Thursday, 8 October 2015

What Ails Research Driven Student Learning in B-Schools

In age of information abundance, students no longer treat teacher as an exclusive source of information. Nor are they willing to remain passive recipients of classroom monologue. Teacher’s task is compounded given the heterogeneous nature of the student fraternity.  As Bloom taxonomy states, learning is an evolution from knowledge and comprehension towards synthesis and evaluation via application and analysis.  No doubt, given the information overflow, the surplus generated might remain unharnessed in the absence of ecosystem.

In post graduate settings like in a B-School, the transition from rote learning in diverse socio-eco-geographies to research driven pedagogies present its own set of problems. Conventional delivery of courses in research methods and consequent applications like term papers, dissertations etc. are poor diluted adaptations of study methods normally found in doctoral research thus divorced from corporate reality. Often neither they facilitate advancement to corporate careers nor establish grounding in academic carriers, the net result being perpetuating copy-paste methods. Therefore research ecosystem remains a farce.

While internships as a norm are designed as an on job training or a source cheap extra labour in practice, colleges mandate the report adhering to the norms and practices of standard research methods creating dissonance. The outcome is the student may prepare and present a report that is at variance from the job undertaken manifesting in apparently shabby and shallow job. Furthermore, given the plethora of B-Schools, good research jobs are extremely unlikely to be offered to students of Tier-II and Tier III B-Schools in the near future. 
Faculty occupied with several bureaucratic tasks in addition to their load of teaching can hardly devote time to build up the research abilities. In fact, many teachers themselves are found wanting when it comes to research and writing skills. Most research performed is superficial just to add to statistics.  The author knows quite a few cases where teachers themselves did not know about problem definition, hypothesis formulation, research design etc. and since they could not admit their ignorance before the students, they resorted to the time-honored method of shouting back with all their might at the students! Perhaps it is possible they may not have come anywhere remotely near a research publication in their lifetime and now asked to participate in an exercise mirroring the process of PhD! If ‘n’ faculty were asked about the objective behind the internship, dissertation, thesis, term paper etc. it will not be a surprise to find ‘n2’ reasons reflecting lack of clarity in the supposed introduction and treatment of the subject. 

In fact what passes on as primary research is hardly any research. Some questions are prepared often with little relevance to objectives, filed conveniently by friends and acquaintances, data once received are fed to SPSS or Excel to obtain percentage tables (feeling is SPSS is great and you have to do in SPSS without understanding anything but data entry). More often than not, that is what they would have learnt! Ironically, all the time in the classroom is supposedly spent to learn different statistical software and tools without bothering about the neither variable identification nor instrument of data collection. If the student does not know to identify the right variables, how can software help in getting the right results?  Garbage in garbage out! One can have numerous questionnaire designing tools but not knowing what data points to obtain, what utility it serves other than a bragging point is unknown. 

Students are to be given extended engagement of indentifying problems or in exploring their interests. If problem identification is erroneous, obviously solution too is erroneous.. Literature survey, the methodology used, can be applied in relation to similar exercise performed in corporate corridors. Since literature survey needs to be sequential or structural but data collection is not, mind maps, mental models, use diagrams, flow diagrams, and their adaptations can be in handy.  Further the ease of using these tools can create interest facilitating easy pinpointing the problems. These also will help in identifying the possible hypothesis. In fact hypothesis framing has developed into sort of hyper-madness. If the problem definition is erroneous, how can anybody think, hypothesis will be right. Just because, the data is executed through some statistical software, it does not become gospel!  The focus therefore for considerable period must be to make students identify the problem. Numerous caselets can be designed. 

Students take up research out of curiosity and one wonders how you set a hypothesis. Why organized retail is succeeding or what perception do people have about organic food or why there is a craze about start-ups are just few examples. In a causal research, hypothesis is essential, but with others, theory building through evidence can be encouraged. With most B-School internships nothing but sales jobs or executing role of glorified assistants, research in orthodox sense is not possible. Yet if mystery consumer research is tool, there can be ‘mystery salesman’ too! Students in the course of sales pitch can record every possible detail though how uncomfortable it might be; ponder over the data time and again; detect the patterns and probably we might see interesting contours emerging up. This can be of great insight in theorizing consumer behavior through qualitative analysis of pattern building. If 20 students are engaged in similar tasks, the kind of mammoth research output that can come out might be worth pondering.  Why principles derived broadly from areas like visual ethnography cannot be used to understand merchandising or consumer behavior in retail outlets? Video analysis through CCTV cameras (it might raise issues of privacy though) can be another way of getting serious insights. Of course work is harder; takes huge amount of time and this might be the reason not many may venture out.  Students can be encouraged to prepare white papers that might reflect their homework during interviews for marketing jobs in particular. 

