Thursday, March 26, 2009

Engineering Education

... thoughts on B.Tech ECE curriculum at NITC
March 26, 2009

Introduction


Premise

  1. There is something wrong with present state of undergraduate engineering education at NITC.
  2. There is hope for change.

Justifications for the premise

  1. General conversations, blogs, reduced level of motivation in students and teachers - none of them conclusive, but very indicative of something wrong somewhere.
  2. Lot of people are agreeing that there is something wrong somewhere and analyzing the reasons and trying to take corrective measures. Seems a good time to pitch in and help in a way that I could.

Purpose of this article

is not to
  1. prove or disprove the premises or
  2. to find the culprit

but, it is to
  1. investigate a bit into what could be wrong where,
  2. provide a (very subjective) list of things that can be done to bring about a positive change and
  3. to give a specific UG curriculum in tune with the above spirit for the B.Tech program in ECED, NITC.

Disclaimers

  1. I may be wrong.
  2. But I firmly believe in this now and I will believe thus till someone convinces me otherwise.
  3. I will always remain open to anyone who wants to convince me otherwise.
  4. I limit myself in these thoughts to the cognitive domain.

What could be wrong and where?


Many students feel that

  1. they are forced to study and not inspired to study.
  2. they have very limited freedom in choosing what to study with in their chosen degree program.
  3. lecture is not a very effective means of learning
  4. labs do not encourage actual experimenting
  5. they are forced to write too many exams
  6. they have very little time left for extra curricular activities
(this is a generalization of what was expressed over a few conversations and not based on any scientific survey)


Some faculty feel that

  1. students may be right
  2. students are not college ready as they used to be in the days when they left school after 10th standard.
  3. change in society's priorities have changed the priorities of students too.

What can be done about it?


Soul Searching

(I'm limiting myself here to the cognitive domain responsibility
of the system. I'm unprepared to comment on the affective domain
responsibilities)

  1. the primary responsibility of an undergraduate educational system should be
    1. to inspire,
    2. to set free,
    3. to give time and
    4. to give resources to the students.
  2. the secondary responsibility is
    1. to help them with their learning and
    2. to evaluate the outcome

Who and hoW

I think we are already doing a pretty good job with the secondary responsibilities. But we can improve a lot on the primary responsibilities


who's job
how (mainly)
to inspire
teacher
  1. Every teacher has her own way
to set free
curriculum
  1. More types of degree (basic, major + minor, major + honors etc like the ones suggested by IITB)
  2. Minimum number of core subjects and a larger pool electives, seminars and projects
  3. Freedom to trade between a lab course, a theory course or more project work
to give time
curriculum
  1. Lesser contact hours per week
  2. Lesser number of courses per semester
  3. Lesser total credit requirement
  4. Lesser number of exams
to give resourcessystem
  1. Open labs and custom equipments
  2. Open discussion platforms (student and faculty)
  3. Open library and net access
  4. Out of syllabus talks, workshops

The new teacher should

  1. (in her own unique way) inspire the students to learn
  2. mentor the students in their process of learning

The new curriculum should

  1. give more types of B.Tech degrees
    1. Minimal B.Tech (something to the tune of 120 credits)
    2. B.Tech with major in one discipline (120 credits) and a minor in another. (30 credits)
    3. B.Tech with honors in one discipline (150 credits)
    4. B.Tech with one major (120 credits) and two minors (60)
    5. B.Tech with honors (150 credits ) and research output (30 credits)
    6. ...
  2. have lesser total number of courses and credits
    1. About 4 courses per semester. 2 of them may have a lab component.
    2. On an average of 15-16 credits per semester for the week student, 19-20 for the majority and 23-24 for the exceptionally motivated student.
  3. give a smaller pool of core courses and a larger pool of electives.
    1. The choice of what goes as core may be based upon the corresponding GATE syllabus.
    2. Can have lab or project based courses in the pool of electives.
    3. Can have seminars based contact courses in the pool of electives
  4. flexible way of earning the credits with in a course (exams + seminars + project + lab demonstration)
  5. participation based evaluation component (rated discussion forums, voluntary seminars, ...)

The new system should

  1. leave the labs accesible to students any time
  2. allow students to initiate purchase of custom equipments using system funds
  3. provide a collection of open online discussion forums (for various subjects)
  4. arrange out of syllabus talks and workshops regularly (and allow students to invite experts whom they want in campus)
  5. provide platform for students to give voluntary presentations to larger audience

A proposed curriculum for B.Tech in ECE


The choice of core is mostly based upon EC GATE syllabus.

