The IITs are looking at conducting online classes all year long. There is no near-end to this COVID situation. Though the government has tasked a committee to come up with a common strategy which will help in the reopening of the 23 premier engineering schools.
On the condition of anonymity, several IIT directors have said that most likely, the autumn semester is going to be conducted virtually for undergraduate students or those who are already enrolled.
The IITs are intending to bring back the Ph.D. students whenever it is feasible. This will not shut out campus life completely.
Work is also being done to find suitable alternatives for students who may not have a fully functional Internet connection or appropriate device to access online lectures. This has been undertaken by the institutes. Some institutes have started tweaking the curriculum to push all the lab work to the spring semester, making learning more effective.
The Standing Committee of the IIT Council had set up a sub-committee of directors to discuss the challenges which a new academic session will bring with it and provide solutions for these problems. This was done last week. The report by this sub-committee is expected this week. After this, the report will go for the approval of the Council, headed by the HRD Minister.
It has been officially indicated by IIT-Madras of its intention of continuing the lectures of this semester virtually. Director Bhaskar Ramamurthy, wrote in an email sent to students a week ago, that in all probability they will have to continue with online classes for another semester.
He wrote in the email that they are not sure when will the institute re-open and how many students will be able to travel safely to the Institute. We also expect that only a few of the continuing students will be able to return to the campus because there are only 6,000 hostel rooms on a single-occupancy basis.
The director also mentioned that among the first ones to return will be the Ph.D. students followed by the fresh intake for the academic year 2020-21.
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The email also states that those continuing students who will be able to return to campus at any point in time during the next semester will have to continue with online classes once they are there.
Otherwise, the management can conduct some face to face classes along with the provision of live streaming/recording to help online students. They are uncertain about the unfolding of events considering the norms of social distancing.
Various heads of departments at IIT Bombay have asked students for their suggestions on how to make teaching effective in case the lectures go online even for the next semester.
Directors have justified keeping some aspects of campus remote for the year based on social distancing norms.
An IIT director said that because of the increase in student strength due to EWS Quota and supernumerary seats for women, all the IITs are pressed for space. Many students share the hostel rooms. Even if each student gets a separate room, the bathrooms and the mess will remain common.
Earlier, the IITs had sought an extension of a year to the 2021 deadline to add new seats for the accommodation of the 10 percent EWS students. This was mainly done because of the space constraints during the pandemic.
Another IIT director said that it is not only about social distancing. It is about how will the IITs ensure that each student is quarantined for 14 days before they are sent to their hostel room?
How will an IIT situated in a hotspot provide medical help to the student, if he/she gets infected when health systems are already so overwhelmed? He also said that even if they open, the parents will not be keen to send their children back.
For instance, IIT Guwahati started inviting its research scholars back on campus. Sources have reported that only a dozen students have returned while 150 invites were sent.
The IITs are planning alternatives for the students who do not have a robust internet connection for accessing the online lectures. IIT Bombay, for example, is already tapping its alumni network so that they can help students in accessing online platforms.
IIT Delhi is planning to offer its students a choice between dropping a semester or accessing the online classes while sitting in their hostel rooms.
The IIT Madras e-mail stated that the lab courses are postponed till the time students can return to the campus.
The mail states that the lab courses need not be worried about since they can be conducted in a compressed manner over 2-3 weeks.
IIT Roorkee and IIT Delhi are considering putting the practical component on hold for the next semester, according to administration officials. An official said that these laboratory experiments will be done by the students over a week two once they are back on campus.