The New Normal: Feedback On Online Classes

The New Normal: Feedback On Online Classes

Subhashree Patra Sai Vanshika Anujit Jena Chandrachud Pati Mahamaya Mishra | Sep 14, 2020

  • Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: It has been suggested to the administration to supply some data to all students from the student aid fund because not everyone has proper access to resources. It is under discussion and can be done.

    MS-Teams is loaded with various features keeping in mind the current licensed version that the institute avails.  However, the efficiency and training of professors dealing with it then become important, and eventually doors open towards the feedback and up-grade to the existing system. 115 students gave a positive response with professors’ being fully proficient. 361 students and 411 students gave it a rating of 4 and 3 respectively. 250 students and 112 students scaled it as 2 and 1 respectively and 53 students remarked towards the inefficiency of professors. Since a majority of the sample consider a rating less than or equal to 3, it can be deduced that there is a huge potential towards improving the efficiency of handling tools over virtual mode.

    MM: It is heard from the professors that the vault is full and the recorded lectures need to be deleted. But office 365 A1, the license that is given to the universities, includes 1TB One Drive storage per user. What can be the solution for this issue?

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: We have had prior discussions with the MS Teams personnel and reserved 1TB space for every user, be it the student or faculty. So, there is sufficient space for downloading and storing lecture materials. However, because of the MS Teams policy, the lectures get deleted after a duration. There are other alternatives as well, such as Google Drive, One Drive, etc where lectures can be stored as per the faculty's convenience and the link for the same can be shared with students. A few of my students are even recording parts of or entire lectures by themselves for future reference. Students know how to extract the best out of such platforms and even assist the professors at times. Notwithstanding, if any student still faces any problem, he or she should give feedback to their respective professor, or even further bring it to my notice if left unresolved.

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: For pre-recording the lecture, instruction has been given. There might be a few cases where this isn't happening. I am recording my lectures, and all these steps were taken about a short term scenario. We had no idea that things will be extended to this extent. Getting used to it will take time. Problems will always be there. We have to cope with the situation.

    AVAILABILITY OF RESOURCES FOR ONLINE CLASSES

    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a halt, but time waits for none. The academic career cannot wait, and education must be imparted. Laptops, smartphones, proper network connectivity, electricity, affordable data services, and books are the key tools of the online teaching and learning process. In this situation, online classes are the safest aid. Lack of these resources hinder the process and raise questions like equity of the right to education.

    According to the survey, the most common source of the internet is mobile data, for around 83.3% of students, which is vulnerable to a host of geographical factors like location and weather and is quite sporadic in its performance. And the most important inference from this is that most students have a limited amount of data to use in a day.

    The significant problems due to lack of resources faced in during the online teaching and learning process include:

    • Unavailability of pre-recorded videos in an organized way
    • Unaffordable data charges
    • Difficulty in downloading large software for labs.
    • Unavailability of software required for labs on smartphones
    • Network and electricity issues

    The common solutions suggested in the survey were as follows:

    • Online classes have a significant advantage in the sense that the class can be recorded. Every professor should be encouraged to pre-record their lecture or record the lesson and upload the recording to Youtube, One Drive, MS-Teams, etc. and share the link with students. 
    • Virtually simulated labs, substitute smaller software for labs.
    • Professors can help reduce data consumption by turning off their videos and just sharing their screens.
    • Classes can be taken on Saturdays, including the weekdays so that there will be a lesser number of classes per day.
    • Data pack recharge in terms of financial compensation could be done by the institute or fees reduction can be done, keeping in mind the data expenses.

    Team MM also reached out to professors and HODs for their feedback.

    Prof. Santanu Kumar Behera, HOD (Electronics and Communication Engineering) added, 

    We are trying our best to teach our students efficiently through online mode. But we don’t know if students are able to grasp these things properly. We are supplying the materials, video lectures and all possible resources and the feedback I have received is also good. As far as problems are concerned, Power cuts, bandwidth issues, and students having the option to turn off video and mic and attending the class just for the sake of attendance without the teachers knowing are some significant problems. But we can’t afford to sit idle throughout the pandemic as time is very important.

    Prof. Anindya Basu, HOD (Metallurgical and Materials Engineering) added,

    While limited interaction due to online classes is a problem, the availability of pre-recorded videos for students for self-paced learning is a great thing about classes being held online.

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare- 

    In this pandemic situation, there have to be some adjustments from both students’ and professors’ side. Everyone should support each other.

    Something is always better than nothing. Online education empowered with necessary changes shall prove to be a boon during the pandemic with the flexibility to learn, saving time, providing access to expertise in areas of interest, and self-paced learning.

    CONDUCTION OF ‘LABS’ IN ‘LESSER AVAILABILITY OF RESOURCES AT HAND’

    With regards to the online classes being held during this pandemic situation, conducting labs or practical courses has been one of the most discussed topics amongst the students. Labs, no doubt, form an integral part of the engineering curriculum as the students get exposure to real-life practical learning. Professors gearing up to take up even the labs and practical classes online is impressive. However, while talking about the efficiency of the virtual labs, is it up to the mark? According to the survey being conducted, the status of its being effective is as follows:

    It yields beyond doubt that labs are meant to impart practical knowledge and that can only be done with a physical presence. The current venture, if followed, needs some serious transformations to be more efficient, as per more than 41.4% of the students.

    A prominent below par rating of 3 with a majority proportionate of students rating 0 or 1 speaks clearly about the predicament of holding labs online, most of which require technical groundwork and cannot be expected to be conveyed over a virtual mode unless a robust system of virtual lab setup comes to play.

    Is the facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological experiments and measurements being performed facing more obstacles?

    According to Animesh Pradhan, a final year student,

    In labs, the students are assigned some task which they have to do themselves. They can join to clarify their doubts. Staying up for 3 hours wastes data unnecessarily.

    Every problem has a solution. Certain amendments can always step in to rescue. Similarly, to overpower the difficulties faced concerning the labs, several proposals were being put up that would not only improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the labs but also facilitate the smooth conduction of the labs. Amendments suggested by the student community were as follows:

    Reviews of professors stand equally important as that of the students. Owing to the shift of sail in education from traditional to technical, no doubt professors have to endure hardships as well. In this instance, team Monday Morning caught up with some professors to take a look into their review and suggestions.

    MM: The software that is required for the labs generally requires a large amount of data to be downloaded. Also, most of the online software available lack one or the other feature. How are the labs being conducted then?

    Prof. Dipti Patra, HOD (Electrical Engineering): The video lectures are being recorded with the help of technical assistance. There are both software and hardware labs in the course. If the software is available with the students, it's fair enough. Else, the demonstration is being given to the students. They are not gaining a positive experience but just an idea of how the experiments are being conducted—hoping for the students to return by Oct-Nov so that they can do it by themselves. But then, we don't know what is going to happen. We think that the software labs should be continued and the students should have the required software to experiment. For example, the MATLAB license was extended. But for a new student, he can't access it because it can only be upgraded and used. So, it is just for a temporary period as the license has not been renewed until now. So, the topic of conduction of labs will be discussed in the senate meeting and will be decided.

