How is IIT Kharagpur tackling learning and assessments amidst COVID-19 in 2020?

After the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll, most of the educational institutes were sealed off and physical interactions between the faculty and students literally vanished. The IITs were no exception. A digital framework for classroom interactions is a short-term solution that several institutions adopted — however, it showed a lot of drawbacks as times progressed. Amidst a prolonged lockdown schedule, IIT Kharagpur finally took its stand nearing the end of May, 2020.

IIT Kharagpur Main Campus (Source: Pinterest)

IIT Kharagpur announced that term-end exams would not be taken and results of students would be determined on mid-term exams and several continued internal assessments. The decision was taken following the discussions during the Senate meeting and subsequent feedback received from the students’ council. A committee was even formed to decide on the rules and marking schemes. Though this procedure gives a viable solution to the inability of students to access the campus of IIT KGP, there are a few drawbacks. Continued internal assessments might be a little fast-paced for some students as they take subsequently more time in understanding concepts and practice to apply them. Added on that, if any particular faculty is relatively inexperienced, short modules of teaching might prove detrimental to fundamental understanding of some students. Results of internal assessments are solely decided by the teachers and/or examiners, who might want to produce only positive results for benefit(s) in staff circle, hence internal examinations are prone to bias. Having a jury of faculty analyzing exams, internal exams mostly have a limited circle of analysts, hence it is prone to favouritism and bias to some extent. Internal assessments might also lead to unnoticed plagiarism by students on their part, since they mostly have internet connections at home — which can lead to them not realizing concepts on their own and not applying them on their own. Hence, the natural learning process of students might get corrupted through internal assessments. Even though marking schemes are being decided by a committee, internal examination always give more loopholes for analysis bias too.

Online classes are being held by IIT KGP (Source: The KGP Chronicle)

Online classes are also causing a heavy disruption in the normal lives of students in all educational institutions, even IIT Kharagpur. Online classes genuinely are taking a lot more time for students to realize than normal classes as they are rarely learning through hands-on experience, even though exams in online mode are becoming faster for students. Students also believe that shifting education online has lowered the bar of quality of education. For example, according to Globe News Wire, 62% students and 76% faculty and academic librarians believe that the adjustments universities and institutes made to move teaching online have had a negative impact on education quality, according to a poll taken by OCUFA amongst 2,700 Ontario students. Also, real-time interaction is rarely being entertained as has been highlighted by a pan-IIT Survey, steered by IIT Dharwad and Jammu, in association with Cornell University, taken from 5th May 2020 to 25th May 2020, where about 60% of the instructors felt that lack of real-time interaction is the biggest issue in online education. In the similar lines, about 50% of the students were surveyed to be unable to ask real-time questions due to technology limitation/lack of knowledge to use the options to raise-hand. Preparedness is even a big issue for the faculty of institutions, like in the previous survey, about 74% of the faculty members raised concerns of not having any prior experience of conducting fully online courses. Other 26% faculty members had given courses in NPTEL/SWAYAM.

Only 26% faculty members had given courses in NPTEL/SWAYAM.

One of the biggest issues in online learning and teaching is the issue of connectivity. India is a vast country with different areas having different amounts of facilities. IIT Kharagpur is such an institutions where diversity is eminent, hence not all students can be expected to have stable connectivity in a country that has not yet turned fully digital. Seamless connectivity is a big necessity for online classes. The same pan-IIT survey responses show that only about 20% of the students had stable internet connection for most of the time. About 80% of the students used mobile data from 3 service providers, namely, Jio, Airtel and Vodafone, which provide them with 3G/4G services, which seem to be unstable in many ways, for online classes. Even many students did not have prior experience with handling devices for online classes — only about 62% of the students had used laptops/desktops, and about 56% had used smartphones (with about 23% using both). These data show how less viable an option online classes are, before converting India into a wholly digital arena with mammoth digital connections. In many cases, institutions have also complained of increased number of fraud and cheating cases in case of assessments taken online, as in such a situation, it is easier to trick invigilators from the comfort of their homes. Hence, it is directly hampering growth of students.

India being a vast country, is not fully equipped with digital media as of now. (Source: The Statesman)

Much has been talked in detail, about online classes, online examinations and their disadvantages but can students genuinely go about with physical examinations? In a country like India which secures one of the top ranks in COVID-19 active cases, students are at a huge risk if they go for physical modes of assessment. Exams are important but not necessarily more important that students’ lives. Transportation is even a big issue as major transports are still sparsely activated and with utmost health security. The problem can only be managed if all necessary precautions and safety measures are adopted by assessing bodies and the students at large.

There can be solutions to a lot of problems posed by online learning and assessments. Classes can be made more interactive with a single teacher giving lecture and assistant teachers answering questions in chat boxes, which can even make it more efficient. More animation and graphic arts must be introduced to make-up for the absence of hands-on learning. Virtual Labs can be constructed to let students do projects. Timed questions can be given in online assessments, to ensure no fraud. Also, screen-locking can be used for the same. Though online learning poses many problems, it is supposedly the best option at the moment to replace physical learning amidst pandemic. With minor developments, they can be made even better.

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Spandan Mallick

Spandan Mallick

An active astronomy enthusiast. Pursuing B.E in Electronics