Achieving Focused Program Outcomes through Centre of Excellence (COE) Approach

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1 Achieving Focused Program Outcomes through Centre of Excellence (COE) Approach M. Somasundaram, Professor, Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering, RMK Engineering College, Kavaraipettai, Tamilnadu, India Dr. M. Sheerin Banu, Professor, Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering, RMD Engineering College, Kavaraipettai, Tamilnadu, India Naresh Sammeta, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering, RMK College of Engineering and Technology, Puduvoyal, Tamilnadu, India Dr. K. K. Sivagnana Prabhu, Head,Training, Placement and Corporate Affairs R.M.K.Group Of Institutions, Kavaraipettai,Tamil Nadu, India Dr. K. Chandrasekaran, Dean, RMK Engineering College, Kavaraipettai, Tamilnadu, India Abstract Based on the Outcome Based Education (OBE), defined by National Board of Accreditation (NBA) of India, the Program Outcomes have been designed for Programs in an Engineering College to cover engineering knowledge, application of knowledge, problem solving, use of current tools and techniques and others. They are mapped to Graduate Attributes as defined in the OBE. The attainment of Program outcomes is assessed by various direct and indirect methods. When the measurement shows that the POs are not met through regular academic curriculum, they can be met through an enhanced training through establishment of Centre of Excellence (COE) with collaboration from user industries. This paper describes an implementation of such a COE approach in one of the leading groups of engineering colleges in Anna University, Chennai, India where students were found to be attaining such POs as required by the industry and hence replicated and scaled up for subsequent batches. Keywords Program outcomes assessment; good practices, Assessment of informal and nonformal student learnings; Technology Training; I. INTRODUCTION The paper describes the Centre Of Excellence (COE) approach implemented as a program across the RMK Group of Institutions, in Tamilnadu, India, to develop students for opportunities in Information Technology (IT) industry - in product development in product companies and technology projects / groups in service companies. The IT industry requires graduating engineers from various disciplines. So if engineering students in different Programs aspire for such careers in IT industry, they have to be prepared well for such opportunities by more focused Program Outcomes (PO) which go beyond the basic POs for that particular discipline. So such POs can be met in a focused manner by establishing a Centre of Excellence (COE). The POs are achieved in various Programs in engineering education individually through Academic Excellence including an appropriate curriculum and an effective Teaching and Learning process. However, the industry is changing rapidly and hence the expectations from industry, one of the stakeholders, change rapidly. There are many inter disciplinary career opportunities for graduating engineers. A key example is that the Information Technology (IT) industry which requires graduating engineers from various disciplines. The COE approach has been found to be effective where students were found to be attaining such POs as required by the industry and hence replicated and scaled up for subsequent batches. II BACKGROUND The RMK Group of Institutions is one of the leading groups of engineering colleges in Anna University, Chennai, India. It consists of 3 engineering colleges i.e. RMK Engineering College (started in 1995), RMD Engineering College (started in 2001) and RMK College of Engineering and Technology (started in 2010). All the 3 are among the top 30 in the 577 colleges affiliated to Anna University which is one of the top 100 Technical Universities in the world. The group of institutions has Programs of multiple streams (eg Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), Information Technology (IT), Electronics and Communications (ECE), Electronics and Instrumentation (EIE) etc called Circuit branches and Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and Electronics called Non-circuit branches.). Organizations from the IT industry are regularly visiting this Group of institutions and recruiting students from the Undergraduate and Post Graduate Programs of different streams. For example, in , on Day 1, when 3 IT companies selected 477 students in one of the 3 institution, 121 were from CSE / IT and other 356 were from other streams. So the goal of this COE initiative is to establish an approach so that the students are well trained in becoming employable and job-ready for the IT industry. Among the IT companies, there