    Prof Anindya Basu, HOD (Metallurgical and Material Engineering): The labs which aren't feasible to conduct will possibly be delayed. Earlier it was decided that the lab will be carried in full phase. But recently, it has been decided that the part which is feasible to conduct will be done. So, the decision will be taken to solve this issue in the senate.

    MM: How are the physical/hardware labs being conducted virtually going to affect the students in the future?

    Prof. Dipti Patra, HOD (Electrical Engineering): Every department has different types of labs. Mostly video demonstration of each experiment is being done. Students are getting an idea about connections to be made, taking readings with a detailed explanation, but they are not experiencing anything in real. We are trying our best, but it depends on students on how effective they feel about it. So it will be discussed in the senate meeting as well, about restructuring the distribution of labs in the academic curriculum.

    Prof Anindya Basu, HOD (Metallurgical and Material Engineering): It was decided that the theoretical analysis of the experiments would be performed. Laboratories will be conducted to some extent, and in October end, we have to report the situation. For example, in an X-ray diffraction experiment in an electrical lab, the data are given to the students, and the analysis part serves as the central part, i.e., the machine output is to be analyzed. Those parts can be done, so they are being conducted. But in some cases, where the experiment part is more important than the data analysis part, that part requires attention and hence cannot be completed.

    Taking all these into consideration, Dean Academics and Dean Student Welfare took a call that was beneficial for both students and professors.

    MM: For the labs that require mainly hardware assembly or practical Jobs or have significantly less importance without practice, can alternatives/virtual simulation/Modelling be implemented for now?

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: There are two types of labs, one is computational, and the other is full experimental. For computational labs, there may not be many difficulties in conducting those. But there exist some problems in full experimental labs. So, the faculties are demonstrating the experiments virtually to the students. But, it may be difficult for the students to understand the details of the experiments being performed. In live practical classes, faculty first gives a theoretical understanding and procedures followed by conducting a hand-in experiment. As the students would be familiar with the theoretical analysis, so the experiments can be performed after the students return to the institute. Only lab classes may then be held to compensate for the fully experimental labs in a shorter duration.

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: The labs which can be conducted online, such as the programming lab, i.e., a software lab can be conducted smoothly as there is no problem associated with it. The problem lies with hardware labs as in ceramic, mechanical, or electrical department; every detail such as dealing with the machine, conducting an experiment, taking readings cannot be covered. The purpose of online labs was to give the students a demo of the laboratory experiments and exaplining the procedure, working principles and the theoretical analysis as well, which was even done in the traditional method of conducting labs. When the students return to college, we can save this time while conducting hands-on experiments. Within a week or two, all the experiments can be finished quickly. Otherwise, it will take much more time; the course will get extended. Pre-recorded videos, along with proper explanation, are being made available so that once the students return, experiments can be conducted without much difficulty, in a short span of time. It was never a plan to substitute the hands-on practical labs. But in one sitting, it may be required to complete two experiments so that courses will be wrapped up as soon as possible.

    Mostly, professors are trying hard to put forward the best in every possible way. Still, the section of labs that need the most attention, the hardware labs. Students' plea is being considered, and several proposed suggestions are being taken up. However, the final decision will be made by the senate. 

    ONLINE EXAMS: A QUANDARY

    One of the most talked-about and debated topics amidst the on-going online classes is about how examinations are going to be conducted. While we approach the month of mid-semester examinations, the institute has no possibility of reopening before the end of October (or extended), given the travel restrictions and the Odisha State Government order

    Coming to the evaluation system, quizzes and assignments have become more recurrent, and thus, there is the monitoring of the progress of the students at frequent intervals, subjected to feasibility. The MS-Teams assignment section has emerged as the brand new depository for practical records and assignments, though moodle, NITRIS, and email is also used in a few cases.

    Clearly MS-Teams act as an all in one study app for our professors so far.

    The ultimate test of students’ competence, this issue undoubtedly requires a great deal of brainstorming. The students were enquired regarding the possibility of an online mid-semester examination and their willingness to appear and this is how they responded.

    As many as 494 students have 0 confidence to appear mid-semester examinations online. It is then followed by 292 students with confidence level 1, 209 students with confidence level 3. 83 and 52 students have a confidence level of 4 and 5 respectively.

    The hesitant attitude is quite justified if all the external uncertainties are taken into account. Online examinations are a new methodology that will require proper planning and execution to implement a fair exam. At present, the professors are evaluating students based on surprise tests, assignments, or quizzes. Still, the frequent network issues from both the students and the professor’s side is a matter of concern and have caused major hindrance in the smooth conduct of the evaluation procedure. Apart from that, subjective questions require the student to manually scan all his answers and upload it after converting it in the form of a PDF file. There have been innumerable cases where the students couldn’t submit their quizzes because the files took a lot of time to upload. Many others have faced technical glitches in the software, which didn’t allow them to submit their answers. Considering all these issues, it is indeed challenging to conduct an examination with a pattern similar to offline mid-semester examinations with a fixed time constraint and subjective answers.

    As per the analysis, 300 students face severe network issues frequently while another 318 students faced network issues quite often.

    On this issue, Team MM took the opinion of Dean Student Welfare and Dean Academics.

    MM: A lot of students face network issues because of various unavoidable reasons. Due to the network issues, many of them suffer while attendance is being taken or while submitting quizzes or assignments. What is your say on that?

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: I have uploaded all my lectures on YouTube so that my students can access them whenever they find it necessary. Almost all our professors are recording their lectures, and some others are uploading the same on various platforms as well. About attendance, I don’t see why the students are being worried about that. All that we expect them to do is to attend classes sincerely. In case of severe and legitimate network issues faced by a student, which results in loss of attendance, we may take care of it by considering all the factors like his area of residence and conditions over there at that time, etc. If a student faces a network issue on any day, he can approach the professor to take an extra class. In this pandemic situation, there have to be some adjustments from both the students and the professors’ side. Everyone should support each other. In the case of students who are facing problems in submitting assignments and quizzes, it depends upon the professor of that subject on how to deal with it. If a student can communicate with me through WhatsApp that he/she couldn’t submit his assignment, then he should be able to click photos of his/her assignment and send it to me through the same medium. Where there is a will, there is a way; and that can be quickly figured out as well.

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: If proper justification is provided by the students who face frequent network issues, they will be considered if they bring it to our notice through an application stating genuine reasons. In case of a problem in assignment or quiz submission, if the student can justify his issue to the concerned professor, then the professor will take necessary steps for the student’s benefit. This should not be a problem from either side.

    The other option available is that the institute won’t follow the regular academic calendar and wait for the students to come back to the campus to appear examinations. Even though it sounds more fair and appreciable, there is a high level of unpredictability to this. As of 3rd September 2020, the Odisha State Government has ordered all the educational institutes to remain closed till the end of Puja Holidays, i.e. end of October. In the best-case scenario, if students return to the campus, then there have to be strict guidelines to ensure proper protocols are being followed to avoid mass gathering. With around 6000 students who come from various parts of India and abroad, this method seems to be uncertain considering international travel restrictions and the varying restrictions imposed on individual states by their respective Governments.

