How to make the role of Professor of Practice more effective


A highly significant recent practice of many institutions is to appoint an expert from the industry, with relevant core experience, for the post of Professor of Practice. This article is an attempt to discuss the nitty-gritty of making this work in some detail.

Introduction

One can see many advertisements for "Professor of Practice". This has happened to a big extent in many engineering colleges, for the core engineering subjects and even for the MBA and MCA courses. While the exact ramifications of this development are yet to pan out in detail, there are certain things to consider if it has to work in the colleges concerned.

The five different strands of thought in this direction are a) Not to just restrict to sharing of experiences b) Making the professors interested in applied research c) Supplementing theory with result-oriented practice d) Tracing back to history for comprehensive learning and e) Reinforcing learning through participative design.

Not to just restrict to sharing of experiences

A Professor of Practice comes with a very good background of practical experience. He or she would have faced any number of challenges in managing unknown and unpredictable situations, like unstable markets, uncooperative workforce or trade unions, highly dynamic FMCG markets, challenges in dealing with the Government in infrastructure projects, and so on. The highly complex supply chain management, where organizations save precious costs through just-in-time practices of delivery of raw materials or finished spare parts, is also a big area to learn for every engineering graduate and MBA student as well.

However, the mere sharing of experiences is very likely to be forgotten. What should happen is a video recording of all inputs on a regular basis. These inputs should be reference points for further drawing up any number of "what if" scenarios for each input. In other words, the student is compulsorily made to understand what went right or wrong and the full background to it. For example, if an organization had implemented the Japanese Management Concepts like the Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA), it goes without saying that one should compulsorily learn about the mindset change challenges at every stage, and what could happen if people become complacent or forget to take things seriously when the production schedules become very complex for whatever reason. Thus, the input provided should be taken to its logical conclusion for the expert lectures or inputs to work.

Making the professors interested in applied research

Most professors are likely to be appointed on contract and a few may come only for two or three days a week. However, they could even bring to light current practical experience of their being associated with any organization for consultancy-related work. Based on their background, they could as well seriously contribute by bringing this sort of applied research to the classroom. That is the sort of research that is far removed from the regular empirical research that is the bread and butter of any academic without industrial experience. They would always talk about tests of significance and all that. This has so little relevance for the students and much less for those students who would enter the real world. One classic example is Job satisfaction. The so-called empirical research could run into a billion pages. This has no relevance for the MBA or MSW student who would specialize in HR. For him or her, the challenge of Job Satisfaction would be so complex and even region-specific. That is, the parameters that go into motivating an employee towards Job Satisfaction in a remote location may be totally different from those parameters in an urban location, even within the same organization. In these circumstances, the MBA student will obviously learn too much only from the Professor of Practice.

We have some great examples in this regard. The Bharathidasan Institute of Management Tiruchirapalli is a classic example. The faculty are regularly drawn from BHEL and these teachers are also those who have engineering and MBA degrees, with decades of practical experience. They present real-world perspectives to MBA students in a very comprehensive manner. The practical approach has made the MBA graduates so industry-ready and the branded institute has grown from strength to strength.

Supplementing theory with result-oriented practice

It can be hoped that the teachers will have the basic degree to teach. For, their educational background can be very useful in bringing to bear the theoretical perspective and this can be further extrapolated to provide the students with a "what can be best done in this given set of circumstances?" kind of perspective, with a firm link to the appropriate theory. For example, if the topic is dealing with trade unions, some research into the mindsets will reveal that the trade union leaders also have a good side, and depending on the Management approach, they would have responded very favorably. This case study would present a good perspective. This is a theory, anyway. However, the Professor of Practice, based on his rich experience, would be able to present many points of view that would comprehensively cover the different possible outcomes, in terms of practice. In other words, the events in the real world.

For example, the issue of non-statutory welfare in practice would always cement the Management-trade union relationship to a far better degree, than what would be possible if there is no non-statutory welfare. For example, many organizations do not charge any fees for the education of one child in the school run by them. Cement companies, for example, have more than adequate medical facilities to deal with any emergency. The "personal touch" is also another example. The Professor of Practice would be easily able to connect all the dots and focus on result-oriented practices. This should indeed be the norm.

In the case of engineering colleges, the collaboration will work, only if there is a big focus on research, with the active participation of academics and the brightest students. The learning can always be shared in the classroom. We can hope that this becomes more of a norm in the years to come.

Tracing back to history for appropriate comprehensive learning

This is more relevant for the MBA course. For example, in the sixties and the seventies, the Courts, particularly, the Supreme Court, were quite heavily biased towards organized labor and many amendments to labor laws followed such landmark judgments. Today, the situation is totally different. The Courts do not even interfere when harsh decisions are made about contract labor and their welfare.

Lapses on the part of Management rarely reach the courts, if at all. The Professor of Practice should be able to link such historical references with further practice-oriented inputs, to reinforce the Dynamics of Change. The massive changes made possible through Information Technology advances have made even the rural masses aware of the benefits of such advanced technology. When an ordinary worker receives a message detailing all the purchases he had made through the Public Distribution System, he is amazed that he has participated in the development process where accountability is better. He is also aware that there would be better administration because of lesser corruption. This leads to what we call social sanctions for IT-related changes. This spills over into formal organizations, resulting in lesser conflicts.

Reinforcing learning through participative design

The Professors of Practice should be able to involve students like never before. There should be a presentation every single day. Only through participative design, can we make a big impact. We need to make a big dent here.

The Professors of Practice should be made to emulate the best practices in the best-of-class institutions even from outside their State. Once this happens, the practice of Professors of Practice can really make a big difference. Student participation in the learning process is the key to more effective inputs in any educational institution.

Conclusion

The new position termed Professor of Practice, particularly in all engineering disciplines and for the MBA course, in particular, will take some sixty months to become a very viable proposition. The issue of supply of good teachers in the various institutions is a key issue. However, if some ground rules are followed, good results are quite possible. The aforesaid points can be the starting point of this change.


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