To examine why sales of retail outlet in Bangalore is falling, one cannot choose the weather of Chennai as a variable! A lot of thinking has to happen to choose the appropriate variables. In fact, subjects like economics revolve around identification of suitable variables for demand function or supply function etc. In fact, variable identification is not merely important for dissertation, term papers etc., it is a crucial ingredient for business analysis. What utility does SWOT, PESTLE, ‘Five-Whys’ etc carry in absence of choice of right variables?  Yet, these ingredients are often neglected. 

One cannot obviously go in questionnaire based research to understand linkages between GDP and inflation. Similarly, one cannot use macroeconomic data or firm’s financial data to understand impact of celebrity endorsements on creating attention and interest in the product. The questionnaire if chosen must be reflective of the objectives. The data collected through questionnaire must give the answers for the problem you have identified.  Analysis is a science; developing questionnaire is an art. Questionnaire based tools are no substitute for this. Similarly, whether one uses questionnaire, focus groups, depth interviews or any data capture tool, in absence of right design, the data capture will simply be useless. Yet 99% of the cases what one observes this to be the most common problem. Most faculty themselves cannot design good questionnaires nor discussion guides or interview guides. Many faculty themselves suffer from inability to identify problems or in choosing the right variables or even building the right hypothesis. It is not unusual to find many proxy Ph.D’s existing in academics. To avoid the mask falling off, the bogey of advanced statistical software is created. It is not unusual to find many senior teachers lending their name as first author to junior faculty, their M.Phil/Ph.D students/ postgraduate students etc to inflate their papers without even knowing single bit of content of that paper. It would be futile to expect them to guide the students in terms of their research pursuit. Many occasions, those sitting in judgment might not have even published a working or conference paper leave alone in a refereed journal. It is no wonder, why student dissertations suffer. 

Most occasions, analysis does not extend beyond percentages. The failure on part of most students to explain the logic behind the statistical tests used is glaring.  Results are on account of poor variable selection and poor questionnaire design or both. Secondary quantitative research rarely goes beyond identifying correlations etc. If one has to examine the cause effect relationship, need to choose right predictors is essential as is choosing the right number of observations. Convenient sampling more focused on number (100 seems to be some magic) rather the methodology of sampling will naturally yield poor results when passed through the relevant statistical tests. 

Barring regulatory requirements, research output and research method need not follow single mode.  It is understandable that summer internships are to be presented in certain format, but diversity can be the key in unlocking student learning across various other subjects particularly term papers or its glorified variants.  A student might be very good in primary data collection through video recording or photographs. There is no reason why she should not be encouraged to develop video documentary or photo album out of her research. Working conditions in IT or manufacturing industry or citizen initiatives in solid waste management or little known tourism spots can be excellent material for video treatment. Some are very excellent in number crunching where encouragement can happen through usage of advance statistical tools facilitating movement towards perfection in equity or debt research or valuations or even modeling sensitivity analysis, scenario modelling etc. Issues like size-profitability impact, advertising impact on firm value etc. jell well with these lines of thinking. Equity research reports have their own identity in the industry and similarly, marketing research reports too have developed unique format as have industry giants like McKinsey and PWC. If students are pursuing internships or even placements in client or vendor profiling (industry uses secondary research), what purpose questionnaire based causal studies will help them is moot. Adaptations from these models can bring students in alignment with industry practices.

Students often are given book chapters or case studies or even books as part of class reading. PPT presentations are often just a reflection the transmission of text to PPT without application of mind. Students can be encouraged to develop play or drama based on this. In the author’s experience despite student enthusiasm for these forms, they simply are unable to proceed beyond the initial stages as it involves perfect understanding of the concepts inherent in the readings and translation of the same into creative work. The translation if comes out well might signal very good understanding of the subject on the part of the student. Caution would be in order at this stage. Students would perform theatrical arts or even perhaps a circus on relatively open ended topic with little boundaries all over the town yet when it comes let us say develop a performance based on case studies or books let us say impact of health care or climate change on business or increasing in user generated content, they cannot go beyond 2-3 minutes without bringing the PPT into picture albeit in a creative way. 

Students can be encouraged to develop posters or exhibits where they may not have good writing skills. Something like Apple vs Samsung or ways to create legal business models of piracy or evolution of modern retail industry or television broadcasting etc can become handy topics for posters or even exhibits.  Going forward, data visualization tools with the development of several new representational tools can be of great help in modeling various interrelationships among variables with potential for host of interpretations to spring up.

