sixth semester: keep calm and carry on

After the long wait (I mean, after 2 weeks of holidays), sixth semester began today. The first hour of the first day of every semester is dedicated to course registrations, HoD’s address and coarse discussions amongst herds of sheep about GPAs (“she doesn’t even know how to use a micropipette in lab, how did she end up with a 8.36?” and the like). An interesting bunch of teachers would be facing us this time, trying to decode their area of science to us. The methods of dealing with the subjects and tests is refined every semester. We find newer ways to memorize or remember something and get ‘smarter’ by taking up tests.

A new change to the system was announced today – laboratory final exams to be cancelled this time. I don’t support this new change at all. I think lab exams are important. Labs are the only place where we get hands-on experience and where we’re forced to think for ourselves (during exams) while conducting an experiment. Theory exams on the other hand, are more read-from-textbook-and-vomit-on-answer-sheet kind. To be honest, I have understood a few experiments and their concepts  only while preparing for, and performing the experiment in lab during the finals.

There is nothing much to say, except that I’m looking forward to the next three months which will be filled with many unexpected events/occurrences and many more comic sans powered powerpoint presentations (lets hope not!).

Protest at PESIT – an account

Today, I witnessed something that was shocking, surprising, ruthless, emotional – all at once in college. A second year EC student committed suicide in his hostel room by hanging himself and without leaving behind a note. I got the news at around 9am while looking out of the classroom window where a huge crowd had gathered outside the boys hostel which is right next to our building. The classes still continued, with many rumors floating around. We had lab internals at 10am which was disrupted when a teacher walked in to announce that the day was called off due to the sad demise of this student. We were asked to leave the campus immediately. As I waked towards the main gate with my friend and the rest of the college crowd, we realized that the gates were locked and saw a big group of students shouting / protesting against the institute management (especially against the hostel warden). We didn’t know the real story yet and watched a bigger crowd gather near the main building and gates. Press and media had already arrived at the scene – students didn’t allow them inside the campus so they climbed the magnum gate and took videos. Cops came soon in jeeps and vans. Students continued to shout slogans against the hostel warden and the principal. I couldn’t fathom what the actual cause of the protest was – as some people shouted against the college rules while some were against the hostel warden. There were many mixed up issues about the whole situation. By this time, the crowed moved towards the main building along with the director as he struggled to walk through the crowd with the police without being pushed or pulled. Some unruly students then threw stones at the glass building and broke principal’s office. They were immediately made to stop acting this way by other students who went and calmed them down.

We moved towards the cricket field (due to larger area that could occupy everyone) to discuss the issue with the management. Agitated students gathered at the field to listen to what the director had to say. In between shouting and all the chaos – I gathered that an unofficial student union was being formed to discuss the issue with them – as 500 people can’t do it all together. A couple of students who had spoken aloud before – formed a group and would represent the student body. To calm us all down, the DCP took in charge and spoke up loudly. We obliged to her and sat on the field. First – the cops and media were asked to leave as it was now more of a student vs management issue. We told our problems to the reps. Some of which were:

  • 5 marks for attendance to be removed.
  • We should have 3 internals (best of 3) instead of the currently existing compulsory 2 internals. Follow the VTU system.
  • The minimum marks for semester end exam writing eligibility criteria makes no sense in the GPA system. It was asked to be removed.
  • Councilors and doctors to be in the college premises on most days. We have no medical center as well.
  • Support extra curricular activities. Not treat students as prisoners.

While these were some academic demands, there were many demands for the victim’s family as well – college should compensate for travel of his parents, cremation. Warden’s apology for his mishandling of the situation and letting in media barge to film the student – while he was still hanging from the ceiling. Apology for the late arrival of the ambulance which arrived 3 hours late. The principal also clarified that he had not given any statement to the media yet, and everything that was telecasted was based on assumptions.

