Unravelling the Academic Ambiguities: Dean Academic Speaks
The pandemic had prompted everyone to move on with the new normal- online classes. However, with discoveries every day and other colleges transitioning back to the ‘old normal’ and calling the students back in recent days, many questions have been unanswered for the students and the professors. Examination patterns, examination dates, and plans for returning to the institute are all up in the air with the continuation of this online semester. Team Monday Morning recently had a tete-a-tete with the newly appointed Dean Academics (Ac) of the National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, Prof. Susmita Mishra, to clear up all the doubts, know her views on the current issues prevailing in the institute and her immediate plan of actions.
Here is an excerpt from the interview.
Monday Morning (MM): How has your experience as the Dean Academics been so far? What are your visions for the upcoming academic year?
Dean Academics (Ac): I started my tenure as Dean Academics on the 1st of July, 2021. Before beginning the journey as Dean Academics, I was responsible as PIC (Person In Charge) - Examinations. The examinations continued when I joined as Dean Academics. Another set of assessments - the autumn semester was yet to end. So, in the initial stages, I was busy with the completion of examinations. After the results were declared, the supplementary tests and some grade changes were still pending, which are currently being evaluated.
As per the regulations of the supplementary examinations, we had to address some fundamental issues. Some of the students have a grade back. We have to look into the matter for each case. I was intially busy resolving all the cases related to these domains.
Then the next plan of action was bringing the students back, so we started with the PhD students. They are the most vital part of our institute right now because they are receiving a stipend. They are constrained to finish their project work in 5 years but, they have spent one and a half years at home while drawing the salary. They cannot complete their project work unless they complete their research here at the laboratories. So, we prioritised and brought them back gradually. All the PhD students, excluding those who have joined in 2021, have been called to campus.
The batch of 2021 also needs to do their coursework. We have contacted the M.Tech 2nd-year students because they also have to do all the project work required in the final year. Their recruitment is also dependent on this project work because they are only doing their coursework for one year, and the most vital part is the project experience they gain. The Associate Dean Academics, Prof Nihar Ranjan Mishra, had dispersed the google forms on 15th September 2021 to those willing to come back to campus from 17th September 2021 onwards for the 1st phase; the 2nd phase will begin after Puja Vacations. Then, the M.Sc., Integrated M.Sc, and Dual Degree final year students will be prioritised after the PhD students return. Only after that will the final-year B.Tech students be given priority. We have currently 400 rooms, and according to the consent we have received, everyone can be accommodated in one go, as the quarantine period has also been reduced to 7 days.
Now that the academic year has started, the senate has decided that both mid-term and end-term examinations will be conducted. Since the CCMT (Centralized Counselling for M.Tech.) continues, the M.Tech students' admissions have not finished yet. If we fix the mid-semester examinations as we used to do earlier (before the puja vacations), it will not do justice to the students as they will hardly have had any classes. So, we are planning to have the examinations after the puja holidays. This is not a vision, but these are the things that we have discussed very recently.
MM: When will the grades changes be completed?
Dean Ac: It is almost done. Only a few cases are left. In addition to that, there have also been a few termination cases as per the institute’s rules. Still, we have asked the students if they want to stay back and improve their grades; they have to ensure they can do it, and we will allow them with parental consent. They will be penalised for at least one semester, and that shall differ from case to case. Examination of each case is still going on because many students from the first year do not know if they have already left the institute or are a part of the institute but are not doing well. For the latter case, they have been given a chance to repeat the first year. We think a lot of them have either left the institute or have something else in their mind.
We have also observed similar cases among the M.Tech second-year students. The first year after they joined, they might have applied to another institute for a job, and they might have left soon after joining, which would explain their very low CGPA. We understood that these people had not been continuing with the institute. As a result, 70 students were terminated, and 5 or 6 approached us for reconsideration. All these cases took us time to examine.
MM: How will the academic calendar be structured for this year?
Dean Ac: As of now, the classes for UG students have started except for the first years. We are yet to decide when the classes for the first years will begin as the JEE Advanced is yet to be over. However, if it all goes according to our predictions, we expect them by the end of November. Nevertheless, for the other students, we are going along with the academic calendar like the pre-pandemic years.
