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Education in the 21st Century

O Pure Earth, may that we utilize your soil well, For creative production, Without causing you injury or harm and disturbing any vital element in you- Prithvi Sukta

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The Student Life – Attendance, Internet, Ethics, Exams

In this post, let me address issues that have become more important and pressing for students as well as faculty.

Attendance

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:

A New Pedagogy

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.

Internet

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!

 

Quality PhDs in India

If India has to become a R&D and manufacturing hub, as also provide high quality higher technical education to its potential candidates, the number of PhDs has to grow tenfold to about 10,000/ year within the next 8-10yrs from the present level of 1000. How do we achieve this target? In the beginning the bulk of the demand for PhDs will be in academia and R&D institutions because of the present shortage in faculty and researchers. The industry need for PhDs will grow as Indian industry moves more into R&D, innovation, and product development.

The student target groups are: fresh BTech/ BE, MTech/ ME; professionals in industry and other organizations; non-PhD faculty in technological institutions; foreign students (need to aggressively market our strengths).

In recent years IITs have substantially increased their PhD output in engineering. IIT Bombay is expected to produce about 300 PhDs in engineering per year by 2013-15 and 600 by 2020. Similar drive is assumed for other IITs, NITs, IIITs, and private institutions. Also worth noting is the number of PhDs in technology from Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai (ICT, former UDCT, Mumbai), currently about 80, 100 by 2012, and 200 by 2020. The QIP (Government of India launched the Quality Improvement Program (QIP) in the year 1970 and established 8 QIP Centers at 7 IITs & IISc) has to be enhanced. Some of the NITs (out of 30 in India currently) have achieved high quality BTech graduates, but due to paucity of PhD faculty and resources, have not been able to push their Master’s and PhD programs to the desired extent. They have the potential and need to be supported financially and encouraged to increase their PhD output. They should be brought on par with the IITs in say 10yrs. The QIP or a new innovative program should be established so that a faculty member with MTech degree can obtain her/ his PhD, through a network of collaborating institutions.

This will require:
1. A mentoring program through which faculty will mentor, excite and motivate large number of BTechs from all institutions (especially from the IITs) to continue for PhD degree. It will also involve aggressive marketing with assurance of challenging career opportunities and excellent placement with attractive remuneration package.
2. Attractive financial assistance (Research and Teaching Assistantships, about 40% of Assistant Professor’s remuneration per month, with tuition waiver).
3. Minimum time duration for PhD (4-5yrs beyond BTech/ BE) as well as flexibility in academic and research programs without compromising quality. This would be necessary especially for Corporate sponsored full time employees bringing their in-house problems for research.
4. Financial support for attending and presenting papers at national (at least once a year) and international conferences (at least once during PhD program).
5. Possibility of spending 6-9 months in a collaborating lab of a reputed university abroad under a joint research collaboration program. Also, create “virtual forums” using commonly available communication technologies to increase the interactions with universities and industries globally on a more regular basis than a one-off effort. This will also increase the networking with PhD students in other institutions and encourage collaborations. Individual faculty members probably engage in such activities already and industry (especially IT related) uses this extensively. So, we need to leverage this and make it more pervasive.
6. Working jointly with Industry R, D & T centers to identify research projects.

The funding required for PhD students as TA/ RA, foreign travel and other support for a 4-5yr period would be substantial. This source of funding could be as follows:
1. Funding agencies of GOI such as DST, DBT, DAE, DRDO, etc. through sponsored projects (TA, RA) (GOI: Government of India; DST: Department of Science & Technology; DBT: Department of Biotechnology; DAE: Department of Atomic Energy; DRDO: Defense Research & Development Organization)
2. Industry (fellowships, travel sponsorships)
3. Education cess of 2% (HRD Ministry, TA, RA)
4. Alumni

For more information, read:
1. Arvind P. Kudchadker, Anjan Bose, Ashok Soota, K. VijayRaghavan, K. P. Madhavan, Milind Rajadhyaksha, and Uday Agarwal,  download from here: PanIIT__Perspectives-1 R&IE 081110
2. Creating a new technological institute, A. P. Kudchadker, eBook, Smashwords; Amazon;
iBooks; Flipkart.

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