It’s my second week in NY and I sat in on Tom Igoe’s class on Understanding Networks. I’ll do some comparisons between his class and a typical undergraduate class I took, when I was in college.

The first thing is the class size, 16 students at ITP compared to 48 students at IOE (Institute of Engineering). I was wondering how ITP came up with the number 16, did they experiment with smaller or larger groups and settled for 16 to be the optimal number. I should probably ask this the next time I run into any faculty members.

The second thing is the classroom arrangement, the students at ITP sit around tables arranged in the middle of the room, facing each other. At IOE, we’d sit on benches that were arranged in rows all facing the teacher and the energy flow would be from the teacher to the student. The energy flow in the class at ITP is more organic and involves everyone in the class, not just the teacher.

Tom started the class with a quick introduction since it was the first class. Professors at IOE rarely do that, they just start the content right away. And from my experience as a middle school teacher, knowing students’ names is important.

He then assigned note taking duties to two of the students for each class. It’s an interesting way of note taking and we use that at Karkhana when taking meeting notes. We take turns to take notes, compile the notes, come up with tasks from the discussion and then assign tasks to the team members using Trello, a task management tool. On a lighter note, we used the same technique to pass our 1 year B.Ed. degree. 🙂

Thinking back of my college days, I never took notes in class and right before the finals, I along with almost 80% of my classmates would photocopy notes from one of our seniors, Hari Gaire who used to painstakingly prepare a detailed note on each subject. We’d just cram in the notes and then take the end of the semester test.

tomsClassTom talked about some examples of networks, the first few ones on the list were related to technology like internet, cellular networks, bluetooth and power, but as the discussion continued, students added in interesting things like subway, family, sewage, water, postal service, airports and brain. These sort of discussion would never take place at IOE, the teacher would speak and the students would jot down notes, there was no interaction among the students.

Then we thought of possible categories for the list we came up with, visible vs invisible, physical vs virtual, paid vs free, one way vs two way and controlled vs uncontrolled. At IOE, the teacher would say there are just three types of categories, x, y and z and you need to remember the categories for your test. I personally like to use an activity called Tug of War to facilitate similar discussions that involve lists and categories.   

I noticed a lot of inquiry based learning as Tom was encouraging the students to come up with possible answers as opposed to a professor at IOE saying there is only one right answer.

Then a female student asked an interesting question, “What is the difference between a network and a system?”. She gave an example of the water system. My professor at IOE would shut off questions like these as being out of the topic and would not address it but Tom validated the question and built on it to explain the idea to the whole class.  

“Let’s say there’s a reservoir and there are conduits that transfer the water from the reservoir to the consumers, this could be thought of as a network but what about the processes like evaporation, formation of clouds and rainfall, were they part of the same network or were they part of a larger system.”

Everyone in the class participated in the discussion to reach a collective conclusion. Tom then mentioned that the difference between a system and a network would probably depend on the frame of reference. For instance if we were looking at whether the consumers were getting the water in their faucets, then that would basically be a network.


But the highlight of the day were these cool candles that Tom had made for his wedding, with the help of some friends. I’ve never seen any of my professors showing us something they had made. We do that a lot in our classes at Karkhana though. Karkhana teachers make projects that we show to the kids, at the start of the session to model what the kids are expected to do at the end of the session.


There are some simple things that I’ve mentioned in this post that can easily be integrated in any classroom that would enhance the experience of the students and foster learning.