Engineering as a career has attracted students in India in a big way and a large number of aspirants taking the engineering exams are testimony to this fact. Engineering is a multi-disciplined field with new disciplines and branches being added with the advancement of science and technology. Professional engineers in all disciplines apply advanced analysis skills and knowledge of science, engineering, technology, management and social responsibility to develop solutions to complex problems and issues. Professional engineers lead teams and need to be innovative and creative; they frequently make balanced judgments between design, cost, risk and environmental impact. The onus of making these professional engineers falls on the shoulders of professors who guide them throughout the course for four years. A good professor is one who imparts a vision and belief with his teaching. Dr. K. Mohana Rao is one such visionary professor who has been in the field of education since 1969. He joined IIT Kharagpur and served there as a professor till 1991. While doing his Ph.D there, he went to Switzerland and did research on static mechanics and other subjects. He is currently the Director of Velagapudi Ramakrishna Siddhartha Engineering College, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. Dr. Rao believes that teaching should be outcome centric and the methodologies of teaching should be in sync with the real-time learning processes in the industry.
Even when the country's education managers talk volumes about enhancing the quality, little is often done towards walking that talk. That was perhaps why the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) observed a few years ago that hardly 25 percent of the students passing out of the country's engineering institutions were employable. There is a need to substantially improve the quality of teaching and learning in engineering colleges. The new developments in technology are demanding a new approach towards teaching. Professors like Dr. Rao are focusing on the growing concern for more emphasis on the practical application of the theoretical concepts. He believes it is imperative to put in place well-formulated instructional objectives that can help teachers prepare lecture and assignment schedules, and facilitate construction of in-class activities, take-home assignments and tests. This would help students know what is expected of them and be able to meet the desired expectations. Understanding students' learning techniques and learning difficulties is essential in evaluating success in achieving learning outcomes and of the overall teaching-learning process in engineering programmes.
"In the introductory course you have to show the students the scope of the subject and the role which it is going to play in the industry. Educational objective is to inculcate knowledge, attitude and the technical skills. We concentrate on what the students are expected to do after four years in the industry. The whole teaching process is based on the objectives which we set after interacting with the employers and alumni. These are the main stakeholders from whom we know whether our graduates are meeting the program objectives or not," says Dr. Rao. There is a need for teaching-learning methods and techniques such as simulation and gaming, case studies, problem-based learning, active learning, co-operative learning and application-based learning. The teaching process should be a mixture of explanation, demonstration and collaboration. Lectures should be accompanied by visual aids to help students visualize an object or problem. Demonstrations allow students to personally relate to the presented information and reinforce memory retention because they provide connections between facts and real-world applications of the facts. Group projects should be a part of the learning process as they enhance the student's capability to apply technical knowledge and make them a team player. But all of this is possible only with the guidance of a professor who is well-versed with the requirements of the industry and the future of technology. The biggest challenge today is getting teachers who can really teach what would lead to effective learning.
College professors engage in a variety of activities, from running laboratory experiments and supervising graduate student research to conducting large undergraduate lectures and writing textbooks. With the exception of scheduled classes, which can consume as few as three hours a week in graduate universities or up to twelve to sixteen hours per week for undergraduates, a professor's time is largely spent on research, preparing class material and meeting with students. This profession is thus best suited for motivated self-starters, and its highest rewards are given to those who can identify and explore original problems in their fields.