A Sneak Peek Into Online EXTRA-Academic Activities : PE, NSS And NCC
With the COVID-19 pandemic sprawling across the world and forcing almost everything to virtual mode, there has been a paradigm shift in the way we operate, academia being no different. With students and teachers still having an arduous time adapting to the new normal, NIT Rourkela has indeed been commendable in its approach and implementations. Even extra-academic activities of National Service Scheme (NSS) and Physical Education (PE) have taken the online path, while no student has been allotted National Cadet Corps (NCC) due to quite a few limitations. However, the methodologies are quite different. Dynamic field works have taken the shape of assignments and manuals. 'How efficacious and 'serviceable' these classes are' is the matter at hand today.
Let's look at the various aspects of these classes, and what the students and Professors–in–charge (PICs) have to say.
Note: A survey was conducted by Monday Morning to perceive the students' opinion about the activities being conducted in these classes by sharing a Google Form through limited online platforms and the total number of responses received were 176 from the first-year students. Certain names have accounted to be anonymous for their responses. All references are concerning the Autumn Semester 2020-21 for the first-year students.
‘Old Normal’: Activities if students were on campus
PE, NCC and NSS fall outside the realm of the typical curriculum of the institute. Until last semester, these courses had no credits, but a student had to get satisfactory grades to qualify the subject. All three courses were allocated among the first-year students. One who had PE in the first semester was shifted to NSS in the second semester and vice-versa. The students who were assigned with NCC had to continue it for both the semester.
The students were enthusiastic about the NCC classes and critical about the rules of NCC. From running a two-three round of Dilip Tirkey Stadium (DTS) to performing the drill, from doing the march-past to playing 'Kabbadi' and 'Football', the students enjoyed their classes and utilised it to the fullest.
NSS was rather about creating awareness in divergent ways possible. While some students used to go to some state-run school to teach children, there were those assigned to ensure the cleanliness of a particular area of the institute. Some were also creating awareness about road safety and yoga. These activities used to be quite dynamic and kept the students engaged for the weekend.
Physical education, as the name suggests, involved students playing games, running and exercising in the Dilip Tirkey Stadium (DTS), followed by attendance, once a week. Towards the end of the semester, there used to be an evaluation day. The two-hour session did help the students to break through the monotony and stress of the long class hours.
‘New Normal’: Introducing the online "physical" classes
As the first-year classes for the other subjects started, so did that for extra-academic from mid-December 2020. The students were allotted either one of NSS or PE. There are 618 students in NSS, and on an average, 158 students are divided into 4 groups, and the rest are in PE. No first-year student has been allotted NCC until now, and there are only second and third-year students in NCC. The students will be allotted soon after which the Professor-in-charge will share course materials about the syllabus.
Team Monday Morning contacted Professor-In-Charge, Extra-Academic Activities (PIC, EAA) Prof Debiprasad Priyabrata Acharya questioning the online mode's challenges. He had the following to say,
In general, the practical classes are supposed to be conducted with direct supervision under some mentor/teacher/technical assistant. The objective is to provide a hands-on experience which could not be done in theory classes. This concern is more intense in the extra academic courses like NSS, PE or NCC. For example, the feeling of sharing the wants of a child in a slum can hardly be realized online by an NSS student. The discipline learning in the mass drill of a PE class is very difficult to impart in online mode. The rhythmic movements of legs and hands cannot be experienced if the NCC student is not present physically on the ground. When the objectives are to provide students such feelings and experiences then there would be obvious challenges in the online mode.
A glimpse at the activities being conducted:
NSS-Classes are being conducted every Saturday and Sunday over MS Teams. The time allotted for the class is 9:00 AM -10:00 AM.
For Group-1 and Group-2 NSS students, slide presentations have been made on various social topics and issues,
which are being conferred during the class.
Some specific topics that have been covered till now are as follows,
1. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its importance for a country.
2. Importance of Cleanliness in Society.
3. Road Safety and Management.
4. Growing poverty and population (how population affects the growth of a country)
5. Clean and Green Environment (major steps to be taken)
6. Traffic Signs, Symbols and Rules
On this account, as noted by Prof Manas Ranjan Tripathy, Professor-In-Charge, NSS,
After the presentation of these topics, the students are told to write an article related to the covered topic and they are also made to attempt a quiz and then the answers are discussed after the test. For NSS Backlog students (Group-5), similar presentations are made and they are told to maintain a record which they will submit at the end of the course to PIC-NSS. Every week on Saturdays, the students are told to write an article on the above topics after the presentation. On the next day (Sundays), they are made to attempt a quiz on the same topic.
According to the survey, about 16.5% of the students were convinced that the classes were productive, and the limitations of online mode had not overwhelmed the interaction therein. In contrast, nearly 19.3% found it completely monotonous. Rest of the respondents (majority) had moderate reviews.
PE- Although the classes have not been conducted yet, groups in MS Teams consisting of all the students allotted for PE have been created by Prof. Anant Charan Pradhan, PIC, PE. Manuals relating to Physical Education, like swimming manuals and videos to know the tricks and precautions involved in swimming, are shared on the platform. Similar manuals and instructions relating to trekking, running, Gym, etc. will be shared by the professor for the students to study while they are at home. A separate group in MS Teams has been created for girl students where Prof. Vinita Tiwari will be sending some videos and notes relating to self-defence.
Evaluation criteria for the 'Extra'- academic activities
Being a 1-credit course this time, there is an additional conundrum about the evaluation metric that will be adapted (given that it can be seen as a relatively effortless way to score a credit point!). On being asked whether they were aware of the course's evaluation criteria, approximately 40.3% of the students asserted to know about the same being either based on Assignments, Class Participation/Attendance or Quizzes being conducted. 25% of the students remain completely blank on this subject matter, and an unsurprising 34.7% were not sure of the criteria.
