“Pass the bottle or I’ll stare at you!!” – The Group Dynamics of Classrooms

Classroom /ˈklɑːsruːm,-rʊm/  noun  – 1) a room in which a class of pupils or students is taught. 2) a place where B-schoolers spend a large part of their time, sometimes by choice, mostly by coercion.

It is in this ecosystem of walls, computer, projector and most importantly the clock where we manage hundreds or maybe thousands of people, design revolutionary products, oversee massive global mergers and dismiss a few million dollars as pocket change. And if you were to ask an honest professor, he would answer with a wry smile that it is also the place where we ‘learn’.

For no matter how many hours we spend in a classroom, no matter how many case studies we discuss, and no matter how many PowerPoint presentations we sit through in a deathly haze, classroom learning only forms a small part of the overall learning process in a B-school.

But classrooms do provide an amazing insight into the behaviour of their occupants; from the confrontational jerk who never wanted to do an MBA in the first place but was pushed into it by a crappy job, pushy overbearing parents, peer pressure or/and threats of marital bliss (and hence argues with every professor and every fellow student over every little detail), to at the other end of the spectrum, the teacher’s pet, the guy who propels class participation to stratospheric levels and attracts murderous glares from other students who’ve somehow dragged their leaden feet to the morning class (but these guys are important, you need somebody to keep the professor happy when he’s in a particularly interrogative mood).

But these fascinating behaviours aren’t restricted to extremes of arguing over abstract theories or desperate CP alone. The middle of the bell curve also indulges in some very peculiar activities (like the almost vampiric aversion the people at the back have to the lights being switched on). But here we focus on some behaviours and eccentricities that are more or less common to every strata of student in an Indian B-school.

1. The Hunt for the Water Bottle – MBA students very well understand the health implications of dehydration and are well aware of the need to drink 2-3 litres of water daily. However, what with so many other things to do (and drink) during the day it is nearly impossible to keep up your water intake. So classrooms, with their supply of water bottles placed along the windows or at the front of the class become the perfect places to rehydrate. But the problem is there aren’t enough bottles for everyone and naturally nobody gets their own.

What we get to see then is the heightened aural sensitivity of a predator hunting for its prey. The moment somebody picks up a bottle, the sound of plastic moving against skin somehow reaches everybody in class irrespective of their current state of wakefulness and their necks swivel to the source. Then follows a series of highly complex hand and facial gestures fit to serve as wartime code, indicating the person currently in possession of the bottle to not finish the water and pass it on here. But I must say that I’ve seen people demonstrate a lot of camaraderie in these situations, sipping water barely enough for a not-too-thirsty ant before passing on the bottle to as many people as possible and moving on to their bored doodling… till somebody picks up the next bottle.

Water Wars


2. Classroom Presentations – One of the major components of almost any course in a B-school is the class presentation on an assigned topic. And I’ve noticed two very distinct types of behaviours during class presentations.

One is when the professor isn’t going to ask questions to the other groups or there won’t be any peer evaluation. That is the cue for everybody else to go back to their cell phones, back to sleep, or if the professor is near, stare at the presenting group with your mouth gaping open and eyes out of focus, not noticing the bits of drool that are starting to form at the corners of your mouth (like many of our politicians).

When we don't have to answer questions on the presentation
When we don’t have to answer questions on the presentation


A radically different scenario presents itself however when there is the possibility of being asked questions on the presented topic or especially if there is going to be a peer evaluation of the groups. Now everybody is alert, with their eyes trained on the presentation like a sniper getting ready to assassinate a president, furiously scribbling away potential questions to ask and making notes of the tiniest mistakes in the slides. Such is the magic of relative grading.

Focus in a peer-evaluated presentation
Focus in a peer-evaluated presentation


3.    The Stare – This last one is something not restricted to B-schools. The stare is something that everybody who’s been in an Indian classroom must have been subjected to. If you aren’t sure what it is, try coming late to class the next time, and then see every eye following your slow progress as you try to find a vacant seat and move to it without disturbing the professor. Even better is when somebody’s phone rings for a moment in class. Even if the professor wasn’t sure whose it was, all he has to do is look at the every head turned in that direction like a rangefinder, and he can identify his culprit. And it’s not because of any malicious intent; it’s just that this is the way we are wired.

More stares please??
More stares please??


These are just some examples of the amusing and bemusing behaviours people indulge in in classrooms. There are many variations, and some things are done a little more in certain places, but all in all, we are a pretty weird bunch J

– Nadeem

What strange behaviours do people exhibit in your classrooms? Share, tag them and leave a comment because we’d really love to know.

Nadeem is still trying to make sense of Life, the Universe and Everything having just started his second year and planning to have a great time while he tries to figure all that stuff out.  You can follow him at nadeemraj.insideiim.com

He’s an amateur storyteller at 42shadesoctarine.wordpress.com

Drop him a line on Twitter or Facebook. He doesn’t usually bite.


Nadeem Raj

Nadeem is a class of 2015 student at XLRI, Jamshedpur in the HR stream after working for 3 and a half years with TCS in the Program Management function. He is a big fan of literature and music and will be doing his summer internship with Novartis Pharmaceuticals.