PART 3: Redefining NIT-R's Pedagogy: Curriculum Review Meeting

PART 3: Redefining NIT-R's Pedagogy: Curriculum Review Meeting

(This article details the Academic Curriculum Review Meeting held in the previous weeks. This was the first large scale review of the impacts of the curriculum revamp in 2017-18. The details of the review from the perspective of students, academia, and industry has been included in the following passages.)

NIT-R houses students of many disciplines; it includes Engineering, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences and Management. The customary thick text of ‘Academic Curriculum’ guidelines their education. With the passage of time, the stakeholders have risen to bring renaissance. They say “Modern problems require modern solutions”. This puts the Committee of Chiefs at the helm of affairs. They have decided to review the pretext and bring about the changes required. They go among themselves to conduct meetings and discussions with the chiefs of respective departments. One of our Final Year Engineer Momo is called out of his class to attend them. It's the Curriculum Review Meeting.

The prima facie of an institute revolves around its academic curriculum. An academic curriculum offers a detailed insight into what courses and syllabi are covered over a due course of time. With the changing world, demands are changing along with needs. With an expectation of output and the human resources being rigorously spent, the need for devising a structure aiming to meet such ends becomes imperative. While the necessity of a well structured and well-furnished curriculum cannot be neglected, it becomes impertinent on our part to keep the curriculum updated to meet the standards and rituals of the fast-evolving world. The curriculum underwent a major restructuring almost a couple of years ago. The 2017-2021/2022 batch was the first batch to have been the beta testers of the new curriculum. Recently, a Curriculum Review Meeting was conducted to discuss the loopholes associated with the present curriculum and ways to do away with them. To gain insight about the conundrum, Team Monday Morning caught up with the committee in an attempt to bring minutes of the meetings to its readers.

The Curriculum Review Meeting convened for two days: 27 January - 28 January 2019. Day 1 began under the chairmanship of Prof. Indranim Mana, the former Director of IIT Kanpur and now, a Professor at IIT Kharagpur. Twenty experts belonging to different academic departments participated from different organisations like IITs, coveted labs and industries. In presence of Prof. Animesh Biswas, Director, Prof. K.K.Mahapatra, Dean Academic, Prof. Alok Satapathy, Associate Dean, all department heads and all departments’ PIC Curriculum; Prof. Bidyasagar Subudhi, Head of Curriculum Review Committee presented the Institute Profile along with the Academic Program Structures for B.Tech, M.Tech, MBA, BA, MA, Integrated M.Sc, Dual Degree, and two-year PhD coursework.

Before delving into the outcomes of the meeting, a brief about the pillars of the present curriculum:

  1. Reduction of Credits: Credit requirement for the Bachelor of Technology program has gone from a 200-220 credit system to the 160-170 credit system while not compromising the quality of the curriculum. It features the removal of credits for extra-curricular activities. The curriculum is supposed to make the students comfortable and give them the scope of self-learning as well as individual projects.

  2. Introduction of Minor Degrees: After completion of the first year, any student with a CGPA>7.5 is eligible to take up a minor degree course for the next three years of his/her graduate program. Over the period, the students have to complete 6 theory courses, each of three credits and two laboratory courses.

  3. Humanities & Social Sciences Electives: Students in their second year would have an option of HS Electives, out of which, two courses would be completed by them, over a period of two semesters.

  4. Professional Electives: Students can take up Professional Electives in their fourth year to familiarise better with the industrial requirements from the department.

Students can also check the detailed and updated curriculum structure for each department on the NIT-R website under the Academic Curriculum section. Alumni, Recruiters and Industries can leave their feedback under the same section.


Minutes of the Meeting

The meeting discussed and pondered upon various suggestions to bring suitable changes for the betterment of student as well as the Institute. These outcomes will be compiled and will be presented in the next Senate meeting. Minute modalities of rules and regulations will be passed based on Senate recommendations.

  1. The agenda of the meeting first sorted the opinion of the house regarding the reduction in the number of credits. This step was well received by the stakeholders. In addition, it was suggested to reduce the number of credits of the Minor Degree to a maximum of 16, wherein, students should complete only 4 theory courses and 2 laboratory courses. A grade sheet shall be provided on completion of the minor degree.  

  2. Subjects like Biology will be restructured and renamed to accommodate the suggestions of experts; according to whom, many learning algorithms depend on biological expressions. This would also increase the interest of students in the subject.

  3. An Accelerated Program for the fast-paced students: According to this, a student, who has completed the requisite credits by the seventh semester, he/she can utilise the eighth semester to undertake any startup organisation or pursue 6-month internship programs.

  4. Students enrolled for B.Tech programs, with a CGPA above 8 will be eligible to pursue a PhD degree directly, if they are interested in it.

