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ABLe III: Developing Research Aptitudes in Students & Faculty

Kedar Soni,

Space Educator & Director

Abhinav Vidyalay & Jr. College

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

. Under the aegis of the Activity Based Learning program, we have so far instituted different types of labs for a hands-on approach to various sciences and all levels of schooling and a unique event to stimulate young minds. These activities have achieved the creative engagement of most of the students who participated, promoting a positive attitude towards exploration. The next logical step would be to develop the research & development skills of these students through appropriate projects so that they learn the value of giving a concrete shape to their thoughts and aspirations. The Summer School as outlined below is a step in this direction. The expected outcome of these experiments would be confident young men and women, capable to taking decisions about their lives and implementing them to the full, whatever path they choose to walk on.

An Aptitude for Research

The word Ďresearchí implies the act of collecting and analyzing information, and compiling it in a manner appropriate to the purpose. The purpose of conducting research is to allow us to take rational decisions based on an objective evaluation of the facts. One conducts research in every-day life when for example, one buys a new TV set or a car or when one decides about joining a certain venture or a job or when opting for a certain course of education. Such research, although at a miniscule level of complexity as compared to the research done by say a professional scientist or a journalist, still involves the same basic skills. Thus every person needs to hone these skills at different levels according to his/her profession or occupation.

Learning demands that the student must acquire all relevant knowledge in the area of study before forming the proper associations of the concepts involved. This exposes the student to different possible applications of the knowledge gained. With a little more enquiry, it becomes easy to figure out newer and possibly better applications for the same knowledge and thus leading to invention and discovery, which may be an integral part of the students chosen profession.

Research at School

Contrary to the general understanding the job of a school management or a school teacher involves a lot of research. The management has to work out better ways to use the resources available since the funds available are limited. It has to create new facilities and infrastructure in keeping with the times and also to be ahead of competitors. Such innovations are best done and better sustained when they are the product of an in-house team of amateurs rather than external professionals who may not be completely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. The educator within the management has to devise effective systems for delivering the quality as also for effectively measuring successes and failures. The administrator has to ensure the optimum use of resources as also the accessibility of the facilities to the faculty and students, which is particularly difficult in a small organization.

A teacherís job is not only to deliver the content of the curriculum to the student or to facilitate the use of various instruments of learning, but also to customize the methods of delivery according to the particular capacities of the class and the individual students. This demands that the teacher continuously experiments with different techniques Ė conventional and radical Ė as also keeps an up-to-date knowledge of the subject. To be able to keep abreast of all developments in any branch of study one must be able to encapsulate and hence assimilate the concepts involved rather than the details. To be able to formulate an appropriate pedagogy one must be able to distinguish between the concepts and their applications and stress on either of these, as is appropriate to the course being delivered. Thus, learning or teaching without a proper purpose or method can be as unproductive as doing the same with the sole purpose of a social or economic compulsion

A Productive Vacation

The educator, the administrator, the teacher and the student are all provided with a vacation so that they can rejuvenate themselves, since no person can remain efficient if he persists in doing the same work (or even the same kind of work) for long, monotonous periods of time. However, this is being increasingly interpreted as an opportunity for faculty to forget their jobs and responsibilities while the students either close their minds to any form of learning (curricular or otherwise) or are forced to attend special coaching in the same area of learning which they will be studying anyways in the year ahead. Either way the individuals lose precious opportunities to explore & develop new abilities and are left with inefficient methods of teaching or learning for the rest of the academic session. As was argued in paper on ABLe II, activity lacking in any form of creative challenges to the mind, reduces the abilities of even the best of minds.

A productive use of the vacation for the student can be to try to discover different subjects or activities (not covered in the curriculum) either formally through a course or informally through books and self-exploration. The teacher / educator can spend part of the vacation doing research and creating new educational aids / systems. Although it is not necessary that both groups satisfy their objectives through common activities, it often helps to have students assisting the faculty in performing various tasks over the vacation as is noted below.

Objectives of a Summer School

The assignments that students usually get in the academic session are usually restricted to the curriculum, since their purpose is to enhance the understanding of the concerned subject. The project-work that students do is beyond the curriculum, but cannot be expected always to have practical outcomes and hence usually ends up as more of a knowledge-gathering activity. (Also because it is usually en masse) The Summer School project therefore needs to be differentiated from the above, by keeping the following objectives:

1.       The project should be a joint venture between the student and the educator / teacher / administrator, in such a way that it should add to the understanding of both the groups. It should not be looked upon as a one-way knowledge-transfer from the guide to the student.

