Saturday, May 7, 2011

Summer courses at IITK

Come summer, and we are confused. Every year, we will argue whether summer courses offered at IIT Kanpur are same as the courses offered during the regular semester, with the same amount of rigor. Or are they "easy" courses designed to help the backloggers with an easy grade. And, of course, nobody will directly agree that the courses are easier. But, if they are same, then why can't someone who has not failed in that course, register for that course.

Some people will offer a weak defense. Only those people who have gone through a course once can go through a compressed version of the course. Instead of 3 lectures a week in the regular semester, we have 5 lectures a week in summer. So the pace is higher. Give me a break. Do you really believe that someone who never attended a class in the regular semester (that is the only way to fail in IITK) can adjust with the pace of the summer course, while someone who has routinely been getting B and C grades cannot. And if the pace of the course is really the critical issue, why does the Institute allow someone who failed in psychology course to register for a sociology course. But someone who passed the psychology course, is not allowed to register for the sociology course.

The other issue with the summer courses is that they are supposed to be optional for both students and faculty. But ask any backlogger. They are desperate to do something in summer. They are not very excited about spending an extra semester at IIT Kanpur. So, it may be optional for them, but they want to do them. Since it is optional for faculty, the course offering in summer is very limited. Only a few faculty members want to help out the backloggers, by staying put for the whole summer, and teach a lecture every day in such hot weather. Therefore, the weaker students do not often get the courses that they need to clear their backlogs.

In fact, the two issues are linked. Since very few faculty members teach in summer, the Institute wants to make sure that only the weak students with backlogs should register for those courses. Allowing good students in even some courses would mean that they may demand to be allowed in all courses. Hence all good students have to be barred from all summer courses. And a course with only weak students will invariably have lower standards, since the grading is still relative.

If we encourage faculty members to teach courses in the summer, either by having a good honorarium associated with such courses, or by encouraging departments to have policies whereby the summer courses by faculty is counted towards their teaching load for the academic year, and once we have many courses being offered, we could open them up for good students as well.

This will allow good students to do courses which they are unable to do in regular semesters due to scheduling conflicts. They can also then take it easy in the regular semester, if they are involved in some projects, or some major extra-curricular activities like organizing a student festival. And this will also ensure that faculty members don't have to give dishonest answers to questions about summer term.

So we should allow all students to stay back in the summer and register for summer courses. And if that results in early graduation for some good students, all power to them.


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