One year back, we were sitting at home uncertain about how our even semester would end. We can look back with considerable pride and satisfaction with regard to how the lockdown and online mode of learning did not seem to completely stop our academic initiatives and ventures. COVID-19 did destroy our college lives and it is a loss we shall never get back – however those who were prudent and smart enough were able to ensure that the lockdown could turnout to be a blessing in disguise to achieve greater career milestones, intern at universities and companies across the sea and improve their grades in a less distracted and more focused time as well. We have covered 6 factors which have benefited most students during the lockdown and online mode of learning
Many of the students who were asked about their views on how academics as such have changed due to the online platform implemented due to the lockdown said that there were many benefits of the online mode of learning. First and foremost was the point with respect to reviewing lectures whenever one wants which helped ensure any doubts related to a previously held lecture could be easily resolved. Another point commonly stated was how it seemed less stressful on account of greater number of assignments and tests which reduced the weightage of endsems thus alleviating considerable tension and fear which are a staple during the period.
One student said the following when asked about her views on online sem – “Online sem was very different from offline. Honestly watching lecture videos at my own pace really helped and the ability to rewind and re hear lectures helped easy learning. This really helped my GPA rise. I ended up not doing last minute studies for all my subjects but spaced out my learning as I was at home without much to do.”
All in all the key reason why many favoured this approach to learning and testing was on account of easily available resources to learn, ability to watch lectures whenever you liked and learning at a pace which worked for you. When these benefits are coupled with a reduction in stress, it makes sense how GPA could be positively affected. However, this isn’t the case for all as some students have found the lockdown as a period of pure anxiety and fear which has had a detrimental impact on their performance as well. The impact of COVID-19 has affected the mental well being of some students thus preventing holistic growth and focus for them. We can only pray that the terror of COVID-19 ends soon in order to ensure we can return to our lives of normalcy. However ensuring that we record lectures even in offline mode would help us give the benefits of both worlds.
Projects with Professors
We spoke to many students across all the BTech. Branches, and it looks like the number of students working with their professors have increased. Students and professors alike have adapted to the pandemic by restructuring their ideas and projects to allow for theoretical and computational methods to be used. While communication gaps have been present throughout the academic year, professors have been more open to ideas and contributions from BTech students. This bodes well for the students who can get decent research experience from NITk itself, through the year, instead of the usual summer research internships from IITs and IISc. The increasing number of BTech projects supervised by professors would also have been handy for those whose internships were cancelled due to COVID. Building connections with professors during the online year will be quite useful when college restarts. Down the years, the openness of the professors to include BTech students in their research will benefit students a lot, and possibly improve the research atmosphere in NITK with the refreshing ideas from BTech students.
It is no surprise that the number of students who now have comparatively lighter workload due to online semesters have channeled that extra time and resources to engage in various online internships. These cover a wide range of fields from research, technology, business, content creation, art, management, entrepreneurship and more. What’s more – the incentive for companies and professors to offer the same is higher on account of remote work which removes any questions and concerns on logistics and also drives down costs. It has also enabled multiple students from NITK to land internships abroad from silicon valley, germany, switzerland and more with relative ease. With emphasis on research internship, professors are extremely willing to offer research internships in almost any possible discipline of engineering thus proving the sheer might of what can be done through an online medium as well. Multiple research papers have been published by students, online conferences attended and various projects have been completed as a result of the same.
Assignments v Tests
It is a common experience to everyone that the number of assignments have shot up in the last two semesters. With the decrease in weightage of the mid semesters and end semester examinations, professors have decided to give more assignments to fill the gap and judge students.
Ankit Sandeep, Civil 2023, had this to say about the increasing importance of assignments, “The year gone by has quite naturally been very different from my first year in college. While the most noticeable change was the lack of the social setting hostel provides to grow in and learn from, there were many others. Placing a lens on the academic aspect, the sheer volume of tests and assignments shot up drastically. In what was perhaps a measure to ensure the grades are a function of the efforts put in, the number of written assignments, in particular, witnessed a rise between our first and second semesters online despite the repeated requests by the majority of students to reduce the writing workload. A good move by the department was to introduce vivas for all labs in the second semester online, a far more accurate metric than assignments and quizzes to gauge a student’s knowledge of the subject matter.”
Assignments have had tight deadlines and are enormous workloads on the students. Students from almost all departments have asked for slightly more flexible deadlines and reduction in workload. It is very evident that the academic workload this year has been more than that of the years before this. There doesn’t seem to be a solution that fits well for the professors and students yet. Assignments are an indicator of effort rather than knowledge, and seem to unnecessarily burden the students. Tests are prone to cheating and that has been spoken about already, with regards to GPA. However, many courses have had tests and quizzes that are more analytical and thought oriented than memory based. Such tests are more immune to cheating and will test the students well too. Maybe this academic year will change the manner in which evaluations should be thought about?
Btech Lab Courses
Lab courses have transitioned in a way no one could have expected during the online sem. Around a year back it was almost impossible to imagine the idea of online labs. After all, if not for anything else, how could one possibly learn labs online? But over the past one year with the help of Virtual Labs NITK and each of the departments conducting these labs, they have taken place smoothly and without incurring any of the discomforts regarding the temperature which were a staple in the offline mode. Videos are recorded, links provided, manuals shared and simulations are shown in order to reinforce the concepts for us. The simulations in Virtual Labs are very visual and the RT labs help us actually get a live feed of each experiment. These labs retain the submission of important graphs drawn via hand, diagrams and writing down values and calculations to ensure that we do not lapse in terms of understanding the fundamental concepts. The endsems of these labs were all proctored and so designed to test our fundamental learning in the subject and ensure that despite not seeing these experiments in real life we understood how to conduct and perform the experiment or operate the machine or tool to achieve a desired result.
Most postgraduate branches are heavily reliant on labs for their courses. Whilst some of the MTech students could finish their lab courses in the 2-3 months when they were in campus last year, the majority have struggled to complete their courses. The students who need access to paid software have had to use cracked versions which are usually buggy and unreliable. With the recall of students to campus, there was a sudden rush to the labs, which led to many time conflicts, which was worsened by the number of students safely allowed inside the lab. This resulted in most of the labs being operated from morning to night. Due to the sudden changes in modes of communication, the professors and students had a large gap in communications; delay in responses hinders progress in the projects and courses. The professors have been understanding and tried to keep their students at ease. The college could take steps in giving remote access to paid software and try to streamline communication, to at least ease some of the issues the PG students face. The access to labs, however, is a problem that cannot be tackled in this situation.
The pandemic situation forced us to adapt all aspects of our life to different modes and settings, and the academic environment is no different. While, everything might seem dreary currently, looking back at the online year, a few positives can be drawn. A few issues that can be addressed should also be looked at, in case the next year is online. One thing we can all agree about after this year in lockdown is that everyone is itching to go back to college.