The right mix

The right mix

Getting a student interested in a subject is one of the main challenges of a teacher at any level. It requires great skill and expertise to attract students to a subject or field especially if the class strength is high. This is true when there is a huge amount of theory, derivations and more emphasis on descriptive aspects of a topic.

Many students feel that studying theory is a ‘waste of time’ when job requirements at a later stage demand applications and utility rather than theoretical knowledge. Many employers lament that too much theory coupled with very less practical knowledge will make students less equipped to handle jobs and get ‘job ready’. They agree too, that an adequate amount of theory is important so that applications become easier. It is also true that a course based on applications only will definitely not serve any purpose as even a slight change in the conditions of the problem will create problems for those not well versed in theory.

Right balance
What is the right balance then, between theory and practical so that one achieves a right balance between the two? Academicians and industry experts are of the opinion that this is achieved by constant review and restructuring of the syllabus. There is a wide gap between what is taught and what is practiced in the industry and that the formal education system is examination oriented with emphasis being  more on learning theory rather than developing skills. Class-room learning should focus on developing associated skills, else learning remains latent. It is imperative that the curriculum is designed consulting industry experts to align with their expectations and the pedagogy is application orientated.

Strategy
It is therefore the responsibility of a teacher to see that students are interested in the subject as well as is able to understand and apply the theoretical knowledge to practical situations.

Some of the strategies could be:Use good study material. It is indeed sad that many of textbooks available are ‘guides’ in disguise catering mainly to exam questions and aimed at making an average student clear an exam. Most of them are repetitions of a more familiar book by a renowned professor and unabashedly have lifted theory as well as problems from such books. They lack not only in content but also in case studies and applications. It takes some hard work from a teacher’s side to explore the various books available on the topic and suggest suitable ones, which are not very tough to follow but at the same time are of good quality.

Develop case studies and practical assignments well in advance. Internet is a useful place for getting data as well as situations in different fields which use the theoretical concepts taught. Experienced teachers can have a booklet of the case studies they have developed so that they are well prepared to explain the utility of theory concepts.

Encourage self-study.
One module or at least, a part of a module should be meant for self-study. An easy way to inculcate this is to divide the students into groups and give some preliminary material which triggers their interest. A few questions highlighting the main aspects of the topic can be given too, so that they don’t spend too much time in sifting through the vast expanse of available information. This can also be considered as an assignment which can be evaluated and considered for final score.

Ask students to come up with case studies and applications. It will be surprising to the teacher when students bring in their own perspectives and research into any topic. Most diligent students will find out means of getting information from various sources and many a times, will bring in application oriented problems from various industries and fields.
Base assessments on a proper mix of theory and application. This will ensure that all students are motivated towards studying theory and applying it to case studies. Making one case study compulsory in a term paper is already practised in many colleges and universities and should be further strengthened taking current trends and leanings of the related industry. Most subjects in commerce and science have ample scope to cash in on the freely available information from industry and to incorporate it in the syllabus.

A subject well understood brings satisfaction to both the teacher and the taught. A joint, constructive approach will usher in a new generation of skilled.

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