First, the autumn semester will end then the spring semester will begin. We will have the mid-semester examinations in between and then end-semester examinations at the end that will start by the 4th of December and end by the 12th of December. And then, on January 1st, we will start the Spring semester. We still don’t know what will be the case for the first years, but it will undoubtedly be different from the others and will not be possible to have the same as the other year students.
MM: What will be the exact number of working days in both semesters?
Dean Ac: The classes for UG students started on the 23rd of August and will end on the 12th of December, including the mid-semester examinations and end-semester examinations; it will add up to 72 working days.
The logic behind it is that- all professors are teaching mostly through slides while conducting the classes online. On the blackboard, it takes some time to draw, write the equations, and explain. The classes that are held for 45 to 50 minutes in offline mode can be completed in half an hour or so in online classes. That is why there is a lesser number of working days this semester.
MM: How will the mid-semester exams be conducted for this year? Will it be offline for the students in the institute/ final year students?
Dean Ac: The Mid-Semester Examinations will be online for everyone whether they come back to the institute or not. We can not have separate exams for separate groups of students. We have called the students back to complete their experimental works and not for their examinations. We still need to maintain the COVID guidelines so we cannot allocate students to an examination hall. We also cannot risk the faculty and staff being exposed to different students, so; it will be demanding. Things may change in the future, but for now, we don’t have any such plans.
MM: How are the End-semester examinations planned for this year?
Dean Ac: So far, the decision is that the end-semester examinations will be conducted online this year. We do not have a hostel with a thousand or so occupancy, as the SD Hall of Residence has been handed over to our Rourkela municipality to use as a quarantine centre. We cannot call our final year students until we get it back because we do not have enough rooms to accommodate them.
First and foremost, we need to follow the COVID guidelines from the Government of India that states that we have to quarantine everyone for a minimum of 7 days or more depending on the situation, but, as stated earlier, there is a shortage of rooms on our campus. Our COVID committee chairman is already discussing with the local authorities, and they have also promised to return the hostels soon.
MM: Considering the situation from the last time, this will be an arduous task for the administration to call back the students. What are your views on this?
Dean Ac: Yes, that is true, but the institute is bound to bring the students back as our institute only provides classes in the online forum now. We also want the students’ personalities to grow, and that will not be possible if the students only stay at home. The students need to interact with other students and faculty, which will develop their perceptions and attitudes. We also want the students to come back to the campus. Students may or may not be listening to the professors, and we wouldn’t know. At times, the professors also feel bad when the students do not interact with them. That is neither the students’ fault nor the professors’. It is just what the situation has forced us upon, and we need to cope up with it.
We are also aware that IIT Bhubaneshwar has called the second-year students back to conduct the experiments, and they can do so as they have two new hostels far away from the town with single-seater rooms to manage them. For us, it will be pretty tricky but, nothing is impossible.
MM: The LA-II complex is equipped with state of the art infrastructure and has all the provisions for professors to impart lectures. Why has it not been used extensively till now for taking classes online?
Dean Ac: This is an administrative issue. The room is available, but we don’t have furniture. However, we have planned for a few rooms to be equipped. We have all the digital things there, but the AC is not fixed. It is not well ventilated, so it is not being used for classes in the present situation. In the initial stages when we had online classes, our faculty shifted there to take some classes, and they were drenched in sweat because there was no ventilation, and it was tough to conduct classes from there. Since the students are not there, the administration is also not feeling that pressure.
Many other factors also play a big role here. Financially also, the central government has not yet sent the initially sanctioned amount, maybe due to the covid scenario. I am not very sure about it so due to certain factors, things are going gradually, not very fast. So maybe if the students come back, they will be pressurized to do everything in one go. But, getting central AC in that part is very important and without it, it will be very difficult to have classes there.
Modes of Evaluation
MM: How will the evaluations for the semester be conducted? Have you considered conducting exams in any other formats this year in case the exams have to be completed online this semester as well?
