Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
This paper attempts to address the issue of course credit and proposes a strategy of activity based flexible credit definition as one component of learner centric education. It is from an article by Professor Sanjay Goel, associate professor in Computer Science and Information Technology at the Jaypee Institute of Information Technology, in Noida, India. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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ACTIVITY BASED FLEXIBLE CREDIT DEFINITION
Sanjay Goel, Jaypee Institute of Information Technology, 2003 email@example.com
Standard courses for engineering students generally aim to impart a predefined and fixed amount of established knowledge, concepts, and skills and lack the emphasis on exploration, activities and development. On the other hand, the current thinking in education is towards shifting the centre from teacher to the student and make the process learner centric. Cognitive scientists emphasize that the learner is a person who can engage in activities that will aid in the processing of information. The higher and even more specifically engineering education in India has been slow to respond to these trends and demands. While the Indian universities devote enough time in planning new course content, hardly any time is spent on designing new delivery strategies and evaluation methods. I even wonder, if the prevailing delivery and evaluation system is one of the most serious reasons for having a very large pool of non-designing engineers in India and even the best of Indian engineering institutes generally fail to inspire and attract their best students for post graduate studies even though it is generally highly subsidized.
The practice of providing a common path within every course has resulted into the current definition of credits. Currently, the credits for a course are defined in terms of the contact hours. only, giving different weightage to lectures, tutorials and laboratories. Hence, this scheme of credit definition is primarily based on the teaching effort rather than on the learning effort. Further, a fixed credit per course has its own limitations in terms of lack of flexibility and fails to address student's personal choice and interest. Students of different streams and interests are often found to be giving different kind of importance to same course depending on the perceived relevance of the course for their aspirations, professional requirements or advanced course work. This fact, however, is not reflected in the credits. This paper attempts to address the issue of credit definition and proposes a strategy of activity based flexible credit definition as one component of learner centric education.
As the courses on Data Structures being taught to the large classes of 130 to 250 students by the author at JIIT gained maturity, the author has gradually shifted his mindset, teaching method as well as the evaluation criteria to promote and encourage active learning. The imbalance in the evaluation scheme because of overwhelming weightage of examinations has been gradually changed to promote continuous and holistic evaluation. Over the three deliveries of the course, the weightage assigned to written exam, lab exam and viva has been decreased from initial 75% to 30-35%. Several other learning activities like lab assignment, class participation, in class quizzes, projects work and seminar have been assigned a progressively increasing weightage. The written exams were designed as open books and open notes. There was no recall type of problem and question papers were based on challenging design and analysis problems. Several in-class activities were regularly used in this course. They include think-pair-share, share your experiences with the project and assignments, design a small algorithm and so on. Project work required individual as well as group activity. Initially the author allowed the students to form their own groups. This, however, resulted in homogenous ability group formation and the benefits of peer learning were not found to be evenly spread. Hence, heterogeneous ability groups were formed by the faculty. The group members were also offered an incentive of bonus marks based on the significant performance improvement by their peers. This resulted in enhanced level of collaboration and peer learning.
In one of the courses, two groups (chosen by faculty) worked together to compile and present supportive study material on the topics of two lectures after the delivery of the lecture. The supportive study material was mainly expected to contextualize the subject content of the lecture with the examples from ongoing student projects in different domains. In order to promote their creative thinking and ability and interdisciplinary approach they were asked to design challenging and creative problems involving integration with other courses. Through this experience, they learned and realized that creative problem design is more challenging and interesting than solution design. All these efforts have shown positive results in terms of encouraging students to do continuous learning. It is also felt that creative and off beat thinking needs more promotion and training so that the students can evolve as designers and innovators of new products and efficient processes.
While most students enjoy activity based learning, some detest it mainly because the course credits sometimes under-reflect the work by students. Traditionally, course credits are defined in terms of weekly contact hours. and there is no scope of allowing the students to choose the activities they would like to perform within the framework of a course. A new model of credit definition based on the activities rather than just the weekly contact hours. has been proposed to address both these issues. It is proposed to define the credits in terms of activities by the students rather than contact hours. with the teacher only. The faculty could decide the minimum and maximum activities and credits for every course. Students could be given a choice of optional components for earning additional credits within every course. With the proposed new scheme, it may be possible for a student to drop project work and design assignments to register in a course only for 2 credits, whereas the students who want to devote more time for project work and design assignments can register for up to 5 credits. The students will have to finalize their choices as part of the registration process. To meet the current system of universities, a course split-up strategy can be implemented to allow the students to take up some extra project and seminar related activities by optionally registering in a smaller and parallel co-course. The overall minimum credits for earning the degree will remain applicable. The sum of the minimum credits for minimum courses will not allow the students to complete the credit requirements for the degree and students will have to necessarily work for some additional activities in some courses or work for more course at minimum credit level.
This scheme is expected to offer following advantages:
1. Enhance the decision making opportunities as well as capability of students. by offering them flexibility of not only choosing a course but also the credits for the same.
2. It will help in moving towards activity based learning and a holistic evaluation system which will not be solely or heavily based on the theory examination only.
3. Students will be able to divide and use their non-contact learning time as per their decisions.
4. The "earned credits" will reflect the work by students rather than their contact hours. with teachers.
5. Choice of project work could be offered to the willing students within the framework of courses.
6. Uninterested students need not go through all the components of a specific course and may decide to work only for the minimum credits for the minimum exposure through the effort as they choose to put in.
7. Enthusiastic students will be rewarded with the opportunity of earning higher credits against their hard work.
8. It will also provide us a strategy of satisfying the learning needs of a large spectrum of students as per their choice.
9. It will encourage teachers and students to look at their courses beyond the boundaries of a textbook(s).
10. The activities will contribute to the agenda for creative dialogue in the institutes.
11. Teachers will be motivated to introduce exploratory, developmental and even creative work in their courses as distinguishable components.
12. These activities will help to create a research oriented creative environment and students would often be found to be actively working on (or learning about) current research areas.
As this approach will encourage teachers to plan and design multiple types of learning activities under every courses, there will be additional demands on teacher's time not only in terms of planning and designing these activities but also making a regular positive contribution in the student's activities. These activities will usually be small group or even individual activities and would require interaction with teacher in that manner also. For example, in a large class of 200 students, even if 100 choose to undertake the optional activities, there will be very high demand on teacher's time for regularly guiding and monitoring the student's work. This demand can be met by encouraging team teaching where TAs will provide the necessary support system to ensure sufficient teacher time availability for every student under every course. Naturally, overall teacher-student ratio will have to be increased to take real benefit of this proposed scheme. The initially increased costs for increased teaching manpower are likely to be adequately compensated by achieving much enhanced level of learning and can also be partially passed on to students. Gradually, these activities can also become part of some sponsored research project and the research staff can be involved in helping the students in these activities outside the fixed and rigid Lecture-Tutorial-Practical model of contact hours.