All students entering the undergraduate programme go through our common core, the Foundation Programme, in the first year. This Programme builds the foundations of interdisciplinary learning at Ahmedabad University and engages with issues of society through project-based learning.
The Foundation programme is built around six domains that define contemporary academic and life skills in the 21st century, areas of innovation that are transforming the world, and perspectives that help become a responsible member of any society. These domains include skills like Data Science and Communication, understanding of the areas of innovation like Materials and Biology & Life, and perspective building through the domains like Behaviour and Constitution & Civilisation.
The delivery of the domains of learning of the Foundation Programme is done thematically to develop a holistic approach to thinking and enquiry amongst our students. Students learn to understand that there are multiple issues that define a problem and one needs to learn the art and science of synthesis in order to address these issues. Students complete four thematic Studios of learning that integrate the above-mentioned domains creating a more effective way of thinking and problem-solving. The thematic Studios for 2021-22 are:
Water | Environment and Climate Change | Democracy and Justice | Neighbourhoods
The idea is to engage the students’ imagination with contemporary problems that the society, in which they live, encounters. Studios bring interdisciplinary engagement, experiential learning & research thinking together in the classroom. Each theme is explored through a set of domains thereby creating interdisciplinary learning. Students learn that many systems of knowledge are required to solve challenging problems.
Another innovation lies in the delivery of these thematic modules in a studio format through experiential learning. Students learn to apply theory and connect ideas across different disciplines. The Foundation Programme is evaluated on a Passed/Not Passed basis to ensure that students are fully focused on the joy of learning. Students also display their work during the Foundation Programme Exposition that is open to the university community and the parents.
Democracy has emerged as the most desirable, the most legitimate and the most just if not the most successful, form of government in the contemporary world. The Foundation Programme Studio on Democracy and Justice revolves around the fundamental questions contextualising democracy, understanding the nature and value of democratic systems and conversations, and enabling students to be responsible citizens.
Environment and Climate Change
Human activities and its consequences such as depleting and unequal access to resources, climate extremes, food insecurity, pollution, ecosystem degradation, extinction of species and many more, have posed challenges of sustainability that span spatial and temporal scales. The Studio on Environment and climate change facilitates discourse on these issues enabling students to take the charge, act, and play their role as agents of sustainable transformation.
The Studio Neighbourhoods dwells upon the continuously evolving idea of the neighbourhood. The Studio explores ways of understanding the concept of neighbourhood in geographic, historical, cultural,economic and social perspectives. It also enriches students’ understanding of aspects of governance, biodiversity, lifestyle and health profile of neighbourhood.
Studio Water has been designed to study water through an interdisciplinary approach, facilitating a multi-dimensional understanding of this vital flow resource. The Studio offers a close opportunity to students to not only engage in understanding various aspects of water but also to interact with ‘self’ and ‘communities’ in order to appreciate the water realities.
A studio is a unique pedagogic tool to teach students interdisciplinary topics and skills.
The Foundation Programme at Ahmedabad University is delivered via four diverse studios. A studio is a unique pedagogic tool to teach students interdisciplinary topics and skills. The key characteristics that make studios a unique learning pedagogy than the traditional lecture format are learning by doing (hands-on), doing things simultaneously (and not sequentially), an iterative approach that entails refining outputs with each iteration, much higher peer-to-peer learning, and most importantly, it embodies the muddling through approach, wherein outcomes/targets are defined, but the path is not. Depending on the context the paths can be different, leading to the same/similar outcomes. The Democracy and Justice Studio, that I was involved in, presented a unique opportunity to deliver various domain knowledge via three modules, with the last module designed to converge learning in the three modules into a coherent output. Here, students chose a topic that they were most passionate about and prepared a critical paper. Overall, they learnt the skills of building arguments supported by evidence from data analysis, articulating them in a clear and succinct textual narrative, visualising data to produce impactful graphics, verbal presentation skills, and teamwork. It is rather impossible to deliver such a wide spectrum of knowledge and skills via the lecture format of teaching.
