Can we flip classrooms at IIMs?

Can we flip classrooms at IIMs?

  • What is the most boring thing that you can remember from your student-days?
  • Did you suffer from memory-loss, power-nap syndrome and bouts of hair-tearing rage during class-hours? 
  • Before exams did you wish you had paid attention to that concept taught by your Finance professor which would help you get at least a C-?
  • Did you deem your education as heavily theoretical with no application-based learning?

The remedy to all these symptoms could be as simple as Flipping Classrooms.

It was conceptualized in Harvard Business School back in the 1990s by Eric Mazur who believed that computers can aid teachers in making their contribution to class more effective than just delivering lectures.

Prof. Eric Mazur in his Harvard lab

Flipping Classrooms essentially means that professors record their entire lectures on video and share it with students to allow them to absorb it before the class – much like a pre-read and utilize the precious class-room hours for interaction, discussions, application and evaluations. It makes the class-room environment become more lively, thereby attracting students to participate more intensely and learn more.  It would also eradicate the use of laptops in class-rooms which end up becoming sources of entertainment, social networking, gaming, competing assignments and surfing while the professor rambles endlessly to complete his portion for the session. This method could also create interesting possibilities around providing reducing costs of MBA education to students by essentially optimizing the time of visiting faculty.

Prominent examples in successfully flipping the classes have been a non-profit organization called Khan Academy that garned a lot of publicity thanks to interest shown by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

 

Yet, much like any other technique, we just cannot force-fit this technique into our mode of instruction without understanding it in more detail. There are certain realities and cynics who needed to be answered first to be in a position to really consider something like this.

“Why do you need it?!!”

This is a classic case to spark the debate between Lecture method and Discussion method. However flipping class-rooms are built upon the concept of “Learning by Doing”. I cannot begin to stress on the benefits of this outside the MBA world (Engineering, Primary Schools)

Yet to restrict our topic, predominantly teachers have the flexibilty to choose their methods of instruction. It is also a step towards which teachers need to think on to cater to the evolving class-room dynamics. Long-lecture hours are a reality and the short attention-span is a graver reality that teachers need to factor in while teaching them.

“It might require a lot of technology”

Let’s accept that we’ve all experienced this mode of learning in some form or the other – be it the various certification prep. Tools such as Schweser and Stalla for CFA, the famous Corporate Finance classes by Aswath Damodaran (Damodaran Online) available on his website, training programs within organizations are a few examples. With the extensive use of tablets, smart-phones among students these lectures can be viewed and absorbed anywhere by the students which would help them manage time more effectively.

“About half the class isn’t interested in learning and/or contributing in the class!”

To begin at root-cause for this would be like going down a rabbit hole, and hence I’d rather refrain from the topic altogether. The quality of the students who join the institute is a function of the selection process. If they claim to have introduced better parameters than CAT to admit students than it was a few years ago, let’s see if those students are good enough to adapt themselves to this radical method of learning.

How do you ensure that what you don’t do in class is done at home?

By linking KPIs to their incentives – oops! Apologies for my work-rant!

Yet, my message holds. No one is perfect and under one’s control. To control one’s actions  one needs to control their strings. For students – strings are essentially grades! With a robust system of class-room participation (CP) evaluation  and a healthy component of grades to Class participation.

I say all this because I vividly remember scenes from 2nd year, where professors have emptied half the class because students haven’t prepared for the case that was to be discussed in class on more than one occasion.

Finally, utilize more competent Teaching Assistants who don’t doze at the last bench but understand the difference between yapping and making relevant but few entries in to the discussion.

How do you ensure that what you don’t do in class is done at home?

By testing the students on the basic concepts – Quizzes, which exist in the current method of teaching, this can be addressed.

The quizzes in their current form only test students on how well are they versed with textual knowledge. It has been noted time and again that, text-book knowledge doesn’t work as well as academicians think of it.