Students often may find gaps in their initial research. Can it leads to new product development or might even to new business model. Perhaps there can be occasion for venturing into market design. The output can very well range from descriptive piece to product brochure. Often students in their own experience would have felt need to design new products. Energy candies to replace energy drinks, development of video products to enhance sports coaching or bikes customized to individual requirements or electronic blankets may aptly demonstrate the presence of user driven innovation. This can actually be the first step towards making students inclined towards entrepreneurship or innovation management or product development. As an aside, it is different matter, a whole tribe of armchair entrepreneur teachers are emerging as an unintended consequence of fad to create and teach entrepreneurship.  Given the plethora of map based tools, it is entirely in the realm of possibilities to use maps as research outputs maybe to illustrate supply chain of mobile handsets to cars, to develop location databases, create tourism based map products among host of other things. Podcasts can be another way of encouraging student research. Online tools are great aids in making students understand by making them prepare reports in the form of series of blog posts, FB posts, tweets, Storify, participate in user forums, contribute to Wikipedia etc. in other words involvement in creating content (user generated) can be effective way to channel their interests in variety of ways.  They can be even output creation through series of reports on happenings in the industry or ecosystem. 

If the student learning is an objective, let students be allowed to learn the way they feel most comfortable. They can be encouraged to choose the topics of interest and allowed to proceed. As a faculty group, are we so challenged in terms of our talent, skill-set and versatility that we cannot put students on the track of learning in the manner they would learn best and topics they would learn best. Is it perhaps faculty group itself cannot bring itself to compose 500 words of original thinking? It is a fact that many thrive on parasitic models like hanging around to somebody else to add on to their paper collection. Paper publications are just for certificates and statistics to meet regulatory and institutional obligations rather than pursuit of knowledge. Seniors hang upon juniors; juniors hang around students and so on as long as the one lower in the hierarchy does all the dirty work and ensure one certificate to the one senior in hierarchy. In certificate obsessed faculty research often saddled with parasitic tendencies, it is almost impossible to think differently about ensuring students are launched into orbit of research driven learning. 

The bottom line is students have endless reservoir of curiosity and can tread where angels but it is often the reluctance of faculty for variety of reasons that fail in unlocking that potential. Further there is strong element of entrenchment among certain class that only method is good for the students. What is good for geese need not be good for gander. Further, for all the talk of positioning students towards placements, very few think in terms of creating a platform for demonstration of academic accomplishments. For most, the entire exercise of student driven research is to portray as yet another statistic, something that has to be ticked against to satisfy rankers and accreditation agencies rather than genuine interest in fostering the same. There is a pressing need to demystify research and not add to the complexity. Yet, until the release from the imprisonment in a mindset dictated by their news-cycle driven TRP obsessed idiosyncrasies happens, research driven subjects will persist to be a charade.  

(The observations are based on more than decade experience of the author in academic research. These are personal observations and as such do not reflect the views of the organizations the author is or has been associated with. The author has experimented with varied pedagogical tools, some pioneering, in striving to improve student learning through demystifying research and analysis. A list of works guided or co-produced by the author can be found at this URL: )

Working with Students: List of Works Produced

Project ‘A la carte’ – Ingraining concepts in geographically and academically heterogeneous students towards aligning their skill-sets with corporate requirements necessitate departure from orthodox models. Students are given a choice to explore any topic of their passion and build the research output in diverse forms. Research output both primary and secondary, qualitative and quantitative have been presented in formats ranging from research  papers, case studies, maps, videos, podcasts, posters, exhibits, product and service design and development, apps, book reviews, theatrical/short film adaptations, dance/music adaptations, satires among others. The approach has increased ‘placeability’ quotient besides receiving critical acclaim and has benefited more than 250 students.  

An illustrative list (not able to include each and everything) is given below. Focus has been on recent works and might have skipped some good works of the past


‘Mapping the relationship between Advertising, Profitability and Business Strategy in India’, XI  Annual National Conference of Strategic Management Forum, IIT-Kanpur May 2008, (Ms. Anindita Kundu,)( Ms. Anindita received the Best Student Paper award)

‘Macroeconomics influence on Agro commodity prices Using Co-integration model’, International Conference on Agribusiness and Food Industry, IIM Lucknow August 2007 (Co-author: Ms. Surabhi Agarwal,)

 ‘Weather Risk, Agro Commodity Prices and Macro Economic Linkages Using Co-integration Model’, International Conference on Agribusiness and Food Industry, IIM Lucknow August 2007 (Co-author: Ms. Preethi Laddha ,)

