Colleges

The power of choice

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The Fully Flexible Credit System at Vellore Institute of Technology allows students to choose the subjects they want to study and make their own timetable.

“I am now in a college that follows the FFCS,” said Archa Rajeev when I met her after a year. She proudly talked of the new system her college, VIT, follows to provide “quality higher education.” The Fully Flexible Credit System (FFCS) gives the students flexibility to make their own timetable, she said. You choose the subjects you want to study and you choose the teachers you want to study under.

I spoke to educators and other students about the system. In the FFCS, the college puts out a broad framework of academic courses and credit requirements and steps back. Then the students pick their courses, the pace at which they want to complete them and, happily, the teachers as well. An entrant registers for courses that he/she likes and draws his/her own academic plan. The system allows students to alter their choices as they go along — after assessing their ability to complete the courses chosen.

Interdisciplinary

The “basket of courses” within separate classifications from which students choose have interdisciplinary courses from other engineering schools, to acquire additional skills. To aid slow learners, all major courses are available in both semesters every year. Students can re-register for the courses they didn't clear in the earlier semester.

Bright students are rewarded. FFCS works on a slot-based timetable. You choose the time you want to attend a theory class or lab. Combining FFCS with a slot-based timetable, students prepare their own timetable. Each student in a class may have a different timetable.

A credit system for evaluating academic performance gives a grade-point-average (GPA) on a scale of 0-10. Across two semesters, teaching programmes are organised around the credit system.

As you go through lectures, tutorials, practicals, projects, seminars, dissertations and industrial training, grades are allotted on the basis of relative technique. Class average and standard deviation are combined to ensure fair grades for all students regardless of different evaluators. At the UG-level, credits are awarded for co-curricular work.

Broadly, the exam pattern and grading system depend on your timetable. Across the semester, you take 6 exams — 3 quizzes, 2 CATs (Continuous Assessment Tests) and 1 TEE (Term-End Exam). The day of a class quiz is decided by students and teacher, CATs are for units and TEE is 2-week long, covering the whole syllabus.

In the slot-system, the exam for the subject will be held in the same slot as the class. If you have a combo of morning/evening slots, you take two exams a day! Though you write a lot of exams, your total marks for a subject at the end of semester is out of 100, broken and reduced for the three categories of tests.

Positives and negatives

I asked students for their reactions. “Gives us confidence and planning skills,” said Archa. “The faculty is being assessed, so there is accountability. There is better personal rapport with them, and we get more time for academic discussions.” Not all students give it full marks. “We do plenty of planning to get good faculty, an easy-paced timetable and classes where friends can be together. But at the end of the day, it depends on luck! We need to get an early date for FFCS. If we don't, all the planning comes to naught and we end up with what is left. In the worst-case scenario, you won't even get the subjects you want.” If your turn comes at the end of Day 2, what are your chances of getting the subjects/faculty you want? “What if all slots are full?” Universities adopting this system must have a server that can take care of 3,500 applications at the same time, say students. If registrations happen simultaneously for all applicants, you have a wide range to choose from.

In the Relative Grading System you needn't score “heavily” in a paper. It is not important to be perfect, all you need is to be better than the others. It’s about scoring sufficiently enough when others can’t score. “In the country of the blind, one-eyed man is king.”

Campus woes

Another problem is the vastness of the campus. If the campus is spread over 350 acres and the distance between buildings takes 10 minutes to cover, freshers have a tough time “commuting” to classes. “I was running 600-1000 metres between classes!” said one. “And teachers don't take kindly to late-comers.” Students in colleges abroad use bicycles, but then they don't get stolen. Intra-campus buses are a solution, but they are often unreliable. Can there be a buffer time (10-15 minutes) between classes? The problem gets mitigated when you choose classes wisely, but that can happen only after you become familiar with the campus. Also, “we chose the faculty through the website and on our impression of them during orientation. Next year, we will guide freshers!”

The system is still in the cradle, but once it grows and chinks are knocked off, it will be seen as one that is better than all other experiments in higher education, most students say.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 12:57:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/college-and-university/the-power-of-choice/article6578343.ece

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