Dean Ac: In the last senate meeting, we discussed this issue because almost everyone had given their exams online, in the quiz format. A few students faced some troubles because the response sheet could not reach the faculty on time, or due to some technical issues, they could not submit their response sheet on time. Because of these issues, we have decided that we will not be sticking to only one mode of examination forum like the quiz. There will be different modes like short type questions or maybe some long questions, adhering to both. The faculty has been given the flexibility. If any student faces an issue, they have to consider the other mode as well. This is the outcome we have had from the previous examinations.
We did not have the time to discuss the earlier tests because we had the autumn semester exams immediately after the spring semester. So there were hardly 15-20 days left, so there was no scope to modify for the further exams. Now we have had a few discussions regarding this issue, and the Senate has taken such a decision.
MM: The online semester exams conducted via MS Teams at the end of last academic year saw many problems in some aspects. Will the administration go for some logistical changes to ensure the smooth conduction of exams?
Dean Ac: Although there are such softwares in the market, none can assure a full-proof examination. It may be possible for objective questions as a certain number of questions might be different or shuffled. However, for other modes of tests, the issues will remain the same or, at most, a 5% to 10% decrease in the number of cases. Still, it won’t serve the purpose.
We have also observed that if we set the questions and instructions in a certain way, the students won’t be able to use unfair means, and we have seen its results in the final scores of the students as well. For some faculties, even if the exams were conducted online, the students could not score good marks owing to the format of questions they had set. Students could only answer the questions if they had understood the fundamentals of the topics properly.
Anyway, the teachers are also trying to do justice to what they have taught in the class and how the students can do well in the examination. I hope we are not going for new software and stick to whatever we have been using. The only thing is we won’t be sticking to the quiz as our mode of examination.
MM: As we have classes in online mode, can we expect any relaxation in the attendance?
Dean Ac: Yes, attendance will not be an issue. I don’t know about the intricate details but, there have been no discussions on reviving the attendance system. We understand that many students may stay in remote areas, cannot connect online, and go through recorded lectures. I cannot say for sure as it hasn’t been discussed yet, but it shouldn’t be an issue.
Yes, some faculties may have considered attendance as a factor for TA marks and that, we cannot control. But, students won’t have grade-back due to attendance shortage. That won’t be an issue.
MM: Considering the MITACS Internship, NITR has not been eligible for the last two years, even when similar institutions have been a part of the program. This year, almost all the NITs and even NIST Rourkela were eligible for the internship except for NIT Rourkela. Can the institute ensure that they will do something to ensure that students of NIT Rourkela qualify for this internship?
Dean Ac: It’s too early for me to comment on the matter because I have recently started my tenure, and I am unclear about the eligibility criteria. But as the issue has been raised, I will look into it.
MM: How has the reception to SWAYAM and NPTEL courses been? How many students opted for these courses?
Dean Ac: Most of the matters regarding UG/PG courses are taken care of by Prof. Nihar Mishra. But, concerning PhD students, some already have taken up the SWAYAM courses, and we have allowed them to appear for examinations there from the following registration. If they have similar equivalent courses, they will be exempted from appearing in the institute’s examination. But regarding UG/PG courses, I have very little knowledge regarding it. I know that some departments have given preferred courses but, I don’t know the intricate details.
Six-Month Internship Programs
MM: What is the current status of the 6-month internship programs for MTECH students? When can we expect it to be implemented, and will it be the same for all courses?
Dean Ac: Regarding the six-month internship, we already had a meeting, and we had said the students could go for an independent final year project as a one time measure. But, our senate turned that down. The Senate disagrees with the word independent and thinks that word should be deleted. As a result, the Senate now says that they can do final year projects and each semester they can do different projects, and for that, regulation needs to be changed because the regulation states that the project needs to continue. Still, we need to change it so that the project does not need to continue like one major project for a two-semester duration or two minor projects with different topics for a one-semester period. The amendments have come out, but it’s not mentioned, but the regulation needs to be changed and further debated.
