Following Up On The Never Ending Online Evaluation Fiasco

Following Up On The Never Ending Online Evaluation Fiasco

Conducted Polls? Yes

Seeking the administration’s clarification? Yes

Provided alternate solutions? Yes

Gave comparative analysis? Yes

SCALES TIPPING? NO

Students poll go unseen. Students' voices aren't heard. And now the icing on the cake, Students don't even get answers.

NIT Rourkela is so much attached to the roots of Indian values that it follows the 'Gurukul system of education even in the era of technology and innovation.

Even though Covid-19 is still at large and is breaking numerous records even to date, the administration has taken the bold step of calling the students of pre-final years back to the campus. The recent wave of Covid-19, which seems to be more dangerous, hasn't been convincing enough for the NITR administration to adopt the online evaluation mode. Be it IITs or NITs, almost all educational institutions have adopted the online mode of evaluation. A more detailed analysis of the essence of online exams can be found here.

CURRENT SCENARIO: SUMMATION OF WHAT-IFS

  • What if a student develops serious symptoms during his time at the campus?
  • What if a 1st or 2nd-year student wants to hone his skills by interning at the workplace of his choice during the Summer vacations? Will the ones be allowed to do so, or is there a clear priority in the administration's eyes between the curriculum and an internship, thereby defeating the very purpose of learning things and implementing them in real life?
  • What if there is a massive spike in the cases in May and June, which has been set as the tentative timeline for Phase-4 students. Is the administration willing to shift the academic year, thereby drastically changing the curriculum and vacation dynamic to hide its sheer unpreparedness in such a dire situation?

When most of the country’s top-tier technical institutes have already been conducting online exams with specialized software and proctoring tools, why is the administration shying away from this? 

These were the questions students asked, and in return, what do they get? Offline and that too scaled up exams- levelling up the mental stress to a whole new level.

THE LONG-AWAITED NOTICE

On 10th March 2021, a notice informing the end-semester examinations' mode was circulated, which stated that "3rd-year BTech, 3rd-year BArch, 3rd-year dual degree, 3rd &4th-year Int. MSc., 1st-year MSc/MA/MBA will be allowed to return to the campus by 30th March 2021 for attending practical classes and end-sem examinations in offline mode.

Those students who cannot report to the campus for practical classes/examinations will be allowed to sit in a special practical class/examination during Winter-2021 or Summer-2022."

For other years, the earlier circular dated 15th February continues to remain valid until further order.

CONUNDRUMS ABOUT THE NOTICE

On 15 Feb, a similar notice had been circulated, but on 21 Feb, another circular put students' returns on hold. On 22 Feb, Monday Morning published an article where Dean Academics Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel had given clarifications on why the return of students was suddenly put on hold:

The behaviour of the COVID-19 virus is quite unpredictive in nature. When we circulated the notice on Monday, we felt that the situation was improving and we could call back our students. Moreover, the state government had permitted to open all the educational institutions. Hence, we felt that we could take the risk and call back all the students in a phased manner.
But with the origin of the new strain and sudden surge in the number of cases of covid-19 in some states like Maharashtra and Kerela, we had to take this decision. Moreover, we don't have any testing facility in Rourkela, and if any unprecedented situation happens, we will be having a lot of difficulties.

However, has a lot changed from then to now in the sudden surge? The answer to that is a yawning NO.

The Senate's alternative for the pre-final years who didn't want to return to campus seems to be a method used to coerce students into returning to campus. If students will give their exams in Winter 2021 or Summer 2022, then what about their placements? Will any company allow them to sit for placements with just a four-semester grade card?.

In the survey conducted amongst pre-final years by Monday Morning, the reality of this alternative was completely exposed. With only 3% of students considering this as a legitimate option, we are left to wonder about the amount of thought put behind this decision?

In all probability, however, rising above ‘conventional exam practices’ or ‘innovate modes of learning is a goal far-fetched considering the pandemic alone didn’t suffice.

A lot of the students were apprehensive returning to the campus, as,

  1. The healthcare facilities at Rourkela seemed appalling.
  2. The sharp rise in Covid cases is a big concern, especially when students return from high-risk states like Kerela and Maharashtra.
  3. An objective question seeking someone's consent on something should have two answers: Yes or No (See the image below).
  4. There are no feasible alternatives if there is a severe outbreak inside the campus, resulting in an academic year delay, thereby hampering the placements.