No
Course
Sem
L
T
P
C
1
Linear Algebra and Vector Calculus
1
3
1
0
4
2
Engineering Mechanics
1
3
1
0
4
3
Physics for Electronics (??)
1
3
1
0
4
4
Computer Programming
1
2
0
3
4
5
Professional Communication
1
0
2
0
2
6
Electronics and Computer Workshop
1
0
0
3
2

Sem Total (S1)

11
5
6
20
7
Transforms and Infinite Series
2
3
1
0
4
8
Engineering Graphics2
2
0
3
4
9
Logic System Design
2
3
0
3
5
10
Electromagnetic Field Theory
2
3
1
0
4
11
Economics
2
3
0
0
3

Sem Total (S2)

14
2
6
20
12
Probability and Statistics
3
3
1
0
4
13
Network Theory & SPICE Lab
3
3
1
3
6
14
Solid State Devices & Devices Lab
3
3
1
3
6
15
Signals and Systems
3
3
1
0
4
16
Physical Ed / Value Ed
3/4
0
0
2
P/F

Sem Total (S3)

12
4
6
20
17
Differential Equations & Complex Analysis
4
3
1
0
4
18
Electronic Circuits and Circuits Lab
4
3
1
3
6
19
Micro Processors and Micro Controllers
4
3
1
3
6
20
Random Processes and Analog Communication Theory
4
3
1
0
4
21
Physical Ed / Value Ed3/4
0
0
2
P/F

Sem Total (S4)

12
4
6
20
22
Linear Integrated Circuits & IC Lab
5
3
1
3
6
23
Digital Signal Processing and DSP Lab
5
3
1
3
6
24
Elective 1
5



4
25
Elective 2
5



4

Sem Total (S5)



20
26
Communication Theory (IT & DC) and Communication Lab
6
3
1
3
6
27
Control Systems
6
3
1
0
4
28
Mini Project
6
0
0
3
2
29
Elective 3




4
30
Elective 4




4

Sem Total (S6)



20
31
Major Project + Electives
7



15
32
Major Project + Electives
8



15

Grand Total (Majority of Students)




150

Electives

  1. Department electives should be in at least two pools (Electronic Systems and Devices, Communication and Signal Processing) ... and the department should ensure that at least 6 electives are offered from each pool in each semester.
  2. Any student who opts for honors in his major should be allowed to take PG courses as electives.
  3. Any elective course in any department should be a global elective for other departments.
  4. A student can opt for any number of global electives, but she should ensure that she will take at least 120 credits from the department curriculum.
  5. A student can choose to schedule her project and elective load between semesters 7 and 8 so as to facilitate those who wish to do a project with an industry or another academic institution.

Conclusion


"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled."

~ Plutarch, On Listening to Lectures

16 comments:

Deepak said...

The credit of the opinions expressed are due to many people whom I had discussions with, including students and fellow faculty, but the responsibility for their public expression is entirely mine.

Anonymous said...

I would like to wear Sreenivasan's coat : "Enthoru Sundharamaya nadakatha Swapnam!".
May it remain the fire in your mind. God Bless. Amen

~==[[[ Abhi ]]]==~ said...

Awesome scheme sir. But like Anon said, i wish this dream would come true. Wish we had more and more institutes in India where they revise the curriculum each year and have a more flexible outlook towards studies. Many of the top B-Schools do have this facility, so no one can say that it'll not work in India. If our T-Schools also had such a great curriculum we would've great technocrats passing out each year, who're better equipped to handle actual core sector jobs and have a better understanding of the industry that'll employ them.

I've always felt at a loss due to my lack of awareness of many things related to my job. I've learnt more from the technicians who work under me more than i've learnt in the entire B Tech about maintenance of equipments. Our syllabus is more oriented towards producing scientists rather than producing engineers. I say this because other than the guys working in research institutions, no one in my class who's in other mech jobs has got any help from their syllabus. We learn a hell lot of theory, but when it comes to the practise we lack and that's what's required in the field.

Great initiative sir. Hats off to your dedication to improve the system, rather than being part of it.

Noah said...

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Jishnu A said...

I am in full agreement with you except i did not quite understand the credit point system. I personally feel NITC should also have lot more pure science and humanities courses with lot more faculties in these departments. Having an atmosphere with people pursuing different field of studies really helps.

krik krak said...

