What the teachers say at IIT Kanpur

The attached document has both the summary and detailed comments from many distinguished teachers at IIT Kanpur,

Faculty final and summary.

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Revisiting Exam-Questions: Two Tiny Thoughts.

In a course, an exam is an appendix, a vestigial organ. If that is not the case then the conclusion should be: “the course has not evolved much”. After all, most probably, vestigial organs are consequences of unfinished/ongoing evolution.

Still, in the present scenario, this appendix cannot be cut off and everyone has to bear with it. Agreed that the students who are not very serious and sincere about the course become attentive only during a week or two around the exam-day, and can end up learning (or memorizing) a bit. However, exams are the most useless part of studies for the students who are constantly thinking about the new knowledge they are acquiring. Exam time is a complete waste of time and a highly stressful time for them. Actually, they are forced to do what exactly is not expected out of them: cramming things! Anyway, there are reasons to believe that written exams are needed and here we shall not go into debating it irrespective of whether we agree with it or not. Question is: can we make an exam a bit more useful? Following two ideas may be worth pondering in this context:

1) Rather than asking in the exam what the students should have learnt in the course, may be one can go a bit fancy. One can prepare questions which present before the students newer concepts that were not discussed in the classroom. Such questions can still use the hopefully-known-and-mastered techniques acquired during lectures. With enough hints, the questions can manoeuvre the examinees into doing calculations themselves and, thus, relishing the excitement of learning new stuff. This can also be put to instructors’ use.  For example, in a mid-semester exam such questions can be used to allow the students unknowingly prepare for the coming lectures.

2) Another idea is to nonchalantly include few questions carrying “zero” marks. These questions can very well be of the type discussed in the point (1) above. This creates excitement (and, may be, sweet confusion!). Some examinees will ask during the exam if there is any extra credit for doing such questions. Some will not even notice that the question carries no marks, and some will enjoy answering the question more than any other question in the exam-paper! Among others, this idea serves two main purposes: firstly, it tells the students that learning doesn’t stop with the last lecture of a course; and secondly, it spreads a bit of comic relief in  otherwise grim exam-hall(-hell?).

By no means, it is being said that these ideas are novel and must-be-implemented ones. But going by experience, these work. Even if the extent of effectiveness is miniscule, as long as there is some effectiveness, there is no reason for not implementing them.
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Teaching large classes

You may like to look at the following website

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Guidelines to Course Instructors

After my email to faculty mailing list about what should we, the faculty, be remembering while teaching in a semester, there were some requests that these be put up on a webpage, and what better place than this blog. So here is what instructors may want to keep in mind while teaching a course at IIT Kanpur.


Announce all course policies in the first lecture

This is possibly the most important guidelines. Not only the course policies should be announced during the first lecture, they should be available to the class all the time. So the instructors may post them on the course website, or an LMS like Brihaspati, or use another website like piazza, or simply email the policy document to all students in the class.

Grading Policy would include different evaluation components of the course and their weights. The evaluation components include exams (mid-semester exam and end-semester exam), assignments, projects, labs, quizzes, seminars, term-papers, and perhaps even attendance and class participation. Students want to know where they should focus to get a good grade, and while some instructors do not like this focus on grades by the students, one still needs to tell the students how the grading will be done. Related matters include whether the quizzes will be announced or unannounced. Whether one would count all quizzes/labs, etc., or best N out of M, etc. One, of course, understands that in some cases, there may be a need to modify the policy during the semester. But instructors should ensure that there are only minor modifications, and that these modifications are informed to the students not just in the class, but through website, LMS, email, etc. The grading policy would also include a policy on submission of delayed assignments, whether they will be counted partially or not at all.

Makeup policy refers to whether the instructor will provide alternatives to any grading component which the student could not undertake because of absence. Please note that Senate does not insist on any make ups, except in the end-semester exam, where the student directly seeks permission from SUGC Chairperson primarily for medical reasons. For all other components, the instructor is free to give an alternate exam/quiz, etc., or pro-rate marks based on other evaluation components, or just assign a zero and not give any credit for that component, even mid-semester exam. The only request is that the student should be given a make-up only if s/he was on authorized leave.

Attendance Policy should include whether the instructor intends to take attendance in the class or not. And if attendance will be taken, what is the expectation from the students. And in case the students are unable to meet that expectation, what would they lose or what would be the penalty. Would the level of attendance determine some component of the grade, or would poor attendance lead to a poorer grade, or may be the instructor would force the student to drop the course (de-register). Would there be any consideration for leave authorized by SUGC/SPGC, would there be consideration for a student having to go for an academic work like attending a conference, etc.

Honesty Policy is unfortunately needed in our system which seems to be quite tolerant of some kinds of academic dishonesty. Ideally, the policy should be simple – any act of dishonesty and you fail, and if the act is more serious (whatever that means), then the act will also be reported to SSAC for possible disciplinary action. But for the bleeding heart liberals, the policy could be, for example, give a zero in the specific evaluation component in which copying or plagiarism is detected, reduce a grade if copying is done in exams, and so on.
Continuous Evaluation

Continuous evaluation is the core policy of the Institute, and is fundamental to any grading scheme. Continuous feedback to the student throughout the semester is not only necessary for encouraging student learning, but it also reduces stress at the exam time, since a significant part of the evaluation is alreay done before the end-semester exam. Typically, it is expected that the end-semested exam would not have a weight greater than 50% in the overall grade in the course. For large classes, Senate has particularly suggested that there be at least one quiz each in each of the two halves of the semester.

