WITH NO end in sight to the Covid crisis, IITs are looking at conducting online classes till the year-end, even as the government has tasked a committee to draft a common minimum strategy for reopening the 23 premier engineering schools.
Several IIT directors, who spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, said the coming autumn semester, in all likelihood, will be conducted virtually for “continuing” undergraduate students or those already enrolled.
Campus life, however, will not completely shut down as the IITs intend to bring back PhD students whenever feasible.
The institutes are also working on alternatives for students who may not have access to a digital device or robust Internet connection to access lectures online. And to make online learning more effective, some have started tweaking the curriculum to push lab work to the spring semester.
Last week, the standing committee of the IIT Council set up a sub-committee of directors to discuss operational challenges in starting the new academic session and provide solutions. The sub-committee’s report is expected this week, following which it will be tabled for approval of the Council, which is headed by the HRD Minister.
IIT-Madras has officially indicated its intention to continue lectures virtually for the coming semester. In an email sent to students a week ago, director Bhaskar Ramamurthi wrote that they “will most probably have to continue with online classes for one more semester”.
“We are not sure when the Institute will be permitted to re-open and who amongst our students will be able to travel safely to the Institute. Even when this becomes possible, with just about 6,000 hostel rooms on a single-occupancy basis, we expect that only some of the continuing students can return to the campus,” he wrote in the email.
The director wrote that PhD students will be the “first ones to return”, followed by “fresh intake for the academic year 2020-21”.
“Continuing students who are able to return to campus at some point during the next semester can continue with the online classes once they are here, or maybe we can conduct some classes f2f (face to face) along with live-streaming/recording for online students. We do not know how things will pan out, given social distancing constraints in classrooms,” the email states.
At IIT-Bombay, various heads of departments have asked students for suggestions on how to “make teaching effective” if lectures go online next semester.
Directors cite social-distancing norms to justify keeping at least some aspects of the campus remote for the year.
“Given the recent increase in student strength (due to EWS quota and supernumerary seats for women), IITs are pressed for space, and many of our students share hostel rooms. Even if we manage to provide each of them with a single room, the mess and the bathrooms are common,” said an IIT director.
The Indian Express had reported on June 3 that the IITs have sought a year’s extension to the 2021 deadline to add new seats for accommodating the 10 per cent Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota, mainly due to space constraints amid the pandemic.
“It’s not just social distancing, how do the IITs ensure each student is quarantined for 14 days before sending him or her to the hostel room? What if a student gets infected, how does an IIT situated in a hotspot assure medical help when health systems are so overwhelmed? Even if we reopen, we don’t think parents will be keen to send their children back,” said another IIT director.
IIT-Guwahati, for instance, started inviting its research scholars back to the campus. But sources said that while 150 invites were sent, only about a dozen students have returned.
For the students who do not have access to a digital device or robust internet connection to access lectures online, the IITs are planning alternatives. IIT-Bombay, for instance, is already tapping its alumni network to help students access online classes. IIT-Delhi is planning to offer them the option of either dropping a semester or accessing classes online in their hostel rooms.
Referring to lab courses, the IIT-Madras email states that they “stand postponed to the time students can return to campus”.
“Since they can be conducted in a compressed manner over 2-3 weeks…we need not worry about them now. We will also deal with the half-finished lab courses of Jan-May 2020 semester at that time,” the mail states.
According to administration officials, IIT-Roorkee and IIT-Delhi are also considering putting the practical component for the next semester on hold. “Laboratory experiments will be done by the students over a week or two when they are back on campus,” said an official.
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