The COVID-19 pandemic has universities and educational institutions across the world on their toes. While some have chosen to shift to online platforms and continue the curriculum normally, most have made drastic changes to their academic policies to ensure fairness and convenience for the students. With this article, Insight looks at the different academic policies being adopted by premier educational institutions abroad, other IITs back home and also some leading private colleges in India. While we acknowledge the difference between the socio-economic backdrops of India and other nations, a look into their policies helps us understand the diverse set of ideas that can or could have been implemented here.
American Universities :
The impact of the current pandemic has been incredibly severe in the US. A lot of institutions, including the top Ivy League colleges, shut down in early March and ever since, university administrations have been actively brainstorming on drafting policies to deal with the unprecedented situation.
Most top universities had shifted instruction online and have since concluded this semester, with evaluation being completed online as well. A majority of these universities have also adopted special grading provisions. MIT, Columbia, Harvard and Dartmouth opted to shift entirely to alternate grades (PP, FF) and (PP, FR) respectively. Princeton, UPenn, and Cornell have allowed for students to opt for a Pass/Fail type of grading for each course. Yale and Brown have not made any provision for alternate grading and has advised instructors with methods and practices for assessment.
Universities in the EU and the UK :
EPFL : Having completed instruction through online platforms, they plan to conduct in-person examinations for students in August after a 2-month study break(1 June to 31 July). No provisions for alternate grading have been announced.
DTU : The spring semester was moved online, including exams, which were made open-book, allowing internet access as well. No provisions for alternate grading have been announced.
Oxford University : Oxford has made different policies for students in different years; first year UGs were passed without exams, 2nd and 3rd year students had their exams deferred to future terms, and final year students have open-book exams or highly subjective assignments; they (final-years) can also opt to graduate without giving exams, with a slightly different status (Declared to Deserve Honours status) or in special cases, return to give exams in a future term.
Asian Universities :
NUS, NTU : The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are letting students write off their grades for modules (equivalent of credits) this semester, to ease anxieties about disruptions to learning amid the coronavirus outbreak. This implies that students can drop their courses without it showing on their transcripts. While NUS is allowing undergraduates to exercise the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) option for up to 10 modular credits, which translates to about two typical modules, for the current semester, NTU will let students opt for the S/U option for all courses taken this semester.
Tsinghua University : The university used a self developed platform called Raintree that enables online mode of instruction and assessment. Three expert teams (Online Education Steering Committee, Online Education Quality Assurance Committee, and Online Education Technology Support Committee) and one special work team (Student Support Working Group) were set up to provide support for online teaching and learning. As of now, the university is opening up in a phased manner. Final year graduating students have been allowed to come back to universities if they wish to.
Peking University : Peking University also shifted course instruction and assessment to online mode.
Tokyo University : In Japan, the summer semester starts from April onwards. In mid of march, after the japanese government issued guidelines for public safety, the University of Tokyo implemented a full-scale transition to online courses. As per the latest update, all lectures will be conducted online for S1/S2 terms. Seminars and practicals that require in-person activities will take place during S2 and summer break, although the final decision about this will be made after careful assessment of the infection situation.
Other IITs :
While IIT Bombay was one of the first IITs to draft an academic policy for the current semester and the current academic year, other IITs too have come up with their own policies in the past few weeks. Some of them are as follows:
IIT Kanpur : A closure of the semester was announced with that note that all grading and assessment shall be completed by the 30th of June. A grading scheme consisting of A/B/C/S grades was adopted and a note will be added in the transcript as well, regarding the same. These grades were assigned on the basis of performance until the mid-semester recess and any online assessment, as the instructor deemed necessary. Non graduating students with any letter grade other than A will have the option to improve the grade in a special exam once the normal semester resumes.
IIT Guwahati : All academic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities that required the students to be physically present on campus were suspended. However, the online mode of study and evaluation was continued. The evaluation and grading are supposed to be completed by the 15th of July, 2020. Course instructors have the freedom to choose the way of online assessment whose weightage shall be between 10% to 60%. Students facing serious difficulties in electricity/network or physical/mental issues have the option to opt for an ‘I’ grade. However, one must opt for the I grade for all the courses registered, not selected ones. Also, an academic grievance cell has been set up to deal with students’ academic issues in view of the unprecedented situation.
IIT Hyderabad : The campus has been closed and course instruction is being carried out via online platforms. The institute also plans to conduct online examinations for the students, and a policy of awarding letter grades, with the option of opting for S grade, will be practised. In the case where a student chooses to take the S grade, they will not be required to appear for the online examination.
IIT Gandhinagar : The institute plans to conduct classes via online media and also conduct examinations in a similar manner. A new grading policy has also been drafted, according to which no letter grades will be awarded this semester. Two new grades have been introduced: P(E) Grade is the Pass grade where credits will be considered for the eventual credit requirement; the I/F Grade denotes Incomplete/Fail but will not distinguish between the two. Also, students getting this grade will have one opportunity to improve their grade in an examination, the details of which will be announced later.
Other IITs are still working on their plans with respect to evaluation, grading, and re-entry of students to the campus. Official announcements are yet to be made. Meanwhile, instruction is being carried out via online platforms and administrations are ensuring that minimum inconvenience is caused to the students.
Private Indian Colleges :
BITS : Unlike most other institutes, BITS did not suspend their semester upon the commencement of the nationwide lockdown; they continued lectures through online classes and completed the syllabus. However, due to the unavailability of a method to conduct exams without foul play by examinees, they are yet to formally conclude the semester.
While the institute has not yet finalised plans for continuing students, graduating students will be tested through home assignments, or other take-home evaluations, which will count towards at least 20% of their evaluation. Continuing students will be given a GA(Grade Awaited) grade as a placeholder to allow them to register for their next semester. The final policy for evaluation is to be announced on 15th July 2020.
VIT : This institute is likely the only one to continue the semester after almost 3 months of summer vacation. While they suspended classes along with most other colleges, they continued and wrapped up the semester in online mode. Having started from the 1st of June, the syllabus was completed in about a week’s time, and students received official communication about the termination of the semester on the 7th. They are now being graded on the basis of their in-semester evaluation and will have an opportunity to give a supplementary exam sometime during the next year, to improve their grade.
The prevalence of grading provisions similar to the ‘S’ grade provision adopted by our institute would lead us to believe that while a PP on our transcript might blemish it, especially for those looking for further studies, it’s unlikely to affect one’s chances. However, the lack of prompt online resumption of the spring semester instruction due to lack of requisite preparedness, unlike some of the aforementioned institutes, might leave a noticeable lacuna in understanding, especially given how insti culture tends to overload the assimilation of content towards the latter half of a course. This coupled with a number of instructors electing to give letter grades based almost entirely “on the evaluation, which has been completed till (and inclusive of) the mid-semester examination,” adds a grading aspect to the shortcomings of the policy adopted.
With many institutes continuing instruction and evaluation online for Spring 2020, it may not prove to be too difficult for them to extend this pedagogical approach to the Autumn of 2020. As this isn’t the case with IITB, it will be interesting to see how the next few months pan out academically.
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