Professor, Amrut Mody School of Management
Foundation Programme, a brave new world
I started working on the Foundation Programme in March 2018, as the Convenor of a team of 12 faculty members from various disciplines. At this stage what we were working towards was a 1-month long ‘pilot’ course on the theme of “Democracy and Justice”. Creatively and analytically, this was a brave new world. It involved bringing together many disciplinary vantage points in 4 modules, each engaging with the broad themes of democracy and justice in the contemporary world, and encouraging the practice of certain skills such as those of communications or data analysis. My focus at this juncture was on isolating a clear structure for the course, starting with ideas of democracy in the first week, understanding the role of human rights in democracy (but via an emphasis on bodily and reproductive rights, which engaged the biological and life sciences domain) in the second, a week of quantitative analyses of case studies of democracy in the world and finally a last week in which all the learnings of the previous 3 modules could be applied. Initially, this took the form of a mock election, in which students were asked to evolve political manifestos for a fictional political party. They were encouraged to create mock social media campaigns and present their understanding of democratic needs in manifestos in a live public fair at the end of the semester. On the basis of spectator votes, a party was announced as winner at the end of the day. In later versions of the course, we transitioned away from the idea of a mock election as it seemed to place too much emphasis on the personal charisma of the ‘candidate’ and of members of the political party. In the subsequent semester-long versions of this course, we introduced two new activities for the fourth week (i.e., the last module of the course which related to citizen rights and the virtues of democratic conversation). In the first iteration, I suggested that each faculty member mentor two groups of students and guide their readings in preparation for a larger public debate and written position paper, where one side would debate the ‘pros’ and the other the ‘cons’ of a motion. Together, we came up with contemporary and controversial debate topics like the suitability of reservation by economic background rather than by caste in India, Section 370 (the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy and special status in the Indian constitution), and the death penalty. Student groups were asked to present their positions (with the aid of appealing audio-visual presentations). Finally, we settled on the most dynamic form of this activity in the form of a mock “talk show”, where each side created a show on which a host of characters, representing different stakeholders in society, entered the stage and advocated for a ‘pro’ or ‘con’ position. Students responded very creatively with this assignment, they had to research and develop their ‘roles’ according to readings and questions we gave them beforehand. They went all out in terms of costumes, music and dialogue. And they worked in teams to represent all the angles in one position (say from a lawyer, a civilian, a human rights activist, a politician) and staged very powerful debates.
I originally developed the talk show for Module 2 in which students participated in similar role play for debates relating to bodily and reproductive rights (covering topics like genetic engineering, abortion, surrogacy and sex determination). Seeing the creative flair and understanding that students brought to this exercise, we decided to replicate it on a larger scale for the final module of the course. Additionally, in Module 2 students were asked to compare different systems of government in the world and represent their commentary in the form of political cartoons. Needless to say, this generated a lot of original visual representations of the features of various political regimes as well as discussion about their relative merits, including the limits of democracies. Allowing students to tap into their imagination, I’ve found, is actually a very effective way to get them to think, feel, and ultimately, find the courage to share their views with others.
Assistant Professor, School of Arts and Sciences
After the teaching experience at the Foundation Programme, I know what an interdisciplinary classroom looks like
When I first heard of the Foundation Programme, I was excited by the idea of interdisciplinary studios. I recall taking some great courses in prestigious institutions within India and abroad when I was a student, but cannot recall taking courses such as these. However, on becoming a Foundation Programme faculty in one of its four studios, I could not help but think, how will this work in the classroom? What would a class with two faculty from two completely different academic disciplines look like? In my case, it was me, an Arts faculty (working within the broad area of Indian History) co-teaching with a Sciences faculty (working within the broad area of Ecology) in Module 3 of the ‘Neighbourhoods’ studio. Though I was enthusiastic to start teaching in it, not having seen this type of classroom before, I had some trouble visualising it.
To my joy, what I found in my experience of our virtual classroom, was something that I could not have imagined before. Without going into details, I’ll give a quick example here: while we were (still are) in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, our studio faculty promptly decided to incorporate this pandemic into the course. In our module, among other things, we had a component on Public Health where we aimed to demonstrate to our students (through the domains of Constitution and Civilisation and Biology and Life Sciences) how matters in the current health crisis are really interconnected and have to be viewed from multiple disciplinary perspectives in order to achieve a somewhat rounded understanding. While teaching, I noticed that my co-faculty and I were engaging in an academic dialogue quite naturally, which I much enjoyed, and I sincerely hope that students have benefitted from our conversations. Such dialogues between different disciplines (wherever possible) in order to understand any major contemporary problem (case in point here being COVID-19) is one of the ways in which we want our students to start thinking, of course, along with specializing in their specific areas of study.
After this teaching experience, I know what an interdisciplinary classroom looks like (even if it is on Zoom), how useful it might be for students to have such an integrated learning experience, and more importantly, why this synthesis of knowledge is necessary in the fast-changing world that we are living in. I’m writing this piece for anyone who believes in staying within the firm contours of their own disciplinary interests to solve issues and to say to them that if one gave such courses a try, they would perhaps, see it for themselves how it all comes together this way while approaching real-life problems.