It would be great if these were implemented sir.Not just in ECED but all the branches.
Motivation to study in the hostels IS quite low, sir.

jinsbond007 said...

hi all,

Except the courses and credit part i read it completely(i won't understand a word of that!). In many comments, people who like to wear sreenivasan's coat, I am ready to point out institutes in India, who are following systems as described here. In fact I am studying in One. Why not the people responsible for making changes contact the authorities in such institutes to help you out?

just have a look at the curriculam
here.

g`a`n`s said...

Sir, its just like what is required. I guess unfortunately only few know it. Most people(not students) here seem to be too accustomed to the old and rusted ways. We may have to simply swim with the tide...

nikhil george said...

Sounds a bit utopian ....... But still i hope tht atleast some of these reforms,if not all, get implemented.

rakeshm said...

suggestions seems good(bit dreamy..)..two facts weren't addressed in it i think

1)most of the faculties are overwhelmed with administrative work etc...there is not enough man-power in the depts.Enough faculties should be there so that nobody needs to teach more than two papers, and there should be enough provision given to the faculties to do research.The best way to inspire students is to show them that its possible to do research even in btech.

2)Changing the attitude of the students: Almost all students came to NITC in their 1st yr expecting a lot. They came as the best students in India but leaves as the worst!!! The change of attitude takes place towards the end of first year, mostly because there is nothing to feed into his mind.Should there be a change, it should begin with first years, orienting them towards the right path.

The system is a failure because it couldn't give the students a sense of direction.

Its a good start...we are with you sir...

suresh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suresh said...

Dear Deepak,

This is suresh from Amrita. Your post on engineering education was interesting to me. We have a curriculum which is very similar to what you wrote there.

I read all the comments of your students also. Needless to say, a curriculum must be tuned to the student who undergoes it. So there is nothing like a best curriculum. We can only think of a curriculum suited to the bunch of students we receive in our dept at this time.

Your idea of one year project is pretty interesting.I was dreaming about such a project provision ever since I was in CET. (I heard about this idea in one of our old Network meetings).

We did something similar to that here...After implementing a one semester full of project work alone, we realize that it is not easy to implement. It is easy to be idle lazy etc...if you do not hold something investing energy always, its natural course is to fall down...One requires lot of energy to sustain such kind of work.....

Wishing you and your family a very happy vishu

with love
suresh

ratnuu said...

Interesting view!
I myself did undergrad in ECE from NITC (that time it was REC).

Some of the pointers found missing (from my experience while working in industry and in grad school) are the following:

1. The exposure to math was less than adequate. Looking back, I really wish we had courses such as Graph theory, Random processes, combinatorics (at least as electives). What I look from undergrad is not necessarily the know hows on the latest 32nm technology or photo lithography or for that matter the most fancy way of computing HITS or a page rank. But the sort of tools which would serve you to help an engineer in his career. I was working in communication/semiconductor industry both research and design. Even though I learned the requisite skills later on, it would have given me that extra insight, had some of the fundamental subjects were introduced to me during undergrad
2) Put a lot of emphasis on problem solving. That was massively missing during our times. The exams always used to be writing descriptive junks worth 15 marks. Even for subjects like communication theory!
3) And as you mentioned, a large portion (I would even want close to 50% of the total credits)should be coming from a large pool of electives. In the end, the student should choose what he/she want to study, based on interest and so on.
4)Students should be encouraged to take a lot of courses during undergrad. After all, it is highly important to get an exposure to a wide variety of subjects (even if that is not really related to the stream. You can take my word. The ideas from different fields are often useful in many other fields. In any case during undergrad no one is expected to be a master of a subject (even if a student with 6/6 GPS would like to think otherwise) during undergrad.
5)The faculty student interaction should be much more friendly and smoother. It is a win win for both. I don't refer to the usual sycophancy, but more honest commitment from both parties. This is something which comes with a culture build up, but if done nicely that can do wonders.

RCB said...

This post is brilliant! This is a list of all the things that the college needs most and most urgently. I wish some of the student movements in NITC would print this out and paste it all over the campus as they do their small minded propaganda pamphlets.

Anonymous said...

Intresting sir,but you missed out power electronics, microwave and basic instrumentation

control valves said...

I believe construction of such projects requires knowledge of engineering and management principles and business procedures, economics, and human behavior.