In an effort to foster interdisciplinary learning and to offer wider choices of electives and specialisation, the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (IIT-H), has introduced Fractal Academics. Launched in 2013, it atomises academic programmes and makes them available to students of any discipline. It offers fractal credits in various electives and collates them into an academic programme.
Typically, at IIT-H, a three-lecture course has three credits leading to 42 lecture hours in a given semester. With fractional credits of 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0 requiring just 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 and 42 lecture hours respectively, courses like Finance and Economy, Sales and Marketing, Photojournalism, Movie-making and Drama are made available to students of varied disciplines.
“A subject like signal processing is typically taken by students of Electronics and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, but with Fractal Academics, students from other disciplines also get to learn about signals, which is useful in their subject even if they are in Civil Engineering,” says Prof UB Desai, Director, IIT-H.
He goes on to say that they follow a T-type education framework that offers both depth and breadth. “Students may be interested in Math analysis or Storage Systems, Mobile Applications or Data Management and Computing, but may not be interested in studying it in-depth. Instead of getting into details, they are introduced to the subject with fractal courses and this is beneficial in fostering their spirit of research and creativity,” he adds.
As engineering courses have an all-or-nothing approach in colleges across the country, such a concept is novel and unique. “I wouldn’t say it is the brainchild of any one individual but due credit has to be given to Prof Raj Reddy of Carnegie Melon University, Pennsylvania, who provided the core idea, and the faculty worked on it and implemented it,” he says.
The institute invites people from the industry for the fractal courses. Representatives from Data management company Netapp and Adobe, apart from famous theatre personality MK Raina and former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, are some who have delivered lectures at IIT-H.
Pursuing creative arts like Music, Fine Arts and Performing Arts gives the students a much needed break from academics while also giving them credits. “The students come up with exciting ideas for their final-year project in the first year itself because of the exposure to a variety of ideas that these courses provide. It also prepares them for research. Till now, we have received positive feedback and plan to evolve further as we progress,” Desai says.
Fractal academic programmes are available in all BTech courses and some MTech programmes. Some of the Science and Technology breadth courses (one credit) include Genomics, Brain and cognition, Big Data, Logic, Philosophy, Molecular Communication, Drug Delivery, Energy Storage Technologies, Future Cities, Semantic Web, Future Materials and Engineering in Biology, among many others.
While this model gives a student holistic education, there are also concerns of the students losing focus or getting distracted from his/her main area of study. However, this is a calculated risk and the institute hopes to get the desired results.