If a student is going for an internship, the guide has to agree with whomever the student has been allotted. Then, the guide should decide that whatever the student is doing should in some way help the project. They might re-evaluate the student too because whatever internship one does might not be academically satisfactory. But for this set of students, the Senate has allowed.
MM: Will a separate committee be established to change the curriculum structure to accommodate the fast-paced courses so that B.Tech students may take the six-month internships in the upcoming years?
Dean Ac: Such a provision is already there for the B. Tech students. Students with a CGPA of more than 8.0 can take up extra courses and complete all the systems in the eighth semester by the seventh semester. In the eighth semester, they are only left with their project works and thus, they can go for internships. Such a provision is already there in our curriculum. Accordingly, all electives are placed in the final semester.
MM: For which batch has this been implemented?
Dean Ac: Everyone is eligible for this. Since the beginning, I think this has been the case, but I am unsure about the issue after joining. But before, such a provision was there. I clearly remember that we had allowed some of the students in our department to do so long back. I don’t know why it should be discontinued as we have no precise information on it concluding. A New Education Policy (NEP) will be introduced perhaps as soon as the coming semester. In this policy, there will be much more flexibility. So, in that case, the students may not have an issue with these things.
MM: For registration in these fast pace courses, who do we have to communicate with?
Dean Ac: During the registration for the courses, one can tell their respective faculty advisors and Assistant Registrar Academic. They know about the regulations and provided the student consistently has the required CGPA, they will allow you to take an extra theory course each semester before the eighth semester. One can also choose to take a SWAYAM course so that one class can be taken up outside of the institute as well. And as a result, you won’t have any theory courses left for the final year. This is also a significant reason why there are only elective courses in the final semester.
MM: Owing to the pandemic, there was a relaxation in SIRE for the concerned students. Will the same provision be followed this year?
Dean Ac: Yes, there will be relaxation provided to all the pre-final year students who could not pursue their internships owing to the pandemic, just like last year.
New Education Policy
MM: Could you tell us something about the New Education Policy? How will it be implemented? Will everything in the policy be implemented?
Dean Ac: I am not involved in the committee. It was set up when Prof. S. K. Patel was there. Prof. Nihar Mishra is a member of the committee. Anyway, I don’t think everything can be implemented because every institute has its own set of pros and cons. They will also look into the availability of services in the institute and other aspects as well. For example, the NEP says that one has to give each department several training programs. Still, we can only provide it if the facilities or related workshops are present in our institute. So, we definitely cannot implement everything but, we will try to implement whatever is possible from what Prof. Nihar has said, many meetings have already been conducted on the NEP, which is in the final stage. After that, it will be sent to the Senate for further considerations and approval, and only then will it be implemented.
Direct PhD Programme
MM: What is the current situation regarding the Direct PhD program, considering that previous dean academics (SK Patel sir) had assured in an interview that he would make arrangements last year?
Dean Ac: This has been made possible. Direct PhDs are allowed, but the stipend is an issue. In IITs, students with more than 8.5 CGPA can directly take admission in any IIT’s PhD programs, but I’m unsure about the pay. In NIT, we are allowed students with a B.Tech, but there we have increased the coursework. After M.Tech, they have a minimum of 18 credits, but for a direct PhD, after B.Tech, they have to take 24 to 28 credit courses. That was the only difference. If you take admission via GATE, you will be eligible for stipend.
MM: What is our preferred mode for communication with the student community? Do you plan on initiating a more accessible way of communication like telegram, which will make it more convenient for everyone?
Dean Ac: You can contact me over mail. I would prefer if you mail me, I would respond. Every faculty has a way of communicating, and I’m okay with the email correspondence. If at all there will be an urgency, you can call me as well.
MM: What message would you like to give to the students?
I would request the students to have a little patience. Staying at home might have gotten boring now but I hope that they don’t feel disturbed. Today’s young generation is very vibrant, and they do not want to be stuck within the same four walls. But, the situation doesn’t allow us to have all the flexibility which we wish to have. I hope after the pooja vacations things change and soon all the students will be asked to return to campus.
Team MM wishes Dean Ac, Prof. Sushmita Mishra all the best for all her ventures for the upcoming year.