    The class of 2020 had their end semester examinations cancelled and they were marked based on their final year project and thesis submission. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken a toll on the current final year batch as well. Many students had their internships cancelled at the last moment while a few others had to complete the same as a WFH internship. The hardships don’t end there. If the mid and end semester exams are postponed till the institute reopens, it will cause a significant delay in the graduation and placement procedure which isn’t something to be risked, at this point of time.

    A student, Sasanka Talukdar, expressed his grief-

    As final year students, we have a yearly project. But with my network troubles and low-quality laptop, it has become a huge problem. First of all, it is hard to conduct a discussion with my guide via online mode due to network issues. It is also hard to conduct the required analysis with my cheap laptop. But now I need to download a 50-60 GB dataset for the rest of my work, which is downright impossible to do in my current situation. I would urge the authorities to give special attention to final year students since we won’t get a second chance if it continues like this. We have already missed our internship opportunity, and if we don’t get a chance to work on our project properly, it would be devastating for our careers.

    At the present moment, professors are ensuring that continuous evaluation is done via various available resources and tools in MS Teams and other software. Team MM had surveyed to gather suggestions from the students on a fair and efficient method to award TA marks, which has a significant role in the gradation of results.

    Assignments can be considered as the best resort, with respect to the fact it is the solution least dependent on real-time network issues. Online attendance is a probable rescue but again, it’s quite vulnerable to other factors and doesn’t necessarily state if the student is actually attending the class or not. It just shows that the person has joined the meeting at the moment. 

    The general procedure to take attendance in online classes is by downloading the attendance sheet, which can be accessed by the organiser (in this case, the professor) alone. Network issues have been a persistent problem in this process, as well. There were a lot of incidents when the students were disconnected from the meeting just before attendance, or they missed their roll call in case of manual attendance count by the professors. This issue will be a problem for those students whose professors consider attendance as a criterion for grading the students.

    In these challenging times, where traditional classroom teaching is far from achievable, it is better to use each tool and technology available with us on MS Teams and other relevant platforms like Moodle.

    In yet another small survey conducted by Monday Morning, a poll was conducted under the direction of the Dean Academics for enquiring the best course of action to be taken up for continuing the Online Semester. The poll received a considerable response (1929 student responses), out of which, 26.3% voted for continuing the online semester as it is, whereas 56.0% of the students wanted the online classes to be continued but with robust improvements in modalities of conducting classes and labs.

    The inference from the above poll was that most of the students did not want the academic schedule to be hampered through the cancellation of the online semester. With more than 56% of students wanting robust improvements in modalities of conducting classes and labs. Not even a couple of days had passed since the release of the results of this poll, that a message started to circulate amongst student groups which said that Dean Academics had asked the professors to conduct continuous evaluation this semester, with at least 10 tests per subject. The intention was to ensure that in the worst-case scenario, the class tests could serve as a replacement for mid-sem and end-sem examinations. However, conducting 10 online tests per subjects (which could amount to 50 tests for a student having 5 theory courses) has its own share of issues. And soon, Dean Academics had to send a clarification on Telegram stating that the faculty need not take the 10 proposed class tests and instead wait for the senate decision. 

    Team MM contacted Dean SW and Dean AC to get a clarification on the much talked about evaluation method.

    MM: A recent snapshot of webmail was posted in Telegram, which stated this proposal of 10 tests per subject. Is the proposal finalised, or are there any new amendments yet to be done?

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: The proposal has not been finalised yet, and hence it hasn’t been put into action. Once the minutes of the meeting are out, everything will be clarified, and the committee which is responsible for the decision will consider the collective good only—no need to worry.

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: The proposal of 10 tests was what I circulated to the faculty only (not to the students). I don't know how it got passed on to the students. It was just a proposal to have a backup arrangement for the benefit of the students. In this pandemic, it is quite difficult to predict the future. We don't know when the students will return to campus. Our main motive is that our students shouldn't suffer due to delay in publishing their final results atleast of the graduating students. They may face problem in joining their jobs if there is any delay. For this reason only, we brought out the results of spring semester well in time so that the batch of 2020 did not suffer. Suppose the students will not return before end of this semester, then how we will be able to publish the result in time? So I suggested that in place of this midsem and endsem why not we conduct the same amount of examinations well in advance at regular intervals like continuous evaluation. A student devotes two hours for midsem and three hours for endsems—a total of five hours of the exam he has to write to complete a semester. In compensation to that, this was proposed. The Senate is yet to decide on this. The senate always upholds the quality of the degree that we are awarding to our students. So in place of midsem and endsems, if we could have a five-hour total exam spread over the semester, then it would be easy for us to convince the Senate that even if we couldn't conduct midsem and endsem exams we have a sufficient number of tests to grade and publish the results of a student. This was just a proposal and not a final order from the Dean, Academics. Through that, I wanted the feedback from the faculty so that I could submit the feedback in the senate meeting to make the final decision. On that basis, faculty have also reacted and given their feedback.
    We have already discussed this in the last senate, and the final decision will be shortly out. Coming to why 10 tests? A student has to answer 3-4 questions in midsem and 5 questions in endsem. Thus, a total of 8-9 long questions are to be answered. It may so happen that some students may miss few tests. That's why a total of 10 questions was suggested. So in this way, we'll be considering best 8 or 9 out of the 10 tests to publish the results. It was also suggested that the way of conducting these tests is up to the faculty. It can be in two sittings, or in three sittings or in max ten different sittings. If ten tests are conducted, each test should conducted for 15-20 min for only one long question or a set of few questions or a set of 20-30 multiple type quiz questions. Similarly, if two tests are conducted, then each will have four long questions or their equivalent of short/quiz questions. The total number of long questions should be 10 only. Not that there will be ten tests and each will be for one hour consuming full one class time. Indeed, that is not acceptable. Unnecessarily, students got panicked saying that the each out of 10 tests will consume one full class. One test can be conducted in 10-15 mins if it has only one question. If there are 2 questions, then they can devote 20-30mins to it and rest time to teach. All sorts of flexibility were given to the professors and their feedback was asked. Again, it was just my proposal and unnecessarily there was panic among students. There was a clear misunderstanding among students and it was just a backup proposal.

    Where Do Our Contemporaries Stand?

    NIT Rourkela is one of the first institutes in the country to start the process of the online semester. Let us have a glance at some steps taken by other institutes of National importance regarding this.

    Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay)

    1. Instructors may conduct quizzes (typically with low marks weightage), but students must be given the option of taking these quizzes later in the day, in case of network issues during the assigned quiz slot.
    2. The plan for the end-semester exams is to have well-proctored exams at locations across the country. This is to ensure that cheating cannot occur while allowing students to take the exams close to home.

    Source- https://www.insightiitb.org/the-online-semester-takes-off/

    IIT Kharagpur

    IIT Kharagpur has developed an e-Classroom software for Indian academia – DEEKSHAK

    DEEKSHAK

    Director Prof. Virendra K Tewari reportedly said,

    We need platforms addressing challenges faced by India and Deekshak is designed to cater to Indian academia, be it the bandwidth issue, or user interface or storage. We are leaders in ICT and should find affordable solutions with social and commercial value. This is one clear goal I have set for IIT Kharagpur. DEEKSHAK is one step towards that goal through which the teachers would be able to offer more personalized interaction while focusing better on the act of teaching.

