We had been debating pros and cons of getting students work away from home.
- It makes them connect and work with new environments and cultures, against it increases the responsibility of faculty members for students wellbeing.
- It makes them independent versus how do we enforce discipline?
So when the opportunity presented to accompany the Olin colleges ADE (Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship) team at their “cycle-rickshaw project” site we happily grabbed it. Prafullbhai, the then VC of the Ahmedabad University was very upbeat about learning from the experts and gave us all necessary support. I am glad we did, because the experience was amazing.
One cold winter morning, I found myself waiting at the airport for one of the team members, the chirpy and irrepressible Radhika, after I picked her up, chatting about books from Rand to Tolstoy, we draw down to one of the tiny streets of the old city in Ahmedabad, an area I had never visited before to pick-up axels, flanked by several curious urchins and one or two well-dressed goats (in the winter someone had the bright idea of dressing up their goats in discarded cloths).
I could visit the team on-site only for four days due to other engagements but was impressed by the teams discipline and the buzz of activities. We shared all mealtimes, laughter, anecdotes and work-notes.
One of the most satisfying pedagogy experiments I did was in the monsoon semester of 2017-18 at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the Ahmedabad University. I am especially surprised by the success of the experiment because it seemed to occur effortlessly and due to spontaneity, demanded by lack of time for planning. My pedagogy came about as a culmination of multiple factors, following were the major ingredients,
- I had just come back after spending a semester at the Olin college, where I was involved in a flurry of insightful activities around student centric learning. My major takeaways from that semester were as follows:
- Design the interaction keeping student background and aspirations in mind, get to know their culture, their fears and their dreams
- Make students co-creators of your course
- Give students freedom to express themselves and encourage them in the process
- Encourage peer to peer interactions
- Humanize delivery (can’t stress this enough)
- Listen to students: This is another point which is very, very important. Students usually are not very free in their interaction with the teachers, due to the power-play involved. So when someone speaks up, it is really useful to make that person feel respected and valued and it is equally useful to show that you are ready to address the point raised by them. I am especially indebted to Prof. Lynn Stein who during her visit at Ahmedabad University and to Prof. Jonathan Stolk during the summer collaboratory at the Olin college in 2015, impressed upon me the importance of listening, encouraging and being non-judgmental.
- As a result of decades of reading and observing I had come to realize the importance of having a playful and relaxed mind in effective learning. I tried to bring it to practice by starting my classes with music, TED talks, a short video clip or discussion about a favorite news item by students. Once we played with a ball in the class while discussing very useful mathematics (internally I was quite freaked out, wondering if the youngsters will stay serious about learning while playing but it worked out very well)
- Encouraging teamwork: This was supported by allowing a lot of discussion time when I discussed a topic that students found conceptually hard. Peer to peer interactions not only as a method of learning but also for social and cultural exchange and psychological well being, was very much stressed on, during the course.
- Engaging with the class informally, by sharing personal experiencing doing impromptu projects, for example I discussed poetry that I write and one Saturday afternoon a bunch of us went to the workshop and spent several hours designing and laser cutting, card-board earrings
- Encouraging class to ask “why?” for any curricular component that did not make sense to them, when they did not ask why, I usually asked them as to why did they think they were learning the topic and where were they likely to use it.
Since the course was co-created with students being responsible for their own education and because of having a class which was not traditional, the atmosphere was much more cordial. We laughed a lot, talked about topics from ranging from movies and politics to literature, sports and businesses. It would be great to see if I can better that experience in the coming semester.
Here is a link to my github page with course-notes.
As an experiment in pedagogy in the winter semester of 2016-17, I offered a course on discrete mathematics as a project based course. Students worked as teams in the lab on three projects, while there were some quizzes and a few lectures too. There were 66 students in the class. I offered three types of projects. Groups were formed randomly and were required to come up with their own project idea. Here is a sample of one of the game projects
This project was created by a my students Chaitya Sanghavi, Freya Shah, Nikhil Balwani, Purvang Shah
- Create a game traditional or your own, using the MIT software scratch and analyze it.
- Study an application of a finite state machine (FSM) and write a code to implement it.
- Create a code that implements a graph-theory algorithm.
I got the students, most of whom had no programming experience, to learn scratch from using simple examples from the scratch website and then code for a game that was logic based, the last point was needed to be stressed because many groups had game ideas that used chance, speed and knowledge with not much logical reasoning required from the students. We worked on the first project in the lab for about a month, during which about one hour every week I taught discrete mathematics theory but rest of the time talked to students about getting their code to work and resolving logical and coding errors. I have a feeling that quite a bit of learning took place during this time which would be very hard to quantify. There were 3 students per group and the projects were graded by me as well as fellow students. The idea was to get students to enjoy the learning process.
Some of the games made were, Pacman, encroach and capture, word play etc.
On the project on finite state machines, I asked students to find applications of finite state machines and write codes that would either implement the application or make a new application that addresses a real world problem. Some examples were designs of traffic lights for six-roads junctions for efficient flow of traffic, control system for washing machines, lifts, design of survival games amongst others.
Project:3 Graph theory algorithms
Before starting on this project, I taught students some basic matlab coding and showed how to run simple programs. I also gave them some challenging codes, like coding for the Koch curve efficiently. Students either found an existing application or created their own application of graph theory and wrote a code in their preferred coding language. The projects mostly rotated around matching algorithms with some search and coloring algo.s thrown in.