How Practical Are The Practical Courses? : Students Speak
'Someone has to maintain a museum’
joked Dr Santrupt Misra, Chairman, BoG NIT Rourkela in response to a question about the condition of labs at NIT Rourkela especially undergraduate ones. This remains sadly true. The condition of laboratories at NIT Rourkela is perhaps one of the critical aspects of studying here even though they remain an integral part that makes technological institutes like NIT Rourkela stand out. Laboratories and practicals, ideally, should be based upon the adoption of modern techniques and solutions it can provide according to the requirements of today’s world.
NIT Rourkela has over two hundred laboratories set up in various departments based on the necessity and research prospects. In addition to that, a central workshop has been set up to offer preliminary training in as welding, electrical, machine and carpentry. The curriculum is designed in a manner that students in each semester have at least 2 mandatory labs. The freshmen have two/three labs depending on their sequence P-T or T-P. The T-P people have three labs in their semester namely Workshop, Computer-Lab, Physics Lab. The P-T sequence has two labs Engineering design lab and Chemistry Lab. All the labs above are of 2 credits. For the most part, the condition of labs at NIT Rourkela are just good enough for the students to complete whatever experiments that are set-up for them.
The methods of evaluation vary in each laboratory. The viva-voce is conducted either on a weekly basis or at the end of each semester. Records and assignments and projects are checked every week, and strict supervision is ensured. To inspect the quality of the courses, supply of adequate instruments and if these methods of evaluation are in tandem with industry standards, team MM conducted a poll among the NITR Junta and observed the following. The question asked was as follows:
Are the practical courses and their methods of evaluation reasonable and in tandem with the industry standards?
A meagre 13% of the populace voted in favour with the opinion that the laboratories have been modernised and follow the latest industrial practices. The equipment is functional, and record submission is a tedious and hectic thing.
The vast majority of students [87%] agree that there needs to be an improvement in the condition of labs out of which 55% of the respondents strongly feel that the lab courses significantly diverge from industry standards and methods which is a significant problem.
Case in point- In the physics lab that students in T-P sequence take, the pieces of equipment are outdated, the recording instruments aren't precise. No modern laboratory which engages in meaningful research uses them anymore yet they continue to persist. There was a proposal to renovate the B Tech Physics lab at a proposed cost of 50 lakhs, but the proposal was turned down. This isn't just limited to one instance or one lab, but this is an oft-repeated theme throughout most labs.
Ashok Kumar, a first-year said,
Most of the labs are more or less similar in their approach to the experiments in which the practicals are planned. They are for the most parts are satisfactory as it is good enough. At the same time, hardly anything is being taught in the labs. Practicals should mean that you learn how to do an experiment. We don’t even know what we are doing in some cases. There is no definite procedure for doing things. The only saving grace is that we get a one week period from submission of lab records which are again very monotonous in nature
There are of course students who have accepted the state of labs as a matter of fact and/or fate. These comprise the second largest group of voters (32%) who polled that the status quo is atleast partially acceptable even though improvements are necessary. The labs for the most part do have everything on paper atleast fulfilling the requirements of the course. Even though innovation infused approaches are scarce, they do exist in many labs. The experiments are usually designed to be done and get over with if the associated lab manuals are followed properly. The problem therein lies in the fact that experiments done in this way become redundant and open up oppurtunities for people to just jot down data from previous group of students and be careful not to deviate from the traditional way of doing things. The downside is that the students don’t get to learn anything new. Some labs don’t even allow the students to touch the equipment much less perform experiments with them. This begs the all important question that if students are not allowed to try out different approaches then how will they learn to progress on their own? Not unexpectedly this question remains unanswered like many others at NIT rourkela in most cases.
Anurag Jha, a sophomore belonging to the department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering said
The labs are satisfactory for the most part. Nothing out of the ordinary and good enough to work with. Although there isn’t much room for experimentation or in some cases even usage of equipment by us, we usually cover all the requisite experiments with ease. There is certainly room for improvement and working methods but hardly anything is done about them so we’ve resigned ourselves to accepting the current state of affairs
Finally come the last cohort of voters who polled in at 13% that the laboratories have been modernized and follow latest industrial practices which is very surprising yet out of apathy towards conditions more than anything else since it’s been documented and reinforced by various data points that Laboratory methods in many labs aren’t up to the mark, compared to industry standards. Although there is a significant minority of students in some departments which have extremely well-furnished labs, relatively speaking, in NIT Rourkela due to the newness of their creation or even external funding in some cases as a result of various MoUs that NIT Rourkela has signed. These students usually do not face any significant issues like dysfunctional equipments or outdated computer systems which is a common element actoss many labs like the Ansys Lab, Engineering Drawing lab and so on and so forth
Harsh Mohan, a CSE sophomore commented
Some of the good things do exist here like for instance the language lab which has great resources for students here. Furthermore we have Labs like Engineering drawing lab which also uses computers as opposed to many Labs across other institutes where students have to do it manually. So yeah I'm to an extent reasonably satisfied with the conditions of Labs.
The overall tone of the students seems to be not very uncritical of the current state of Labs and practical courses and their associated operations. As of now right now, this is something of vital importance to the institute given that the world is progressing at an ever increasingrate. Thus, the importance of modernization of Labs and practical courses is something of immediate concern at NIT Rourkela. We urge the administration to take concrete steps to improve the current situation and ensure that courses at NIT Rourkela are right up there to meet the evolving needs of industry, academia and the job market.