In this post, let me address issues that have become more important and pressing for students as well as faculty.
In recent times the general trend has been one of declining attendance and the reasons could be several. But really the question is, should attendance be compulsory or should it be voluntary? The answer is a variety of opinions, very many stating that it should be compulsory.
But of course its not that simple. Students learn differently. Their learning is a function of learning speeds, styles, preparedness, etc. Hence in a typical class, there are fast, average, and slow learners. The way a teacher addresses these issues in a lecture-discussion is very important to meet the varied requirements of students.
Today’s students, the 21st century generation, is technology & internet savvy, multi-tasking and wired differently. With an attention span of 10-15 min, they need constant mental stimulation and involvement, and are disinterested in the traditional methods of teaching (where the teacher is the centre-of-attraction!). We need a superior pedagogy, where the students are constantly involved. I visualize the new pedagogy to make this shift in its design:
Finally, which would you choose, compulsory or voluntary?
My personal opinion is that it should be voluntary. Implement some or all of the components of new pedagogy, provide broad-band connectivity, make available open courseware from leading institutions of the world including the IITs through on-line learning, while counseling a student about the benefits of attending both lectures and tutorials. The course file on the intranet should contain the course details – objectives, outcomes, problem sets, homework assignments, special projects, etc. A student has to complete all the requirements for completing the course, including the tests and examinations satisfactorily, whether she/ he attends classes or not. The student is responsible both for attendance and for learning.
The other issue is connected with the free use of internet at the hostels/ halls of residence. The question is, should it be restricted or unrestricted? In recent times with the availability of broad band internet facility, some students spend considerable amount of time watching desirable and undesirable internet content late, sleep very late at night, and cannot get-up for the morning classes. Several of these students do not perform well in the tests and examinations and some have to drop out of the institution. This is undesirable not only for the student herself/ himself, but also to the parents and the institution.
It is considered the institution’s responsibility that the student perform well and pass the course (implying attendance in all classes especially for ‘weaker’ students). On the other hand one may argue that the student is an adult, knows her/ his responsibility and is free to behave the way she/ he desires within the constraints laid down for the purpose of residence. With the improvement of teaching philosophy and approach, it is expected that students would prefer to attend classes and learn.
My personal thinking is to allow free unrestricted access of internet with proper counseling. Even if the use in the residential halls/ hostels is restricted, the students can still access unrestricted internet facility in cafes, kiosks, and other such places.
Cheating & Ethics
In spite of giving in writing an ‘honor pledge’, while joining the Institution as well as before every examination, students, it appears increasingly indulge in cheating, whether in home-work assignments, examinations, projects, reports, …., using ingenious and innovative methods, and in spite of a strong value system from home. In recent years, the internet has facilitated writing reports as a part of assignments, where plagiarism takes place rather extensively.
What has gone wrong? Is it our methodology of instruction and assessment, as well as our attitudes that are driving them to cheat? Are we driving them too much towards good grades? Have grades become the ultimate panacea for a student? It does seem like, as we talk about CPI/ SPI (Cumulative Performance Index/ Semester Performance Index; similar to GPA, Grade Point Average), this student is 9 pointer, that student is ‘5-point something’; is it that a weaker student with low grades and those who have difficulty performing well, etc. are neglected?
Also when the country is marred with corruption all around and questionable moral values, how does one try to enforce these in our young, impressionable students? It does not help that a consumer oriented world sees increasing competition and decreasing opportunities? Timely counseling, ‘corrective actions’ to the frequent cheater, courses & projects related to ethics and moral values, may be required. But I am open to innovative solutions here.
Exams & Assessment
The student assessments in courses is by and large through assignments, projects, quizzes (short 10min and a little longer), 1 hr tests, mid-semester and end-semester exams. This is due to our continuous evaluation system that expects a student to be evaluated for her/ his performance on a continuous basis during a semester. By and large two in-semester tests with a final with homework assignments, projects appear to be the norm in recent years.
Needless to say, we need to evolve superior assessment methods, better attitudes towards and consideration for ‘weaker’ students so that they feel more comfortable. Each instructor depending upon the course taught has to devise appropriate assessment process. We need to do our best to remove the drudgery of tests and examinations and make them more meaningful to test students’ learning and knowledge acquired. Continuous experimentation is the only way to arrive at the optimum solution. We need a paradigm shift in the student assessment system. This is not an easy issue to tackle but I am sure if we put our heads together, we can evolve a superior assessment methodology that truly tests what a student has learnt. There is considerable research work available in public domain. We have to think differently, need innovation and urgently. Suggestions are welcome!