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The Curious Case of Missing Technology

November 10, 2013

While pointing out the dependence of our lives on technology seems as banal a statement as could be, pointing out the ubiquity of it on the hallowed campus of Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee seems no where as close to stating the obvious as we would like it to be. What it does seem like, in fact, is a desperate cry for the institute to evolve from being the bastion of ancient methods and procedures to being in the vanguard of new, smart and technologically sound ones. From staid and battered identity cards to long queues for academic registration that greet the first dawn of any new semester, the system appears to be functioning in a manner that utterly ill behooves the dignity and sanctity of this institute. Watch Out! News Agency attempts to find out why while uncovering the current state of labs and technical framework in IITR.

##An IITian’s dream

If, for once, you were to live by the musings of an average IITian on a utopian campus, you would find that suddenly you don’t have to struggle in the strenuously stretched lines of academic registration. Your practical classes, complete with state of art facilities, have turned into a veritable adjunct to theoretical concepts. Your attendance in the mess, hostel, library and other student places gets recorded by swiping your sleek smart identity card which, apparently, is more than a piece of paper with your most embarrassing photo. You receive a message on your cell and probably an email regarding the change in class timetable by a centralised messaging facility while you sip the deliciously hot Starbucks cappuccino in the avant-garde Institute cafeteria and read Homer’s The Odyssey.[1] Although the aforementioned ameliorations (replacing Starbucks with CCD and Homer with Chetan Bhagat) are not entirely impossible, yet, if the past 12 years of the institute’s existence as an IIT are anything to go by, their realization in the near future may seem very little more than chimerical.

##The Six Card anomaly.

The start of every semester is marked by the students of premier technology institute being brought down to Earth through 6, computer generated but submitted by hand, forms, appearing one semester after another with the same lack of any recognizable purpose and any difference in the data. This time, to the delight of students, there were 4 more cards. True, their bright colors rendered them aesthetically highly appealing, but their existence in tandem with an online registration system defied any logic that students could comprehend.

So how does the CampusLynx work apart from acting as a pdf generator? Expressing the impractical necessity of the cards, the deputy registrar Mr. Ajay Sharma remarks, “I doubt if we can contemplate a reason why those cards are needed by the institute. They are just dumped into non-being. However the cards you filled after arriving here were taken into account by the Bhawan authorities”. Although Mr. Sharma is not involved in the nitty-gritty of registration, he was adamant on reducing the cumbersome nature of this process.

There have been many hackneyed explanations and theories on behalf of the institute authorities and students that highlight the definition of change. In this debate, a very interesting thought comes from the mind of a man who has been associated with the digitization of student records since 1990 and still works in the registration process on advisory basis. “I believe that the whole registration process should be done manually.” says Prof. Pramod Agrawal, EE department, “There has to be a way that ensures that the students reach the institute well on or before the reporting day. Otherwise the institute won’t function properly. The deposition of the academic course list and cards manually in the department ensures this and reduces the cases of false attendance in the beginning of semester”. On being questioned on whether a centralized database can tackle all of the administration’s woes during form collection and grades allotment, Prof. Agrawal responds, “Definitely it is the best thing that can happen. But the question is who will take the responsibility? The current company that manages CampusLynx is a disappointment. And we cannot expect IMG to do it as they do not pay heed to administration’s needs”

##One I-Card, to rule them all

By the end of the student’s first semester at R-land, this red painted piece of paper with handwritten, irrelevant and temporary information, in case not lost, reduces to a metastable state where its existence becomes paradoxical. Like Schrodinger’s cat it surfaces to a state when it is both there and not there. Heard and echoed all over the blogosphere and the social media pertaining to IITR for a long time now, is the immediate need of ‘Smart’ cards for students. The smart card system can solve many problems at once as Vivek Bhagotia (B.Arch., IV year) says, “They will be a very efficient solution to many of the problems that we are facing. With proper devices placed at hostel entries, mess entry, main gates of campus, at departments, library and the computer centre, the entry can be restricted to authorized people”. Besides the reduction of security concerns in hostels, this change will help in bringing more independence to students in terms of the fact that they will be free to choose the mess of their own will. The recent issues of mismanagement in hostel mess can be resolved by this method. “In IIT Madras, the mess fee is compulsory, but students not wanting to opt for mess can redeem food coupons that can be used at the central food court. If they are able to make sure that non-enlistees don’t eat in the mess, then so can we, surely”, remarks Rushil Nagda (Int. M.Sc. Mathematics, III year).