2 emerge 2 types of companies like service companies, focusing on providing consultancy services, offshore development services, etc and product companies, focusing on developing software products and marketing the products. III OUTCOME BASED EDUCATION The programs as mentioned in section II (i.e circuit branches and non-circuit branches) are accredited by National Board of Accreditation (NBA) of India. [1] India has become a permanent signatory to Washington Accord on June 13, In view of this, the Programs in the RMK Group of Institutions have been implementing the Outcome Based Education (OBE) from 2013 in a phased manner. Currently the Programs are preparing for accreditation by NBA under the Outcome Based Accreditation (OBA) approach in Tier II, which is for Affiliated Institutions. [2] This Outcome Based Accreditation is based on similar lines as Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs as laid down by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. [3] As a part of the OBE, all the undergraduate programs have defined their Vision, Mission, Program Educational Objectives (PEO) and Program Outcomes (PO). A sample set of PEOs of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Program [4] is as follows: 1. The graduates of the Program will have solid foundation in the principles and practices of computer science, including mathematics, science and basic engineering and use the modern engineering tools effectively in their profession. 2. The graduates of the Program will have skills to function as members of multi disciplinary teams and implement software technology solutions in world class standards and will be achievers at a global level. 3. The graduates of the Program will be prepared for their careers in the software industry or in higher studies leading to research and for applying the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in their career and continuing to develop their professional knowledge on a life long basis. 4. The graduates of the program will practice the profession with ethics, integrity, leadership and social responsibility with a good understanding of the changing societal needs and their roles in the society. In line with the above PEOs, the POs were formulated as below: (a) Graduates will demonstrate the ability to apply the knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering appropriate to the discipline of computer science and engineering. (b) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems of computing requirements appropriate to the solution. (c) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to design and conduct experiments, analyze and interpret data using computer based systems. (d) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to use current techniques, tools and practice necessary for computing practice (e) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to design a computer based system, component or process as per needs and specifications. (f) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to visualize and work on laboratory and multi-disciplinary tasks. (g) Graduates will demonstrate skills to use modern computer based engineering tools, softwares and equipment to analyze problems. (h) Graduates will demonstrate knowledge of professional, ethical, legal, security and social issues and the responsibilities. (i) Graduates will demonstrate the ability to analyse the local and global impact of computing on individuals, organizations and society and will also be aware of contemporary issues (j) Graduates will be able to communicate effectively in both verbal and written form with a diverse range of audiences. (k) Graduates will develop confidence for self education and ability for life-long learning for a continuous professional development. (l) Graduates can participate and succeed in competitive examinations. (m) Graduates will demonstrate the knowledge and understanding of engineering and management principles and apply these to one's own work as an individual as well as a leader in a team to work effectively in multi disciplinary teams to accomplish a common goal. IV STAKEHOLDER FEEDBACK The main stakeholders for the institutions are recruiting industry and alumni. The feedback channels are diverse and are as follows : Industry : Formal feedback questionnaire forms from recruiting companies on the employees who are alumni of the institutions, Periodic visit by the Head, Training, Placement and Corporate Affairs to the companies, Industry academia interface conferences organized by industry specifically for knowledge sharing industry trends, expectations by industry for students etc. Alumni :

3 Feedback by alumni in questionnaire forms during Alumni Meets conducted every 6 months Alumni feedback through alumni web portal Feedback by alumni (of more than 5 years experience) visiting the institutions as Guest Speakers to address and interact with students. The positive feedback from the stakeholders is as follows : Industry : Students recruited are found to be good in the technical work and ability to learn. So this is the reason for the companies to visit the institutions every year for campus recruitment. Alumni : The infrastructure and facilities given by the institutions are excellent and hence the learning environment was effective. The teaching and learning processes focussing on academic performance was very effective; Various co curricular activities eg Tech Club activities were useful to supplement the academic knowledge with updates on latest technology trends and paper presentation skills. In addition to above, there has been feedback for opportunities for improvement by the stakeholders as follows: Industry : Students should have more skills in practical knowledge on the various programming skills, design of software systems, and experience of complete software development lifecycle by developing software projects. Alumni : Students should be provided more training in new technologies, more training in practical aspects of design and programming. V KEY FINDINGS OF STAKEHOLDER FEEDBACK ON POs In view of above, we reviewed the POs, we identified the key gaps in POs where there are gaps which do not meet stakeholder expectations. They are as follows (a) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to use current techniques, tools and practice necessary for computing practice (b) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to design a computer based system, component or process as per needs and specifications. (c) Graduates will demonstrate an ability to visualize and work on laboratory and multi-disciplinary tasks. (d) Graduates will demonstrate skills to use modern computer based engineering tools, softwares and equipment to analyze problems. VI APPROACH FOR ADDRESSING THE PO GAPS In view of this, the institution reviewed the academic curriculum of how this falls short of meeting the industry expectations. The academic curriculum is set by the affiliating University i.e. Anna University. The curriculum is quite comprehensive and the University brings about changes in the curriculum (i..e Regulations) every 4 to 5 years. (eg Regulations 2008, Regulations 2013 etc); This is not sufficient to cope up with fast changing technologies in the IT industry. The need for practical knowledge (eg programming skills etc) is addressed in the academic curriculum by the Lab Courses for various subjects and a Project Work in the final year. Although these are addressed well, the number of hours allotted to these is not sufficient for students to develop enough skills in a standards required by industry. So the Head of the Training, Placement and Corporate Relations Department with support from the Heads of the Department and Professors had series of discussions with industry and identified areas of additional training and skill building which are to be done. In view of this, some of the key steps identified to address the gaps are Students should get trained in Digital Enterprise technologies as a key group of technologies in addition to academic curriculum. Students should develop software development projects to full lifecycle in the above technologies in a form that they can be benchmarked in international standard Students should be given additional training in core subjects which they study in the curriculum (eg programming languages, data structures etc) from an industry perspective; (i.e. same subjects but with industry perspective) Students should develop programming skills in a manner that they can benchmark in international standards like participating in international programming competitions, forming programming / coding communities and network with international such communities. In order to carry out the above activities, the institution decided to form a focused entity called Digital Enterprise Centre of Excellence (COE) with separate governance so that there will be a focus. The measurement of success is to verify whether the POs are met. Digital enterprise is an organization (eg Bank, Insurance, Retail, Hospitality, Transport / Airlines etc) that leverages digital technology as a competitive advantage in its internal and external operations. The key technologies required for the future Digital Enterprises are Mobility & Pervasive Computing, Cloud Computing, Big Data & Analytics, Social Media, and Artificial Intelligence & Robotics all of these with excellent Programming skills. As there are large business opportunities for IT companies to develop products and services to enable their customers to transform to Digital Enterprises, career opportunities are opening up for students to get placed in product and service companies involved in the above projects.

