Students from the 4 RTCs in Thiruvallur demonstrated their projects at the RTC Impressions event conducted on 6th Feb at the IITM Research Park.
IITM Pravartak and Asha are running 5 Rural Technology Centres, 4 in Thiruvallur Dist and one in Thoothukudi Dist. Project work is an important aspect of the courses offered by the RTCs. Children develop a fairly involved project related to their course. For the courses that we offered in the July to Jan semester, students had developed their projects. We provided the students an opportunity to present their projects to a panel of eminent judges. Here are the details.
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RTCs, Courses and Projects
Two of our RTCs at Kanakamma Chathram and Seethanjeri started in Jan 2022. Two more at Poondi and Kannigaiper started in July 2022. The fifth RTC at Kayathar started in Oct 2022. At the RTCs our academic calendar runs as two semesters – Feb to July and Aug to Jan. In each of these semesters we offer courses at the RTCs. As there are always new students, two courses that are offered as standard are one Basic Digital Literacy and Basic Computer Programming. As more students complete these courses, we offer some more advanced courses. In the Aug 2022 – Jan 2023 semester the first two RTCs (Kanakamma Chathram and Seethanjeri) offered an advanced course on Web-development. As the Kayathar RTC started only in Oct, it did not participate in the project work this semester.
To complete our course and get a course completion certificate the students need to do the following things,
- Have an attendance of at least 75% for the whole course.
- Take an assessment at the end of the course and clear that successfully.
- Complete a project related to their course.
A total of 185 students across the 4 RTCs completed all the requirements of their course in 2022 – Term 2.
Importance of Project work
The purpose of the project-work that accompanies our courses is not primarily that of an assessment tool for evaluating the learning of the students. This is almost incidental. Project-work is an important teaching tool. We allocate almost 1.5 month or about 1/4th of the total course time for just the project work. Projects achieve education in ways that well complement the instruction-driven learning that we usually practice.
We associate education with an instructor-driven learning model. In this the teacher determines what the student should learn and teaches it. The alternative to that is where a student desires to achieve something, in the process needs to understand a bunch of things and approaches a teacher or rather a guide to learn these required things to achieve their goal. This essentially is goal-driven learning. Research has shown that with goal-driven learning, the students retain a lot more of what they have learnt and transference occurs much better (i.e. the students are able to transfer their theoretical learning into a practical application in a different context).
We aim for this goal-driven learning through our project-work. Here the responsibility of the teacher is to make the students feel that the project is “theirs” and they should try to do it well. Once such a sense of ownership is developed, students start driving the learning. Towards this, teachers show them good work done by students in the past and shows them all the various things they can also do in their project.
What we usually do in our teaching is Mastery learning or extensive learning. Here the students are taught a bunch of concepts that form the curriculum and are at the end of the course expected to have mastered these concepts. While this kind of makes sense in Mathematics, it does not make sense in almost any other subject like Languages, Science, History or for that matter Computer Science. As any user of computers will vouch for, there is no such thing as knowing everything in Microsoft Office or everything about Internet or everything in C programming. The intention of the courses should be to teach you enough of it to get started and understand how you can find more information that you need through Google, various coding sites, these days ChatGPT etc. Developing a basic understanding and confidence to handle the more advanced tasks is much more required. Here again Project-work which is an intensive work on a small subset of the course curriculum achieves that learning objective better.
When a teacher gives a student an assignment, there is one (or more) correct answer which the student is expected to get and upon getting that answer, there is nothing more left to be done. Project-work is not such an assignment. It is open-ended. There is no such thing as saying that the project is complete. The student can always make his presentation more aesthetically pleasing or make the various transitions in his program more intuitive or smoother. A deeper understanding of the work comes from such open-ended work on “improving” their work. It also encourages creativity in the student. This is similar to a musician becoming better by constantly improving how he performs one song instead of learning 100 songs. Project-work through its open-ended nature promotes creativity and a deeper learning.
Projects Submissions in 2022 – Semester 2
The following table captures the projects that were submitted as part of the course work for this semester.
The quality of the projects was very high. Other than a couple of projects ALL the projects met our basic criteria for being sufficient for the course completion. We had a tough time selecting the projects for the RTC Impressions. The criteria employed for selecting the projects were the following,
- Technical merit. How much of what they learnt in their course work have they incorporated into their project.
- Content: In the case of presentation, have they selected good content and organised it well. In the case of programs, have they put in sufficient complexity into their games or stories told through their programs.
- Aesthetics. Finally does the presentation look good? Does the program work intuitively and do the stages transition smoothly?