An anonymous opinion about the course being taught as an additional theory subject remarked:
Why do we need to study the theory of Yoga in Yoga management and then give an exam when we are on-campus? It is like an extra subject for which we have to study. Practising yoga would be more productive than studying its theory and then writing an exam.
Insights from Prof DP Acharya regarding the evaluation procedure were recorded. Here’s what he has to say:
Students have to be evaluated based on the regular assignments and their interaction with faculty members which will depict their leadership and interest. But different courses have different means based on the guidelines provided by the respective faculty member.
For PE, Prof. Anant Charan Pradhan cleared the air surrounding the confusion by confirming that he planned on evaluating the students by asking questions based on the materials being shared.
For NSS too, a similar evaluation criterion is being adopted. Prof Manas Ranjan Tripathy said:
The students will be evaluated on the basis of article writing, the quizzes conducted, attendance and the assignments given to them. Mostly this time, it will be based on theoretical knowledge of the students on NSS-aspects.
Does a better solution exist?- Popular remarks
Assessing the survey results, the collective opinion was found that having quizzes and articles to write every week became a bit stressful on the students' part, especially since it has a credit point. Students contest that the activities being conducted are never the objectives of NSS: social service and spreading awareness about environment, peace and education rather than article writing, assignments, questions answers, ppts and slides. NSS is supposed to be something fun and interactive rather than seeming to put an additional burden. Classes once a week for an hour would have been highly appreciated otherwise. Some of the suggestions received on the survey were:
I think the classes should be stopped or should be done only once every week as people have other things to do on weekends, as most are at home and have some responsibilities too especially on weekends. These assignments and quizzes which asking to write 5 essays each of 400 words about the institute campus which none of us has ever seen is pointless. The quizzes as well seem futile since most of the students refer to Google and the knowledge evaporates as soon as the quiz is over.
My suggestion to what can be done- 1.Discuss topics which matter in real-world like the importance of communication skills, upcoming technologies of future, upcoming job markets etc. Rather than just talking about some particular rules and regulations or some particular organization which does this or that. All these may sound great but is of no use if we don't apply them (of course of much less useful if we read slides about them) which we can only do once we are in campus not by sleeping under a blanket in our homes. 2. If you want to inculcate ideas then maybe call an expert and let them give a talk on a topic which matters. 3. I understand NSS is for service to the nation, but service is done practically, not by just reading ideas from slides.
Had this been going on in offline mode we would have been working in rural areas helping the needy which would have been very exiciting. In the online mode, we're asked to do the quiz with some random facts that are of no use to a guy who is not interested in GK. In that time we could give time to other important subjects.
At the same time, the survey recorded mixed opinions with a considerable amount of respondents giving positive reviews about the classes. While some students like Ankit Mishra who has Physical Education as his subject reacts:
Physical means physical, not virtual!
A few students seem well optimistic about the outcomes of these classes;
The classes are going well and fine! The objective of the classes is fulfilled in online mode.
Rupesh Ranjan Mohalik, a part of NSS, says:
The classes are really good and productive.
Most of the students contest that the timing of the classes, which is found to be hectic by few,
The classes are held very early and it is especially difficult for foreign students like me (I have to wake up at 5:30 AM for NSS classes on weekends! And for normal classes, I need to wake up at around 4:30 am. I would at least like to have a good sleep during weekends. since I don’t have a habit of sleeping during the day (afternoon or evening etc).
The popular viewpoint is that these practical classes are better offline and should be conducted on-campus for the objectives of the course to be fulfilled effectively. Trigunaditya Panda, an NSS student, noted-
The classes are going very boring as we have to sit for hours on the weekend mornings, just for the sake of writing assignments. NSS is not something that should be done in a room. It would be better if we do the Real NSS Activities once we come to the college and stop doing this assignment thing.
Hearing all the perplexities, we inquired Prof Debiprasad P Acharya and Prof Manas R Tripathy about the same.
MM: The students' general opinion is that the objective of these classes is not to write articles and complete assignments. The purpose of these courses is not being fulfilled in the online mode, and such assignments are in fact against the essence of such a course. What is your take on this?
Prof Acharya: Yes, I agree. Personally, it is very difficult for a sincere teacher to be satisfied with a practical course running in the online mode. But care is taken to at least make the student familiar with tenets of each course. When the students return to the campus (probably coming semester), they will undergo part–II of the courses where an opportunity of fieldwork can be availed. However, EAA courses create an awareness which students are expected to practice throughout their life. I have seen in the past that students continue to take an interest in different courses of EAA even after their completion. If a good number of students do such a thing, then the purpose of the course will certainly be fulfilled.
Prof Tripathy: In this online platform, the students are made to know about all the workplaces instead of only one in the physical mode. Hence they are having a wide range of ideas and exposed to all the workplaces and the various activities associated with NSS. They are made to know about the various social causes and issues which will help to make their thoughts wide enough and their vision towards the society and give them the required exposure, from which we can expect they will turn out for helping, caring and of course will do the needful for the society. We should not think much about the negative aspects, rather take advantages of this situation to learn the maximum theoretical aspects of the course.
There persist mixed reviews about the online classes of extra-academic activities of physical nature. While some find it going well and fine, a majority of the first-year students were apprehensive about it and thought that the classes are not fulfilling the goal they are supposed to. The limitations abound, students are facing the timing and network issues, and students and PICs unequivocally accept that physical conduction of these classes is much more approved and welcome. The question arises, why to put an additional subject in place when there are so much of deterrents, and the ultimate goal is not achieved. The extra-academic activities are meant to be exciting and lively, and the online way is taking a lot away from its charm.