    IIT Kanpur

    With the motive of ‘Let there be no barrier to education. Let us join hands and support Online Education.’, IITK has decided to start a fundraising campaign ‘Online Education Support for 600 students raising Rs. 50,000 per student covering Laptop, Broadband connection & accessories, and cloud infrastructural Devices & peripherals, etc. This will make the process of helping the students smoother and more transparent. And their alumni have helped in large numbers and as far 439 students have been benefited.

    NIT Raipur

    1. Online classes are to be conducted on Saturdays in addition to weekdays and preferably four classes per semester per day be engaged wherever possible.
    2. Each class will be of 45 minutes duration and there must be at least 15 minutes gap between two adjacent classes to ease the eye strain to the students. Online classes should be conducted in two halves with a lunch break of one to two hours per day after two to three adjacent classes.
    3. The faculty members must upload their PPTs, recorded lecture, and notes, etc.. on Google Drive (shared with the students) instead of emailing these to each student. The recorded lectures can be shared through ‘YouTube’ as well.

    This has the approval of the competent authority.

    International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT H)

    As per the blog by Prof P. J. Narayanan, Director, IIITH,

    1. Award a W (or Withdraw) grade in place of an F (or Fail) grade for courses. Both serve the same purpose as the student must meet the requirements later. The F grade hurts immediately and later, something we can eliminate at least for this semester.
    2. The three lab-dominated courses will complete only after students return and get to do them physically, perhaps in the fortnight prior to the start of the next semester’s classes. Labs that are primarily computer-based were conducted in the required time and sometimes using a simulator. These are early courses and no graduating student is on any.
    3. Students who couldn’t take part meaningfully in the online phase of the courses – due to poor connectivity, sickness to self or family, etc. – will be evaluated separately whenever it is safe. A combination of alternate evaluation and grading methods will be employed for them with a combination of assignments, projects, oral examinations, reports, etc. They will not be disadvantaged in any manner by this.

    IIT Directors’ Common Report

    As per the IIT directors’ common report, only students who have poor connectivity or may not have access to the internet may be permitted to return to IIT campuses and individual institutes will facilitate their return. “These students will also take the online classes from their hostels."

    “No individual shall be forced to return to campus, he/she shall take relevant safety, quarantine, and safe travel measures, as applicable. Laboratory courses or laboratory component of courses to be deferred to later time maybe Summer 2021, when this may be completed in an intensive two to three-week period," the directors’ common academic agenda report has said.

    A WAY-FORWARD

    Online classes save money and time, provide easy access to classes, study materials, meetings, discussions, and events. Learning at one's own pace with division of time as per one's own requirement between different courses while taking out the remaining time for passion make online classes fit for conventional or modern education, a welcome deviation from the traditional classes where every student with different capabilities has to attend the same class. Still, there are some inevitable issues like network issues, the inefficiency of lab courses that require hands-on experience, unavailability of pre-recorded videos, and data shortage that equipped with robust changes will prove to be a boon. It is the responsibility of both students and the administration to come together and make the mechanism of Online classes more accessible and fruitful for all stakeholders.

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    • 4

    “Hello, can you hear me? 

    Am I audible?

    Can you see the screen? 

    Sir, the video is a blur. 

    Someone removed me from the meet….” 

    Above are just a few of the incessant echoes dominating the classes of 2020! With apps turned to classrooms, the entire teaching-learning process has undergone catapulting transformations since the inception of the latest semester. Delay in the curriculum may seem enthralling at the moment but the clouds of uncertainty that it casts on the future of students and academics as a whole- is an extra-ordinary issue that has to be considered. However, walking abreast of the transformations, NIT Rourkela has tried to put its best foot forward in these rather questioning times.

    Monday Morning (MM), in collaboration with Institute Counselling Services (ICS), NIT Rourkela conducted an extensive survey over 9 days (26th August- 3rd September) to collect individual feedback and suggestions of students of NIT Rourkela regarding online classes and assess the issue based on the responses. The survey brought in a response of around 1300 students, across all years and branches. We also reached out to professors, Head Of Departments, lab in-charges as well as the Dean Academics and Dean Student Welfare and garnered insights from all of them. The responses included a mixed bag of satisfaction, regrets, insecurities, proposals, statements, and viewpoints from all sources.

    The article is an embodiment of all of the above, with a primary focus on constructive suggestions and proposals. Apart from that, it also includes a comparative analysis with other institutes of national importance regarding the implementation of the online platforms for education.

    Read on to have a clearer look at the possible solutions and changes to improve the scene regarding the issues directly affecting the whole NIT Rourkela populace or at least a majority of what these figures tend to speak of at large!

    Note: A report on this survey along with the suggestions for improvements in the mechanism of online classes was compiled by the Institute Counselling Services (ICS) and has been presented to the concerned authority before the recent senate meeting.

    DECIPHERING THE BUZZ

    Frankly, it won't be an exaggeration to state that NIT Rourkela has been one of those institutes which has managed to keep its academic calendar pretty much intact despite the ravaging issues. 

    Let’s proceed, piece by piece.

    From blueprint to execution

    Needless to say, the fate of any plan or proposal lies in its execution and implementation. The sole purpose of online classes was imparting of academic knowledge and skills without any further delay. However, it is for us to ponder whether the core motive has been lost or enhanced in the process. Comparing and contrasting the regular classes and the current setup, we need to search for boons as well as flaws and work on them. The method a professor chooses to deliver the subject decides the significance of the classes to a great extent. In the current scenario, while MS-Teams has remained more or less a shared medium, the exact method used by a concerned professor varies. Live lectures remain the most common method used these days. 

    However, several students felt that lectures are not as effective as they used to be in the offline days. Though this method is acceptable in some cases, for certain parts like derivations, complex numerical problems, and technical comprehension, chalk and board/ digital notepads were perceived a must for proper illustration

    On being enquired regarding the method they would prefer, a major chunk of students resorted to choosing pre-recorded videos on platforms like Youtube or Google Drive since this would go miles in minimizing the impact of unavoidable factors like network and technical issues (from both ends) during lectures. Moreover, understandably such platforms provide ease of accessibility to watch lectures once delivered, anytime and anywhere.  

    According to a pre-final year student,

    When there is the facility of the digital classroom in Lecture Hall Complex-II where professors can teach on a whiteboard while recording good quality videos like any YouTube channel giving a feel of authentic classroom experience, it should be put to use.

    A 4th-year MSc student suggested a plausible approach to enhancing the process: 

    If a content team is created for every department, it can help the professors edit their lectures and make it more interactive. If it's a recording, then by adding proper illustrative examples and video editing, the content can be made much more enjoyable and informative. These recorded lectures, if properly edited, can be used in the future to publish content like the big institutes as MIT does.

    Attendance uncertainties have emerged as a novel problem. Though the woes of students over attendance issues due to network issues in remote areas, etc. may seem prevalent, yet it does not dissolve the fact that they are genuine in most cases.