The director listened to every point and agreed on most changes. (Some illogical demands came up too – which I have not mentioned and don’t think are necessary). I think the principal and the director handled the situation well, and took a stride to support the students. By this time, both the management and students were on terms. The student union announced a candlelight march in the memory of the victim. It was extremely intriguing to see such a huge crowd turn up for it in the evening (more than the number of people who were protesting). We lit candles – the teachers and the principal guided us through the campus starting from the boys hostel. It is the largest crowd I’ve seen in my campus – more than during the cultural fest times. It was something that I’d never though I’d witness in (my) college. It was an emotional and a proud moment.

My take – since the boy left no note, the blame game has started. Yes, the pressure is unbearable sometimes. Too many tests, reports, assignment submission along with project work takes a toll on us. But is suicide the last option? Certainly not. Many have survived this system (and even tougher ones) and passed through it successfully – with happy and depressing memories. Some rules can be removed or tweaked, but this kind of situation should never be taken advantage of. Some students protested today without sticking on to the actual cause and drifted towards irrelevant and illogical demands. Yes, this is probably  a good opportunity to make the management listen to us and bring reforms, but not at the cost of unruly behavior and breaking college property. But in the end, I think the students showed some great character by listening to the authorities and calming down. When this happened, the whole atmosphere changed and provided an opportunity to carry out talks and stop the chaos. One thing that sickened me was watching the video of the boy hanging being shown on television channels and media coming up with random cooked up reasons to justify it. Read more about how the media reported the issue here.

Amongst all this, we are just lost in between deciding what is right and what is wrong.

Basic PowerPoint étiquette for teachers.

Today, I was blinded by large comic sans typeface and pixelated photographs for almost an hour in class. The teachers are getting more “tech-savvy” these days and adapting new methods for teaching (or they do it just to complete the syllabus on time). They get too excited and dump in large diagrams flicked directly from university websites (without mentioning the source) and are happy to just read from the slides than teach by themselves. I think it is my duty to respectfully (ahem) point out some basic powerpoint design etiquette to all the teachers (who’re still in the transformation stages) out there.

Dear teachers, believe it or not, a simplistic direct PPT does work quite effectively on students. No need to exaggerate content just because you have an open digital medium that let’s you do many number of things that traditional methods usually don’t.

  • First and the foremost -use decent or plain backgrounds for slides! I know that you get excited seeing many grunge textures and punk pattern templates that microsoft offers, but please refrain from using them against non-elementary reaction flowcharts and kinetics data analysis equations.
  • Please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD – avoid comic sans. Looks like it is your second favorite font after Times New Roman.
  • Use fonts that are simple and clear to read – preferably sans serifs. Keep the typefaces & size consistent throughout the presentation.
  • Learn color basics (It’s not too late to learn something that doesn’t pertain to your course work. We students learn a lot of non-study related things everyday and it kind of makes us much smarter in the real world). Red on brown, Ink blue on black, yellow on bright orange, etc (you get the drift) will eventually lead to some kind of disorder of vision. Plus, you don’t want us to go blind for the later half of the day.
  • If you want me to cite references in my project report, I want you to credit the photographs/illustrations/diagrams in your power point presentation as well. This is a personal thing, but I’d respect you a lot more if you did.
  • Don’t use animation/transitions on texts! I really don’t want to see words rumbling and rolling all over the place while reading about atomic force microscopy or something. Save the animations for demonstrating real experimental processes instead.
  • 6 x 7 rule – No more than 6 lines per slide and no more than 7 words per line. Use bullets and short-hand writing (consisting of keywords only). We really don’t want to see tons of textbook material copy-pasted on the slides :-|
  • Why oh why, did you type EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS?
  • Make lists. We all like reading lists that are progressive and lead us to a final result.
  • Clipboard is not your toy house! Ok.
  • I prefer (personally) if the subject and topic name is mentioned in the footer of every slide. Helps me stick to the theme and not drift away after a couple of slides.
  • Important words could be in a different color.
Finally, make use of this tool only to guide you in teaching. Don’t read everything directly from it and use it as a main source of teaching material. Some teachers just cannot proceed if the projector konks off in the middle of a class! They go blank and call every helper in the building to make it work to resume teaching. This shows how dependent they are on an external support than themselves. Finally, ask students for help. No harm in it.
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