the Malaysian Sign Language Guide in collaboration with the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf.  

Besides that, the research and development department completed its first MGS-funded project in August 2001, entitled Realistic Talking Head Models. This project resulted in a number of commercial applications, two of which – namely ''Lip reading and Pronunciation Aid'' and ''Teach Yourself Malay'' – won merit prizes in the Asia-Pacific Information Communication and Technology Awards in 2000 and 2001 respectively. 

The department had also been involved in developing a system to automatically verify handwritten signatures on bank cheques for a local firm. Other projects involved the development of applications for third parties including a UK company, was well as various systems for internal use within Apiit. 

Apart from research, Parmjit believes it is important that students gain soft skills such as team-building, presentation and communication abilities. 

''For example, on their own initiative, students form discussion groups and collaborate to complete assignments, projects and other work. This is what I see whenever I walk around the campus. 

''The important part is that they are doing this voluntarily. We provide the space and computer labs for the students' use and we trust them in the sense that there is no staff present to ensure they are not fooling around in there,'' he says. 

He believes teamwork not only means working as a team but also learning how to anticipate problems, and sharing thoughts and ideas. 

''The ability to research and critically analyse a particular subject or topic individually is also a key attribute in the IT and business world.  

''Students develop such skills only if they are exposed to an environment where they are able to share information with each other, discuss and argue points of view, and ultimately use the input for their coursework,'' he says. 

IT is a subject in which no one person has all the answers, so by working in teams, Parmjit says, each member is able to contribute what he knows. 

He adds that project management skills are also an important part of the learning mechanism at the college as students working in teams undertake projects just as they would in the real world. 

''We believe this is good experience for the students who learn to manage their own project timelines, from abstract to project proposal to the final project.''  

He says the college will then choose the best projects to bind into a book. This would then be placed in the library for easy reference for other students. 

''We don't just choose final year projects to be bound but also those from the first year. Their work is very impressive and we are very proud of how much our students put into their work here,'' he says. 

On Apiit's move to its new campus in Technology Park Malaysia in Bukit Jalil, Parmjit says the college is proud to be located amongst leading IT, telecommunications, biotechnology, and engineering organisations in the country’s technology hub in Bukit Jalil.  

The move was done in phases, with the core group of academic staff, administrators and student services beginning their move last December.  

Other areas such as corporate training, masters degrees and corporate services moved in between March and May this year. The students have been there since January. 

''The total cost of the campus is over RM42mil with much of the cost dedicated towards the comfort and needs of students which includes larger and up-to-date computer labs and library facilities, fully equipped auditoriums, a multi-purpose hall and larger and more comfortable student services and counselling areas. 

''We have all the latest equipment here. We also have a wireless environment here so students can bring in a laptop and start working anywhere on the campus,'' he says. 

He says the college constantly adopts smart and modern installations to ensure strong exposure to the latest technologies.  

''Our IT infrastructure is well supported by networked equipment designed to provide a practical and commercial set-up. There is an array of laboratories, training rooms and multimedia studios available at the college.'' 

PARMJIT: 'Research has to be of commercial value.'

Apiit has also been appointed an authorised training centre by several of the world's leading IT vendors, such as SUN, Microsoft, SAP and Novell.  

''We are proud that our facilities are recognised by the industry. Epson Trading has chosen to locate their training activities and set up their resource lab (equipped with the latest digital equipment) here after having evaluated the Apiit infrastructure. This will benefit Apiit students and staff,'' he says. 

All lecture rooms are equipped with multimedia computers and ceiling-mounted LCD projectors to facilitate professional electronic presentations. 

''All our course materials are found on the server. Nothing is on diskettes so that wherever a student may be, be it here in Malaysia, or in any of our branches in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, the delivery of the material is the same. To make any changes, all lecturers must agree. This is to ensure students receive the same quality lectures,'' he adds. 

On whether students have any problems finding transport to the new campus, he says the college did a study before moving. 

''We went from class to class, talking to students to see where they live. We actually arranged for buses to pick these students up but we have found that these buses are often empty.  

''Instead we find most students either drive to the college or travel by LRT to the Bukit Jalil station. We have arranged feeder buses to pick students up from the LRT station to take them to the college every 15 minutes,'' he says. 

As the college is now just a stone's throw from the Bukit Jalil sports stadium, the college has arranged to rent sporting facilities there several times each week. 

All courses at the new campus are similar to that previously offered at its Damansara Heights location. The broad portfolio of courses includes a range of bachelor of science degree programmes, masters degree programmes and specialised IT and Professional IT Certification programmes. 

On its old campus in Damansara Heights in Kuala Lumpur, Parmjit says the college is maintaining it to offer some of its corporate courses. 

Apiit is a contributor to the Star Education Fund. 

''We believe scholarships are important as everyone needs an equal opportunity. Our scholarships are fee waivers. However, if we find a student who has been awarded a scholarship but cannot afford other living expenses, then we will consider it on a case-by-case basis if there is a need,'' he says. 

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