  5. Introduction of courses that are need of the hour and beneficial to the students, like Ethics, which make a turning point in student's career. It might be a non-credit course with Satisfactory (S) or Unsatisfactory (US) grading only. Subjects like Entrepreneurship, Intellectual Property Rights might also be introduced under this category.

  6. The research project will be made mandatory including credits for it. Earlier, it had an option of a research project or a course, but now it is suggested to include a good research project in the curricula.

  7. There were discussions regarding organising the coursework of PhD students before going for research registration.

On a concluding note, Prof. Bidyasagar Subudhi, Head of Curriculum Review Committee, commented:

Particular stakeholders like industry, recruiters and alumni were requested to comment on the course along the lines of credits, reference books edits, redundancy in course or syllabi and relevancy of course for taking up competitive exams. The feedbacks have been good till now but we have summarized them and they were also taken into account for this revised curriculum. A lot of new suggestions have come and the syllabi are being fine-tuned. These syllabi will be preferred by many now as we have taken many components in the curriculum. After a strong deliberation in the Senate, we will be implementing the changes.

The second day of the meeting comprised of individual departments taking up the central meeting’s agenda and evaluating them on the department level. The Head of the Departments presented in their departments in presence of all the academic group coordinators, faculty and alumni. The focus was mostly on reorienting the syllabi. Students are also a part of the new curriculum committee. In that meeting, students were not present because of their classes' schedules. But, before the final decisions are made, student input shall be taken too.

Here is a brief insight into the highlights from some departments regarding their proposals. We shall be updating other departments’ proposals as soon as we receive replies.

The Engineering domain:

Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering:

There have been two changes mostly:

  1. Structural: The final year students will undertake Professional Electives and 4th and 5th semesters will majorly focus on core subjects.
  2. Syllabus: On feedback of faculties and experts, some changes have been made in the syllabus to entail a better response from industries.


Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering:

2 experts from the Rourkela Steel Plant had been invited. One of them was from the Tata Steel R&D Sector. According to the HOD of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Prof.Smarajit Sarkar, the following changes have been proposed:

  1. Revision of the contents of the syllabus in a few subjects
  2. Rearrangement of subjects from semester to semester based on the requirements from industry as well as academia.
  3. Incorporation of certain topics. For example, in iron making, the inclusion of utilization of slag, environmental safety, waste management has been made mandatory.
  4. Removal of obsolete topics in a few subjects.
  5. Emphasis and inclusion of the micro-alloyed steel.
  6. Emphasis on additive manufacturing to be given in manufacturing processes.
  7. Changing the course codes and names of a few subjects
  8. Suggestions for Computational methods subjects owing to the strong computational method group the department has.
  9. Reintroduction of old subjects like Fuel furnaces and refractory.
  10. More emphasis on characterization technique, scanning microscopy, Nanostructure and materials.

He added, 

No major changes have been proposed for the B.Tech curriculum. Only reshuffling has been done. The major changes have been proposed for the MTech curriculum as certain subjects are common. Students who are pursuing MTech here after their BTech have to read the same subjects altogether again. Certain modifications have to be done. A proper balance has to be maintained. There are 6 academic groups. Some groups get more reflection and some are not getting proper representation. More electives have to be offered from a particular group. Final suggestion by the experts was that all those subjects who have relevance to the recent advancements in Metallurgical sciences should be included.

Department of Food processing Engineering:

There were 2 experts who presided over the meeting. They were Prof.H.N. Mishra from IIT, Kharagpur and Prof.Gurmeet Singh from Hindustan Unilever Limited. According to the HOD, Prof.Rama Chandra Pradhan

Prof.Singh advised us to include some subjects which would be beneficial from the industrial point of view. They could include subjects like Information technology, Process technology in Food Processing in the MTech curriculum.  Besides that the structure of the MTech curriculum is alright. The BTech curriculum is at par with the industrial requirements. More electives can be introduced. Some minor inputs have been given by them regarding inclusion and deletion of some topics in a few subjects. Kavita Lodha, the topper of the junior year batch was the student representative from the department. We have noted down suggestions from both faculties as well as students. We have given our suggestions accordingly.

Department of Industrial Design

The meeting was held on 28th January in the presence of Mr Aditya Galotra, an industry expert currently serving as an Industrial Designer at the LAVA International. In the meeting held with the prefinal and final year students, there was a comparative study of the curriculum prior to 2017 that is still in effect for pre-final and final years, and the curriculum post 2017-18 in effect for the freshmen and sophomores. Suggestions and grievances were noted and put forth to the review committee. The following were some highlights:

  1. Most of the prefinal and final year students resented the lack of several core design subjects that the industry demands knowledge of in the previous curriculum.
  2. Owing to the fact that many of the students are not aware of the course details and opportunities from the onset, it was suggested that the students of the department have some preliminary introductory theory and laboratory courses about design in the freshmen year itself.
  3. Some specialization courses in relevant areas like Interaction design were popularly demanded.


