Prof Dheeraj Sanghi, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Kanpur recently delivered a talk on project-based learning at the institute. He started with the question – What is project-based learning? To this, he received several responses. The responses were collated into basic culminations of project-based learning viz. generating innovative ideas, building new technologies, learning the discipline, facilitating group activity and team work, learning related areas, ensuring effective time management and application of material learnt, etc.

Professor Sanghi explained that the first thing in such a learning is to define its outcomes. He said, “Unless we know what we are aiming at, having a targeted project-based learning is difficult.” He also cited the need to differentiate between the outcomes for a first-year student or a sophomore and a final-year student. The learning outcomes are very different for students in different years of study.

Inculcating time sensitivity among students, said Professor Sanghi, is critical in order to improve the effects of project-based learning. An interesting suggestion that emanated from the discussion was that the project should be divided into multiple modules and evaluation of each of these modules should happen at regular intervals. This would take off the burden from both the students and the professors. He said, “If the project is divided into sections, the stress will be distributed and the outcomes would be systematic. This way, you will also meet frequently with the students and have a chance for gauging their motivation levels.”

Another area of discussion was autonomy. Who decides the project and how much autonomy will he/she have? A faculty cannot answer all the questions concerned with the project but can only facilitate it. In that case, how much autonomy will the students have? Who will decide the groups and topics? Professor Sanghi suggested that the students should be allowed to do their projects their way. The faculty may tweak a few things for them in a favourable way but should let the students decide themselves what their project outcomes would be. He added that the faculty should encourage them and apprise them of the practical problems, and thus help them scope their projects effectively.

Professor Sanghi concluded by saying that the final learning is: If you care about your students, they will learn much better, and that is what all faculty members need to do.