Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Experiments in Higher Ed: Fractal Courses at IIT-H

IIT-Hyderabad is experimenting with an undergraduate curriculum that contains many, many "single module" or "breadth" courses (typically, one lecture hour per week) in various disciplines at an introductory level, followed by a more traditional set of "depth" courses (which require two or more lecture hours per week) in the student's chosen discipline.

The idea, as I understand it, is to allow students to study a variety of subjects in engineering, sciences, liberal arts and creative arts and to get them to appreciate and integrate ideas from many different directions. This would not only give them a perspective and a context to place their own core field in, but also give them a leg up in interdisciplinary thinking.

Over at the IIT-H website, you can find a couple of presentations, both authored by the IIT-H Director, Prof. U.B. Desai, articulating the concept of fractal courses. They contain a model curriculum with a suggestive set of breadth and depth courses for students of electrical and chemical engineering.


  1. ajitjadhav said...

    The core of the idea is neat, but I am not sure about the implementation part of it.

    It will need quite a bit of brain-storming and further thought to make these courses of uniformly high quality and actually useful. Otherwise, I am afraid, dishing out a bit too surface a course (read a low-quality course), complete with just throwing some nice colorful PPTs to go with it, would also be very, very easy.

    Guess they should first try it out on the PG students, may be for a year or so, and only then migrate the idea to the UG students (though UG students could easily have the option to audit these in the meanwhile even as the concretes of the idea evolve). No, I don't mean to imply that UG students wouldn't benefit from such courses. What I mean to point out here is that since the idea is rather new (at least in our Indian context), if there are any lacunae in the implementation initially, then it is the PG students who would actually be better equipped to take it all in their own stride, rather than the UG ones---despite the obvious bias for the UG students and against the PG students existing at all IITs.

    In any case, take the above as just preliminary comments. I think I still don't have a very good idea of what they have in mind. I think I would get a better (a more concrete kind of) idea if they flesh it out not just for EE but also for the areas with which I am better familiar: mechanics, mechanical engineering, materials engineering, and computational science and engineering.

    Though I advocated PGs first, yeah, even without being too ambitious about it, guess they could easily introduce 1 credit courses in History of Science/Engineering and software tools (say: Matlab, Python, CAD/CAM/CAE tools) also for the UG students right away. For instance, see the book: Calculus to Chaos. 1 Credit courses on books like these can be offered also to the UG students right away.

    In the end, it's the content that is the king---not the format/style/mode of delivery.

    Once I have a better idea of what the specific content for a variety of such 1 credit courses is going to be like, I would then be in a better position to comment.

    But yes, innovative ideas like these are only too welcome, in our, Indian, scenario.