Changes in Academic Curriculum

by Sriram A R

Last year has seen the implementation of a number of initiatives aimed at changing the academic curriculum of the Institute for the better. In this article, we attempt to dive into those changes in the curriculum that have been/are in the process of being approved.

The following are the new initiatives that have been proposed and approved as part of the new curriculum.

1. Self-defined Minor Streams

While the proposal to assimilate self-defined minor streams into the academic curriculum has been doing the rounds for quite a while, we now see this attain fruition and move on to the execution stage. To understand the gravity and relevance of this change better, let’s quickly look at the old and current academic curricula with respect to the topic of Minor Streams:

Up till the batch of 2014 admits, minor streams were a set of 3 pre-defined courses prescribed to the students and offered by various departments. Students had to provide the academic section with their priorities on minor streams upfront (through the minor stream allotment portal on workflow) and they would be subsequently allotted a minor stream by the academic section. Under this system, the following were the perceived hardships faced by students:

  • Upon getting allotted a minor stream, in case a student finds out that the fundamental courses did not appeal to him/her, the student had no option but to go the distance by completing all prescribed courses.
  • Another hardship often faced was the allotment of lower preference minor streams due to issues of demand and supply in the higher preference electives.

In order to overcome the aforementioned issues and to provide students with greater flexibility to explore minor streams, the following changes have been made to the curriculum with respect to Minor streams from the batch of 2015:

  • First and foremost, students are under no compulsion to commit their time to minors. However they are completely free to complete the requirements of any given minor stream and can claim a minor degree for the same.
  • Under the new curriculum, departments come up with a set of minor streams and also mention the list of courses that will be offered under the same. They also provide the necessities in terms of compulsory (and foundation) courses and optional electives within the mentioned minor streams to the students.
  • If a student is interested in pursuing one of these minor streams, the student is free to register in the foundation courses of the minor stream. However, if the student realizes that the foundation course does not appeal to him/her, the student is completely free to discontinue from the minor stream and even try out the foundation courses of other minor streams in the forthcoming semesters.
  • Upon completion of the prescribed courses (both compulsory and electives as mentioned in the minor stream curriculum) under a minor stream, a student is eligible to claim a minor degree in that minor stream.

Under this new curriculum, students are given increased flexibility in trying out courses from different minor streams before choosing a minor stream of their choice. More importantly, the student can just try out the foundation courses of various minors and can still complete the necessary credit requirements without having to complete a minor degree. If desired, students can also complete multiple minor degrees. In addition to these, the new curriculum also removes the following constraints that were earlier posed by the old curriculum:

  • With respect to tackling the problem of demand and supply, a student is free to start and complete the courses of a minor stream anytime within their time in the institute. This means that in case one does not get allotted the preferred foundation course of their choice in a semester due to high demand or shortage of supply, the person can pursue the same in the next semester and still complete the requirements in time (since all these courses are generally electives offered every alternate semester and in some cases, offered every semester)
  • In addition, the possibility of preferential allotment of courses for those students who have declared the intent to pursue a block of courses as their minor is under consideration by the administration.

These changes allow students to explore various minor streams before making the decision on whether to pursue a minor degree.

2. Undergraduate Research Project

Up till the batch of 2014 admits, the academic life of an undergraduate student in campus can be categorized as having been tasked with two major responsibilities: To complete all necessary coursework in time for graduation and to simultaneously prepare/develop skills required to pursue a career path of one’s choice.  In many cases, irrespective of one’s career choice (Core or Non-Core, Research or Industry), one is tasked with the responsibility of working towards fulfilling academic requirements as prescribed by the institute while simultaneously allocating time and resources to achieve their intended career trajectory. The Undergraduate Research Project is an initiative that works towards increasing the extent of overlap between the aforementioned activities of a student.

The following are the salient features of the initiative:

  • In order to streamline efforts towards achieving the most in one’s professional career, the Undergraduate Research Project initiative aims to assimilate the activities of a student outside their prescribed coursework into the academic curriculum of the student.
  • For example, students pursuing postgraduate research programs generally work under professors on project topics to obtain Letters of Recommendation, publish papers and so on. Similarly, students intending to develop the necessary skills to enter into a particular professional industry of their choice pursue projects offered through institute facilities such as CFI or from other departments like the DoMS. While these projects and efforts were earlier exclusive to one’s own academic pursuits, the Undergraduate Research Project initiative aims to provide a platform for students to credit these efforts as part of their academic curricula.
  • Under this initiative, any student who works in a particular project of their choice (CFI, department projects under professors, etc.) is allowed to credit the work done under the relevant verticals of Institute’s prescribed coursework. That is, a project in the area of one’s own department can be credited as a department elective, a project in a different area of research can be credited as a free elective or as any of the other verticals of the curriculum.
  • However, to carry out the same, one has to find a professor who will be mentoring and monitoring the work done in the project. The Professor shall also determine the quality and quantum of work that is required for the project to be credited for a stipulated worth of credits. Upon finalizing this agreement, a student can get these projects credited under the respective verticals after the approval of relevant authorities (such as the Department HoD for crediting a project as a department elective).
  • In cases of projects with more than one member, the team shall have to approach the faculty member and obtain approval regarding the project, the quantum and quality of work to be delivered as well as the demarcation of tasks and responsibilities between the team members. This can be considered similar to the working dynamics of a group B.Tech or Dual Degree Project.

