Published: 03rd July 2019
SRM University AP - Amaravati to start Minerva active learning classes soon
SRM University AP - Amaravati has opted for Minerva classes, founded by Ben Nelson, recently and might just be the first institute to do so
Active learning and continuous assessment process has been the most sought-after dream in the Indian education system. SRM University AP - Amaravati, in this process, has become the first to adopt the most advanced version of active learning. In a collaboration with San Francisco's Minerva School at KGI, SRM will begin its active learning classes from July 15 which will have batches of 60 students.
"In today's world, there is a great need of transferable skills. In the practical world, you don't have scope to apply what you learn in your classrooms. I studied Statistics in my graduation as I loved Math. I also used it till date as I did my Masters and PhD in it and later became a professor of that subject. But today that is not the case. People usually don't end up working in the same field in which they have taken education and so if you ask them about things that they have studied after years of graduation they don't remember anything. We want to solve this problem and want the students to undertake their preferred education in a way that will help them to actually apply it in daily life at their workplace," says Vice-Chancellor, SRM University, AP Dr. Jamshed Bharucha.
Rapt attention: Participants absorbed in a class | (Pic: SRM)
This learning process includes effective education, which further has three branches. These are broadly classified as transferable skills through well-structured curriculum where a student learns to use a certain concept in a situation different than the situation in which he/she has learnt that concept; elimination of lecture-test process where the teacher is no more the only one speaking the classroom, instead it is a digital classroom where students get equal opportunity to share their ideas and opinions; feedback and assessment where students get a regular feedback from the teachers as to where he/she is excelling and where they need to improve. In this process, students and professors from across the world connect with each other on the digital platform designed by Minerva through a login ID and password. There is no limit to the number of students that can enroll for a specific course. The students are further divided in to random smaller groups by the software, followed by setting lecture timings for each group. The students can also sign up and conduct group studies in the absence of their professor and can share any type of documents online.
The sessions are recorded so that the professor can view them again to grade them. Students are assessed on their daily participation in discussions and through a few assignments instead of a mid-semester and final exam pattern. The teacher automatically gets a statistical data about each student's participation through the written or spoken chat that he/she has during the sessions. "In this process the number of students handled by the professor is small and thus, he/she can concentrate on each student’s minute details. He has the liberty to make any student talk at any desired time during the session. The professor just has to click on the students picture for that student to share his/her views on the ongoing topic of discussion or give an answer to the question asked. So it becomes important for students to do their homework with dedication. This eliminates the possibility of favoritism and partiality as everyone has a proof for the grades given because the sessions are recorded," explains Ben Nelson, Founder and CEO, Minerva Project.
All eyes in the front: Ben Nelson, founder and CEO, Minerva Project (Pic: SRM)
Incorporating such technologies has become the need of the hour as the purpose of education has changed; now good grades are not as important as practical knowledge. "Only training is not important in today's progressive world. Students have to learn how to think and how to translate their learning in different situations and subjects," adds Bharucha.
On one hand it has been two months now that the teachers at SRM are undergoing training to begin their classes from July and on the other, an aptitude test will be held to select 60 students who will be attending these lectures. The students who will not pass the aptitude test will be given extra coaching so that they can join the active learning class from the next semester. Meanwhile, as a pilot project, only two subjects, Communicative English and Computer Science, will be taught through active learning. It will be further extended to other two subjects - Statistics and Critical and Creative Thinking - in the following semester. Explaining its benefits, Nelson says, "At our institute back in San Francisco we have seen that this process benefits the students who struggle with studying more than those who can do better anyway. Also, it is highly time conscious as we have timed lectures and each person in a group including the professor is given specific time to speak. The screen automatically switches off if any of them exceeds the proposed time period. Apart from that, it is a process that concentrates more on how will the students learn instead of how will the teachers teach." He also says that active learning is the easiest way for the students to learn and the toughest method for the professors to teach as it becomes easy for the students to memorise the concepts well through productive discussions and this brings forth verified questions from them for which the teacher has to be prepared from the beginning.
Involved with them: Students in a class | (Pic: SRM)
Sharing her experience, 20-year-old Menita Ranghar, who has been taking the Minerva classes for the past two years, says, "As compared to my earlier education, though I had studied in international board from India, this process of learning is much more helpful. Through our pattern of teaching, we as students, only know the formulas, but through active learning, we also know their usage. Also, this learning process helps us gain knowledge of different fields in the four-year graduation course. For instance, if one wants to pursue a master’s in a subject related to the Science field, he/she can still opt for something like Creative Writing as one of their other subjects."
Reports have stated that the retention rate in the mid-semester-final exam pattern was just 10 per cent, while that in active learning process it is as high as 70 per cent. "There is a need of disruption in Indian education system. The UNDP study states that 50 per cent of the Indian applicants appearing for interviews either do not meet the skills requirement," informed Bharucha. Citing another report from NASSCOM he further says that about 40 per cent of India's workforce needs re-skilling over next five years to keep pace with transformations in every sector.
Hear, hear: Ben Nelson explaining | (Pic: SRM)
Sharing the difficulties in introducing this learning pattern, Bharucha says, "Initially we thought that there would be numerous restrictions from the government. But the recent education document released by the central government came to us as a surprise. Also, the state government reduced restrictions and has given us a free hand in incorporating new technologies. Instead of this we are facing cultural obstacles as this teaching pattern is a huge culture shift for the professors who have been teaching the traditional way all their lives. Making them understand and convincing them is our biggest struggle which we are coping up with."
"The world has changed so drastically that it has become better to be jack of all trades instead of becoming a master of one specific subject," signs off Nelson.