Monday, September 6, 2010

IIT undergrads start new chapter of tutoring juniors

Most IITians think that they are as different from their faculty members as MS-DOS is to Windows. Taking the same corollary a bit further, when it comes to their teaching assistants, the latter apparently are still stuck in the faded age of Orkut. But these gaps will soon be bridged with the launch of a novel programme, in which the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay will have senior undergraduates teaching freshers.

Bright undergraduates tutoring their juniors is common on most American campuses but this is the first time that an Indian institute is attempting this teaching model. With the number of students rising, teaching assistants are becoming all the more important in the tutorial system being conducted after lectures.

"On an experimental basis, 50 undergraduates have been appointed as UGTAs (undergraduate teaching assistants) who will help faculty members take first- and second-year core courses. These students will have similar assignments as that of regular postgraduate teaching assistants," said IIT-B dean (academic affairs) Supratim Biswas.

"We are being very careful while selecting students for the programme. Not only do they need to have brilliant academic credentials in IIT (without any backlogs) but they also should be able to handle the additional load of tutoring juniors beside completing their own studies."

Usually, IITs appoint their PG and PhD students as teaching assistants, who are also offered financial support. However, some of the schools have woken up to the fact that many of these assistants did not study their UG courses at an Indian Institute of Technology; so, their methods of teaching often differ from that of a teacher, sometimes ending up confusing a student.

"We have observed that our undergraduates can relate to their seniors who are well equipped in handling the rigour of bread-and-butter institute-level core courses both academically as
well as temperamentally," said Biswas.

In fact, IIT-B has infused a catalyst — a respectable honorarium of Rs 48,000 a year — to its experiment. If the arrangement yields good results, the next year may see more third- and fourth-year students (of the dual degree programme) being selected for coaching.

With the rising student population on campus, lectures for all core courses are being held four times a year, to make up for the paucity of faculty members and classrooms. Last year, the large hall meant for convocation was used for classes, but several students and teachers said it was irrational to have a class of 880 at a time. Lab sessions and workshops are held in shifts.