Tete-a-Tete with the Dean Academic : Prof. K.K Mahapatra
Academics is one of the crucial aspects that decide the stature of an institute. It plays an extensive role in building up one’s Curriculum Vitae and helps a student achieve wonders. Among the recent curriculum changes in the academics at NITR, Team Monday Morning interviwed the Dean (Academic), Prof. K.K. Mahapatra to know about his views on the current issues prevailing in the institute and also his future plans.
Monday Morning(MM) : Team Monday Morning congratulates you for taking up the position of Dean, Academic. It’s been stated that your Office has been proactive in academic reformation programme. The structure of B.Tech programme has changed. Though it is too early to recount the positive changes, how do you anticipate the outcomes? Give us an overview of the changes that took place recently and your role in implementing the same.
K.K. Mahapatra: It is true that it is too early to accept any radical changes; the changes which are supposed to happen will happen slowly and steadily only. The syllababi have been changed on the recommendation of a high-level expert committee. We are allowing a minor degree along with the major one. This was done because it was observed that some courses are a must-learn for all students irrespective of their branch. These courses will certainly help the students in their future.
While we make changes, we must also ensure that the changes in syllabus must be at par with the current market. Say for instance, I observed that there was a huge percentage of failure among the students studying Mathematics 101. We analysed the situation and came to the conclusion that the content of Maths 101 can be split and taught in the upcoming semesters. Apart from that, subjects from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences will be offered in the third semester. We are also trying to distribute the number of core courses evenly so that it helps the students in grasping the concepts with ease, which in turn will increase the number of core companies visiting. To help the students in placements and to inculcate a little of programming, we are also distributing the concept programming across all years.
MM: Would you like to recount a few innovative methods of NIT Rourkela which are unique to our Institute? Would you also highlight how are we aiming at the all-round development of our student community with the academic programme?
KKM: One of the innovative methods of our institute is the Product Development Laboratory. I don’t think the concept of product development is done in any of our sister-institute, say, the way it is done here. We also try to ensure that the students perform well in the competitive examinations. We ensure that there is an all-round development of personality. Activities like NSS, NCC, etc., indicate for the same. The vibrant club culture of our institute also helps the students in acquiring the various set of skills needed in life.
MM: The structure of PhD Coursework is slowly witnessing transitions. It is now evident that English and Mathematics/Statistics are becoming compulsory components in PhD Coursework. Would you like to update us about the challenges for which such changes are inevitable? Will there be a degree of freedom for departments and supervisors concerned in deciding the same?
KKM: It’s evident that every engineering student must have a basic knowledge of Mathematics and that is why we have put Mathematics as a compulsory course for all branches. It is true that some branches may face problems but nothing much can be done about it. Over the years, I observed that the number of grammatical errors as well as the typographical errors have increased in theses. That’s why that’s to be a course in English writing. At the end of the day, every PhD scholar will become a teacher, so he/she must not face problems in writing.
Coming to the degree of freedom, we will not just offer one mathematics course but a series of mathematics courses over the years will be offered depanding upon the need of our students. The English course, on the other hand, will be strictly followed in all departments for the benefit of our students.
MM: What steps are you proposing so that the quality of research coming out of the campus is relevant to the contemporary world and that is as good as a top-class university or institute?
KKM: It’s very difficult to quantify in the beginning. Our thrust is to conduct research with a difference. Ones’ research should be such that it should have certain societal values. To inculcate such quality, we’ll be putting up two proposals for institute of eminence proposal: Quality teaching and sustaining it and Research with a difference which will not be just for the sake of publishing papers.
MM: We would like you to highlight two different perspectives on taking and attending classes by faculty and students respectively and since you have been a senior academic and administrator we would like you to be general about the whole education system and not specific about NIT Rourkela:
- In any given Course, how many contact hours of student-engagement should a faculty have ideally? How should it be divided between actual classroom teaching and alternative methods of learning?
KKM: In my opinion, 40 hours of teacher-student interaction is a must per semester. The teacher-student interaction helps the student a lot in understanding the concepts. Although, a professor can arrange fewer theory classes during the third and fourth years, when it comes to the first and second years, attending all the classes is very important.
- Given the fact the many students are skipping classes, what alternative methods of teaching-learning process could be devised? Would you like to contextualize it with an ideal environment of teaching-learning process in a globalized and digital world and present your thought?
