Saturday, 28 March 2015

The technical content of technical festival: The case of Cognizance

The current Cognizance season allows me to put things in perspective (my point of view, in any case). You may or may not choose to look at the same perspective view. Two years back when I was part of the coordinating team for Cognizance, I was rather peeved at the repeated approvals being sought by the students for purchase of ply boards for erection of arenas for robotics events. The students were going by the estimate provided by the carpenter and used to revise the estimates for boards almost every alternate day. Since the same arenas are constructed year after year for the same set of robotics events, I asked them to prepare proper drawings of these arenas and estimate the required quantity precisely. This could also be kept as a formal record for use as guidelines for future. The entire event passed by but not a single piece of drawing could be produced by the students -- and the team of students involved in Cognizance are above average students with respect to CGPA. Whenever I used to ask them about the drawings, they used to look at me as if I had descended from Mars!
Another episode relates to the matter of quality checks for the T-shirts that had been ordered for distribution to participants. More than 2000 T-shirts were ordered and the terms of purchase included one line about random checks for ensuring quality. I asked one student (who was pursuing B.Tech. Industrial Engineering) about the plan of random checks. How many samples should drawn out for random checks and how do we decide if the lot is acceptable or should be rejected. Again, a complete blank!! It seemed that it had never occurred to him that whatever was taught in Statistical Quality Control would be expected to be applied in some real situation. So much for the technical competence of our bright students.

The other issue that bothered me was the propensity of everyone to be involved in the "organization" of the event and not actually participate in technical events. Very few of IITR students actually participated in the technical competitive events taking the plea that being part of management team, they are not allowed to participate. I wonder of what use is the organization of technical festival in campus if the students are not going to take part? In the same vein, I am kind of perplexed about how are song and dance events in tune with the aims and objectives of the "technical festival" Cognizance? It seems to be just one more opportunity for the students to vent off -- notwithstanding the fact that they are not under any great academic pressure any way.
I hardly notice any intellectually challenging activity taking place which could give some new ideas and directions to the students outside of the classroom. Considering that the budget of this event is about Rs. 70-80 Lakhs and we have been hosting this for more than 10 years: what is the tangible gain from an input of Rs. 7-8 Crore? Sooner or later as this sum accumulates, questions will be asked and we better be prepared with an answer.

I wonder if it would be worthwhile to turn this annual event into a sort of annual problem solving challenge with a decent prize money for proposing solutions to one or two challenging problems identified by the faculty members of one or two departments (on rotation basis) and invite the short-listed proposals to make a presentation on the campus. Who knows, this kind of crowd sourcing may indeed throw up interesting ideas and leads worth pursuing. After all, the scientific community got the powerful technique of Fourier series through this kind of problem solving challenge.