##The Software Syndrome

The answer to whether our labs hold enough facilities to provide for anything more than a parody of practical application of studied concepts varies largely from lab to lab. While the Computer Centre boasts of proper functioning computers with both the software and hardware in an efficient condition, most logs show students using the facilities for social networking and worthless web surfing, instead of something productive, like the institute, parents and the nation expects us to do. The CAD (Computer Aided Design) lab of Civil and Mechanical Departments face a challenge of non-uniform installation of software as different versions of the same software exist in some machines. Though the lab assistants claim that the software is updated uniformly everywhere in the lab, the same cannot be heard from students. The overall response from the authorities seemed surprisingly positive. Prof. Dheesh Saxena, the newly instated lab-in-charge of Mechanical department, showed very immediate interest in the matter and assured us of a swift action in this regard. We can hope that the condition might soon take a different turn but if history has anything to say in this matter, it doesn’t seem likely.

##A ray of Hope

The path between Mahatma Gandhi Central Library (MGCL) and the Main Building acts as a fine dividing line between the past and the future. MGCL acts as a working example of all the technical dexterity our institute is capable of providing. The series of developments in the Library: the RFID system, the surveillance cameras, the e-index and digitized technical record of a student’s book issuance, is worth appreciating. The Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) system is one of the major technical innovations that have been introduced by the administration. RFID system tracks the identity of a library book on its issuance or transfer by monitoring a chip that is installed in the book itself. Over thousands of books, this process was introduced 10 years back and now serves as a fully functional service. It also has 1984 inspired state of the art surveillance system, although, we doubt if the students actually appreciate that.

Meanwhile as the Library moves ahead with the administration’s new plans to reduce mechanical labour in bookkeeping and greener, eco-friendlier decoration on the library roof, we continue trying to fathom the reason for the installation of Windows OS on Macintosh PCs present in the common area. “Students are more comfortable with Windows than the pre-installed software that comes with Macs”, explains the Asst. Librarian, “The computers are updated as soon as a new update is launched. Our library is the best in terms of technical advancements among all IITs”.

##That’s then, now what?

The subtle nature of the issue in question, very much resonates through the minds of the students of IIT Roorkee. The advent of digitisation of data on campus and the introduction of advanced technical facilities in the beginning of this century acted as a ray of hope for the junta. However, in the past decade the nature of technical growth in the outside world has been exponential. Taking into account the intellect level of students that this institute is harboring, it seems improbable that a better digital and technical system cannot be developed in house. In fact, the sheer number of students on the search for technical projects can be better channelized into creating something employable inside the campus. IITs, after all, are supposed to be the hotbed of latest in technology.

It may be a vicious circle of questions, answers and excuses but we cannot ignore the fact that something is out of place here. On doing a quick research we found that the real reason why most students don’t raise their voices against the dormant nature of these facilities is that there are individuals and groups which tend to give up very early. They lose focus and brainstorm on finding loopholes in the system. In the labs where the condition is lamentable, these students get cheered up after the sight of an erroneous system or machine. The chaos that ensues after this initiation of events kills the very spirit of engineering. There have been many instances when the students sail off with more than average marks in practical examinations even after displaying mediocrity at the basic level of understanding.

The absence of a sound technical framework for student database management and an arduous, gruelling registration process are not the only things that make life tough on campus. After all we do have exams for that.