There is an increasing consensus worldwide that engineering ethics need to be incorporated into the engineering curriculum to provide students exposure to the kind of professional ethical dilemmas they might face on an individual basis as well as the larger ethical aspects of technology development.
With this goal in mind the NEN units were introduced in the new curriculum. Since the idea is new, the structure for its implementation is evolving continuously. Through this friday night article, we will try to look into various aspects of this, including student feedback about the course, faculty aspirations and try to clear out the confusions that are there regarding completing these units.
WHAT ARE THESE COURSES ABOUT??
A student who has joined IIT post 2012 has to undertake 4 NEN Courses before the beginning of fourth year.
The first two courses NEN 100 and NEN 101, equivalent to one non graded unit, are conducted in the two semesters of the freshman year with major emphasis on giving students an insight into their role as a socially responsible individual. The regular classroom contact sessions are carried out in individual groups. The names of the faculty willing to participate are forwarded by respective departments and the PESR committee decides the final list of faculty for the two courses.
The details of the third course NEN 200 Professional Ethics Case Study are yet to be finalized. It has however been decided that the course would be floated in the fifth to sixth semester for students.
The fourth component of the course provides an array of options to choose from.
NEN 201 (20 working days): PESR Internships
As the name suggests, a student can get an internship under a NGO which may be working anywhere in the country, approved by the PESR committee. The student is expected to show commitment to the internship and has to submit a certificate with details like the number of hours interned, to get the required non graded unit.
Somya Khandelwal, a sophomore from chemical engg. department who did an internship for NEN-201 in an NGO says that, his experience has been quite fulfilling. The NGO was focused on women empowerment and had other projects also which included supporting self-help groups in villages, vocational education, providing coaching for govt. exams, etc. Though he found his work a bit mundane but on the bright side he got an opportunity to observe other ongoing projects of that organisation, its structure and functioning which has been an enriching experience for him.
NEN 202 (40 hours): PESR Workshops
Under this course, workshops on themes like movie making would be organised in IIT Delhi during suitable semester breaks. The strength of these workshops would however be limited to 30 to 40 students. Last summer, the workshop conducted was rated to be of a really good quality. Students were enticed by enriching discussions about the subjectivity of ethics and were made to perceive movies from the eyes of the movie maker. There were certain constraints like limited availability of camera and other equipments which caused discomfort to the participating students.
NEN 203 (40 man hours): PESR Projects
Under NEN 203, the students can take up projects under the guidance of a faculty member or a group of faculty members to make positive contributions to campus life.
There are two major categories of projects:
1. Promoting Sustainable Practices in the Campus (academic area, hostels, residential areas) in collaboration with Institute administration.
This includes involvement in sustainable practices on campus such as resource conservation, waste management inside the campus etc.
2. Promoting ethical practices and wholesome development of students on campus.
This could include promoting wholesome practices on campus such as ethical practices particularly among students through specially directed efforts, peer assistance to the students in need of help academically.
This work could be done during a semester or summer/winter vacation. The student must get the project proposal with explicit statement of deliverables approved by the PESR core committee. If the work is taken up by a team of students, each student’s share of work must be defined in the proposal.
PESR projects can make a concrete positive difference to the campus life besides providing students a mechanism to complete their PESR course requirements.
About 600 students have registered for various options under NEN 203.
Right now, technical projects undertaken for a social cause are also be included in the NEN 203 course curriculum. NEN 200 and one out of NEN 201/202/203 together contribute to one non graded unit.
Many of the activities listed above for NEN 201/ 202/ 203 are also activities that can be taken up by students either under NSS or for earning Design units through co-curricular project-based activities, such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Award (SURA) or Design and Innovation Summer Award (DISA).
In this regard, the following would be strictly followed:
In case a project is evaluated for graded credits or for any other non-graded activity, it would not be allowed under NEN 203.
However, additional work which is not evaluated for such projects, either done prior to such projects or done after the completion of such projects, could be considered under NEN 203. In such a case, prior written permission must be taken from the PESR committee, clearly specifying the distinct components of work being submitted for the other graded / non-graded evaluations and for NEN 203.
The workshops organised by NSS and under NEN 202 should generally be distinct.
In case a student desires to do internship as part of NSS activities as well as under PESR through NEN 201, each of these internships must have distinct time spans and special approval of the PESR Committee as well as NSS Coordinator are required for the same. The same work during an internship cannot be counted for NSS hours as well as for NEN 201.
We interviewed Professor Sangeeta Kohli, convener of the PESR committee to understand the faculty’s perception of the course. On being asked about the status of the NEN200 course, she said that the committee hasn’t decided the case study content of the course yet. So she can’t confirm when the issue will be solved or when the students can expect a solution, as she herself isn’t sure about the future prospects.
Upon being asked what is the criterion for evaluation of a students work in the workshops, she said “We expect every student to give his/her 100% during the time span of that workshop which can vary from one student to another but what is important is that everyone does their best. That’s all.” She expects the framework to be more organised in the future. We asked her about the purpose of pre-registration of a workshop. She believes “to enable a well organised transparent system, such a post-facto system is not encouraged. To earn the units students have to take prior clearance of the committee and also register beforehand. We are a bit flexible for the 2013 batch and some of such cases are under consideration but again such a practice is not encouraged.”
With the new curriculum introducing non graded units, this idea of a course about professional ethics and social responsibility is definitely a productive approach to prepare an all-round student personality. However, this is just the start and the course structure requires refining at the very least.