    Health issues have also become quite vagrant, owing to the new system.  While in earlier days, a walk or bicycle ride to the classrooms acted as a minuscule exercise, no such thing is now possible. Speaking of health problems, the immediate start of classes without proper breaks in between has also led to ailments like back pain, eye-straining, and eye-watering. A proportionate share of classes every day with a maximum cap on screen time per day was suggested by a large number of the students surveyed as the  solution to various health problems emerging in both students and professors due to excess screen exposure

    A Brand New Timetable does seem a viable way to go about to ease off such pressure while realizing goals in time. Summing up, it is high time a compact timetable taking all the above points to account with a focus on weekly course goals is made. Desperate times do seek desperate measures, hence constant feedback from both ends should be encouraged and looked upon by the administration.

    22.20% of students were able to cope up with the syllabus being covered up till now. 47.70% of students felt satisfactory, while 30.11% of students faced difficulties and weren’t able to cope up with the ongoing online semester. Modification in the course structure concerning the current scenario with more focus on quality over quantity is what the situation demands.

    The Other Side: Professors Speak

    To present only students as victims would be a total bluff. Even professors are facing repercussions of the transformation. Team MM enquired some professors about the difficulties they have been facing in this online method of teaching and this is what they had to say, 

    Prof. Pradip Sarkar, Department of Civil Engineering (Recipient of Best Teacher Award in 2019): 

    It is a very unusual experience for me. Without seeing the faces of my students and their expressions, it's like talking to the computer in an empty room. My energy levels are not as much as they used to be and taking class is just a duty now. Do I have an uninterrupted connection? Are the students following my points?  Are they present to attend the class? and so many questions disturb the peace of mind. Also, I can't ask any thought-provoking questions. If by chance, I ask, I end up answering those questions myself. So, I miss the usual interactive classes.

    Prof. Sanjoy Datta, Department Of Physics and Astronomy (Recipient of Best Teacher Award in 2020): 

    I use my mobile hotspot, hence my network remains smooth, more or less. However, it should be acknowledged that all professors do not have the best of facilities and are therefore unable to exploit all the advantages of online platforms while straining eyes looking continuous for hours. Also, we cannot have a moment of silence. In a physical classroom, you can take a break for a minute or two. Here, that seems awkward. I'm not sure if I can reach everyone or not, especially the ones not interacting. Looking at the plus side, I'm uploading lectures on Youtube and this process is going on smoothly. Making connections between lectures is a boon I can say. It is easy to recall and use old notes. However, I don't want to trade the experience of interactive live classes for any other advantage.

    Prof. Surajit Das, HOD (Life Sciences) added:

    So far my experience of online class over MS Team is good. However, this online mode can noway truly substitute classroom teaching. In classroom teaching, we can have direct interaction with the students. The network is good here at NIT Campus but students sometimes are facing network issues at their end and due to which they sometimes are not able to communicate properly.

    Prof. Seemita Mohanty, President, Student Activity Centre while communicating with Monday Morning for an interview had remarked-

    It has been a good experience until now. Certain aspects, like eye contact, are missing in online classes. But strangely, many students are interacting in online classes rather than in offline classes. The anonymity feature may have given them the security that allows them to provide comments, suggestions, and interact with us. Certain issues like connectivity, a large number of students in the classes, which causes difficulty in interacting and connecting, are some of the negative aspects of online classes.

    Team MM also contacted the Dean, Student Welfare and Dean, Academics to know about their opinion on the issues faced by students.

    MM: Some students face a shortage of data and due to data exhaustion, the streaming quality decreases multi-folds, and hence they can't connect with the class. What can be done for this?

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: Keeping these possible scenarios in mind, LB was established. 21 classrooms fitted with state of the art technology for recording lectures. Faculties have been requested to make use of the same. They have been requested to pre-record videos, upload them, and then conduct discussions in regular time slots. In addition to teaching, professors can devote more time to clarify students' doubts. Some prefer the above, while some professors don't as they find it a bit herculean. However, flexibility has been given to them. The professors may chose to directly share a pre-recorded session, or teach in a live class and share its recordings.

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: It has been suggested to the administration to supply some data to all students from the student aid fund because not everyone has proper access to resources. It is under discussion and can be done.

    MS-Teams is loaded with various features keeping in mind the current licensed version that the institute avails.  However, the efficiency and training of professors dealing with it then become important, and eventually doors open towards the feedback and up-grade to the existing system. 115 students gave a positive response with professors’ being fully proficient. 361 students and 411 students gave it a rating of 4 and 3 respectively. 250 students and 112 students scaled it as 2 and 1 respectively and 53 students remarked towards the inefficiency of professors. Since a majority of the sample consider a rating less than or equal to 3, it can be deduced that there is a huge potential towards improving the efficiency of handling tools over virtual mode.

    MM: It is heard from the professors that the vault is full and the recorded lectures need to be deleted. But office 365 A1, the license that is given to the universities, includes 1TB One Drive storage per user. What can be the solution for this issue?

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: We have had prior discussions with the MS Teams personnel and reserved 1TB space for every user, be it the student or faculty. So, there is sufficient space for downloading and storing lecture materials. However, because of the MS Teams policy, the lectures get deleted after a duration. There are other alternatives as well, such as Google Drive, One Drive, etc where lectures can be stored as per the faculty's convenience and the link for the same can be shared with students. A few of my students are even recording parts of or entire lectures by themselves for future reference. Students know how to extract the best out of such platforms and even assist the professors at times. Notwithstanding, if any student still faces any problem, he or she should give feedback to their respective professor, or even further bring it to my notice if left unresolved.

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: For pre-recording the lecture, instruction has been given. There might be a few cases where this isn't happening. I am recording my lectures, and all these steps were taken about a short term scenario. We had no idea that things will be extended to this extent. Getting used to it will take time. Problems will always be there. We have to cope with the situation.

    AVAILABILITY OF RESOURCES FOR ONLINE CLASSES

    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a halt, but time waits for none. The academic career cannot wait, and education must be imparted. Laptops, smartphones, proper network connectivity, electricity, affordable data services, and books are the key tools of the online teaching and learning process. In this situation, online classes are the safest aid. Lack of these resources hinder the process and raise questions like equity of the right to education.

    According to the survey, the most common source of the internet is mobile data, for around 83.3% of students, which is vulnerable to a host of geographical factors like location and weather and is quite sporadic in its performance. And the most important inference from this is that most students have a limited amount of data to use in a day.

    The significant problems due to lack of resources faced in during the online teaching and learning process include:

    • Unavailability of pre-recorded videos in an organized way
    • Unaffordable data charges
    • Difficulty in downloading large software for labs.
    • Unavailability of software required for labs on smartphones
    • Network and electricity issues

    The common solutions suggested in the survey were as follows:

    • Online classes have a significant advantage in the sense that the class can be recorded. Every professor should be encouraged to pre-record their lecture or record the lesson and upload the recording to Youtube, One Drive, MS-Teams, etc. and share the link with students. 
    • Virtually simulated labs, substitute smaller software for labs.
    • Professors can help reduce data consumption by turning off their videos and just sharing their screens.
    • Classes can be taken on Saturdays, including the weekdays so that there will be a lesser number of classes per day.
    • Data pack recharge in terms of financial compensation could be done by the institute or fees reduction can be done, keeping in mind the data expenses.