2.       The project should culminate into one of the following

a.       development of a new educational tool to be used by the teacher

b.       development of a system of managing various resources

c.       creation / improvement of infrastructure such as a lab

d.       a purely academic understanding of an advanced subject / technique / instrument

3.       The teacher / educator benefit from the above arrangement as they get enthusiastic students to finish tasks which would otherwise be monotonous or boring. However, the student must also benefit through the learning of a new concept, technique, instrument or software.

4.       The project should enable the student to gather some perspective on a certain career option, through a practical experience of having worked with conditions / people typical to that vocation.

The Methodology

On the first day of the school, the guides should present the project to all the students in a mini symposium, along the following lines:

         The work done by the guide in the area within which the project lies

         Brief note of significant work done by any other people / institutions in the same area

         The task outlined in the project, the expected outcome and a brief plan-of-action

         Resources required to achieve the target and how to avail of them

After the above presentation the students should be given a day to choose the project after individual consultation with the guide. The project should typically require about 75 hours of work and the student is expected to work for a minimum of 4 hours daily for a period of 20-25 working days. The guide should be available to the student for at least an hour each day. At the end of the school, each student will have to present a summary report in a symposium.

The exact timings and the method of work will be a matter of arbitration between the guide and the student. Like the student may choose the guide, the guide may also choose / reject a certain student. Although there will not be any formal selection, any student found to be very inefficient or in violation of the code of conduct of the institution will be asked to leave the summer school.

It should be well understood that the purpose of the Summer School is the mutual benefit of the student, the staff and the institution and hence there should be no question of any fees being accrued or wages being paid. The commitment of the student to the project is the fee paid by him, while the training delivered by the guide is the wages paid. Also the project shall be done within the duty hours of the staff.

Event Particulars

Since 1994, students have been working during the summer as well as the Diwali vacation. The Summer School 2004 is a formal make-over for the same. The school begins on 5th April 2005, at 10:00 am and will continue up to the evening of 30th April 2005. Any projects requiring further work may be continued after the formal closure or may be revived in June when the academic year begins. The projects planned are outlined below.

Projects for Summer School 2004

Educational Research

1.       Phrase Checker Algorithm: (Guide: Mrs. Prodipta Soni) With the recent developments of online exams, a paradox has emerged. To automate the assessment of the answers, the questions need to be asked as multiple choices only, since it is very difficult to check the sentences written by the student due to the fact that the same meaning can be conveyed in many different sentences or phrases. However this is also over-simplifying the assessments. It would be worth enquiring whether an artificially intelligent program can be employed to resolve the problem. Please note that this is an open ended enquiry.

Development of Teaching Resources

2.       Mobile Space Exhibition: (Guide: Mr. Kedar Soni) For the last two years we have been working on a space exhibition with posters and models conveying the importance of study of the space sciences. This exhibition now needs to be completed particularly with the view of presenting it to different audiences in different places for the promotion of the subject. The work involves mostly digital poster making and a good knowledge of astronomy would be required. Problems needing to be tackled are the mobility of this exhibition, without damaging the fragile models.

3.       Video-graphing Physics Experiments: (Guide: Mrs. Prodipta Soni) We have regular discussions before the beginning of a set of experiments in the labs. However, it is not always transparent to the student as to how exactly to perform the experiment. Also when the instructor explains the work during the lab period to one of the groups, others have to wait their turn, losing time. If the correct procedure and handling is video-graphed and the same inserted into pages explaining the theory etc. and such is available in the lab through a computer, (or two) it might save precious time and effort and routinely deliver the same quality to all future batches.

4.       Video-graphing Chemistry & Geology Lab Procedures: (Guide: Ms. Mala Chanda) Working in the chemistry and geology labs is not very difficult, but it has its share of doís & doníts. It is necessary for students to learn the methods of handling apparatus and making observations. The same if captured on film for once can be a useful resource for every academic year.