The Science domain

Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences:

The meeting was held on 28th January 2019 in the presence of 2 experts namely Prof.S.K. Dash from IIT Delhi and Dr.J.R Kayal, Former Deputy Director General, Geological Survey of India. The experts were very satisfied with the existing curriculum and suggested a few things to improve. The detailed suggestions are as follows:

  1. A new subject -Introduction to Bouncing layer, is included as a core subject in the M.Tech Syllabus.
  2. A new subject "Parameterization of Physical Processes- in included a core subject in the 3rd. semester or M. Sc. (2 years) Atmospheric Science.
  3. Order of the core subjects is modified.
  4. New course contents have been added in various subjects wherever required.
  5. Redundancies in the curriculum are marked and modified accordingly.
  6. Additional books have been referred for the courses
  7. A new professional elective -Physics of Clouds" and "Mesoscale Modelling and Data assimilation- are added for the M.Tech. Program and M.Sc program respectively.
  8. Introduced sufficient hours for credits for Research Project I and 2 for both M.Sc. And M. Tech. programs.


Department of Life Sciences:

There were 2 experts who presided over the meeting. Prof.Tirumala Chowdhary from NISER, Bhubaneswar and another expert from ILS, Bhubaneswar. Major discussion occurred over the first year curriculum.  Freshers from this department have to study Engineering subjects like Basic Electrical Engineering and Basic Electronics Engineering which is quite irrelevant to their discipline. Moreover, the common curriculum consumes an entire year thus leaving only 2 years for the course in the 5-year program of Integrated MSc. It makes it quite difficult for the students to compete not only with the MSc students who come after covering 3 years of their Bachelors in a particular subject but also with students from IISERs and NISER where students are familiar with pure science subjects from the freshman year itself. Keeping in mind the technical identity of the institute and realizing the importance of a few engineering subjects in future perspectives, it has been proposed that the 2 semesters of the 1st year be clubbed into one and the department subjects are offered from the 2nd semester itself. According to the HOD, Prof.Bibekanand Mallick,

This time we have been given the flexibility of going for IISER/NISER model of academic curriculum. So, we are proposing a revision of the curriculum accordingly.

The subjects will be shuffled and the necessary ones required for pursuing interdisciplinary research in the field of Life Sciences would be retained.

Department of Chemistry:

A similar state of affairs was found in the Dept. of Chemistry. Experts from IIT, Kharagpur and Jadavpur University had been invited to review the curriculum. According to the HOD Prof.Rupam Dinda

Students who have entered through JEE Mains and have taken Integrated MSc in chemistry have to share the same subjects as that of BTech students pursuing subjects like Chemistry, Basic Electrical and Basic Electronics etc along with some additional laboratory courses. For a basic science student, they have options ranging from pursuing a PhD to appearing for GRE, TOEFL, NET, GATE etc among others. As in 1st year, they have to study subjects from all domains chemistry becomes a minor along with other subjects. In this process, they lose an entire year and are abstained from studying core courses of Chemistry. Moreover, unlike other BTech students who have CGPA of more than 8.5, integrated science students aren’t allowed for a branch change.

Experts have suggested that meritorious students who fulfil the criteria for a branch change should be permitted for it. It might have been difficult to achieve a B.Tech seat owing to an unsatisfactory result in JEE Mains.

He added “The student should be given another chance to pursue his stream of interest. They lag behind the regular MSc students who come after appearing IIT JAM exam and studying 3 complete years of their specialized disciplines. It renders difficult for them to compete in national level entrance exams.” The proposed changes pertain to two important things: either the students having a CG of more than 8.5 be allowed for a branch change or the contents of core chemistry courses should be increased.”

Department of Physics and Astronomy:

Prof.A.P. Singh from Utkal University was the invited expert for the Curriculum review. With his suggestion, the course contents have been modified. The structure remains unchanged.  The committee was formed in the department itself and changes have been proposed accordingly. Overall it is relatively unchanged.

Department of Mathematics:

An expert from the Institute of Mathematical Science had been invited, which is purely a research institute. He was Prof. K Srinivasa.  According to Prof.Gopal Krishna Panda who was the HOD-in-charge during the curriculum review meeting “He went through the entire syllabus and proposed a few modifications. At present, the curriculum structure remains unchanged. Shuffling of subjects suiting different kinds of requirements has been proposed.”


Students’ Speak

While the other articles of this series included opinions of first and second years, comments of pre-final and final years were missing. To cater this facet of the topic, we have brought up this section. 

