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Talk with teachers: Going the extra mile

Urvashi Bhattacharyya

We got three educators talking on their teaching methodology and the changes they would like to see. In a two part interview we bring forth the views of Charu Dogra Rawat (Assistant Professor, Ramjas College, Delhi University), Smitha Hegde (Professor, Nitte University of Science Education and Research), and Vidya Jonnalagadda (Educator, Bhavan’s Vivekanand College of Science, Humanities and Commerce, Hyderabad). In this instalment one, they state their efforts to keep the classroom up-to-date and bring in career awareness.

Charu Dogra Rawat (left), Smitha Hegde (middle, in the black and red jacket) and Vidya Jonnalagadda (right)
Charu Dogra Rawat (left), Smitha Hegde (middle, in the black and red jacket) and Vidya Jonnalagadda (right)  

What kind of research do you bring into your teaching? How do you address the gap in knowledge between curriculum books and the latest in the field?

Charu: Before introducing a new topic, I ask students to collect updated information relevant to that area. I occasionally bring new research papers, or ask the class to read into its background information. This is to give them an idea of scientific reading and self-initiated exploration of a topic. While giving questions related to the content, I often suggest resources for exploration. Discussions related to the topic are held in the next session.

I also stress on the evolution of methodology and experimental protocols. I encourage them to refine experimental results by educating themselves with the advancements in techniques.

Smitha: I try to update students on the latest theories and events regarding my core subject. I continually attempt to translate the curriculum into meaningful hands on experience.

Vidya: For teaching tips (or research into teaching methodology), I follow Edutopia. The site provides excellent insights into student behaviour and motivation. I also follow the blog, Cult of Pedagogy. Each month, I generally read 2-5 articles from these blogs.

For subject-specific research, I look for review articles on the topic I am assigned each semester. I also write a “class textbook” for each course that I teach which includes the latest findings (printed notes covering the syllabus material well as related historical and/or recent findings). Each textbook has 25-30 pages of material for each “unit” of the syllabus; a course can have 2 to 4 units.

In our class discussion, I often ask students to look up some interesting topics related to the syllabus, but I do not include it in the grading system. I also run a facebook page for our college science club (voluntary activity open to all students) where I briefly describe recent or interesting findings related to biology (However, this page has been dormant this year due to various other activities. I hope to revive it when the college reopens).

How do you and your institute help students reach decisions about their future careers?

Charu: We do have institutional placements and invited seminars, but not much counselling is available to students. My own approach is to encourage them to choose what they are happy to learn and to explore resources in their subject. Within the DBT star college project, I ask them to choose their own topics, do a feasibility check based on the resources available in the lab, and then explore the topic in depth. I also call alumni from different fields so that students can connect or relate to them.

Smitha: We have a very active career guidance cell. We also have student- mentor groups (each faculty has 10 students to mentor). We conduct sessions on how to face interview, how to write CV and take sessions on how to face life, married life etc. I am also the student welfare officer. I counsel and mentor them on an issue to issue basis. The cells are constituted as per NAAC requirements by the institution, however the level of efforts may vary from teacher to teacher.

Vidya: There is a strong institutional-level effort to mentor our students for science-related careers. The institute conducts several visits to local industries/labs and national research centres, guest lectures from scientists, and an annual lecture series where they present their own project work in an inter-college competition.

In contrast, preparation for non-science careers is mostly left to the student based on their individual interests. There are outreach activities in the college in collaboration with local and national NGOs. Since our college became autonomous a few years ago, students can also opt for courses in other departments such as mass communication, languages, and commerce. However, we need to put in more effort in this direction by liaisons with people in other fields who can explain the opportunities in their areas and expectations of prospective employers.

Check this space for the second part of this interview where the teachers discuss the future of dissemination and their expectations from policy makers.

Written By

Urvashi is a Ph.D from National Centre for Biological Sciences. When she is not running around her toddler, she works full time as a Technical Manager at Centre for Brain Development and Repair. She is also a data science consultant …