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Prof Arunkumar Sridharan, ME, IIT Bombay

Continuing with our attempt to bring out certain success stories pertaining to the online semester, next we have insights from Prof. Arunkumar Sridharan, whose experience is a great example of how the times were trying for the professors as well and how with increased efforts and willingness, from both professor’s and students’ side, we can ensure effective learning. One of the students in the course ME 219- Fluid Mechanics, who were taught by Prof. Sridharan in the offline setting said- “The whole course was a beautiful experience in terms of learning, the energy with which sir taught was contagious. Overall he tried to pay attention to each student of the class and that made all the difference.” Replicating such an experience in the online setting must have been a very strenuous task and here he pens down his story. 

1. What were the problems and differences you faced in delivering the lectures and conducting the course as effectively as in the offline mode?

The first and foremost difficult aspect was that I was a complete blackboard kind of teacher, so I was not sure how I would do a fully online kind of class – where I thought PowerPoint was the only option available. Whole new vistas opened when I was introduced to the idea of whiteboard/Jamboard etc. Half the problems were solved when I purchased a laptop that could be used as a tablet. So rather than focussing on how I would teach, I just went to the class with the laptop as my blackboard. Thanks to my ex DD student, Gunjan for selecting the laptop for me. It took a couple of days (classes) to get to use Teams/Google Meet for class. Finally after about a couple of weeks of trying out various options, Google Meet was what I used for classes and tutorials. MS Teams was used for quizzes and midsem, Google Meet for finals.

The next challenge was how the students would respond to an online class, that too for a subject like fluid mechanics, for which there is enough baggage from their seniors that they carry. The easiest thing was not to go to class with the attitude ‘I am here, you follow me’ —- I never do that, more so, not in an online semester. I took them to confidence, had several interactions during the first few classes, made them speak their mind, their apprehensions, took their feedback on the platform to be used, grading related stuff, etc. So, once they realized that I actually am willing to listen to them, the connect got made. That is very important. We need to get down from a pedestal we stand on. It does not mean that we lose our self-respect, but we realize that what worked for a previous batch MAY NEVER work for this one, as they are different people. You cannot sing the same tune each time, there is a need to modify a bit; within limits, of course. 

2. Were there any problems due to the mindset of students in particular? How did you cater to that?

Students had to be convinced that we were here together to learn. I ensure that this message goes to my students even in a normal semester, only here, I had to emphasize this repeatedly. I had to ask them to be free to open up in case of issues related to the course. It is easy to handle anything if you respect the student as an individual, I strongly believe in giving respect to anyone first. Only then will they feel they are ‘wanted’. Otherwise, most students think of professors as their enemies, someone who is out to crucify them, and that they derive great pleasure in doing so. This needs to go, and we need to do things to make them comfortable, WITHOUT compromising on the course content and grading. How I catered to this, I shall explain in the next answer

3. Did you adopt any new teaching or evaluation methods for the conduction of course,  particularly, were there any changes in assessment methods in order to adapt to this mode of teaching, aiming at fair grading and curbing the possibilities of using unfair means/cheating in exams?

First and foremost, I try to get to know the names of students – that was not much possible this semester, but I did try. They are not roll numbers, they have an identity and we need to respect that.

I divided the class into 8 batches of 8 students each. These batches were formed based on their schedule. I gave a total of 8 quizzes during the semester and every week – 8 different quizzes, one per batch was given. These were during a time slot previously decided with the students and were conducted on TEAMS. Each quiz was 30 mins long and these quizzes accounted for 40% of the course grade. We had quizzes virtually every week from the 3rd week, except the mid-sem week and the week after that. This helped them study a small amount of material (Only 2 lectures worth) for each quiz. This I am sure helped them understand and assimilate the subject well. 

During the first half of the semester, I had a couple of video-recorded classes, where I sent the videos to them over the weekend and met the 8 batches of students during the regular class period batch-wise. This was to get to know them better and ask them one-on-one if they had any issues. The midsem feedback revealed that students wanted only live classes and the video of the same uploaded. So, I went back to a fully live class model. Routine time-consuming mathematical derivations (where no new concepts were involved) were uploaded in the form of short videos on Google drive  for them to download and go through. These were discussed in class, but the maths was already done offline. 

For midsem and endsem, I made new batches (again 8 students per batch), but these were announced 10 mins before the start of the exam. Exams were staggered so only 8 students got a mail as to which batch they were in, once in, the question paper was uploaded just before the start of the exam on Teams and the password sent exactly at the start time of the exam.  I made 8 different midsem exams and 4 different final exam papers. This model ensured almost zero cheating as no one knew who else was in their batch, even if they did know – they were on live google meet, with a TA at this end looking at them and students recording the screen and the exam as per the Institutes rules. 

All this was possible, thanks to my TAs and a former student of mine, Aditya Iyengar – who volunteered his time to help out proctoring quizzes, helping me with the technical stuff in TEAMS, etc. 

Would not like to advise colleagues, but definitely to students: Please do not look at every professor as someone you need to fear. Whatever is told to you about a course or a prof – need not be true. It is someone else’s perception. Unless you come with an open mind, you will never be really able to appreciate a class or a professor. Also, if a course is being run, it means that it is a doable one – so be positive and do not hesitate to ask doubts. Only if someone knows that you need help will they help you, else no one will know. So please open up a bit, and give feedback also, constructive ones really help faculty. Do not go with a mindset that nothing matters. No, maybe it does not matter for some, it may matter for someone else. So never give up. Be regular in your work, small steps to bring the destination closer!


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