Changing with the times

 

Aslamah Rahman describes the recent curriculum changes passed by the IIT Madras Senate and discusses how it would benefit the students. Note, however, that these changes will be effective from the incoming batch of 2015 onwards.

 

With a view to provide a flexible learning environment to the students, in September 2014, a task force was created to examine the undergraduate curriculum at IIT Madras and suggest reforms to be in line with the IIT Madras, Strategic Plan 2020. The motive behind the initiative was to evolve a broad framework for the B. Tech/Dual Degree programs, so that individual departments could formulate the curricula for their students.

After several months of surveys, deliberations and reviews, the task force prepared a report, comprising of the recommendations and their rationale. A renewed curricular framework was proposed, along with a detailed report comparing it with institutions worldwide. The new system provides a flexible framework to the students and gives them greater freedom to pursue their interests as only about 50% of the credits have to be specific to their major stream.

The following changes were proposed to the existing curricular framework: To allow effective communication about course requirements and to enable transfer of credits across institutions, a refined credit system was proposed. Considering that every student is expected to put in about 2 hours of effort outside the classroom for every 1 hour of classroom work, a 9 credit course will now involve 3 hours of lectures and 6 hours of effort outside the classroom. Under this system, the courses which were traditionally 3 credit courses will now carry 9 credits while 4 credit courses would carry 10 credits with an extra hour of tutorial sessions. Each 2.5 hour laboratory session will be awarded 3 credits and 1 credit-hour tutorial class will be awarded 1 credit. In any given semester, no student shall be required to register for more than 60 credits.

Every semester, the number of courses will now be limited to five theory and two laboratories, owing to the fact that student load also depends greatly on the number of courses apart from the number of credits. Unlike the previous curriculum, the students will no longer have to take all the basic engineering courses in their first year but only a few select courses recommended by their department. Also, the first year students can now opt out of CS1100 ( Introduction to Programming ) if they clear a basic test similar to the O Level examination in Communicative English and do a free elective instead.

Students will have the choice to choose free electives from any department, including all engineering, humanities and management departments, irrespective of their parent department. Students who convert from B. Tech to (B. Tech + M. Tech) Dual Degree program will be permitted to register for M. Tech programs in other disciplines as well, provided they meet the requirements set by the accepting department. A new programme shall be introduced where Dual Degree students from all departments shall have an option to pursue their Masters in Entrepreneurship. The students who convert to the said program will be provided technical and business mentors. Should the idea seem promising, this program will also be well assisted by the IP Cell and Research Park. The extra year can be used by students for prototype or business development while receiving a scholarship from the institute. The minor stream will be made optional and those who are interested in taking up one will have to chose from a pre-defined set of four courses, which has not been chosen as one of their free electives in any semester.

A new course called  ‘undergraduate research’ has been introduced, where a student could sign up with an interested faculty member, providing a specific proposal of what he/she aims to accomplish during the course of the semester. The course will allow the students to get a flavor or research before taking up postgraduate research courses. Even though a lot of undergraduate research already takes place in the campus in the form of student projects, the course shall allow the students to earn academic credits for their work, thereby giving it an impetus. The B. Tech project will be made optional and will be categorized outside the undergraduate research course.

Academic credits will not be awarded for non academic activities like NSO, NSS, NCC, Industrial Training and the Life Skills course, even though they shall continue to be a part of the curriculum. To facilitate increased academic interaction, students will be divided into groups based on their majors and each group will be accommodated in the same hostel. In addition to this, special hangout places with the facilities such cafeterias and Wi-Fi connection will be set up in the academic zone and departments, where students could work together at any time.

The existing criteria for awarding an honors degree has also been revised. The students will no longer need to take up extra courses but will have to maintain a CGPA greater than or equal to 8.5, complete a 27 credit project (wherein he/she is expected to put in 27 hours of work every week throughout the 16 week semester) and earn at least 18 of the free elective credits in their parent department.

The new curricular framework complements the growing trend in research which promotes interdisciplinary projects involving collaborations between people with varied backgrounds. The new framework allows students to explore areas outside their major stream thereby enhancing their ability to work on such interdisciplinary projects. For example, a student from Biotechnology can now take up more courses in the Computer Science department to work on a project using Genetic Algorithms and DNA computing to solve problems in Computer Science.  The new framework seems to be a step in the right direction and could go a long in redefining undergraduate experience in the institute.

 

We would like to thank Prof. Preeti Aghalayam, member of the Curriculum Task Force, Sashank Sudhakar Vandrangi, Academic Affairs Secretary, IIT Madras, 2015-2016 and Anirudh Patri, member of the Placement Team, for their inputs.

 

Disclaimer: The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
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Aslamah Rahman

"Now, I ain't much of a poet but I know somebody once told me, To seize the moment and don't squander it, 'Cause you never know when it all could be over tomorrow, So I keep conjuring"- Eminem