5.       Referencing internet resources with topical summaries: (Guide: Mrs. Prodipta Soni) There is a lot of graphic information complete with animations, applets, etc. on the net for various topics of various subjects. If we can create an index of some of these resources in the sequence of the topics in the syllabi of each class and also summarize the topic briefly for the student to be able to grasp the concepts quickly, it would be a supplement to the text-books which are seldom up-to-date.

6.       Developing case studies in Book-Keeping: (Guide: Mr. Raju Dharmadhikari) Every batch of XI & XII std commerce students struggles to understand the balancing of books and we find that the examples in the book are inadequate to give them a proper flavor. Hence we want to develop a library of case studies taken from the small businesses around us to highlight the procedures and practices of accounting. This would involve negotiating with shopkeepers to allow us to avail of outdated account books for academic purposes.

7.       Preparing molecular models to explain hybridization: (Guide: Ms. Mala Chanda) It is often easier to grasp the concepts involved in chemistry with ball & stick models rather than 2D sketches or even computer animations. Hybridization is one such concept that is tricky to understand.

Systems Setup & Management

8.       Improving the LAN: (Guide: Mr. Santosh Lakeshri) The Local Area Network in our premises maintains our intranet so that we can share information from one point in the school to another. However, for bulkier files the LAN starts becoming very slow, probably due to bad wiring or inappropriate hardware settings. We need to devise experiments to detect the exact cause and hence remove the problem. It will involve working with the computers as also with the electrical and LAN cabling and measuring the flow of information.

9.       Windows Scripting of Network Tasks: (Guide: Mr. Kedar Soni) In a network of almost 40 computers it is often laborious to run maintenance programs and checks on all the machines. Windows Scripting is an operating system command language used to automate such tasks. The language being rather simple however requires a previous knowledge of VB Scripting or HTML. It should not be a problem for someone with good programming skills.

10.   Indexing the library: (Guide: Ms. Leena Bayani) We have over 2000 books for all ages and subjects, but the indexing system has become outdated and hence most of the books remain under-utilized. A new and proper classification needs to be evolved and hence fed into the database. Simultaneously some of the damaged books need to be restored new purchases to be made on the basis of requirement of reference books in various areas.

11.   Horticulture; (Guide: Mrs. Bakul Ekbote & Mrs. Cecilia DíSouza) For many years we have been planning to have a small botanical garden (or pond) for cultivating different specimens for the labs. Also the trees along the compound are old and crumbly and need manure. More trees / flowering plants need to be planted along the gaps. All this needs to be done with a good understanding of the aesthetic appeal as well as the adaptability of the plants. This would require the student to actually work in the garden.

12.   Developing sports infrastructure: (Guide: Mr. Sayyed Kamil) To use the inner quadrangle for playing volleyball, basketball, etc. one needs a properly marked court. (apparently flexible as different games have different rules) Also the flag-poles need to be redesigned to be appropriately used as net-poles for different games. An indoor court would also need a mobile net which will not endanger other students (protruding hooks, etc.) or inconvenience the regular assemblies. This would actually involve designing and hence overseeing the fabricating / welding the equipment and then fixing it.

Office Management

13.   Document classification & template-making: (Guide: Mrs. Shraddha Patil) While automating / digitizing the office work, every few years we need to take review of different types of documents handled and hence a proper classification needs to be evolved. Also we need to prepare templates in Word / Excel for different documents to simplify the work. This job will need a good knowledge of MS Office and a keen mind to untangle the huge web of information that flows through the organization.

14.   Automating Document Access: (Guide: Mrs. Shraddha Patil) As our intranet is growing, many files particularly exam papers get misplaced due to bad file naming or shifting of folders etc. We need to devise a system of naming, storing and accessing the documents from the web. This will involve converting tons of documents in web pages or PDF files and hence writing simple HTML pages to access them.

Pure Science

15.   Understanding Einsteinís Special Relativity: (Guide: Mr. Kedar Soni) This being the centenary year of Einsteinís famous discovery of the theory of special relativity and also the International Year of Physics, I would like to give a small workshop on the Einsteinís work. The math of the theory is not too difficult for a SSC student, while the physical ideas if captured in pictures can be understood by even a VIII std. student, the link between the two, is often difficult to grasp. I hope to convey the way of thinking about physics as was promoted by famous physicists such as Richard Feynmann, Enrico Fermi and Einstein himself.

Copyright@Kedar Soni