Decoding The Senate's Examination Anagram With Prof. KK Mahapatra
The beginning days of November astonished us with the unconventional dates of closing of the Autumn Semester and commencement of the Spring Semester 2020-21. Examinations got their deserved mention around mid-November. “There would be no continuous evaluation to compensate for mid/end sem examination. The end sem examination shall be conducted in traditional mode”, read the official circular. This left the students divided, with conflicting viewpoints but with a common perplexity- What next?
Team Monday Morning got an opportunity to meet (virtually) the Chairman of the committee set up by the Senate for making guidelines regarding examinations, Prof. Kamalakanta Mahapatra, and listen to the perspective of the committee while deliberating on the pertinent issue.
The following is the excerpt:
Monday Morning (MM): Autumn Semester 2020-21 came to an abrupt end, and given the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic, NIT Rourkela has indeed done a good job, but there is still too much conundrum about the examination. What were the proposals the committee came up with?
Prof Kamalakanta Mahapatra (KKM): As a committee appointed by the Senate to make provisions for examination, after discussions and deliberations, we sent our report to the Senate and left it upon them to further take the decisions. The Senate came up with the resolution that was circulated to you by the Registrar, ascribing that the examinations can be held only in physical mode, and once the students return to the campus.
MM: What are the problems associated with the conduction of examination online? Many national institutions like IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi are conducting online exams. Is there a way we can take lessons from them and if not for everyone then at least for the final year students?
Prof. KKM: Seeing the student size of the institute and the varied demographics of the students, it is not feasible for us to conduct online examinations. I personally faced many issues and heard many complains last semester about students being not able to connect to the classes properly, let alone appear for the tests. India doesn’t have very stable internet connectivity throughout the length and width of the country. Moreover, to check ill means that can be adopted by the students while appearing for the examinations is almost an impossible task.
By this, I don’t mean to say that the students are not good; but out of the 100%, 2-3% of students may resort to unfair means for the examinations.
There was also a discussion in the senate regarding non-availability of books with the students. Also, a student needs to have at least two devices for appearing for exams, which may not be possible for some students. Taking all these points into consideration, we decided against online exams.
Regarding the conduction of online exams by IITs, we must understand that dynamics are different for every institute. They have conducted the online examination in JEE pattern. If we take the step, there will still be many students who would not be able to reach the centres, although our job gets simpler. And if the students can’t come down to maybe another city for the exam, or doesn’t find a place to stay and sustain for almost ten days there, we don’t have any other solution thereafter.
MM: If the authority is waiting for an offline examination, how can the examinations of two semesters be done together efficiently and will it happen back to back?
Prof. KKM: We are witnessing now that the COVID-19 pandemic is receding and thus we expect the institute to open by April first week. And once the students are back to the campus, we plan to begin the examinations for odd semesters by mid- April that will wind-up by around 25th April, then again a gap of fifteen days, and the examination for even semesters to begin around May 10th, thereby giving the students breaks for preparation too. However, this schedule is tentative and my personal prediction, the PIC Examination will take the final decision.
MM: Has there been any plan approved on the examination schedule for the freshers, seeing that it's an extraordinary time for the semester to begin?
Prof. KKM: For the freshers, the senate has not taken any decision yet. However, we would like to wind up both the semesters by the end of July so that the third semester can start on time. For faster completion of the semester, there can be extra classes on Saturdays. We intend to maintain the regularity across the semesters.
MM: Are there plans for results based on tests and assignments, essentially via continuous evaluation like in IIT KGP and IIT BHU for the previous sem or the next sem? If not, what are the problems associated with Continuous evaluation?
Prof. KKM: Some IITs are taking 15 students at a time for a single invigilator, which is quite impossible in our part. It isn't easy on the part of the invigilator to keep an eye on the 15 students through the PC screen. The primary problem is that our country is not prepared like some of the western countries to tackle these situations. Also, many students are complaining that they are not even able to attend regular classes, eventually missing out the lectures.
MM: There ought to be an impact on internships and FTEs, basically for pre-final years and final years which would start from May and what are the plans to manage those with two end-semesters in the pipeline?
Prof. KKM: The number of internships has come down this year. I think only 30% of the students can manage such internships, but that can also be done if we reduce the duration of Short Term Industrial/Research Experience (SIRE) from 8 weeks to 4 weeks. If a student is at the end of the 6th semester, then he/she can continue the remaining part of the internship in the next December. We have already stated that these students can take up their internships in IITs and other NITs through virtual mode. Also, many companies have shut down their internships programs due to the pandemic. So, there should not be a significant issue regarding internships.
There is a pandemic going on, a scenario where the Indian economy has gone down, the institute is closed. With all these troubles, if you say that everything needs to be done the way it used to earlier, then that is very difficult, yet we are trying our best.
However, if a particular student missed out a specific company, that cannot be individually taken care of by changing the rules for the entire institute.
MM: If the TA marks would still be of 20% weightage, will the students have to give examination for 80 marks, or some other ways are being drawn?
Prof. KKM: This won’t be an extraordinary practice as this scenario arises when students come late to the campus, particularly the freshers. Usually, the time duration is 3 hours. Still, if we find difficulties because of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the government mentioning the social distancing of 6 ft, then we may have to reduce the duration to 2 hours. So, the students have to wait for a few more days for the things to be clear.
MM: As of now, the practical classes of many departments are not conducted. So, how's the administration planning to compensate the same along with the two end-sem?
Prof. KKM: Computer-based labs are possible to conduct, but again in case that requires specific software that may be difficult to access (even with VPN), that being a very tough task. Meanwhile, conducting the hardware labs seems next to impossible. Even the thought of shifting these practical courses to somewhere else and waiting for the students to accomplish it physically may not sound viable. Here a lot of things depend on "Ifs-And-Buts." Let us hope for the best. If the students can come back to the campus as early as possible, then things would be better.
MM: This pandemic is turning unceasing day-by-day. In case, if the institution is unable to conduct the physical examination even for the 2020-21 session, then how will the evaluation be done?
Prof. KKM: In case such a situation arises, the institute has to take a different call. Right now, the issued guidelines are tentative, framed by keeping in view the best-case scenario. Maybe, we can examine the students at some exam centres across some cities. A considerable number of students have lamented about the network issues, which would bar them from appearing for the online examination. We have started calling the MTech final years back to campus, and we are planning to callback the final years across all the programmes as early as possible.
MM: When are you planning to conduct the alternative end-sem exam for those not satisfied with their spring 2019-20 results?
Prof. KKM: I don't remember exactly, but if it was decided, then the exam may be conducted, but most students got better grades than expected, and the benefit of the doubt was in the student's favour.
MM: Finally, given the uncertain times, what would be your final comment for students on the upcoming evaluation scenario?
Prof. KKM: For now, be assured that the professors will take decisions keeping in mind the best interest of the students. One of our prime objectives is that the final years of all the programmes should graduate on time, and another is to keep the semesters regular. We are trying our best, irrespective of all the constraints present in the way.
Team MM wishes Prof. KK Mahapatra very best for his future endeavours and believes that the institute administration will come up with the best plans for the examinations in these tough times.