Students to be called back in phases and quarantined before return to labs
Teachers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, may start using graphics-enabled tablets as the institute starts calling back students in a phased manner in 2021.
A year that saw nearly 38 million students taking to online education saw IIT Kharagpur not only adopting a host of platforms for imparting online education but also evolving a new pedagogy for a better student experience.
Experts at a recent Pan-IIT US forum pointed out that 97% of IIT students and their families want to return to campuses.
IIT Kharagpur director Virendra Tewari said a hybrid model is not a practical solution for IITs, especially at the postgraduate level. “We will be calling back students in a phase-wise manner and they would go through quarantine before returning to the labs,” he said.
A look at how IIT Kharagpur managed to sail through 2020:
Adopting technical aids
IIT Kharagpur, which caters to about 14,000 students, collaborated with Microsoft and Prepbuddies, an AI-based platform, for interactive online education.
MS Teams enabled quick conversation with students, sharing of files and web links, built-in e-notebook for the classroom, management of interactive lessons and assignments. “MS Teams was of great use as the lectures could be recorded and students could watch them later while being connected to their professors at all times for doubt-clearing,” said Pranjal Shukla, a third-year student of civil engineering.
Prepbuddies, developed by IIT Kharagpur alumnus Dharmendra Verma, was used for digital dissemination of the classroom resources, practice work, assignments and monitoring student performance analytics. Siddhartha Mukhopadhyay, head of the electrical engineering department and School of Energy Science and Engineering, said the platform offered students a unified experience through recorded videos of classes and discussion forums, in addition to live classes. The evolving status of the software further makes it more dynamic in terms of new features, he added.
Evolving the teaching and learning process
While technical aids and software powered online education, online delivery of lessons and tracking progress had to be redefined. “This new mode of online lecture delivery did not restrict the teachers’ innovation, rather paved a way to become more innovative. New modes of assignments and lecture delivery such as showing graphics and relevant video demonstrations were adopted as components of the lecture delivery process. The lectures were no longer restricted to PPT but involved various applications,” said G.P. Raja Sekhar, dean, faculty of sciences.
Comprehensive-type open-book exams and time-bound pen-and-paper tests were conducted for evaluation. Students submitted scanned answer scripts by email within 10-15 minutes of the test. Annanya Singh, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student, said added monitoring by teaching assistants during online class tests made the test experience more realistic.
New semester plan
Teachers have been recommended to use graphics-enabled tablets and engage in regular two-way interactions with students during classes for the upcoming Spring 2021 semester.
“One option is creating multiple sets of question papers, keeping the nature of each question intact. This can be further coupled with random MCQs with shuffled options. We already conducted online quizzes similar to GATE with a mixture of MCQ and NAT-type questions in the autumn semester using Microsoft Teams,” said Joy Krishna Dey, associate dean, faculty of sciences.
Shikha Bagaria, a second-year student of chemical engineering, said the rush felt in the previous semester will be addressed as the spring semester is expected to start at the usual time and with better management of the online process.
Challenges of online education
A key issue in online education that has remained unresolved are the hardware and network facilities. Akshat Jain, a fourth-year student of agricultural and food engineering, lauded the overall arrangements despite challenges but shared his concern about the continuous evaluation system that many students found inconvenient in the absence of proper connectivity at home.
“This issue needs to be addressed at a more macro level, beyond the scope of an individual institute. We did a survey to identify the status of the internet connectivity of the students. The results are being analysed to develop diverse modes of tutorial and teaching communication,” said Raja Sekhar.
Laboratory classes remain a challenge. In addition to virtual labs, some experiments can be demonstrated through specialised online videos or through computational models. “Students are being encouraged to run experiments using sensors, tools, electrical and electronic components that can be bought from online marketplaces thus enabling them to build their own micro-labs wherever possible,” said Siddhartha Mukhopadhyay.
Most of the laboratory subjects, however, have been deferred until the students are back on campus.