Feature Stories

30.08.2018

Great Teaching: Making an Impact

Every year, the Kellogg HKUST EMBA class chooses their best professor from amongst the 28 professors at both Kellogg and HKUST who have taught them. In his 14 years of teaching the Program, Professor Milind Rao has been nominated for the “Professor of the Year Award” every year and presented with the privileged title for a record five times! We sit down with Professor Rao to chat about teaching.

Change the conversation

“I try to imagine myself to be one of the students and think about both what I would need to know and how to make it come alive,” said Professor Rao. “The underlying theme of the course (and the KH program) is that there is a framework which can be used to understand real world issues. So, the first part of the course is to develop the framework. The second part is to bring up issues and to use the framework to understand the issues.”

While clarity in presenting the framework is important, it is also important to make it ‘sticky’. Professor Rao explains, stories and examples make the material come alive and mean that students remember the material well after the class is over.

Thus, Professor Rao prepares for the courses meticulously --thinking of new examples and how best to address ongoing macro issues.

“The point of the course is to change the conversation. The course is successful if the students continue discussing the material long after the course is over.”

Know your audience

On a ‘macro’ level, the audience is very demanding. That is both positive and negative. They are very demanding about class materials and presentations, but do not care that much about individual grades which might be different from other audiences.

One of the courses Professor Rao teaches “Global Macroeconomics” is unusual in that it is not immediately applicable—unlike say an accounting or finance course which the students could apply at work on the next Monday morning. But an audience of high-level executives realizes the long term applicability and importance of global macroeconomics for their companies and careers. Because the students are truly cosmopolitan and well read, even those without an economics background are naturally interested in global macro issues.

Having an impact

Many of us (Rao included) were never taught how to handle important financial issues in our lives.

Value Investing (VI) is the one course that does do just that and, thus, has the potential to have a genuine impact on students’ lives. Professor Rao notes. “The VI course introduces students to a philosophy of investing (and indeed in life) that is very powerful.”

“As this is a course that every student can immediately apply in their own lives, I feel an enormous responsibility to ensure that they understand the material. This means thinking very carefully about what to communicate; how to communicate it and spending a good deal of one on one time with students. Despite this expenditure in time and effort, it is one of the most rewarding courses for me to teach precisely because it has genuine impact in their lives.”

“So, ultimately teaching is not about the awards and accolades, but rather about making an impact on students’ lives,” the professor adds.

Good Teaching Vs Great Teaching

The professor says: there is a difference between good teaching and great teaching. Everyone can and should be a good teacher. The students deserve it; and so do the instructors.

What are the attributes of Good Teaching?

Clarity of exposition, and thoughtfulness in deciding what to teach and how to best present the material.

What are the attributes of Great Teaching?

Making the material come alive and ensuring students feel inspired and remember the material going forward.

What is different about the KH Program?

The quality of students and the seriousness of the program office and academic directors in providing a valuable learning experience.

What are the constraints you face when teaching the KH Program?

The biggest constraint in dealing with such high powered executives is the lack of time. And there is so much material, so I need to think very carefully about what is absolutely essential and how best to communicate that effectively.

Am I inspired by the students?

Yes, by their maturity, high EQ and their hard work—even with demanding jobs, they are willing to put in long hours on their homework and presentations.

Does teaching in the KH Program have consequences on your teaching in other programs?

Yes, I am inspired by the KH focus on the quality of the educational experience and I try to bring this emphasis to other programs. Much of the material originally developed for the KH can be used in other programs, and, thus, my MBA students are the unwitting beneficiaries!

How do you share your award-winning experience with peers?

I think HKUST values high caliber teaching. That is the first step in fostering a teaching excellence culture. We can encourage more of our experienced faculty to help guide junior faculty. Indeed, I hope I can play a part in this effort, with a special program I am developing on teaching intended for incoming faculty.