The Outcome Based Education (OBE) is the new NBA mantra and needs to be implemented to ensure the university is accredited and the degree gets universal approval. In fact, the Washington Accord emphasis is higher for NBA accreditation for India vis a vis ABET or any other accreditor abroad. While the philosophies of all these accreditors have been very similar, it is important to understand what happens when a crisis like COVID19 befalls the university and all the planning in pedagogy and evaluations as per Bloooms taxonomy seems to be impractical. This is a case study of a bouquet university in the aravali mountain ranges in which responds to the crisis. The innovations can be viewed through an OBE frame work to verify if academic rigor is maintained.
Sir Padampat Singhania University (SPSU) was sponsored by the J K Cement Nimbahera Foundation to fulfil the vision of the founder through an Ordinance passed by the Government of Rajasthan in 2007 and which was subsequently made into the Sir Padampat Singhania University, Udaipur Act, 2008, subsequently recognised by UGC under section 22 of the UGC act 1956. NAAC accredited and a member of Association of Indian Universities, SPSU is a student centric university with a student centric vision for the benefit and overall development of the students. True to the vision of its founders, SPSU has always focussed on quality and built infrastructure, laboratories, hostels and invested in faculty in a philanthropic environment without the usual focus in increasing numbers. Instead the university has been developing international collaborations leading to academic participation and international internship and project work experiences for its students.
The unitary university has a bouquet of courses in both Engineering and Management streams in niche areas of Mechanical, Mining, Electronics and Computers at all levels up to and including PhD. The campus has always boasted a very cordial atmosphere with technological upkeep through Learning Management Systems but the major interaction was face to face and in class rooms and state of the art laboratories. The placement record is impressive and the alumni performance even better than that. It indeed is a small heaven for students and faculty with a great learning atmosphere.
The initial onset of COVID19 did create anxiety in all, however, the leadership of the university was able to assure students of hygiene and sanitised environment with adequate medical assistance. Nevertheless, as the Government of India took a call to close the universities, students safely returned to their respective homes. This obviously left academics unfinished and with no end in sight (even today) the leadership had to immediately chalk out a contingency plan that can ensure completion of the learning objectives for the students. There were international projects (EU) midway, pending lectures and practicals, activities that were critical to overall development of students and most important examinations without which students can not be graded and without grades your face value in the industry is questionable.
The leadership obviously took stock of the situation and in a series of meetings they fine tuned a plan which would ensure first the learning of students would continue, complete to the satisfaction of both students and faculty. Next based on the learning objective but under the constraints of not being able to bring students to the laboratories, e laboratories were to be provided supplementing the lecture lessons. The teachers needed to be trained to implement these strategic plans and lastly the evaluations leading to grading and infrastructure required to support that. Being is small focused group would have made it easier to think of a plan and agree, but the sheer small size would have made investments in additional infrastructure difficult that too towards the fag end of the revenue period a mammoth task for even larger universities. It is here that the philanthropy of the sponsors and the university leaderships confidence that helped them come up with a strong plan in a short time.
The academic requirements were determined in an Outcome Based Education frame work and faculty had a training in not only Blooms taxonomy and levels of outcomes and critical thinking abilities needed to be developed, but also on use of technology for creating, recording online lectures and delivering them. A well equipped studio was already available with the university which came in handy. The online pedagogy was a huge leap for the teachers in the entire country and the university was not an exception. The teachers however innovated and classified methodology and tool usage according to the needs for example for “need to remember” either a study material was made available in the form of websites, lectures from NPTEL or similar etc. For need to understand however, a lesson on LMS followed by a session on MS Teams for clarifying doubts was planned. For higher level of development live online sessions were planned with student participation etc.
This unfortunately was not the end as it was important to verify if the learning objectives have been achieved and the level to which outcomes have been attained needed to be estimated. The LMS supported quizzes to be conducted and quizzes could be designed for both knowledge as well as understanding, however for critical thinking analysis and create different techniques were required. Project work was very useful and one could have an oral examination online though MSTeams or similar. However, problem solving, was an ability which need to be in a proctored environment and concurrent for all students. The leadership procured a proctored on line examination software iASSESS and it made conduct of these examinations possible. Considering the proctoring difficulties, it was decided to hold open book examinations so that the examinations focus entirely on critical thinking and problem solving skills and not merely a test of memory. iASSESS however can use the camera of the candidates laptop and proctor the candidate.
The students and faculty enthusiastically participated in the new experiment and experience, and based on the actual student feed back the process was smooth and satisfactory to say the least. The examinations have been scheduled in July giving the teachers and students ample time to complete learning. The final year students examinations are also conducted successfully giving students and faculty feel for new technology. Preparations are also underway to declare results of these students by middle of June. Other examinations I am sure will also be conducted and there is a plan in place for constraints such as movement eased out and social distancing to be maintained etc.
Future Plans (immediate)
The end game for COVID19 is still unclear, even if the students can travel, and university is allowed to open the campus for students some of the social distancing norms are likely to remain and it is appreciated that only a fraction of students would come in if at all. In such a situation the online experience would continue and more innovations are expected such as flipped class rooms for case study discussions and collaborative learning exercise for building team work and more and more simulation components to replace actual laboratory work which can happen once students come to the campus.
The OBE forms a systematic framework to ensure academic rigor and infrastructure and people innovation together can solve any crisis in the path of learning. The SPSU faculty and leadership have indeed stood up for learning and skill development of students with a vision to achieve empowerment through education and skills.