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College profs use games, music, drama to teach about biz, trade, politics

Unusual approaches include sessions by clowns and paanwalas to drive home points about customer relations and inventory management.

education Updated: Aug 15, 2018 19:52 IST
Shaili Shah
Shaili Shah
Hindustan Times
Mumbai University,Smartphone apps,Higher education
(IMAGE: ISTOCK; IMAGING: SHRIKRISHNA PATKAR)

Vandital Pal had never thought she would be running a country, participating in international trade and at the same time understanding complicated global economics concepts. “I was not just learning a concept, but living one,” says Pal, 17, who is currently pursuing a BSc in economics and management from Indian School of Business and Finance (ISBF), Delhi.

A series of sessions introduced one year ago called Playnomics teaches students concepts of economics, management and finance through role play. Games like IPL Auction, Win-Win, Circular Flow and Double Auction cover concepts like demand and supply, international trade and the optimal utilisation of resources.

“Till now I had been merely filling exam sheets with a set rigid format from the textbooks – definition, merits and demerits,” says Pal. “But now, I was able to relate to each sentence and understand its purpose.”

In one of the games, the class was divided into groups of developed and developing countries, with students given resources to run their countries and trade with internationally. “A situation in the game involved a developed group, the US, trading technology with labour from a developing group, India,” Pal says. “That’s how we understood the economic theory of comparative advantage.”

Colleges and educational institutes are gradually seeing an overhaul in terms of their pedagogical tools and lecturing techniques. From using video games and smartphone apps to folk music and drama, professors are employing unconventional methods to help students grasp key concepts and shift the focus from the traditional rote learning to logical and critical thinking.

‘I ask students to form teams and compose songs as part of their assignments. They are hence compelled to do research, questions things they did not understand,’ says Sudhakar Solomonraj, head of the political science department at Wilson College.

“By using interactive teaching methods, students begin to see how the textbook concepts have a life beyond a mere definition or graph,” says Aryapriya Ganguly, a professor in Social and Applied Psychology, Sociology and Human Resource Management at ISBF. “It cements textbook learning and compels students to think critically, make intelligent decisions and come up with the best possible solutions.”

Sing It Till You Know It

Singing and songwriting is an important tool in world history classes at Wilson College. For 25 years, Sudhakar Solomonraj, head of the political science department, has been using the lyrics of poet-composers like Bob Dylan to explore subjects such as the American Civil War, the Holocaust and the two World Wars.

“I also ask students to form teams and compose their own songs as part of their assignments,” says Solomonraj. “As they are to write a song, they will be compelled to do research, questions things they did not understand, discuss nuances with team members and look more critically and independently at the facts.”

‘I have invited a paanwala, doodhwali, stand-up comedian, cartoonist and a clown as guest lecturers,’ says Renuka Kamath, marketing professor at SPJIMR.

Last week, students from an exchange programme between the University of California, Berkeley, and St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, learned about ancient trade and economy through folk music.

“Our brief was, to do something different,” says Pranita Pandurangi, 23. A singer and Masters student, she thought of using her passion for folk music to conduct lectures (she has been a teacher for 3 years, but was the first time she took a lecture in Xavier’s). “I am using classic jazz and traditional folk songs from North India to teach about trade, culture and economics,” says Pandurangi.

For instance, George Gershwin’s written jazz classic, Summertime, will be used to help explain migration in the US during the 1930s, the politics behind the slave trade and the economies of slavery. Bhojpuri, Punjabi and Marwadi folk music will be used to explore cultural exchanges that resulted from the trade between East and West via the Silk Road.

Every Story Is A Lesson

At the SPJIMR business school, a session called Ek Class Thodi Hatke involves getting people from different walks of lives — a paanwala, doodhwali, stand-up comedian, cartoonist, clown — to talk about their lives, work and how they manage time, resources, inventory, customer relations.

“Their experiences become an important teaching medium as they impart life lessons that have a high degree of practical applicability,” says Renuka Kamath, the marketing professor behind these sessions, which were started in 2006, but got it’s name in 2016. A paanwala named Sunder Pujari, for instance, explained his stock inventory, sales tactics and growth plans.

“It was amazing how a person who was not privileged enough to receive education knew most of the management concepts which we were learning,” says Chandresh Shrivastava, 26, who attended this session in 2017. “He had kind of mastered consumer relations,” he adds. “Sensing the demand for daily necessities like chips, candies, detergent powder – he invested in his inventory accordingly,” says Shrivastava.

‘We create a virtual reality business environment in the classroom; students assume the roles of directors, CEOs, investors, sales and human resource executives,’ says R Raman, director of SIBM.

“Most importantly, he taught us to stay grounded and value education more than money.”

Biju The Clown talked about demand forecasting, ticketing, people and time management, succession planning and teamwork. “These sessions help students understand real-life business concepts from a perspective which they will never find in management textbooks,” Kamath says.

Play It Right

“This generation is the one that has grown up with smartphones and online games, so technology, dialogue and engagement work better than traditional chalk and talk methods,” says R Raman, director of Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM), Pune.

SIBM uses actual gaming too, creating a virtual reality business environment where students assume the roles of directors, CEOs, investors, sales and human resource executives. They must then take decisions, work together, invest money, analyse what’s working and what isn’t, and most importantly think creatively.

“I had assumed the role of business operation head,” says Abhinav Arvind, 26, a 2nd year MBA student. “In this game called – business simulation – we had to run a company from the scratch, launch a product, place it in the market and then analyse the decisions we took” he adds.

Depending on the decisions taken, the stocks would either shoot up or go down. For instance, Arvind happened to launch his product in a wrong geographic location where there was no demand for the product. Results? The market share of his product fell and he had to shut down his factory in that location. “But, there was a silver lining to that,” he says. “We quickly diverted the labour and money put into that factory to another one, which gave use more profits. These are lessons I would never learn from a PPT presentation on product designing or an excel sheet data.”

First Published: Aug 15, 2018 19:52 IST