Three volunteers from Asha, Venkat, Sujatha and Krishnan judged these presentations, The best thirty were invited to present their work at the RTC Impressions event. The teachers had about a week after the selection to train the students on how to present their work to judges, and make some last minute corrections and improvements.
RTC Imrpessions Feb 2023 – Organising
We usually host our functions at the auditorium in Vanavani school. This unfortunately was not available on the dates we were looking for in early Feb. None of the bigger classrooms in IIT were also available. Pravartak rented a hall in their IITM Research Park to organise this. This turned out to be a great setting for the function. The children through that got exposure to what a HiTech working environment will be like. Seeing a modern office complex was itself like an excursion for the students. The food was also organised at the IITM Research Park itself and was very good. Projection, audio etc. were very smooth.
Students were coming for the function from all the 4 RTCs in Thiruvallur. We arranged separate vans and mini-busses to bring the children. The children got permission from their parents and school to attend this event. Some of the children (esp girls) were not allowed to come for the event but most of the students did attend. Some 105 students and 10 teachers came to the IITM Research Park.
The following people agreed to being judges for our function.
- Arjun Shankar: He headed the BPO division of NIIT and has been involved in crafting the various training programs of NIIT.
- Indumathi: She works for Amazon and knew about Asha’s work through her class chat sessions with some of the schools that we support.
- Dr Srividhya: She works for Pravartak as a project consultant and is involved in evaluating and defining many of the projects that are undertaken by them.
- Deepak Umapathy: CEO of Crossbow Labs and a consultant in enterprise cybersecurity and privacy.
- Srikrishnan: He is the founder of Carizen Software that works on network security and other network related solutions for SMEs.
- Purva Bhatter: She is a Post-graduate in Bio-technology from IIT Madras and runs an organisation KrVidhya that focuses on improving science education in schools. She has been the science trainer for Asha for last couple of years.
- Ramnath: Worked in the field of IT and IT enabled services for more than 20 years and currently works as the General Manager for R Stahl Pvt Ltd.
The first 4 of these judges judged the presentation part of the competition and the remaining 3 judged the programming and web-development projects.
RTC Impressions – The Function
On Feb 6th 2023 the buses/vans from the four villages in Thiruvallur District started with our RTC children early in the morning to reach the IITM Research Park at around 9:45. The event was held at the Raman Hall. The judges also reached the hall around that time.
The main stage was used by the presentation projects. As the judges needed to interact personally with the team showing them the programming project this was held in a smaller area where the judges could directly try out the program as well as interact with the children.
Each presentation project was taking close to 15 mins to present and each programming project was taking about 20 mins. In both the cases the children had done a good job presenting their projects. The programming project judges were particularly impressed that almost all the knew their programs well and also had the confidence to show the judges changes to the program on the fly! Some of the presentation project teams took special care to present their projects with some special costumes and acting on the stage! On the whole all the judges and other watching the presentations enjoyed ourselves!
We all had lunch from about 12:45 to about 1:45. The presentations for completed by about 2:45 and the judges arrived at the result in about 30 mins. The prize distribution function started after this.
The following people were invited as chief guests for the event,
- Shankar Raman the CEO of IITM Pravartak.
- Prof. Abhijit Deshpande from the Chemical Engg dept at IITM.
The judges and the chief guests appreciated the very good work done by all the teams and importance of such courses and projects. The judges also pointed out how the quality of the work was so uniformly high and how narrow the gap between the various teams was. The winners of the prizes were announced. The prizes for the presentation competition were,
1st Prize: Quiz by Varsha, Prithish, Nandha Kumar, and Sanjay from Seethanjeri RTC.
2nd Prize: Text Document by Dharani, Amala, Roja, Varshini and Anbarasi from Poondi RTC
3rd Prize: India by Aparna and Archana from Kannigaiper RTC.
The prizes for the programming competition were,
1st Prize: Fruit Cutting Game by Ganesh Moorthi from Poondi RTC.
2nd Prize: Talking Tom by N Sripriyan, A Akash Kumar and C Saravanan from Seethanjeri RTC.
3rd Prize: Moving Game by M Prasanna, S Naveen and J Jayabharathi from Kannigaiper RTC.
Special prize for Web Development (as there were no other competing teams but the work was very good) was given to the team of S Govardhan, K Barkavi, P Parthasarathy M Abinaya and V Keerthana from Kanakamma Chathram RTC.
The importance given to these prizes by the students and the schools could be seen in the fact that all the schools had another small function where these students were honoured again in the schools.