CONSENT? NOT SO MUCH

In the land of exceptions and expectations, the Google form circulated by the administration seeking information about a student's date and time of return surprisingly didn't have a ‘no’ option to the section demanding a student's declaration and the parental consent regarding the risk of returning to the campus and adhering to the guidelines.

If asking about consent only means “yes”, then probably coercion is real. This left many students worried, as it can be naturally deduced from the above peculiarity that the institute isn't willing to take responsibility if things go south. The category of students who weren't willing to return due to the spike in cases was left with no choice as missing the current schedule of exams meant sitting for a ‘Special Exam.’

The institute has offered minimal clarity except for a tentative timeline. A similar notice was circulated in which there was a mention of a re-examination for those unsatisfied with the even Semester results of the past year. Clarifications are still awaited on those pending Special Provision Exams. 

ADMINISTRATION'S RESPONSE

The following section contains all the administration responses when enquired why online mode was not preferred as the mode of examination where the nation's reputed institutions have adopted the new normal mode of conducting exams.

Most of the administrative side answers have been vague, which has surely posed many questions on transparency. Talking of transparency, Senate meeting minutes, which generally are published within a few days after the meeting, were last updated on the Institute website in January 2019, raising serious concerns in the institution’s stakeholders’ minds.

Following the confidentiality trend, and the respective Dean’s response-“No comments. It’s a senate decision.” bigger questions on weighing both health and academics remain dicey. Why can’t reasons which were discussed to disregard online exams in the senate be made public? 

Questions were also raised on the role of the student senate representatives.

Why didn’t they conduct a widespread poll amongst pre-final years before the senate meeting? What was the sample size of their interactions with pre-final years before they went ahead to represent them in the senate? Inspite of popular vote (not of outdated polls) alternative of exams in winter or summer were still passed, why didn’t they oppose it strongly?

Regardless, let us look at some of the responses that we have previously got against online exams from the administration:

DEAN ACADEMICS (DEAN Ac)

Team Monday Morning had approached Dean Ac. Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel to know the exam conduction mode after the circular on 15th February 2021. Prof. Patel said that it was the Senate's decision and refused to comment on why it was taken. The link to the article can be found here.

REGISTRAR

A fortnight ago, Team MM enquired the Honourable Registrar of the institute, Prof. Pradip Kumar Das, about why the administration was reluctant to conduct the semester exams via online mode. This is what he quoted -

Frankly speaking, everyone knows that the evaluation procedure is not effective.

A certain guideline by the Supreme Court states that if a minimum percentage of a particular degree is not evaluated offline, it would not be recognised. Hence, we don't want such a situation to arise for our students.

The link to the article can be found here.

ASSOCIATE DEAN ACADEMICS

The Senate finally, on the 10th March 2021, published a notice which stated that pre-final year students must reach the campus by the end of March. Team MM to get further clarifications, tried to contact Associate Dean Academics Prof. Nihar Ranjan Mishra. Despite repeated requests for an interview via multiple channels, Associate Dean Academics Prof. Mishra had to reschedule the call citing engagements.  

WAY FORWARD: LUCK FAVOURS THE BRAVE

Is there any way forward to this? With these health concerns, there is immense responsibility on all the campus residents to make sure the semester finishes without extending it. They are expected to follow the Standard Operating Procedures to prevent NIT Rourkela from becoming another containment zone like the Manipal Institute of Technology or be the unwanted centre of attraction like VSSUT Burla. Furthermore, there is little to nil backup plan. 

Having no legitimate alternative yet (because modalities, a year of planning didn’t allow), the students will return to campus and are returning as we speak. Regardless, our message to the student community is simple: The administration has already taken our consent with the “Yes” in the google form. The safest option for us is to follow the guidelines and ‘hope’ for the best ‘strictly’. 

But

in the end, it doesn’t even matter...

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No article or any statements by Monday Morning is to be reproduced, presented or distributed in part or whole without prior permission of the Executive Body of Monday Morning for any purposes, including, but not limited to print and electronic form.



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