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Tiny Glowing Screens: The Future of The Spring Semester?

November 10, 2020

In the past couple of weeks, a number of institutes have come out with definitive plans for 2021. However, the pool as of now seems to be split. As such, the fate of Roorkee remains uncertain. While disdain among the student populace for the ongoing online semester is pretty self-evident, we believe a number-backed analysis of their collective concerns, suggestions, and the associated caveats are imperative for the issues to be addressed in a manner that facilitates logical discussion, as we believe there are logical arguments to be made for both sides.

The following analysis by Watch Out! is based on the 1300+ student responses to the online semester feedback form circulated recently by the SAC.

We, The People

The survey provides valuable insight into the problems faced by students during the ongoing online semester, the bulk of which can be classified into two major categories:

Mental health-related issues, and the imperfect logistics leading up to it


Note: The questions were to be rated on a scale of 1 to 5. Throughout this article, we will consider a rating of 4 or more to be problematic

One of the biggest setbacks of a fully online semester, both for students and professors, was leveraging online resources effectively. Less than ideal home environments and the inconvenience of online resources and lectures are quite evident

About 80% of the students claim to have problems concentrating on academics while at home. A considerable chunk of this can be likely attributed to the lack of peer support and a distraction-free study environment as well as prolonged exposure to tiny glowing screens that are slowly taking over reality.

Over 78% of the students face connectivity issues during classes, to the point of getting disconnected during lectures. 75% of them are unable to access the study material, either due to connectivity issues or inadequate dissemination. Both problems arise at home exclusively, as the campus provides for good, stable online connectivity along with ample study material, both of which may not be available at home.

These factors combined can directly influence a student’s academic performance in a remote program.

Mental Health

With more than 3/4ths of the student populace being troubled by connectivity issues and prolonged isolation, mental health-related issues are inevitable

As apparent from the graph, an overwhelming majority of the students agree that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with coursework and overall efficiency has taken serious hits. Deadlines are tight and 60% of the students find it challenging to keep track of all allotted tasks on MS Teams. All in all, a total of 77% report increased stress levels as compared to the usual semesters.

Workload Climb

Since the weightage for CWS has been increased to 50-60%, routine quizzes and assignments have gone up in frequency, and with it comes a corresponding rise in continual stress.

Average semester credits: 20.18 Average weekly assignments + quizzes per 4 credits: 1.32 Average lecture hours per 4 credits: 3.94

Which sums up to an average 6.66 assignments a week in addition to regular lectures and course projects which now hold more weightage as well given the present condition.

A Million Little Things

Commonly raised concerns over the online operation, and the consequential unrest within R-junta is the cumulative result of a number of factors; all of which may not have been expressed adequately in the statistics discussed so far. Following are some major issues addressed by students in the optional remarks section of the survey:

The initial notification plan for the online semester declared the “attendance rule” to have been waived off. But while the 75% threshold no longer applies, attendance in online lectures can still be counted towards CWS marks and the decision is left entirely up to the professors’ discretion. The average student reported 3.18 courses (Anywhere from 40-60% of the total coursework for the semester) where regular attendance is recorded and may be counted towards the overall grade with the same or higher weightage as offline semesters. This, combined with 78% of the students reporting connectivity issues in one form or another, is no doubt a substantial affair.

The deadlines for allotted assignments have been reportedly tight and often take up weekends. Around 35 students from 8 different departments also complained about classes being conducted and assignment deadlines extending into the midterm break, offering students no relief from the incessant workload.

Apart from this, a small number of students also mentioned long quizzes (1 hr+) being conducted to substitute for mid-semester examinations despite the initial guidelines explicitly mentioning that MTEs are prohibited for all courses

Lab oriented courses have been severely affected as well, and it could be detrimental to the overall flow of the course structure if they were to be delayed by another semester

Extracurricular activities have also come to a halt, with many campus groups being unable to operate properly in online mode. Even amongst those that continue to function, members struggle to find time under the pressure of continuous evaluation.

The current semester also coincided with the most crucial period of internship and placement seasons. A number of students mentioned the struggle to juggle between the increased coursework and placement prep. Lack of resources at home was stressed upon, not to mention the proctoring and infrastructural shortcomings as mentioned in our Intern analysis. Placements are scheduled to carry on into the following semester and students will continue to bear the implications if it was to be conducted online as well.

Campus lockdown has consumed not only the current semester but also the latter half of the previous one (Spring 2019-20). In the previous semester, students were given the provision to choose an S grade in any course if unsatisfied with the awarded grade. Along with this, they were given the option to keep the grade and sit for a re-exam later on. As of writing this article, there has been no update regarding the re-exam but it’s safe to assume that they would be conducted in offline mode as IIT Roorkee’s stance on online exams so far has been largely negative. Given this, if the next semester was to be conducted in online mode as well, this reexamination would have to be postponed by another five to seven months. Many of the students that planned on applying would have by then, either graduated or sat through the internship season with the GPA that they hoped to improve through that very exam.