Pausali Pradhan, a pre-final year student, shares:

According to me, the curriculum change can be considered as a good option if implemented properly. As far as our institute is concerned, certain features of the revamped curriculum are way better than the previous run system. The reduction of credits, providing the option for the minor degree, running theory and laboratory courses in parallel etc. make me appreciate the changes. Eying the changes, the first one that strikes me is removing Biology as a compulsory course in the first year. I don't think everyone needs to go through that paper again because the basics are already undertaken by students at the school level. Also, on the same plate, English as a compulsory laboratory course (rather than theory) might be more helpful to improve communication skills.

Swaha Swayamsiddha, a pre-final year student, shares her view on the new curriculum:

Initially, I was dissatisfied seeing that the number of credits was reduced, as that directly or indirectly influences the grades. Considering how IITK and Bombay have nearly 48+48=96 credits in their first year, and it increases to 128 in their second year and so on, it seemed redundant. But upon further research, I saw that NIT-R has actually taken an initiative to streamline the courses in a better way. Especially Mathematics papers. Also, they are introducing the papers earlier, which gives the kids a better hand, and more knowledge, which helps them in applying for Internships as well. Also, there are talks of removing the final year project for students opting for MBAs or something else, apart from continuing in their stream. So yes, it's better. As a matter of improvement, less strict attendance, better lab pieces of equipment, and a better, professional syllabus would always be better.

Yash Shah, a pre-final year student, comments:

Minors can be helpful provided that the students are provided with good enough suggestions as to which minor branch will be the most suitable and beneficial with their branch of study. Reduced credits, although seems good to the students, professors might try to fast track the course as their previously 4 credits course has been converted to 3 credits course. This has compelled them to cover much important subject/course at a greater pace, which may result in students not understanding the concepts. To make the process efficient, I would suggest a more thorough investigation of a subject's importance in the branch before reducing its credits. And transforming HS subjects compulsion to some specific branch related labs/elective courses which are normally not a part of the curriculum (or simply make HS subjects a choice).

Abhinav Kothari, a pre-final year student, shares his opinion:

The recent curriculum change is a happy relief. The students in our batch would have definitely benefitted from minor degrees and reduced credits. Minors allow an individual to have an additional boost to what he/she wants to pursue and lesser credits correspond to less burden. While this curriculum would cater the industrial demands better, any specific changes suggested by me would include the incorporation of more industry based subjects and options between subjects so that a student gets to make his life decisions at an elementary level.

Abel Mathew, a pre-final year student, comments along the similar lines:

The minor degrees and HS Electives would have proved really helpful. Considering the feedback of the stakeholders and the curriculum review convene, it is really hopeful that the new curriculum would tread better in terms of industry standards, compared to our curriculum. If at all there is a chance to change, credits should not be set corresponding to the hours in class because adds to the strictness in attendance. 

Swayambodha Mohapatra, a final year student, points the requirement of an optional 8th semester:

The last semester should be made optional. This way, students can opt for 6 months internships at an organisation. TnP is losing out on a lot of companies because our institute doesn’t allow for 6 months internship for BTech students. Since we don’t have many theory courses in the 7th semester, the theory courses of the 8th semester can be accommodated there itself. Apart from that, most of the lab courses in 8th sem are repetitive and could be avoided.

Aditya Patra, a final year student, adds,

I feel the inclusion of HS in the regular curriculum is a good step forward as it will provide a more holistic education to the students, however, I am not sure about which subjects, in particular, have been added. The inclusion of Economics and English skills are welcome. Minors are a good way of promoting cross branch knowledge. And I personally, would have been willing to be a part of this had it been during our times. Reduced credits aren't a good move, especially, the reduction of allowed absents; given that we already have a very strict attendance policy. About catering the industry requirements better, I know that some subjects have been moved to earlier semesters; this would provide the required knowledge to work in industries during the internships.

Debasis Choudhury, a final year student, shares, 

My opinion is that the curriculum change was applied by the idea of bringing more holistic changes. However, the ground reality is far from that. The idea of reduced credits (by K.L Chopra committee) was that more assignments would be given to test the real mettle, which did not happen. Rather, the freshmen have more leisure time as compared to us. Now, it is a paradox as the burden which pushed one to do the job is missing, at least in the first year. Having said that the minor system and subjects like English are good and are required. To point a few suggestions other than more assignments which would accustom the freshmen to the rigorous atmosphere to be expected from an industry: Inclusion of instructors directly from the industry and having more industry oriented courses. having labs to improve soft skills in the fresher and sophomore year and have a better infrastructure for laboratories which considers industry standards. 

Embracing change is one of the essential ethics of surviving in any domain of life. It caters to understand a specific community or organizational needs. With NIT-R all prepped to improve the very skeleton of academic excellence, it would be in the best wishes of Team Monday Morning to witness the reforms on a very tangible scale.  

Click below to revert back to the main article.

Academics 101: A Situation Analysis

Click on the link below to move to Part 1 of the Series.

PART 1: A First Year's Read

Click on the link below to move to Part 2 of the series.

PART 2: The Major "Minor" Fiasco


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