Assistant Professor, School of Arts and Sciences
Delivering the Foundation Programme online
My stint in the Foundation Programme began in February 2019. I have always taught in the studio “Environment and Climate Change”. I have witnessed sea changes in terms of a larger pool of faculty involved compared to when I joined and continuous revision and refinement of our course outlines.
The experience of teaching in the Foundation Programme changed in a big way when we moved online in April 2020. Everybody knows that and needs no elaboration. What was more interesting was when whole separate course outlines had to be designed for online delivery for each of the four Studios. There had to be two outlines: one for the hoping-against-hope offline delivery mode as before, but with small modifications in content and activities to meet the interests of the insatiable students, and another, the best-we-can-do online delivery course outline (nothing short of extraordinary as this literally was a heart and soul effort of all the faculty involved). These changes were rolled out in Monsoon Semester 2020 and continued in Winter Semester 2021.
I enjoyed teaching in the fully online version in Winter 2021 having Professor Anjan Sen, a physicist, as my partner. In contrast, I am an economist, for the record. One of the major changes from teaching in the offline mode was the pace and sequence at which we were delivering our lectures. Both of us also tried our best to quote current figures and data on the topic being presented. Discussions were held with a large number of students. This also meant that students seemed more interested and felt more responsible for doing in-class and afternoon activities.
Supratim Das Gupta
Assistant Professor, Amrut Mody School of Management
Foundation Programme encourages a positive engagement of students in the Studios to relate the classroom concepts with real-life problems
Foundation Programme encourages a positive engagement of students in the Studios to relate the classroom concepts with real-life problems. It not only facilitates the students with active learning and problem solving but also allows them to interact with the community, understand them, and collect and analyse the relevant data to relate it with the societal issues. In Water Studio of the Programme, Clean Water and its Safety through Citizen Science was the approach used to map the quality of water by assessing the biological and chemical contaminants of water that was collected by the students from different wards of Ahmedabad. Students learned about the chemical and biological characteristics of water and the kind of diseases which are water-based. A prototype for different types of filters was also made by the students as a part of the Water Studio, which offered a hands-on learning experience to the students. The Foundation Programme Studios are designed to offer interdisciplinary learning to the students. While students explored the city collecting the groundwater and the municipality supplied water for quality assessment, they were made to realise a few important aspects around water. They could relate water with gender when they observed that women and girls are mainly responsible for the collection of water for household purposes irrespective of their physique and illness. They could see how the burden of the collection of water wherever it is not available on the premises, has affected and caused harm to one gender in the area of health and hygiene, education, and overall growth. This has made them aware and informed citizens and has changed their thinking and behaviour.
Associate Professor, School of Arts and Sciences
My journey through the Foundation Programme has been both amazing as well as transformative. I had a myopic view of the disciplines and believed that learning my subjects well was enough to handle any challenge I would encounter. But the four studios of the Foundation Programme, i.e. Environment and Climate Change, Democracy and Justice, Neighborhoods and Water, forced me to think hard and take a holistic view of every problem and seek out innovative solutions by broadening my perspective. It made me understand how just a bucket of water creates a complex impact on gender roles in society, forcing me to open my mind while seeking a solution.
Bachelor of Arts (Honours)
What thrilled me the most were the classroom vibes!
As soon as you enter your first year, you are welcomed with a set of Foundation Programme Studios that change your perspective on how you see things. The studio on Democracy and Justice was a social mirror shown to the students as responsible citizens without sugar-coating or hiding sensitive elements, helping us experience the gentle side of democracy while pacing to dreadful corners as well. The studio is truly interdisciplinary in nature and the unique thing you'll experience here is that minds from different backgrounds were put together in a single classroom and sessions naturally led to intense discussions covering many aspects of the subject. What thrilled me the most was the palpable excitement in the classroom: brainstorming with peers and understanding aspects of democracy that we would never encounter in a typical civics classroom, if it were not for this studio. I am grateful to the teachers who made this experience a wonderful one. I believe every citizen deserves to get a glimpse of this mirror to make this world a place that humanity always deserved.
Integrated Master Of Business Administration
A learning process, well-rounded, unorthodox and unique!
For the incoming batch of 2020-21, we had an unusual year ahead of us as we were supposed to see our university, campus, peers, and faculty only virtually. Yet, with Ahmedabad University, it never felt like we are missing out on our learning experience. I never expected to be a part of such a well-rounded learning process which was completely unorthodox and unique. The unconventional ways of learning at the Foundation Programme touched upon issues that were of utmost importance and relevance in the present scenario but are generally not covered in most higher education curriculums. The programme helped me shape my thoughts and allowed me to work on enhancing significant skills and building perspectives, while interacting with fellow students and faculty. It was one of the most exceptional and enriching learning experiences that I ever had.
Bachelor of Arts (Honours)