4 VII ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF DIGITAL ENTERPRISE COE The COE managed by a COE Core Group which is headed by Head of Training, Placement and Corporate Affairs and consists of 3 faculty members from the CSE Departments of the 3 colleges of the RMK Group of Institutions. Each of the 3 faculty members also has the responsibility as COE Coordinator of the respective college and coordinates and reports to the Principal, Vice Principal, Dean and the Heads of the Departments (HOD) of the respective colleges. The Dean of RMK Engineering College has initiated the COE and provides guidance and advice. The Head of the COE reports to Vice Chairman and Advisor of the RMK Group of Institutions. The training, skill building and various activities of the COE are planned based on the advice and guidance of an Advisory Committee consisting of industry experts from reputed companies which are the stakeholders for absorbing the students into their organizations. Some of such companies in the committee are Cognizant, Infosys, Wipro, L&T Infotech, Samsung Electronics, Polaris, and Market Simplified all of which are regular recruiters of the RMK Group and leading multinational companies in the IT industry. The industry provides suggestions of the performance indicators of the students suitable for such opportunities. VIII IMPLEMENTATION PROCESSES OF THE COE The key processes are Student selection process based on the conceptual and programming skills of students Preparation of semester-wise Roll out plan in a calendar format in conjunction with the Academic Calendar Initial training on programming skills with industry perspective called Wizard IT Program Initial training Mobile App development in Android or ios based on student choice Mobile app development as projects by students Demonstration of Projects by students in Project Expos to industry experts Conducting of Advisory Committee meetings for reviewing the progress and planning for next stage Programming / Coding communities by students : eg CodeChef Student Chapters in each of 3 colleges, Topcoders, ACM Student membership Uploading of mobile apps by students in Google Play Store (Android apps) and Apple App Store (ios apps) ; To facilitate students to upload in an intermediate website for review by faculty members, the RMK Group of Institutions has created a RMK Store for students to upload their apps Participation of students in consultancy projects Special lectures by students in the areas of Digital Enterprise technologies like Mobility, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Social Media etc Scoring system for students in the COE includes the performance of the students in the COE (eg periodic tests in programming skills, no. of contributions to coding communities, no. of mobile apps developed, no. of downloads and ratings of reviews of the uploaded apps, etc) in addition to the academic performance (eg marks/ CGPA, ranks, etc) Students preparation for placement and appearing for placement Measurement of attainment of POs and continuous improvement IX OUTCOMES Considering that the Program Outcomes were established based on the industry requirements, a measure of the success of attainment of the POs is the placement of the students in the industry through various campus placement programs. In the campus placement programs, companies from IT industry visit the campus, select the students based on series of written or online tests, testing of programming skills, technical interviews and other steps and offer jobs to selected students. The no. of students selected and given job offers are ; batch : 90 (starting from their 7 th semester) batch : 226 (starting from their 6 th semester) batch : 263 (starting from their 5 th semester) Batch : In the batch, all 90 students have been placed in reputed companies like Cognizant, Infosys, Wipro, L&T Infotech etc. In addition, some of them are placed in product companies with higher salaries like Amazon, FlipKart, Zoho, Mu Sigma, inautix, Johnson Controls, Market Simplified, CSC, etc. Product companies require higher level of programming and technical skills and the training and skill building were useful for students to face these tests and interview processes Some students were inducted to companies in Mu Sigma, Zoho, inautix and Market Simplified as interns from their last semester. Product companies like Amazon, FlipKart, Zoho and Mu Sigma visited the RMK Group of Institutions for the first time as recognition of the COE initiative. Mobile Apps developed by the students, when demonstrated to industry experts in the Second Advisory Committee meeting on March 25, 2015, appreciated the students that the apps were of high quality and standards and experts recommended some