‘Bank Lending, Capital Formation and Agricultural Production’, International Conference on Agribusiness and Food Industry, IIM Lucknow August 2007 (Co-author: Ms. Namrata Choudhary,)
‘Mapping the Success of Organized Food Retailing in India using Perceptual Mapping Models’, International Conference on Agribusiness and Food Industry, IIM Lucknow August 2007 (Co-author: Ms. Hemanti Richa, Mr. Manish Arora,)

‘Supply Chain in Fresh Produce Retailing and the Role of Transportation’, International Conference on Agribusiness and Food Industry, IIM Lucknow August 2007 (Co-author: Mr. Kumar Sushant,)

‘Mapping the Public Perception of Organic Food’, International Conference on Agribusiness and Food Industry, IIM Lucknow August 2007 (Co-author: Mr. Sarbeswar Rao, Mr. Anwit Goswami,)

“Does Social Media Empower Citizens? Evidence from Arab Spring”, X AIMS Intl Conference, IIM-Bangalore, Jan 2013 (Chinmoy Mohapatra)

“Does Size Influence Firm’s Profitability: Evidence from India”, 8th AIMS Intl Conference, IIM Ahmedabad, Jan 2011 (Ms. Kesha Parmar)

 “Resolving the Gap between Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and Unique Customer Perception (UCP) in the Indian Luxury Car Market” XI  National Conference of Strategic Management Forum, IIT-Kanpur May 2008 ( Ms. Jimmy Cheddha)

“From Haat to Supermarket: Changing Face of Rural Distribution Channels” National Conference on Rural Marketing, IIM, Kozhikode, Jan  2008 ( Ms. Ruchika Soni)

‘Analyzing Tata-Corus Deal using Game Theory Models’, II National Conference on Management Sciences, IIT Chennai March 2007 (Surabhi Agarwal)

‘Impact of Supply Chain Decisions on Working Capital Cycles’, II National Conference on Management Sciences, IIT Chennai March 2007 (Ms. Hemanti Richa)

‘Labour Markets and Working Conditions : A Study of Old Economy Firms in India’, 5th AIMS Intl Conference, ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad, Dec 28-31, 2007 (Mr. Mandeep Singh)

‘Do Sweatshops Exist in the New Economy: A Case Study of Indian IT Industry’, 5th AIMS International Conference, ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad, December 28-31, 2007 ( Ms. Tushma Singh, Ms. Ankisha Rastogi, Prof. Anantha Murthy)

“Mergers and Acquisitions in India: Jet Sahara Merger”, ICOQM, Bangkok, September 2007 (Mr. Hitesh Taunk)

Examining Customer Satisfaction, Usage and Adoption study of E-Banking Practices in Karnataka (Mr. Shantaveer Sollapur)

Examining Customer Satisfaction,  Usage and Adoption of Self Service Technology and E-Services in Electricity Industry: Case Study of BESCOM (Mr. Kishore)

Does User Reviews Influence Online Sales? : Case Study of Books and Accessories (Mr. Vikas S)

Do Current Innovation Strategies Enhance Firm Value? Evidence from the Largest R&D Spenders (Ms. Sindhu H.)

Towards Developing an Energy Candy as outcome of User Driven Innovation (Ms. Anita Gupta)

Towards Developing Potential Business Model for Cognitive Radio (Ms. Amani Kanajam)

If Internet Evolved in the Cold War: An Exercise in Counterfactual History (Mr. Dinesh Subramaniam)

Examining the Right to Forget: Book Review of ‘Delete’ (Ms. Prerna Paul; Ms. Mamata N)

Trademarks and Logos in the Digital Age: Case Study of Shoe Industry (Mr. Adil Haroon; Ms. Shagufa Jameel)

Youth in the Digital Age: A case of Digital Activism (Ms. Amrutha Patil)
Story Telling through Maps: The Great Silk Road (Ms. Somika Prasad)
Towards Developing Women’s Bike as an Outcome of User Driven Innovation (Ms. Narmata Rai; Ms. Shilpa Wadji)
 Examining the Case for Net Neutrality (Ms. Sakshi Batra)

Towards Dissection of Online User Reviews of Hotel Industry (Mr. Abhijeet Soni)

Adapting Chanakya in the Digital Age through examination of Google Strategy (Ms. Ipsita Pattnaik)

Usage and Attitude Study of E-Commerce in Category B Cities (Ms. Vibha Shivare; Ms. Suman Keshri)

Exploring the Hidden Tourism of Bengaluru (Video) (Mr. Ravi Kumar Singh; Ms. Sanchari Pyne)

Measuring Attention and Interest in Narendra Modi’s interaction with Diaspora (Google Trends based paper) (Ms. Rashmi Tiple)

Social Media Market of Housing and Real Estate Industry (Mr. Sushil Kumar Singh)

Value Decomposition in the Cement Industry (Mr. Rishav Jain; Mr. Chirag Purohit)

Examining the History of Surveillance (Mr. Chandru S.)

