Managing a B School-Teaching, Learning

Learning, Teaching, Etc.

The objective of any curriculum is to ensure that students learn what we expect them to, and what is good for them. Sometimes, we lose sight of this important objective, and confuse learning with simply delivering measured loads of information to the students-usually, too much of it.The distinction between learning and teaching is very important. Many institutions miss out on this partially or completely. The result is an overburdened student who sleepwalks through a lot of courses and learns little in the process. This is further made worse by large class sizes, in which individual students do not feel ownership, or feel uncared for. They lose interest, and learning is a casualty.
The remedy for this situation is in the hands of faculty members and the pedagogy they use for teaching AND in exams. Teaching must involve students. Just using the case study method is not enough, but it can be a start. It is certainly better than a simple lecture for most courses. But case method also needs fresh ideas in using it effectively. All schools and faculty are not capable of handling it in the fashion that Harvard B school or IIM Ahmedabad does. And there are lacunae in the blind worship of anyone-even Harvard.

Firstly, we need to ground students in the reality of Indian business, by making them aware of how things work (or don’t) in India. Small projects where students are required to interact with the outside world in some way, can do this very effectively. At least, a portion of the course must help by taking people out of the classroom and into the street, or office of the employee, the customer, the distributor, the CEO or the manager of a function. Or, they must be brought in if meeting them in their den is not feasible (higher level managers, for example, can be brought in as speakers). Using cases written in the Indian context can be another way to do this.

Going Beyond Just Listening
Students can actually do some good research if guided by the faculty teaching the course. I have had students write small cases for me, in Services Marketing and in Marketing Research courses, in IIM Kozhikode and Kirloskar Institute of Advanced Management Studies. Select cases written by them under my guidance have been published (with student credits as authors of these) in my books on those subjects. This can be done in quite a few subjects, if we plan for it. Occasionally, conference papers or even journal papers can be co-authored with a good student in your course. It goes to the institution’s credit if publication is achieved during the tenure of the student. At IIM Indore, I have tried writing joint papers with students, and it’s worked. We also plan to bring out a book of cases on Digital Marketing with cases authored by former students from different institutes (maybe some current students too!).
Fun ways to learn include activities such as role play, group discussion (I illustrate Focus Group Discussions by doing one in class), videography (in a communications or negotiations or Industrial relations course), assignments to download and summarise articles from the net, teaching through simulation packages (we have used Capstone, Markstrat or cheaper Indian equivalents regularly at IMT group and do so at Indore as well), and so on. Frequent questions asked to students in class are a very good monotony-buster and should be used by every faculty member teaching any course.

Joy of Learning
Quest for perfection is a kill-joy in many cases, and as a teacher, one key thing to remember is that if you kill the student’s joy, there is no learning. Learning happens when you allow people to make mistakes. For example, a person learning a new software would learn more if he made a few mistakes, rather than if he did not. Later in life, it is important for a student to learn how to deal with things that go wrong, rather than be under the wrong impression that they will always be right!

Exams are also under-utilised forms of pedagogy in my view. I have experimented with exams of various types, from open book to multiple choice, to cases, and everything in between. Long cases that are tough to read otherwise, can form good exam papers. Applied quantitative analysis is a good test of understanding in Marketing Research or similar courses. Some take-home exams at IIMB in my student days were quite tough, and forced me to think a lot.
A viva can also be a good test of the depth of learning. One or two pointed questions is all it takes to find out how much a student has learnt. However, this takes enormous time to conduct if the size of the class is large. But the positive payoff for the faculty member is less time spent on grading written answers, which is actually more time-consuming. Group vivas can be considered, with individuals in the group being asked a question each. Passing on unanswered questions to other group members can incentivise good students to score well.


Nidhi said...

Very insightful article sir.I just wanted to point out that even when the faculty is good in his work and makes the learning joyful,how to encourage students for an equal participation so that it is a joyful experience for both the faculty and the student.Sometimes I have seen a lack in participation from a student which kills all the fun.

Rajendra said...

Nidhi, the easiest way (not a profitable one :)) to do that is to reduce class size-the problem goes away on its own..not easy in large classes. But in-class exercises can help, to an extent.

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