Overheard in the classroom: Feedback on courses, syllabi
Universities and institutes across the country are going beyond ‘listening’ to students and are making them stakeholders in designing and executing curriculums, allowing them to shape what they learn and how they learn it.
From undergraduate to postgraduate courses across streams, institutes such as Mumbai’s SP Jain School of Global Management, Ramnarain Ruia College and Jai Hind college; the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati; the Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurugram are using input from students to decide what modules to add to courses and which new certificate programmes to offer.
“Students are now partners in decision-making here,” says Gautam Biswas, director of IIT-Guwahati. “They are either part of our curriculum validation panels or are asked to send in their feedback on the curriculums.”
This is helping improve the courses at large and is helping students get a more well-rounded education with an eye on greater employability. “At our institute, students provide feedback through discussions with the quality assurance team that ensures curriculum and course content is relevant,” says Anitha Ramanna Pathak, manager of quality assurance at SP Jain School of Global Management. “It makes students more involved, they begin understanding the course better and it gives them a greater stake in what they’re studying.”
Stepping into the future
With advancements in feedback technologies and increasing flexibility on the part of private institutes, such a give-and-take is easier and more fruitful. “Institutes now want to know if a particular course is effective enough, if it serves the intended purpose,” says Umashankar Venkatesh, director of the postgraduate programme in management (PGPM) and professor of marketing at Great Lakes.
“Having a discussion instead of written feedback helps us understand the students’ perspective better,” adds Pathak. For instance, at SP Jain, postgraduate management students since, the last three terms, have been suggesting that the ‘student boardroom’, where they play CEOs and COOs, ends up having only few students participating. “We now have a digital platform called Socrates, where the whole class can leave comments and respond to the hypothetical situations in real time,” Pathak says. The system has been adopted for the postgraduate students, and will also be introduced at the undergraduate level, eventually.
Elsewhere, colleges with increased autonomy are changing how they implement the feedback. At Ruia, they started taking feedback on all curriculums three years ago. “We would hold discussions with student representatives, collate the responses and send them to the University Grants Commission (UGC),” says Jessy Pius, coordinator of the college’s internal quality assurance cell and an assistant professor of botany. “This took time, and didn’t always yield results.”
Last year, the college got autonomy. “As per UGC guidelines on autonomy, each department should have existing students on its board of studies,” says Pius. “This has made students active learners. And we are able to respond in kind. Sometimes, changes are incorporated as quickly as the next semester.”
A demand for research at the undergraduate level in the Science and Arts streams, for instance, has led to the inclusion of a paper on research methods in the second year and a research paper in the final year (from 2018-19).
Jai Hind college has student representatives on the board of studies for the Bachelors in Management Studies (BMS) and Bachelors in Mass Media (BMM) programmes. “The result has been tie-ups with industry partners for modules on data analysis, risk management and stock markets,” says principal Ashok Wadia. “Students also asked for certificate courses on forensic science and Indian heritage, which we introduced.”
Open-ended feedback can help add value to existing systems. “After each semester, we fill in a form on how each subject was taught,” says Tanuj Abrol, a PGPM student at Great Lakes. “One component is on the weekly guest lectures. Students can suggest specific lecturers or industries they want people to come from. In a PGPM programme, everyone has some work experience, so this kind of feedback can expose the batch to diverse fields.”
Students may not always know what to ask for. “They may be overly influenced by trends such as social media marketing, for instance,” says Biswas of IIT-G. “One way of getting a better response is to ask them to refer to curricula of best international universities and come up with suggestions.”
Sometimes, they may go to an unfeasible extreme. “Last year, postgraduate students from the science stream wanted an entire semester on projects only,” says Pius of Ruia. “We had to explain that some foundation concepts, some theory is essential.”
Usability of student feedback also depends on the stream. “For our post-graduate programme in data analytics and data science, for instance, designing a curriculum needs a panel of experts from industry and experienced faculty,” says Venkatesh. “Student feedback, in that case, does not play a major role. We ask students for a feedback at the end of the course, which is then reviewed by professional bodies. Technical courses need to be tightly controlled, after all.”