Degranularization of Product Development: Towards Developing Digital Walking Aid for Blind and RFID Tagging of Kids 

Critical Examination of Evolving Business Models in Digital Firms (Ms. Sagarika S; Ms Jaya Swapna)

Discrimination in Digital Age (A play based paper) (Ms. Tanvi T)

Social Media Marketing and Restaurant Industry (Mr. Amit Singh, Mr. Uttam Gupta)

Evolving Consumer Behavior in Digital Age: Case Study of Fashion Industry (Ms. Mousumi Dwivedi)
Documenting Patent Wars: Apple vs Samsung”, Poster Based Case (Mr. Subhranshu; Mr. Praveen)

Are Intellectual Property Rights Paramount? Evidence from Industries (Mr. Sourav Rana)

Why People Shop Online (Qualitative Behavioral Analysis on Online Shopping) (Ms. Sahera Reshmy)

Pirate’s Dilemma ( Adoption of Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason into a play )(Ms. Ilona R, Mr.Kaushal M, Ms. Padmini G, Ms. Sindhu T)

Why Piracy (video incorporating field research investigating the existence of piracy) (Ms. Hena K, Mr. Nirav R)
Does Internet and Technology Generate Competitive Advantage: Case Studies (Mr. Neel Kumar D; Ms. Tripti Singh)

Cognitive Surplus (theatrical adoption of Clay Shirky’s book titled) (Ms. Manpreet Kaur; Ms. Richa P; Ms. Sneha C)

 Authentication Technologies: Implications for Privacy – A Case Study of Palm Vein Technology- poster based case study (Ms. Yojana K, Mr. Jaibharat T) 

NetFlix vs Blockbuster- Understanding New Business Models ( poster based case study) (Ms. Beenita Kumari)

Towards Designing a Digital Mall (product design based output) (Mr. Ankur Jain, Ms. Prachi S.)

Understanding Macrowikinomics- Book Summary (Ms. Susanah Chand)

Documenting Historical Evolution of Modern Retail Industry – Poster Based Presentation (Ms. Shruti)

Amazing India (Google Maps app capturing tourist places across India and a guide on how to visit and enjoy them!) (Mr. Renukanandan A, Mr. Gourav G, Ms. Sonika K., Ms. Harshada K.)

Understanding  Supply Chain  through Maps (Google Maps app capturing supply chains of Nokia, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Skoda, beauty industry etc) (Mr. Ankit R., Ms. Ankita P, Mr. Vikas V)

Mapping Concentration of Symbols of Globalization (Google Maps app mapping concentration of McDonalds, KFCs etc that provides pointers to possible concentration of FDI in retail)

Examining Open Source Challenges to Proprietary Business Models: Case Study of Open Source Challenges in ERP Industry (Mr. Abhinash M)

Does Wisdom of Crowds Hold Good? Case Study of Indian Financial Markets (Mr. Atul , Mr Govind B)
IT Industry and Sweatshops – Video (Ms. Manjari, Mr. Souptik)

Documenting User Led Innovation in Sports Goods Industry in India

Is Factory Dead? (theatrical adoption of Naomi Klein’s ‘ No Logo’) (Class of 10, IBA)

Mapping the Carbon Footprint of E-mail (poster based presentation)

Towards Designing an Open Source Business Model for Water Purification and Usage (Mr. Shashank)

Plotting the Relationship between Food Security and Food Affordability (Poster Based Presentation)

Towards Developing Business Models to Render Piracy Irrelevant (Series of Poster Based presentations) (Class of 2013, IBA)

Marketing Strategies in World of Global Inequalities

Capturing Innovation in Globalized World (Ms. Meha Raval; Mr. Viplav Chaubey)

Towards Developing Pricing models for Entertainment Industry (Mr. Srinivas R)

Dissecting the Ramifications of Relocating Production (Ms. Shrabanee M)

Exploring the Pressures Driving Market Access (Ms. Pranjalee Jaiswal)

Are MNCs the New Growth Engines? (Ms. Preeti Morla)

Impact of Virtual Cultures on Social Movements (Mr. Vishnu )

Towards Operating in Knowledge Driven Economy (theatrical adoption by Mr. Manish Lakhawat et al.)

What is Bottom of Pyramid?( theatrical adoption by Class of 2010, IBA)

Business Nature Dynamics in Global Age ( dramatized documentary by Ms. Vasu C et al)