Can Ashoka Build Academic Bridges Online?
Sriramya Ghanta, UG 21
The Academic Bridge programme is designed by the Office of Admissions and the Office of Student Affairs to provide a certain number of incoming students at Ashoka with English language and academic reading and writing assistance. These students are invited to attend a two-week programme on campus before their peers join them during the orientation week. The Office of Admissions states that the Academic Bridge programme is also supported by the Office of Learning Support, the Ashoka Centre for Well Being, the Office of Academic Affairs, along with Student Representatives. The programme includes formal teaching sessions, discussions, activities, assignments, mentoring sessions, workshops, and more, to help prepare students for their academic journey at Ashoka. The Office of Admissions reveals that “after a rigorous and holistic admissions process, merit-based offers of admission are made to candidates. The Admissions Committee identifies and selects students who need the support of a planned programme to help bridge the gap between their high school and collegiate education in the English language.” For the undergraduate batch of 2023, the programme is not only going to be held online, but it has also been extended to three weeks. The Student Government and the admissions team have been working in collaboration to ensure that the ABP is effectively helping students in their time at Ashoka.
Harshit Kumar, a member of the House of Representatives, believes that while the objectives of the programme are noble, in actuality, many of the students in the programme later find themselves struggling with academics since it is challenging to substitute fifteen years of education with the two-week programme. He goes on to add that “the programme is necessary, since some students might not have received avenues before Ashoka to engage in dialogues about social with a certain form of elite language to it .” Reena Gupta, the founding director of the Office of Learning Support, maintains that the Academic Bridge programme is prolonged into the semester with the introduction of English communication courses as well as specialised ICT courses. She stated that while she agrees that two weeks might not be adequate, she believes that the help that these students get is not limited to the two or three weeks.
The Student Government has been hoping to increase the representation of ABP students in leadership positions within the campus, including clubs and societies. Ardra, an undergraduate student of 2022, also affirms that while the programme helped her improve her language skills, interact with people and presented her with an insight into life at Ashoka, she recollected a lack of emphasis on extracurricular activities that would have otherwise been helpful. While this seems to be the prevalent narrative with the students, the Admissions team appears to have a different outlook. The Office of Admissions adds that “the Office of Learning Support, the Ashoka Centre for Well Being and the Office of Academic Affairs will also continue to offer their special support to address the various areas of need.”
Amidst a global pandemic, the Administration’s decision to hold classes online till October meant that the Academic Bridge programme is to be moved online as well. Ardra supposed that although the students will be made aware of the workings of life at Ashoka, it is going to be difficult for them to perceive the diversity in cultures, languages and food that would have been apparent on campus. Harshit implies that although it is uplifting to see the university provide amenities such as dongles, laptops and headphones to students who need them, he speculates that “it is going to be challenging to hold the bridge programme online since in-person, things are easier to convey. There is a form of intimacy and collaboration, which is quite difficult to get through in an online session.” On a similar note, the Office of Admissions indicated that “although nothing can replicate the immersive life experiences of hosting the ABP on campus, [they] have planned this online version in a way that continues to keep the heart and spirit of the programme intact, which promises the students a community of people to rely on.” The Office of Learning support has taken this opportunity to introduce and implement apparatuses that would otherwise be overlooked. Reena Gupta explained that it had been a blessing in disguise for the OLS, not only for the English language learners but also for students with disabilities. She goes on to say that “with technology playing such a huge role these days, we were provided with an opportunity to make students familiar with the tools at their disposal and I am confident that we are giving them more resources to become independent learners.”
The Student Government is hopeful they can introduce more student involvement to the programme with both academic and non-academic experiences including the buddy system where students in leadership roles are connected with students in the ABP. The Admissions team is relying on the Student Government to ensure that the ABP students get the help that they need even after the two weeks. The Office of Admissions asserts that “the ABP is evolving each year and while this initiative is not common in other Indian Universities, this is just the beginning. We are not only open to continuously learning, unlearning, relearning and rethinking our vision for the ABP; we also look forward to working together with others who share the vision of this programme. It will be wonderful to see the ABP take new shapes each year.” Moreover, the Office of Learning Support states that they are making an effort to engage the faculty in universal design for learning. When integrated into the curriculum, this makes the lectures accessible through their design for all students with English language needs and students with learning disabilities. The Academic Bridge Programme, in its entirety, is continually being re-evaluated and restructured based on the experiences that students have had as well as the expectations of better adaptation to the needs of incoming students.