To bring for the gravity of this let me quote an a senior guy with close to 20-years of industry experience and a double-MBA. “Students in their summer projects generally tend to spit out textual recommendations for real-life business problems – for eg. someone from one of the better business schools gave recommendations on opening more store-outlets, increasing marketing spend for increase sales when the company was working on tight cash-streams. These are the same students who crib on not getting high-salaries from organizations. The plight of MBA in India is disturbingly bad”

How do you sell the idea because it seems like it would require a lot of ground-work?

Yes it will because it is almost like a revamp of your entire system. And it might not happen immediately. The top-guns of your institute need to be sold on this – which include your Director, the PGP chairperson to name a few.

Yet, to sell the idea is quite easy. If the institute does show resistance to this, every institute has its share of professors who always experiment by implementing innovative teaching methodologies. They should be the prime-targets to start with. Essentially once sold, using their subjects as pilot studies, one could go ahead and make a case in front of the institute after 1-2 years of how did the subject generate benefits in terms of improved class-room learning by increase in academic performance, retention, class-room attendance and more application specific know-how.

Ultimately, not all subjects might need flipping classrooms, it totally depends on the content and the type of subject being taught. For example subjects like Sociology, Business Law which involve usage of lecture method alone may not be the best candidates with students learning very basic level of these subjects in the 1st year.

To convince them you need their favorite students going in prepared with case-studies of institutes who have successfully implemented flipping.

“What are the risks in flipping class-rooms”?

Considering the kind of students admitted in B-schools, namely, fresh graduates who are just out of their graduation, flipping classrooms could be too disruptive. From an environment which has little to no active participation in classrooms to an environment created by flipping classrooms, students with little/no experience might not have anything relevant to add.

This method might not be able to address the needs of students who are either too academically strong or weak because the videos would follow a single level of difficulty throughout. However these could be addressed during the discussions and application  in the class-rooms.

The videos that are circulated across various classes might need periodic revision gauging the need of the new crop of students and the general feedback of the videos from students who have used it in the past.

Finally, let me play devil’s advocate by testing this method with my limited logic:

Some expected students’ realities (Not exhaustive) of flipping classrooms:

  • “It is difficult to learn from a screen”
  • “I don’t have enough motivation to make notes. Ultimately, notes are what will come in handy before exams”
  • “The flipped videos aren’t user-friendly”
  • “The videos can be viewed by students from other institutes too. How do I differentiate myself?”

Some expected gripe from teachers’ (not exhaustive) of flipping classrooms:

  • “It is going to be hard-work creating such content, which I don’t even know would be successful with students”
  • “Updating the content is going to be extremely resource-intensive”
  • “Will I become redundant?”

I have some answers for these questions but let these be points of thought for the reader to stir up conversations around this simple yet widely ignored mode of instruction in main-stream education in India.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in academics or teaching methodologies. I am basing my opinions by putting myself in the shoes of an MBA student who would benefit from working with flipped class-sessions.

 

Charanyan Iyengar is a Senior Consultant with Wipro Business Consulting. He has previously worked with Tata Capital, HSBC and JPMorgan Chase in the past. A mechanical engineer from National Institute of Technology, Surat (Class of 2005) and alumnus of IIM Kozhikode (Class of 2011), this idealist believes in changing the world for good. He was given the CRISIL Young Thought Leader Award – 2010 where he wrote a brief paper on how Indian B-schools fared in terms of disclosure levels when compared to their foreign peers. An amateur  poet and he loves to impulsively pen down his thoughts as and when they come to him. He is also the unofficial brand-ambassador of Sony Playstation 3.

 

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Charan Iyengar

The writer is an alumnus of IIM Kozhikode - Class of 2011 and has worked as a Technology analyst at HSBC and JPMorgan in the past. He would be a consultant with Wipro Consulting Services

Comments

2 comments

Swati

Great article Charman! Awsum insight, I would like my professor to implement this next term onwards. I have sent him the link to your article. BTW, u r in the wrong profession, journalism is ur calling friend! 🙂 Best of Luck