Academic Review : A Chat with the Dean, UGS

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Dr. Rajendra Singh, Dean UGS, IIT Kharagpur

Academic regulations and procedures at IIT Kharagpur have long been seen as intransigent and antiquated. Over the past year, however, the institute has made an attempt to move towards a system of flexible curricula by introducing a slew of changes that would make learning and other associated academic activities—BTPs and internships to name a couple—less cumbersome for the students. The Scholars’ Avenue stopped by the office of Dr. Rajendra Singh, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies (UGS) to find out the broader implications of these changes and future plans. Reproduced below are some of the important excerpts from the interview.

Flexibility:

“Yes, the key word which would define the academic curriculum review that we are doing is ‘flexibility’, we want to make our programme very flexible so that students can pursue their interests. But, at the same time, we do not want to dilute the core programme. So, if a student of agricultural engineering wishes to take a mechanical engineering course, he can do so in an open elective.” He then spoke about how the whole process is slowly being shifted online.  “As you have probably noticed, we have implemented most of the changes through the ERP. For example, the registration process has been shifted to the ERP since we saw that many students had to wait in long queues on registration day. We therefore instituted an SBI gateway to make semester fee payments. However, we still see students running around with forms in the first week of the semester during course registrations. Hence, we are trying to streamline the elective process by making it completely online.”

Micro-Specialization:

One of the major changes introduced this semester is the inclusion of micro-specializations to the curriculum in different schools and centres. Here’s Dr. Singh’s take on the raison d’être of this new academic measure: “To reorient our academic programme, we wanted a roadmap for long term academic change. We also wanted some form of academic curriculum review system in place for which we have been working for almost a year now. While thinking about this we decided not to completely overhaul the system, but to bring about the changes slowly and part by part inject
these changes in the curriculum. Micro-specialization is one such attempt. We found in analyzing data collected by the Academic Review Committee that minors were more difficult to complete because there were six to seven subjects for students to take including labs and very few students were able to do so because their major discipline took up most of their timetable slot. We also found that to do a minor, students had to take up two or even three additional subjects and that we felt was too much of pressure on the students. As a result, we decided that we had to bring the same sort of ‘flavour’ to it, but it will be focused more towards a particular topic or area of research and not necessarily a broad specialization.”

“We have called upon certain teachers whose feedback wasn’t upto the mark and then we have also commended the good ones too. According to your feedback, every single teacher in the institute is ranked on a scale of 2.5 to 5. I will admit that there are a lot of issues in the system. Many students do not take the forms seriously and even more do not fill it at all.”

Feedback forms:

We also questioned the Dean on a matter that is contentious among the student community- the effectiveness of ERP feedback forms. To our surprise, Dr. Singh pointed to a large stack of binders which contained detailed statistics drawn from the semester end feedback responses while adding: “We have called upon certain teachers whose feedback wasn’t upto the mark and then we have also commended the good ones too. According to your feedback, every single teacher in the institute is ranked on a scale of 2.5 to 5. I will admit that there are a lot of issues in the system. Many students do not take the forms seriously and even more do not fill it at all. The problem of lack of suitable replacements exists. It is practically impossible to meet students’ demand of assigning different faculty to a particular course. We currently have a requirement of 1050 faculty members and we only have just above 600 at the moment. We are trying to work it out.”

Dr. Singh informed us that the next curriculum would be launched in the academic year 2016-17. Some of the upcoming changes he outlined are:

Optional BTPs:

The inclusion of a mandatory Thesis/Project in the curriculum has been a highly polarizing issue among final year students. Some argue that a semester of research inculcates necessary temperament, while students not inclined towards academia often complain of the absence of practical implications of their research. Dr. Singh believes that a thesis is of tremendous value on paper, although he is aware of the fact that many of the students and professors find it taxing. “Only the few students who have a predisposition towards research should pursue a thesis or a project. It would, in turn, give the faculty more time to focus on these projects. Presently, there are around 20 students under every professor and consequently, the professors are not able to give adequate time to every student. The senate has agreed to this change and it definitely will be done.”

“Only the few students who have a predisposition towards research should pursue a thesis or a project. It would, in turn, give the faculty more time to focus on these projects. Presently, there are around 20 students under every professor and consequently, the professors are not able to give adequate time to every student. ”

Exchange semester:

Though the length of the academic programme is going to remain the same, Dr. Singh assured us that a student would be free to complete his degree within three and a half years and spend the last semester in a research lab or a foreign university of renown. “We want the entire process to be output oriented. Academic credit transfer will be initiated and we’ll enter into MoUs with top-notch universities in the world so meritorious students would have the opportunity to pursue courses of their interest there. Those credits will be transferred here and similarly our credits can be transferred there.”

Revamping the classroom:

Dr. Singh spoke animatedly about his vision of a “flipped classroom” which would differ substantially from the current model of classroom teaching. “We had a workshop on some advanced teaching/learning methods we want to introduce here, one of which is the flipped classroom. In this setup, students are given a video lecture of the teacher and are allowed to understand the material at their own pace after which they engage in an open discussion.”

Changes in course structure:

Dr. Singh talked about initiating a dual degree program in Petroleum Engineering, and discussed the administration’s plans to do away with the English for Communications course in the first year. “We’re planning to introduce a proficiency test for the incoming first years. Those who fare well in this test will be made to take up a remedial course in English. For the rest, professional level courses involving an experienced body like British Council will be introduced. This would aid students in structuring write-ups in the future.”

“Another thing, I (Dean UGS) am proposing, to the Curriculum Development Committee is to cut down on the number of EAA hours every week from 4 to maybe 2. Apart from this, we are also trying to bring more dimensions into the EAA structure. Besides NCC, NSS, Sports, Health and Fitness, better endeavors that aim to peak the interest from students. We would appreciate suggestions on this. Some options are music, photography or film-making etc. Focus will be on activities which produce an end result along with enjoyment, and are not perceived as burden.”

 

These changes, while not exactly monumental, are certainly a sign of the institute’s intent to modernize their curriculum in accordance with international standards. The successful implementation of these measures would go a long way in realizing the institute’s dream of Vision 2020.

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