5 of them to be commercialized in collaboration with some companies batch : Mobile Apps upload (introduced from batch); Upload in progress o No. of students uploaded : 121 o No. of apps uploaded in RMK Store : 63 o No. of apps uploaded in Playstore : 21 : App Store : 7 Set up the RMK Coding Club in each of the 3 colleges each with a student coordinator. Set up the CodeChef Campus Chapter in each of the 3 colleges with a student coordinator each conducting periodic meetings. 40 coding problems distributed and all students participated on contributing solutions and reviews 30 students of 9 teams of batch are currently participating in consultancy projects to National Informatics Center and M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) to develop mobile apps as per their requirement and specification 4 teams of 10 students of batch have been shortlisted for presentation during the GMASA Make in India Student App Fest event on May 29 as a part of the Global Mobile App Summit & Awards 2015 (GMASA 2015) in Chennai. In view of the training and skill building in Apple ios, the management has decided to set up an Apple Authorized Training Centre in the RMK Group institution which will be the second of its kind in Tamilnadu region. One of the companies in the COE Advisory Committee has come forward to sponsor a part of the Centre Batch : As seen above, the starting semester for the COE Program has been advanced over 3 batches and it will be from the 5 th semester for this batch. This will provide a longer duration for them to get trained and participate in various COE activities till they pass out. This practice is planned to be followed for all future batches. Considering that the batch of students will be undergoing the COE Program from their fifth semester and also that they have not covered some subjects in their curriculum, the students are asked to undergo some bridge courses in their summer vacation (after the fourth semester) using elearning materials. The COE Core Group has specified the contents for the bridge courses. The students will have to undergo some online test at the beginning of the fifth semester to test their knowledge and only then they will be allowed to proceed for the next stage of COE activity. Based on the experience of the Wizard IT Program conducted for batch, the COE Core Group is providing consultancy to the training vendor of the Wizard IT Program to enhance the Program to include more content based on the industry and alumni feedback and our own evaluation. The new version of the Wizard IT Program will be conducted for the batch and further batches. The training vendor will also offer this to other institutions. X CHALLENGES The COE has been found to be effective addressing the gaps in the POs. It has been having various challenges As the COE member students are from different steams of circuit and non-circuit branches, the background and knowledge in computer science subjects have been varying. So this requires defining and suggesting bridge courses for them as appropriate : eg Learning Android requires Java skills, but for some branches Java is not in the curriculum; As the training and skill building activities of the COE are in addition to the academic program as prescribed by the affiliating University, the students have to spend time in the COE in addition to the Academic schedule. This will be an extra load on the students. Also it has to be taken care that the activities by students in the COE does not affect the academic performance of the students. Technologies like ios and the process of app upload are quite complex at student level. So the learning time and efforts will be more. However as the industry is giving feedback that the ios skills are very much in demand, the COE is encouraging students to develop ios skills. XI CONCLUSION AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS The approach of the COE has been found to be effective where students were found to be attaining such POs as required by the industry. This has been found based on the selection of students by companies from IT industry for jobs and also based on the feedback by the industry on the skills and project development activities by students through various interactions with industry. The objective of the COE approach is that the approach should benefit for larger and the complete set of students rather than selected set of students. Towards this, the COE is considering Providing the training to faculty members so that they in turn train all students in the Train-the-trainer model

6 Involving all the students in programming communities Involving all the students in mobile app development either trained through COE or knowledge acquired on their own XII CONCLUSION Based on the first batch of students who went through this approach, we found a significant additional skill and competency development of the students and they were able to get job placements in reputed companies and also in the high technology and product development jobs of higher salary packages. The recruiting companies who have given feedback about the need for improving the practical knowledge of students, have started giving positive feedback of the COE approach. There have been many challenges in implementing this approach and there have been continuous improvements over time in the training and assessment processes and the outcomes and results. ACKNOWLEDGMENT The authors wish to thank the management of RMK Group of Institutions Shri.R.S.Munirathinam, Founder and Chairman and Shri.R.M.Kishore, Vice Chairman who have been visionary and have been constantly implementing progressive programs for the benefit of students and improving the quality of education. We thank Dr.M.S.Palanichamy, Advisor to RMK Group of Institutions and Former Vice Chancellor of Tamilnadu Open University who has been giving guidance and support in the COE processes. We also thank all the Heads of the Departments (HOD) and faculty members who have been supporting us in the implementation of the COE Program and giving valuable feedback and suggestions from time to time. We thank all the students of the COE who have been enthusiastic in accepting the new concept of COE and putting in additional hours of education in the COE activities. REFERENCES [1] : National Accreditation Board (NBA) of India. [2] : Self Assessment Report (Tier-II) of NBA [3] : Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs of ABET. [4] : PEOs of Department of CSE

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