    Team MM also reached out to professors and HODs for their feedback.

    Prof. Santanu Kumar Behera, HOD (Electronics and Communication Engineering) added, 

    We are trying our best to teach our students efficiently through online mode. But we don’t know if students are able to grasp these things properly. We are supplying the materials, video lectures and all possible resources and the feedback I have received is also good. As far as problems are concerned, Power cuts, bandwidth issues, and students having the option to turn off video and mic and attending the class just for the sake of attendance without the teachers knowing are some significant problems. But we can’t afford to sit idle throughout the pandemic as time is very important.

    Prof. Anindya Basu, HOD (Metallurgical and Materials Engineering) added,

    While limited interaction due to online classes is a problem, the availability of pre-recorded videos for students for self-paced learning is a great thing about classes being held online.

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare- 

    In this pandemic situation, there have to be some adjustments from both students’ and professors’ side. Everyone should support each other.

    Something is always better than nothing. Online education empowered with necessary changes shall prove to be a boon during the pandemic with the flexibility to learn, saving time, providing access to expertise in areas of interest, and self-paced learning.

    CONDUCTION OF ‘LABS’ IN ‘LESSER AVAILABILITY OF RESOURCES AT HAND’

    With regards to the online classes being held during this pandemic situation, conducting labs or practical courses has been one of the most discussed topics amongst the students. Labs, no doubt, form an integral part of the engineering curriculum as the students get exposure to real-life practical learning. Professors gearing up to take up even the labs and practical classes online is impressive. However, while talking about the efficiency of the virtual labs, is it up to the mark? According to the survey being conducted, the status of its being effective is as follows:

    It yields beyond doubt that labs are meant to impart practical knowledge and that can only be done with a physical presence. The current venture, if followed, needs some serious transformations to be more efficient, as per more than 41.4% of the students.

    A prominent below par rating of 3 with a majority proportionate of students rating 0 or 1 speaks clearly about the predicament of holding labs online, most of which require technical groundwork and cannot be expected to be conveyed over a virtual mode unless a robust system of virtual lab setup comes to play.

    Is the facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological experiments and measurements being performed facing more obstacles?

    According to Animesh Pradhan, a final year student,

    In labs, the students are assigned some task which they have to do themselves. They can join to clarify their doubts. Staying up for 3 hours wastes data unnecessarily.

    Every problem has a solution. Certain amendments can always step in to rescue. Similarly, to overpower the difficulties faced concerning the labs, several proposals were being put up that would not only improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the labs but also facilitate the smooth conduction of the labs. Amendments suggested by the student community were as follows:

    Reviews of professors stand equally important as that of the students. Owing to the shift of sail in education from traditional to technical, no doubt professors have to endure hardships as well. In this instance, team Monday Morning caught up with some professors to take a look into their review and suggestions.

    MM: The software that is required for the labs generally requires a large amount of data to be downloaded. Also, most of the online software available lack one or the other feature. How are the labs being conducted then?

    Prof. Dipti Patra, HOD (Electrical Engineering): The video lectures are being recorded with the help of technical assistance. There are both software and hardware labs in the course. If the software is available with the students, it's fair enough. Else, the demonstration is being given to the students. They are not gaining a positive experience but just an idea of how the experiments are being conducted—hoping for the students to return by Oct-Nov so that they can do it by themselves. But then, we don't know what is going to happen. We think that the software labs should be continued and the students should have the required software to experiment. For example, the MATLAB license was extended. But for a new student, he can't access it because it can only be upgraded and used. So, it is just for a temporary period as the license has not been renewed until now. So, the topic of conduction of labs will be discussed in the senate meeting and will be decided.

    Prof Anindya Basu, HOD (Metallurgical and Material Engineering): The labs which aren't feasible to conduct will possibly be delayed. Earlier it was decided that the lab will be carried in full phase. But recently, it has been decided that the part which is feasible to conduct will be done. So, the decision will be taken to solve this issue in the senate.

    MM: How are the physical/hardware labs being conducted virtually going to affect the students in the future?

    Prof. Dipti Patra, HOD (Electrical Engineering): Every department has different types of labs. Mostly video demonstration of each experiment is being done. Students are getting an idea about connections to be made, taking readings with a detailed explanation, but they are not experiencing anything in real. We are trying our best, but it depends on students on how effective they feel about it. So it will be discussed in the senate meeting as well, about restructuring the distribution of labs in the academic curriculum.

    Prof Anindya Basu, HOD (Metallurgical and Material Engineering): It was decided that the theoretical analysis of the experiments would be performed. Laboratories will be conducted to some extent, and in October end, we have to report the situation. For example, in an X-ray diffraction experiment in an electrical lab, the data are given to the students, and the analysis part serves as the central part, i.e., the machine output is to be analyzed. Those parts can be done, so they are being conducted. But in some cases, where the experiment part is more important than the data analysis part, that part requires attention and hence cannot be completed.

    Taking all these into consideration, Dean Academics and Dean Student Welfare took a call that was beneficial for both students and professors.

    MM: For the labs that require mainly hardware assembly or practical Jobs or have significantly less importance without practice, can alternatives/virtual simulation/Modelling be implemented for now?

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: There are two types of labs, one is computational, and the other is full experimental. For computational labs, there may not be many difficulties in conducting those. But there exist some problems in full experimental labs. So, the faculties are demonstrating the experiments virtually to the students. But, it may be difficult for the students to understand the details of the experiments being performed. In live practical classes, faculty first gives a theoretical understanding and procedures followed by conducting a hand-in experiment. As the students would be familiar with the theoretical analysis, so the experiments can be performed after the students return to the institute. Only lab classes may then be held to compensate for the fully experimental labs in a shorter duration.

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: The labs which can be conducted online, such as the programming lab, i.e., a software lab can be conducted smoothly as there is no problem associated with it. The problem lies with hardware labs as in ceramic, mechanical, or electrical department; every detail such as dealing with the machine, conducting an experiment, taking readings cannot be covered. The purpose of online labs was to give the students a demo of the laboratory experiments and exaplining the procedure, working principles and the theoretical analysis as well, which was even done in the traditional method of conducting labs. When the students return to college, we can save this time while conducting hands-on experiments. Within a week or two, all the experiments can be finished quickly. Otherwise, it will take much more time; the course will get extended. Pre-recorded videos, along with proper explanation, are being made available so that once the students return, experiments can be conducted without much difficulty, in a short span of time. It was never a plan to substitute the hands-on practical labs. But in one sitting, it may be required to complete two experiments so that courses will be wrapped up as soon as possible.

    Mostly, professors are trying hard to put forward the best in every possible way. Still, the section of labs that need the most attention, the hardware labs. Students' plea is being considered, and several proposed suggestions are being taken up. However, the final decision will be made by the senate. 

