Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I am One Semester Old!

My first semester as a teacher is over. Did I enjoy this semester as a teacher? Very much! Having no prior experience in teaching I had some apprehension if I would do well as a teacher. But the last five months has given me a lot of confidence that I can be a good teacher. 
When I joined here in VIT one of the fellow professors told me that as a teacher always be good at heart, towards the students. I have tried my best to put this into practice. I made it a point to talk to all my students with a smiling face. Whenever a student comes to my cabin with a doubt in the subject or seeking some advice or with some other issue I make sure I give them enough time and also make sure that they go out of my cabin with a smiling face. Students are free to come to my cabin any time I am in my office and moreover I have allowed them to contact me over email and mobile phone. I made it a point that I should be easily accessible to all my students. 
In the class I give importance to arouse the interest of the students in the subject rather than finishing the syllabus. In this highly connected world there are lots of avenues out there for students to study the various topics of the syllabus. For that to happen a student should develop an interest in that subject and I believe my role is to create that interest as a teacher. One thing I noticed in the class – these Generation Y kids hate the traditional way of teaching – using black board and chalk and professor lecturing for hours and hours. They prefer visual form of study rather than the traditional form. I have made it a point to make minimum use of the black board and whenever possible use videos, animations and power point slides to make the class room more interactive. The feedback I got from the students is very encouraging that gives me courage to try out more innovative teaching techniques in the coming semesters. 
I also believe that a teacher should be a “good friend” to all his students. I talk to most of my students about anything that is of mutual interest outside of study. Often I take my students to the school canteen and talk over wide range of subjects. Those discussions are full of fun and most of the time I learn a lot from interacting with these Generation Y kids. I was warned by lot of professors including my father that it is not a good idea to interact a lot with students outside class as they may take advantage of you. But my experience in the last five months defies that logic and I have observed that more I interact with the students outside the class; the better I am able to communicate with them in the class. 
The main challenge I face in class – I believe this is true in most colleges in India – there are lots of students who do engineering because their parents want them to be engineers. They absolutely have no interest in any of the engineering. I had a student who came and frankly told me that he wants to be a writer and his parents forced him to do engineering that he has no interest in. There was another boy in the class who wants to continue his family business that has nothing to do with what he is studying and there is this student who wants to do MS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology all in one class. How you design your course to engage all of them is a big challenge that I am trying to find an answer to. 
One more thing I found out – it is tough to change age old practices that students are bound to follow. Lot of students comes to class after I start my lecture. They stand at the entrance and ask “May I come in sir”. I have told the students so many times that they are free to come in and go out any time you want in the class while I am giving the lecture and you don’t have to tell me. Even after telling them so many times every one repeats the same. No way could I make that change. 
Sad moment – some students never understand the basic concepts and math associated with it however much you explain to them. Their aptitude for engineering is a big zero but in another few years they will also become an engineer. 
Happy moment – “Sir, You are taking so much effort to teach us in a very practical way and we will do our best to score good marks”. Those are the moments you feel happy for the efforts you take to teach. 
Overall I had a great experience in my first semester as a teacher and look forward to the next. I enjoyed teaching but it is for the students who were in the class to make the judgment how good a teacher I was for them. I know majority of my students will be reading this and like to know your feedback about me as your teacher this semester.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

IPL Kerala Team & Communist Government of Kerala

IPL Kerala/Kochi team came close to be part of history. Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has announced that IPL Kochi/Kerala team will be part of IPL-4. The IPL Kerala team, when they won the bid was whole heartedly welcomed by the cricket enthusiastic people of Kerala. The enthusiasm of the people was short lived as the team went from one controversy to another soon after it won the bid. Dr Shashi Tharoor, the mastermind behind the bid was forced to resign as Central Minister and from there it was downward spiral for the Kerala IPL team. 
An IPL team for a state or a city is definitely a boost for that state and city. The cricket and entertainment extravaganza that happens in a month is the best way to market a state or city to the outside world. An IPL team for Kerala could have been an ideal thing to market Kerala tourism to the outside world. Also don’t forget the jobs it can create in developing the infrastructure required to host IPL games. Keeping all these in view so many progressive state governments took direct interest in the bidding process by encouraging investors to bring a team to their state/city. 
What did the communist government of Kerala do? With no effort from them Kerala got an IPL team. From the very beginning Kerala government not only discouraged a Kerala IPL team but did everything to see that Kerala IPL team never become a reality. The day Kerala got the team, the honorable Chief Minister made a comment that IPL is not cricket. IPL may not be cricket in the pure form but as a chief minister he should have been able to see the good side of having an IPL team in Kerala. But what can we expect from a Chief Minister who still believes in socialism and expects a revolution to happen in Kerala even in 21st century? 
The Chief Minister never even had the courtesy to meet the investors of the Kerala IPL team once. The opposition leader Omman Chandy met with the investors and assured them of all help if UDF comes to power in 2011. If the Chief Minister and other ministers have shown little enthusiasm, who knows, some formula could have worked out and Kerala still could have had an IPL team. But such far sighted development stuff – how can we expect from a government that still believes in an ideology that is thrown out by the entire world – communism? Aren’t they the same people who protested across Kerala when computer was introduced in the state? 
Kerala’s loss of IPL team may be a gain to a state like Maharashtra or Gujarat who rarely mix politics with development. 
Only “God” can save “God’s Own Country” from the devil called Communism.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Thoughts on H1B Visa