Countrywide Response

As fully remote education had been largely unheard of in many premier institutions in India, the sudden transition into online mode has been abrupt, and admittedly a little rough around the edges. In such crucial times, wherein institutions all across the nation are busy devising strategies for the upcoming semesters, we believe it’s important to highlight some of the strategies that have been adopted by other institutes

  1. UGC (University Grants Commission) released guidelines advising higher education institutions, outside containment zones, to reopen in phases, starting first with research, masters, and final-year undergraduate students. The Ministry of Home Affairs allowed state governments to decide on phased reopening after October 15. The Punjab government, for instance, has announced the reopening of universities and colleges after Diwali, from November 16 [1].

  2. IIT Ropar has declared that they would be starting their next semester in online mode, at least for the first half [2].

  3. IIT Bombay has also announced that the first two semesters for the incoming undergraduate batch will be online and the institute will provide no hostel accommodation until July 2021 [3].

  4. IIT Guwahati has allowed partial reopening for PG students on a voluntary basis. Efforts have been made to set up a Covid Testing Facility on the campus exclusive for the arriving students [4].

  5. IIT Gandhinagar has allowed students to return to the campus provided they sign an undertaking [5].

  6. IIT Dhanbad has also announced that they are currently in the process of planning a phased reopening for students. They also cover medical expenses of up to 1 lakh in empanelled hospitals [6].

  7. IIM Lucknow has already allowed 200/500 students to come on campus and were made to undergo a 14-day mandatory Quarantine. The original semester which started in an online mode on 4th August was converted to a hybrid model by allowing students to return in a 3 days window from 16th to 18th October 2020. Strict precautions are being taken by both the institutes as well as students to follow the guidelines.

  8. Manipal Institute of Technology has decided to call the seventh-semester students in the first phase starting from 20th November 2020, following with the fifth, third, and first [7]. The students are provided 3 options for the return 8 and are supposed to complete the academic activities by doing the laboratory course work and writing the end-semester examinations.

  9. AIIMS has approved a full campus opening for the students with appropriate precautions taken to follow Covid-19 guidelines [9].

Elephants In The Room

It’s no mystery what the students want. They voted, and 86% (over 1100 responses) decided they’d do anything if it meant dodging another online semester. It is, however, undeniably important to keep one’s demands reasonable and expectations realistic at a time like this.

There are some glaring issues with the idea of reopening the institute immediately.

For one, proper quarantine infrastructure needs to be set up before any students are called back to campus. Even with phased entry allowing students in small, manageable batches, the setup may take a while, justifiably so, and still cannot be expected to be a hundred percent safe for everyone.

Even if the students were to be permitted into the campus over a 2-3 month period, it is important to acknowledge that campus life will likely not return to normal for a while. Canteens and common areas could become hotspots for covid transmission and as such will probably remain closed. Offline lectures would still be difficult to conduct safely and hybrid means, as adopted by IIM Lucknow, might be worth exploring.

Furthermore, it is unclear who will be responsible for any health damage as a consequence of opening the campus. While a consent form sounds like a viable alternative on paper, does it actually mean anything if the return is mandatory? In the case of voluntary return, hybrid alternatives for classes are an absolute must

The parallels being thrown around about recreational places having resumed function and implying that educational institutions should follow suit are largely redundant. A Mall bears little of the implications and none of the responsibility for anyone that happens to contract covid within their premises. The same cannot be said for an esteemed engineering college.

Enforcement of social distancing protocols throughout the campus will likely result in a ban on public gatherings. Restrictions may also be imposed on commuting in and out of the campus premises.

The delay associated with the phased entry, quarantine, and day-to-day safety protocols will significantly shorten the spring semester and leave a lot less time to actually teach. Most internships are scheduled to begin in May, whether remote or onsite. The academic calendar for 2020-21 and presumably the next year will be distorted and time lost may have to be compensated elsewhere.

Summing Up

We wish to make clear that the aim of this article is not to force out a positive response in favour of campus reopening, one way or another. Nor is it meant to disparage the efforts being made by students towards that general aim.

It is, at its core, a much-needed address of the collective concerns of the student body, and the associated caveats that may have been overlooked. We hope this helps GenSecs represent the view in front of the administration and convey how adamant the students are about being allowed reentry into campus. Or if it comes down to it, we hope it at least helps push change and ensure a subsequent online semester that is received better than the current one.

Transparency must also be enforced actively. Watch Out! will continue to keep the student populace up to date on any discussions going on within the administration and we urge the GenSecs to continue to do the same.