KKM: Every teacher has to devise his/her own methodology to teach. I believe that teaching is mostly just the classroom teaching that occurs. It is not something that can be skipped or altered a lot. Classroom teaching is something a student has to get used to and make the best of it. I don’t think there are many other alternatives to this. One thing that can be done is that it can be made assignment-heavy for senior students. Students can be asked to make more projects to make it more hands-on. Essentially student and faculty interaction can be made less in classrooms and students can spend more time in labs. At the end of the day, all of this would depend on the nature of the course. I cannot ask a student of the Mathematics II subject to develop some kind of product but a student studying Embedded Systems can design some kind of product in the lab. In order to do this, students will browse through the library and the Internet which will lead them to learn on their own. If the students feel that the quality of teaching is not up to the mark, the teacher may be replaced as well or an interaction programme may be introduced.
MM: We have witnessed that a student who has a shortage of attendance gets a grade-back accordingly to the existing rules and takes this to her/his life. In a sense, s/he is being punished perpetually, and further s/he takes the stigma a lifetime. Cannot a different system be devised where the punishment is strict and fair, and yet the stigma of the punishment does not affect the entire life of a student?
KKM: The system of gradeback is something that the students are already aware of. It has never been hidden from them. The entire system was devised after multiple discussions in the Senate. If the students have a problem with the system, they can express their opinion and give a representation to the Senate. Then this point can be discussed and debated on in the Senate to see if the rule is to be changed. As of now, as students are already aware of the existing system, there is no need to address it as a “stigma”. A student will only get a grade back if he/she misses nine lectures, but there should be no reason for a student to miss those many lectures. To avoid all this, a student must be vigilant from the beginning. Before being christined as an NIT, in REC Rourkela, the attendance policies were not as strict as this; only 75% attendance was required but later on, the rules were changed. There is no way that this rule can be changed overnight but if the students really want a change, their opinion must be expressed in Senate. Further actions can then be taken in due course of time.
MM:Let’s go a step further and highlight the image of the institute outside the world. The alumni have taken the name of the institute across the geographical borders of the nation. The institute has been accreditated and has figured in different ranking agencies. Say, the Times Higher Education Ranking or NIRF ranking do give us a positive name. As Dean Academic, would you please elaborate on the steps that you are proposing to take the name of the Institute to a greater height from here?
KKM: As far as the rankings are concerned, there are various ranking agencies for this. They assess you on various parameters. Our main-focus is on the NIRF Rankings which is for the institutes within the country and the other is QS Rankings for Universities around the world. As of now, we are in the 400 to 500 category in the Times Ranking. We hope to continue that. Rankings are dependent on various factors out of which research and quality publications are very important. Besides that, the number of PhD scholars and projects produced by an institute also impact the rankings. If we are able to produce papers in renowned journals, that will also help our ranking system. Infrastructure also plays a crucial role. Another main aspect that the ranking agencies look at is the teaching process. Agencies take feedback from various sources like alumni and students in order to judge this. Classroom teaching becomes very important because of this reason. The number of students being placed in the core sector is also a very important criterion as number of students being placed in the core sector will bring a greater name to our institute. For example, a student getting a job in a company like TISCO is more important than getting a job in TCS. This will only happen if there are quality students and for that, there should be quality teaching. Another indirect way to increase our footing in the country is to have our students successfully project their ideas in different forums. For example, if there is a technical festival in IIT Kanpur, if our students win a prize there, our reputation will be better. As of now, we are at the 12th position in the NIRF rankings but we hope to get to a better position with time.
MM: It’s with research and consultancy, publications and patents that the visibility of an Institute to the outside world remains evident. Many institutes have done it and changed their image globally. What steps is your Office initiating so that the name of our Institute parallels some of the best teaching and research institutes in the country and abroad?
KKM: My office and I can only act as a facilitator but it ultimately depends on the faculty of our institute. If the faculty members don’t bring projects and help the PhD scholars, nothing can be done. Being in administration, I can only make sure that the faculty don’t face any problems with funding and infrastrucutre. I have the responsibility to make sure no student or faculty faces a problem of any sorts when they are conducting their research. It depends on a professor which area of research he chooses and how they extract content from the Ph.D. scholars. I can only make sure that the scholar receives his/her Ph.D. as fast as possible by contacting the examiner. If they want experimental facilities or they want to go somewhere to conduct their research, this office will provide all support to them.
MM: What is your expectation from students and faculty to realise the vision and mission of our Institute? What is your message to the teaching-learning fraternity in general?
KKM: For me, there are certain important things out of which the first one is quality teaching. The second one is to help conducting research that is productive and that will make a difference. I also hope that faculty would be able to help build the infrastructure by bringing sponsored projects as opposed to depending on the institute. As for the students, I hope that they all spend their time in the most useful manner. They must extract the most from their supervisors/teachers and spend time in the labs.
I don’t believe in the principle of all work and no play. Rather, I believe in the principle of working hard and also partying hard. Both of these things must be there in life.