    ONLINE EXAMS: A QUANDARY

    One of the most talked-about and debated topics amidst the on-going online classes is about how examinations are going to be conducted. While we approach the month of mid-semester examinations, the institute has no possibility of reopening before the end of October (or extended), given the travel restrictions and the Odisha State Government order

    Coming to the evaluation system, quizzes and assignments have become more recurrent, and thus, there is the monitoring of the progress of the students at frequent intervals, subjected to feasibility. The MS-Teams assignment section has emerged as the brand new depository for practical records and assignments, though moodle, NITRIS, and email is also used in a few cases.

    Clearly MS-Teams act as an all in one study app for our professors so far.

    The ultimate test of students’ competence, this issue undoubtedly requires a great deal of brainstorming. The students were enquired regarding the possibility of an online mid-semester examination and their willingness to appear and this is how they responded.

    As many as 494 students have 0 confidence to appear mid-semester examinations online. It is then followed by 292 students with confidence level 1, 209 students with confidence level 3. 83 and 52 students have a confidence level of 4 and 5 respectively.

    The hesitant attitude is quite justified if all the external uncertainties are taken into account. Online examinations are a new methodology that will require proper planning and execution to implement a fair exam. At present, the professors are evaluating students based on surprise tests, assignments, or quizzes. Still, the frequent network issues from both the students and the professor’s side is a matter of concern and have caused major hindrance in the smooth conduct of the evaluation procedure. Apart from that, subjective questions require the student to manually scan all his answers and upload it after converting it in the form of a PDF file. There have been innumerable cases where the students couldn’t submit their quizzes because the files took a lot of time to upload. Many others have faced technical glitches in the software, which didn’t allow them to submit their answers. Considering all these issues, it is indeed challenging to conduct an examination with a pattern similar to offline mid-semester examinations with a fixed time constraint and subjective answers.

    As per the analysis, 300 students face severe network issues frequently while another 318 students faced network issues quite often.

    On this issue, Team MM took the opinion of Dean Student Welfare and Dean Academics.

    MM: A lot of students face network issues because of various unavoidable reasons. Due to the network issues, many of them suffer while attendance is being taken or while submitting quizzes or assignments. What is your say on that?

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: I have uploaded all my lectures on YouTube so that my students can access them whenever they find it necessary. Almost all our professors are recording their lectures, and some others are uploading the same on various platforms as well. About attendance, I don’t see why the students are being worried about that. All that we expect them to do is to attend classes sincerely. In case of severe and legitimate network issues faced by a student, which results in loss of attendance, we may take care of it by considering all the factors like his area of residence and conditions over there at that time, etc. If a student faces a network issue on any day, he can approach the professor to take an extra class. In this pandemic situation, there have to be some adjustments from both the students and the professors’ side. Everyone should support each other. In the case of students who are facing problems in submitting assignments and quizzes, it depends upon the professor of that subject on how to deal with it. If a student can communicate with me through WhatsApp that he/she couldn’t submit his assignment, then he should be able to click photos of his/her assignment and send it to me through the same medium. Where there is a will, there is a way; and that can be quickly figured out as well.

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: If proper justification is provided by the students who face frequent network issues, they will be considered if they bring it to our notice through an application stating genuine reasons. In case of a problem in assignment or quiz submission, if the student can justify his issue to the concerned professor, then the professor will take necessary steps for the student’s benefit. This should not be a problem from either side.

    The other option available is that the institute won’t follow the regular academic calendar and wait for the students to come back to the campus to appear examinations. Even though it sounds more fair and appreciable, there is a high level of unpredictability to this. As of 3rd September 2020, the Odisha State Government has ordered all the educational institutes to remain closed till the end of Puja Holidays, i.e. end of October. In the best-case scenario, if students return to the campus, then there have to be strict guidelines to ensure proper protocols are being followed to avoid mass gathering. With around 6000 students who come from various parts of India and abroad, this method seems to be uncertain considering international travel restrictions and the varying restrictions imposed on individual states by their respective Governments.

    The class of 2020 had their end semester examinations cancelled and they were marked based on their final year project and thesis submission. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken a toll on the current final year batch as well. Many students had their internships cancelled at the last moment while a few others had to complete the same as a WFH internship. The hardships don’t end there. If the mid and end semester exams are postponed till the institute reopens, it will cause a significant delay in the graduation and placement procedure which isn’t something to be risked, at this point of time.

    A student, Sasanka Talukdar, expressed his grief-

    As final year students, we have a yearly project. But with my network troubles and low-quality laptop, it has become a huge problem. First of all, it is hard to conduct a discussion with my guide via online mode due to network issues. It is also hard to conduct the required analysis with my cheap laptop. But now I need to download a 50-60 GB dataset for the rest of my work, which is downright impossible to do in my current situation. I would urge the authorities to give special attention to final year students since we won’t get a second chance if it continues like this. We have already missed our internship opportunity, and if we don’t get a chance to work on our project properly, it would be devastating for our careers.

    At the present moment, professors are ensuring that continuous evaluation is done via various available resources and tools in MS Teams and other software. Team MM had surveyed to gather suggestions from the students on a fair and efficient method to award TA marks, which has a significant role in the gradation of results.

    Assignments can be considered as the best resort, with respect to the fact it is the solution least dependent on real-time network issues. Online attendance is a probable rescue but again, it’s quite vulnerable to other factors and doesn’t necessarily state if the student is actually attending the class or not. It just shows that the person has joined the meeting at the moment. 

    The general procedure to take attendance in online classes is by downloading the attendance sheet, which can be accessed by the organiser (in this case, the professor) alone. Network issues have been a persistent problem in this process, as well. There were a lot of incidents when the students were disconnected from the meeting just before attendance, or they missed their roll call in case of manual attendance count by the professors. This issue will be a problem for those students whose professors consider attendance as a criterion for grading the students.

    In these challenging times, where traditional classroom teaching is far from achievable, it is better to use each tool and technology available with us on MS Teams and other relevant platforms like Moodle.

    In yet another small survey conducted by Monday Morning, a poll was conducted under the direction of the Dean Academics for enquiring the best course of action to be taken up for continuing the Online Semester. The poll received a considerable response (1929 student responses), out of which, 26.3% voted for continuing the online semester as it is, whereas 56.0% of the students wanted the online classes to be continued but with robust improvements in modalities of conducting classes and labs.

    The inference from the above poll was that most of the students did not want the academic schedule to be hampered through the cancellation of the online semester. With more than 56% of students wanting robust improvements in modalities of conducting classes and labs. Not even a couple of days had passed since the release of the results of this poll, that a message started to circulate amongst student groups which said that Dean Academics had asked the professors to conduct continuous evaluation this semester, with at least 10 tests per subject. The intention was to ensure that in the worst-case scenario, the class tests could serve as a replacement for mid-sem and end-sem examinations. However, conducting 10 online tests per subjects (which could amount to 50 tests for a student having 5 theory courses) has its own share of issues. And soon, Dean Academics had to send a clarification on Telegram stating that the faculty need not take the 10 proposed class tests and instead wait for the senate decision. 

    Team MM contacted Dean SW and Dean AC to get a clarification on the much talked about evaluation method.

    MM: A recent snapshot of webmail was posted in Telegram, which stated this proposal of 10 tests per subject. Is the proposal finalised, or are there any new amendments yet to be done?

    Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Dean Student Welfare: The proposal has not been finalised yet, and hence it hasn’t been put into action. Once the minutes of the meeting are out, everything will be clarified, and the committee which is responsible for the decision will consider the collective good only—no need to worry.

    Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Dean Academics: The proposal of 10 tests was what I circulated to the faculty only (not to the students). I don't know how it got passed on to the students. It was just a proposal to have a backup arrangement for the benefit of the students. In this pandemic, it is quite difficult to predict the future. We don't know when the students will return to campus. Our main motive is that our students shouldn't suffer due to delay in publishing their final results atleast of the graduating students. They may face problem in joining their jobs if there is any delay. For this reason only, we brought out the results of spring semester well in time so that the batch of 2020 did not suffer. Suppose the students will not return before end of this semester, then how we will be able to publish the result in time? So I suggested that in place of this midsem and endsem why not we conduct the same amount of examinations well in advance at regular intervals like continuous evaluation. A student devotes two hours for midsem and three hours for endsems—a total of five hours of the exam he has to write to complete a semester. In compensation to that, this was proposed. The Senate is yet to decide on this. The senate always upholds the quality of the degree that we are awarding to our students. So in place of midsem and endsems, if we could have a five-hour total exam spread over the semester, then it would be easy for us to convince the Senate that even if we couldn't conduct midsem and endsem exams we have a sufficient number of tests to grade and publish the results of a student. This was just a proposal and not a final order from the Dean, Academics. Through that, I wanted the feedback from the faculty so that I could submit the feedback in the senate meeting to make the final decision. On that basis, faculty have also reacted and given their feedback.
    We have already discussed this in the last senate, and the final decision will be shortly out. Coming to why 10 tests? A student has to answer 3-4 questions in midsem and 5 questions in endsem. Thus, a total of 8-9 long questions are to be answered. It may so happen that some students may miss few tests. That's why a total of 10 questions was suggested. So in this way, we'll be considering best 8 or 9 out of the 10 tests to publish the results. It was also suggested that the way of conducting these tests is up to the faculty. It can be in two sittings, or in three sittings or in max ten different sittings. If ten tests are conducted, each test should conducted for 15-20 min for only one long question or a set of few questions or a set of 20-30 multiple type quiz questions. Similarly, if two tests are conducted, then each will have four long questions or their equivalent of short/quiz questions. The total number of long questions should be 10 only. Not that there will be ten tests and each will be for one hour consuming full one class time. Indeed, that is not acceptable. Unnecessarily, students got panicked saying that the each out of 10 tests will consume one full class. One test can be conducted in 10-15 mins if it has only one question. If there are 2 questions, then they can devote 20-30mins to it and rest time to teach. All sorts of flexibility were given to the professors and their feedback was asked. Again, it was just my proposal and unnecessarily there was panic among students. There was a clear misunderstanding among students and it was just a backup proposal.

    Where Do Our Contemporaries Stand?

    NIT Rourkela is one of the first institutes in the country to start the process of the online semester. Let us have a glance at some steps taken by other institutes of National importance regarding this.

    Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay)

    1. Instructors may conduct quizzes (typically with low marks weightage), but students must be given the option of taking these quizzes later in the day, in case of network issues during the assigned quiz slot.
    2. The plan for the end-semester exams is to have well-proctored exams at locations across the country. This is to ensure that cheating cannot occur while allowing students to take the exams close to home.

    Source- https://www.insightiitb.org/the-online-semester-takes-off/

    IIT Kharagpur

    IIT Kharagpur has developed an e-Classroom software for Indian academia – DEEKSHAK

    DEEKSHAK

    Director Prof. Virendra K Tewari reportedly said,

    We need platforms addressing challenges faced by India and Deekshak is designed to cater to Indian academia, be it the bandwidth issue, or user interface or storage. We are leaders in ICT and should find affordable solutions with social and commercial value. This is one clear goal I have set for IIT Kharagpur. DEEKSHAK is one step towards that goal through which the teachers would be able to offer more personalized interaction while focusing better on the act of teaching.

    IIT Kanpur

    With the motive of ‘Let there be no barrier to education. Let us join hands and support Online Education.’, IITK has decided to start a fundraising campaign ‘Online Education Support for 600 students raising Rs. 50,000 per student covering Laptop, Broadband connection & accessories, and cloud infrastructural Devices & peripherals, etc. This will make the process of helping the students smoother and more transparent. And their alumni have helped in large numbers and as far 439 students have been benefited.

    NIT Raipur

    1. Online classes are to be conducted on Saturdays in addition to weekdays and preferably four classes per semester per day be engaged wherever possible.
    2. Each class will be of 45 minutes duration and there must be at least 15 minutes gap between two adjacent classes to ease the eye strain to the students. Online classes should be conducted in two halves with a lunch break of one to two hours per day after two to three adjacent classes.
    3. The faculty members must upload their PPTs, recorded lecture, and notes, etc.. on Google Drive (shared with the students) instead of emailing these to each student. The recorded lectures can be shared through ‘YouTube’ as well.

    This has the approval of the competent authority.

    International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT H)

    As per the blog by Prof P. J. Narayanan, Director, IIITH,

    1. Award a W (or Withdraw) grade in place of an F (or Fail) grade for courses. Both serve the same purpose as the student must meet the requirements later. The F grade hurts immediately and later, something we can eliminate at least for this semester.
    2. The three lab-dominated courses will complete only after students return and get to do them physically, perhaps in the fortnight prior to the start of the next semester’s classes. Labs that are primarily computer-based were conducted in the required time and sometimes using a simulator. These are early courses and no graduating student is on any.
    3. Students who couldn’t take part meaningfully in the online phase of the courses – due to poor connectivity, sickness to self or family, etc. – will be evaluated separately whenever it is safe. A combination of alternate evaluation and grading methods will be employed for them with a combination of assignments, projects, oral examinations, reports, etc. They will not be disadvantaged in any manner by this.

    IIT Directors’ Common Report

    As per the IIT directors’ common report, only students who have poor connectivity or may not have access to the internet may be permitted to return to IIT campuses and individual institutes will facilitate their return. “These students will also take the online classes from their hostels."

    “No individual shall be forced to return to campus, he/she shall take relevant safety, quarantine, and safe travel measures, as applicable. Laboratory courses or laboratory component of courses to be deferred to later time maybe Summer 2021, when this may be completed in an intensive two to three-week period," the directors’ common academic agenda report has said.

    A WAY-FORWARD

    Online classes save money and time, provide easy access to classes, study materials, meetings, discussions, and events. Learning at one's own pace with division of time as per one's own requirement between different courses while taking out the remaining time for passion make online classes fit for conventional or modern education, a welcome deviation from the traditional classes where every student with different capabilities has to attend the same class. Still, there are some inevitable issues like network issues, the inefficiency of lab courses that require hands-on experience, unavailability of pre-recorded videos, and data shortage that equipped with robust changes will prove to be a boon. It is the responsibility of both students and the administration to come together and make the mechanism of Online classes more accessible and fruitful for all stakeholders.

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