The biggest departure from the norm is that it will be a 5-week program. Normally an institute will have a 2-3 day orientation program to give new students a feel for the place, tell them all the important rules, introduce them to important people and offices, help them in opening a bank account, register them for courses, get them computer accounts, and all the rest. And the classes start immediately thereafter.
IIT Gandhinagar believes that there are a couple of problems with this method. One, a couple of days are really not sufficient time for someone to settle down in a hostel environment for the first time in his/her life, and start a tough academic program immediately. For most students (though some would have stayed in a hostel in Kota) this would be a very major transition, and should be done over a longish period. The second issue is that most of these students have only studied Physics, Chemistry and Maths in the last 2-4 years (except some studies to pass the two other courses in 12th board). Most of them have not read a novel, or seen a movie, or played any games in this period. In order to develop their overall personality, there is a need to expose them to a variety of things, so that they can pick up their interests once again, and nurture that along with their studies.
And, therefore, IIT-GN would have a 5-week orientation program for the incoming batch, which will focus on social awareness, values, creativity, physical activities and sports, and team work and communication. There will be large number of guest lectures on different topics, visits to different places in Ahmedabad, meeting NGOs, workshops on painting, creative writing, and many more, performing arts like theater, music, and dance, vocational stuff like pottery, carpentry, etc., athletics, outdoor sports (both team sports and individual sports), and yoga, personality development workshops, and many more things. The list of activities is truly impressive. And in order to create the right environment for faculty-student interaction, there will be many activities involving both faculty and students (that is, not the activities where the faculty is teaching, but activities where they are equals). Hopefully, that will make sure that there is close interaction for the entire duration of the stay for these students, and the students will feel comfortable in approaching faculty, if they need any help or advice.
The hope is that all this would result in students discovering their passion, becoming more creative and confident to face any challenge in future, and they will become well rounded individual who are sensitive to their surroundings and have a strong value system.
I don't know how much they will achieve within 5 weeks, but this is certainly worth an experiment. As Prof. Kelkar (the founding Director of IIT Kanpur) used to say, "if academic institutions won't do experiments, who else will." I wish them well.
(I will talk about another of their innovation in a couple of days regarding how they utilize the summer term. And the all important disclosure, so that you know my potential bias: I am a Guest Professor at IIT Gandhinagar.)