During the 20th anniversary of H1B visa Computerworld magazine published a special report on H1B visa. Here are my views on H1B visa as published in the article “H1B: The voices behind the visa”. Thanks to Tracy Mayor of Computerworld for giving me this opportunity.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fun at Viva Voce

It is always good to be on the other side asking questions during a viva voce. I did a viva voce to juniors of my undergraduate class. Even for some simple question the answers the student gives may some times turn out to be hilarious. Here is one such incident that happened in that particular class.
Typically I start the viva voce with a simple question. So for this student he came to me for viva voce after determining the chloride content in some water sample. Here is a conversation between me and student.
Me: So you did chloride analysis, right?
Student:  Yes Sir.
Me: So give me the name of a compound that you use or see every day that has chloride in it.
Student: Sir, I don’t know.
Me: Think… it is a very simple answer.
Student: (after thinking for few seconds) Sir, I don’t know the answer.
Me: OK, I will help you tell the answer. You have to tell this answer.
Student: OK sir
Me: You knowingly or unknowingly use it at least three to four times a day.
Student: Is it cell phone?
(When I heard this answer I should have stopped then and there but I continued giving him more clues. A lesson learnt)
Me: NO, Let me try this… what did you have for breakfast?
Student: Dosa
Me: What are the ingredients in Dosa?
Student: Rice flour and oil.
Me: Anything else?
Student: No sir.
Me: What do you have for lunch today?
Student: Chicken biriyani and fish fry
Me: What is common in dosa, chicken biriyani and fish fry?
Student: Oil
Me: Ok agreed, oil is common… what else is common?
Student: ONLY oil is common sir
Me: Leave it.. Answer this… How do you make a tea?
Student: Use water, milk and tea powder.
Me: What else do you typically add?
Student: Sugar
Me: Like sugar what do you add in curries?
Student: Salt
Me: Good, finally we are reaching somewhere. So what is the scientific name of salt?
Student: TATA Salt
Me: WHAT?
Student: That is what my mother buys every time in my house. I am the one who buys grocery in my house.
Me: :():():():():():():()
It took me couple of minutes to regain my composure. That student was dead serious and I did not know how to react. I left that question there and started asking him another question.
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Saturday, November 06, 2010

"Tastes" of Kerala

Anthony Bourdain in this program “No Reservations” (aired in Travel Channel) takes us through the various yummy foods of Kerala. Anthony starts his journey from Kochi having food from a local shop that includes beef curry, fish curry and fried quail. Then he goes to the shooting location of the Malayalam movie “Pokkiri Raja” and has a traditional lunch with Malayalam film actor Mammotty. Anthony’s next stop is a toddy shop where he is having a delicious fish head curry with cassava. Only thing he do not like there is the Toddy! Here is the first part of the three videos. 
Anthony goes to a fast food center and orders the most delectable item in the menu – extra spicy beef biriyani. Good to see a westerner eating such spicy food. He explores the beauty of a village tea-shop throwing light into its history. Also Anthony visits a village where the villagers make a particular type of utensil. He ends this video having a traditional sadhya (feast) that is typical for any Hindu marriage in this part of the world.
The third part is boat ride in a “Kettuvallam” (a traditional boat of Kerala) and having a sumptuous dinner and ends with a oyster meal.
I have eaten all that Anthony had showed in “No Reservations” at some point of time in my life and my favorites were fried quail and spicy fish head curry!

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