News – PH – Prime Numbers, Cicadas, Online Courses: How a lecturer brought them together in IIT-Bombay


The pandemic has left many of us in the teaching profession longing to be back in the classroom. The last time I walked into a classroom was at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia when I did The final lecture for my course on data analysis was held

Brisbane is a global city that welcomes students from Asia, Europe, America and Africa with open arms. University life enables a valuable cultural mix where many can get to know and learn from one another, perhaps with the subtle realization that knowledge is real can come from almost anywhere

During the transition between this job and my current job at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, where I have just started teaching, I was fortunate to be able to teach two fresh courses for Masters students in their undergraduate studies this Indian institute offered me my first experience with online teaching

The “classroom” was virtual and the approximately one hundred students in the first year did not have the opportunity to interact with each other and to know each other like they did on campus

So in the introductory lecture, I announced that group evaluations, in which all members of a certain group have exactly the same grade, make up a significant part of the evaluation, I was hoping that this would force them to interact with one another

I asked them to form their own groups by the end of my first week of class. When my students returned to me with their preferred group members, I was immediately reminded that our nation is a nation of over 20 different states – a hundred students were divided into about twenty groups of five each. The Punjabis formed one group, the Gujaratis had their own, the Bengals formed a third group, and so on

To be fair, it goes without saying, without information about strangers, for a common ground that offers a unification of feeling, thinking, or preferences – something that will help people connect easily

There was also the possibility that some students already knew each other from their previous Bachelor institutes. Simply put, more information can facilitate quick decision-making

All of this was in sharp contrast to my previous employment country, Australia, which has fewer than 10 states, and in all of my travels within the country I have never felt a significant difference in ethnic diversity between them

I firmly believe in the social common good that ethnic diversity can provide, and fortunately, India’s cultural diversity has great potential to first create the common good and then contribute to it

My first job as an educator, however, was to recognize that a natural tendency to blend in with one’s own kind requires a natural solution. So I turned to nature – as I said before, knowledge can actually come from anywhere !

Two species of cicadas (basically noisy insects) in the United States are known for their near-perfectly synchronized, periodic mass emergence.These cycles of mass reproduction are in a distinct prime number gap – 13 years for one species and 17 years for that other

To give an intuition, let’s imagine a species of cicada that has a mass reproduction cycle of six years (not prime) A three year cycle predator would not have enough food (the species of cicada) in its first episode of mass reproduction at the end of three years

However, in the second episode (at the end of six years) there will be a clash of mass reproduction between the predator and prey, and predator numbers will flourish and form mass due to the higher availability of food – extinction of such cicadas more likely / p>

With primarily numbered years, it is easy to see that the likelihood of this coincidence is significantly reduced – for example, the first coincidence between our imaginary predator and the cicada with a 17-year cycle would occur at the end of the fifty years – the first year or after sixteen cycles of mass reproduction without a corresponding increase in food availability Less food for predators means fewer of them will survive

As a result, most of the natural predators that only relied on cicada-based meals would have been extinct, ensuring the survival of these periodic cicadas

That was it! I just had to come up with a strategy to avoid cultural coincidences in my group rating list.Although this margin is too narrow to contain a detailed mathematical explanation of my approach, suffice it to say that I used prime numbers to get out of the original mine List submitted to students to create five new lists – one for each group assessment item

Each of my lists had twenty unique groups of five people Remarkably, I was also able to ensure that for each group assessment, each student was matched with four completely new classmates that they had not worked with on any of the previous assessments

Overall, my first online teaching experience turned out to be very fruitful, forcing me to create the common social good as I have completed my teaching requirements at this institute, I can only hope that my students get to know each other better Views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

We are a voice for you; You’ve Supported Us Together we build an independent, credible and fearless journalism on. You can help us further by making a donation.This will mean a lot to our ability to bring you news, perspective and analysis from the ground up so that we can make change together can make

Comments will be moderated and will not be published until approved by the site moderator. Please use a real email ID and include your name. Selected comments can also be used in the “Letters” section of the Down To Earth hard copy

Down To Earth is a product of our commitment to making changes in our environment, protecting health, and ensuring livelihoods and economic security for all. We firmly believe that we can and must do things differently The aim is to bring you news, perspectives and knowledge to prepare you for the change in the world. We believe that information is a powerful driver for the new tomorrow

Quacquarelli Symonds, QS World University Rankings, Indian Technology Institutes

News – PH – Prime Numbers, Cicadas, Online Courses: How a Lecturer brought them together in IIT-Bombay