3. Inter-Disciplinary Dual Degree Programs

This is again an initiative that has been doing the rounds for a while but has finally been put to execution. Earlier, the students opting for Dual Degree programs in a particular department had to sign up for a particular specialization at the time of providing the branch and institute preferences during the allocation of seats after JEE. However, under the new curriculum, students enrolled in Dual Degree programs will have options opened up with respect to their Dual Degree specializations at the end of their 3rd year at both the Department level as well the Institute level (Inter-Disciplinary DD). This way, a student has the time to choose the Dual Degree Program of one’s own choice either within the department or pursue an Inter-Disciplinary Dual Degree program.

However, the selection criteria for these programs are currently CGPA-based and the CGPA criteria for these programs vary across departments and specializations. While there have been complaints from students regarding very high CGPA criteria in certain programs, it is expected that the selection criteria will evolve in due course of time into a more wholesome process incorporating factors such as relevant work/research experience, recommendations from professors or Industry professionals and so on. It is envisaged that the selection criteria would evolve into a system based on the lines of the various post-graduate degree application processes of the universities abroad which include factors like the relevant work pertaining to the area of specialization done by the student, recommendations from professionals and faculty members as other factors in addition to one’s CGPA.

With respect to understanding the scope for the inscription of new Inter-Disciplinary Dual Degree Programs (such as the Financial Engineering Dual Degree offered in IIT Kharagpur), it can be expected for such programs to be proposed in the future. The only roadblock in this regard happens to be the requirement of sufficient faculty members and thereby projects in such areas of specializations in the Institute.

The Institute and the placement team are also expected to collect feedback from companies recruiting on campus to revamp and revisit these programs in order to persistently render them relevant to their respective industries as well as constantly look in to the possibility of adding more Inter-Discplinary programs.

4. Flexibility in the Timeline of Projects for M.Tech and Dual Degree Students

Earlier, till the 2013 batch of Dual Degree admits, the Dual Degree Projects (DDP) of students would have to be started by June 1st and continued for 12 months. This has been observed to be a reason that inhibits students from pursuing their career options in the form of internships (and subsequently securing Pre-Placement Offers) as well as research internships or projects in the areas of their desired specialization that prove to be helpful for post-graduate degree applications. In order to give students to pursue their professional careers more effectively and efficiently, this initiative aims to provide Dual Degree students pursuing their DDPs with a greater flexibility in the timeline of their projects.

As per the guidelines and the scope of this initiative, a Dual Degree student is allowed a flexible timeline for the completion of their projects (front-load their work by starting early or start their projects from the 1st of August) as long as the student is able to present their thesis latest by the point of the Extension Review (Extension review is the second review that is generally scheduled in June) with no compromise in the quality/quantity of work. This way, it is expected that the students shall be able to pursue their interests in the summer break of their penultimate year while also being able to complete their Dual Degree Projects in time for graduation.

When quizzed about the possibility of an inherent bias (in the form of Professors awarding Dual Degree Projects to those students who promise a more conventional timeline and showcase interests in the same line of work as that of the scope of the specific DDP) affecting this initiative, the Academic Affairs Secretary, Sashi Sekhar YVR, reasons out that while a student proposing a flexible timeline maybe overlooked for that particular DDP, the number of projects to be awarded is observed to be sufficient to accommodate all students, thereby ensuring that the student is given access to any one Dual Degree Project in the very least. Also, in such cases, it must be expected of the student to start earlier and front-load work in order to seek a flexible timeline. In addition, the AAS also reasons that those students who are awarded these internships also tend to be high performing students and therefore the professors would also naturally want to work with such students despite the flexibility in the timeline.

5. Slot Correction Week at the beginning of the semester

While this initiative was already executed partly during the previous semester, it is expected to be implemented across all departments from the upcoming semester onwards. As per this initiative, a slot-wise list of all courses offered by departments shall be uploaded on after which the students are given a period of up to 8 days to analyse the slots and report any grievances to the Branch Councilor or the Academic Affairs Secretary. These grievances include clashes in the slots of popular electives within a department as well as clashes between core courses of one department and electives of another. Accordingly, necessary changes shall be proposed to reallocate the slots in which these courses shall be offered to ensure that a student gets access to both the concerned courses.

6. Crediting Humanities Elective Courses through NPTEL(under Progress)

This initiative is part of a new proposal that has been approved by the BAC and is awaiting approval by the Senate. It has often been observed that students are faced with the problem of not being able to take up their preferred Humanities courses as HSE electives (and instead are obliged to take up alternative courses that they are not always interested in) due to problem of supply and demand in terms of the number of faculty members available as well the demand for a few popular courses. Hence, to ensure that a student gets access to the courses of their choice, it has been proposed that the students be allowed to credit Humanities Courses of other IITs as HSE electives through NPTEL. While the maximum number of courses that can be credited through NPTEL still remains capped at two, the current proposal allows students to take up Humanities Courses and credit them as HSE electives while in the previous set-up any courses taken through NPTEL could only be credited as Free Electives.

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