‘Mini Cases’ for a ‘mini-attention-span’ world!

By Javaiz Parappathodi, a PhD candidate in Operations and Data Analytics at ESSEC since 2019. Javaiz has recently joined Durham University, UK as a teaching fellow this September. His research interests are humanitarian logistics, modern slavery and ‘co-opetition’ between firms.

Javaiz taught Operations Management for ESSEC Global BBA students.

How was your experience? Did you enjoy it?

I absolutely loved the experience. Reaffirmed the feeling that, for a change, I picked the right career this time.

How did you prepare?

Preparation was the most difficult part in the whole process. I had all the freedom that I wanted in deciding the course content and direction, thanks to the confidence shown by ESSEC on my capabilities. So, I wanted to completely design the course from start to finish.

I started from the scratch. I prepared the content for each and every session by myself and thoroughly enjoyed the process as well. I also devised my own evaluation strategy (obviously within the guidelines established by the program). I learnt as much as the students at the end of the process.

What tools or teaching methods did you use? ( Kahoo, Beekast, cases, …)

I used mini-cases during all my sessions. The first half of the session would be driven by lectures and discussions with the students on the theoretical concepts that they were learning. The second half of the session would be mini-cases designed by me. A mini-case would last anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour (end to end) to read and solve. But the students had time until the next session to submit the answers (thus focusing more on the effectiveness of learning than the pace).

The mini cases were specifically designed to solve a problem that would always use the concept they just learnt in class and would also ensure that they need to look at the problem from a very practical, business-oriented perspective to decide between often similar alternatives. I wanted to drive home the point that, for all the theory and concepts we learn in class, decision making in real world is never black and white.

The main reason I chose to go with the ‘mini-case approach’ is that the attention span of students is getting shorter and shorter. A long, detailed case might have a lot of peripheral information that may distract the students and disengage them from the learning process. Mini cases ensure that they are focussed during the whole time and do not get scared off by long text (especially given the fact that they were bachelor students!). To ensure they also found some humour in class, all the mini cases were based on ‘Game of Thrones’ theme. I am not sure if it is as popular now as it was before, but ‘Baratheon Steel Company’, ‘Dornish Red Brewery’ and ‘Red Wedding Event Planners’ managed to get a few laughs out of the students!

What did you learn about teaching that you wish you knew before entering the classroom?

How to handle having a student with a learning disability. I had one such student and I struggled a bit initially with how not to lose him in the learning process, while also ensuring that I do not forget the needs of the other students in the class.

There is no fixed formula. I just had to try and get it right in class, which I feel I managed to do to a fair extent. I made sure he knew that I was always available outside class if he needs me. In the end, he performed extremely well in the exams and I couldn’t be happier for him!!

How does teaching complement your work as a Phd student researcher?

I started relooking at the process of explaining my research to others. It has certainly changed how I approach my writing and speaking style when it comes to explaining my research to someone who might not be aware of the specifics of my research area.

Any advice to future students teaching for the first time?

1) Be confident: If you do not look confident, the students have no reason to feel reassured that they are in the right hands. Even if you are nervous, pretend that you are the most confident person in that room

2) Establish boundaries early: You can be as nice to your students as you want eventually. But do not jump into the ‘best friend’ mode from the get go. At the end of the day, they need to know that they can approach you as a person of authority on the subject. I feel that establishing the rules early on, sets the right expectations for both parties involved. It is a give and take process. They should be clear about what they will get from you and what you in return need from them.

3) Be a bundle of boundless energy: Your energy rubs off on people. Try to be active and animated in class. It is, to a certain extent, a performance. (But at the same time make sure you do not overdo it!!)

4) Be helpful: If there is anything that you can do to help them out, spare no time or energy to help. It might even end up changing their perspective about the subject one day!!