Prompt Feedback is expected from the instructors for all grading components. Specifically, the mid-semester exam copies should be graded and distributed to students within a couple of weeks. In particular, please note that the students can drop a course till 4 weeks prior to the last class in the semester (the specific date is mentioned in the Academic Calendar, which is available on the DOAA website). The mid-semested exam evaluation and any other feedback given to student before that will enable him/her to take a well-informed decision on dropping the course.


Online presence of the course

It is a good idea to have a course website, or use a Learning Managament Solution like Brihaspati, a discussion forum like
piazza, or even just a facebook group for interaction with students. Of course, institute also provides email lists of all students in the course. You may want to add the email addresses of tutors to the course on OARS so that they too receive all the emails that you send to the list.


Students with Disability

Some students with disability (depending on the specific disability) are provided extra time during the mid-semester and the end-semester exam. It may not be possible to take care of their needs in all other grading components, but please do try to help them to the extent possible.

Dropping of Courses by students

As mentioned above, students can drop a course till about 4 weeks prior to the last class in the semester. They can drop only with permission from the instructor and DUGC Convener. However, it is expected that unless there is a serious reason not to allow this, instructors would normally allow the same. If you intend to not allow this under certain circumstances, it would be nice to announce them in the beginning of the course.



The students should be shown all the marks and the weighted total of all grading components other than the end-semester exam in the last week of classes. This is a Senate requirement, and must be followed. There are some faculty members who maintain all marks manually in a diary or a piece of paper. They often find it extremely difficult to do all computation in the last week of classes. Also, it is difficult to inform each student individually in a large class (and it is expected that you wouldn’t send the entire marks file to all students on email or put it up publicly). To handle these problems, one can start using a tool like Excel (or its equivalent in OpenOffice) for a small class, and a Learning Management system (like Brihaspati or Moodle) for a large class.

The end-semester copies must be shown to the students prior to submission of grades. Please note that this too is a Senate requirement. The grades are to be submitted within 72 hours of the exam for a class size of up to 60 students, within 96 hours for a class size from 61 to 150, and within 120 hours for a class size greater than 150. Please keep a margin for re-evaluation after showing the copies to students so that you can still submit grades in time. Typically, instructors tend to show copies about 24 hours before the grade submission deadline.

Extra Classes

It is expected that instructors would try to manage travel in a way that classes are not cancelled. However, at times, travel schedule can not be changed. In such cases, instructors can either request a colleague to teach the class or conduct an extra class. Given that the Institute puts a significant focus on co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and indeed our students have many things to do (including some time required activities like PE101, PE102, etc.), it is suggested that the schedule for extra classes be discussed with the class as much in advance as possible and the classes be held at a time when there is no clash with any other academic activity and is convenient to as many students as possible.

Also, in some semesters, a large number of gazetted holidays are there on weekdays and the course schedule does not permit 40 lectures. The instructor, if s/he so desires, can take extra lectures to compensate that shortfall. It is normally expected that a course would have 40 lectures (of 50 minutes each) in the semester. (3 lectures a week course that runs for the full semester.)


The exam dates for both mid-sem and end-sem are announced during the pre-registration time. Instructors are requested to make a note of them and avoid travel during those days (and also for 3-5 days after the end-semester exam for grading). In case travel can not be avoided, instructors may request their colleagues to proctor the exam.

Grading Cutoffs

Senate has decided that it is not mandatory for the instructors to announce cutoffs for different grades in their courses. It is up to each instructor to do so, if they wish. However, it is normally a good idea to announce the cut-offs. This allows errors to be detected soon. But please do not announce the cutoffs prior to the result being announced by DOAA office, since this would amount to announcing the grades. Senate has decided that grades of the students can be announced only after first the fail grades have been communicated to DUGC/DPGC/Head/Counseling Service, etc., and they have had a chance to counsel the students who have failed.


Posted in instructors

11 Habits of an Effective Teacher

Thanks Dr. T. Ravichandran for sharing this link.


Though it is actually meant for school teachers, the tips have some relevance at all levels of teaching.

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Explaining outcomes improves student learning

Thanks to Dr. Rajat Mittal for setting up this blog where all IIT Kanpur faculty can share ideas on how to improve learning on campus.

This particular idea is more based on what I have read and heard from experts in learning area, and not based on my own research or experience.

The student engagement in a class improves significantly if they know why they are sitting in the class and what they will learn in due course. Explaining the outcomes operate at three levels. At the top level, students need to know what this course is about, what are the topics that will be covered, what will the student be able to do after doing this course, and possibly how this course fits into the larger scheme of curriculum. Explaining this in the very first lecture would take only 5 minutes but would help in either student becoming engaged and more attentive in the class, or deciding that some other course would be a better idea (in case this course is elective).

The lowest level of explaining outcome is a lecture. If the faculty members can take one minute of time at the beginning of every lecture, say what topics are going to be covered in that lecture, and perhaps connect it with what was done in the previous lecture, it strongly improves the attention of the students.

An intermediate level of outcomes is a module, a part of the course which would be covered in a few lectures. Besides the engagement that happens when students know why and what of the course, an additional advantage of talking about module level outcomes is that the student realizes that a new topic also means another chance to get back into the course. Sometimes for various reasons, students lose interest and then always feel left behind. But if there is a clear indication to the student that a new module is starting which is of course connected to everything else being taught in the course, but yet it is possible to understand it better without going into the details of the previous module. This would enhance his/her interest as well as attendance in the class.

Dheeraj Sanghi, CSE Department

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