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Mayhew Shares Teaching Techniques During India Sabbatical

September 25, 2015

Mayhew Article

Mayhew and his wife Mary with their hosts Professor Babu and his wife Professor Chitra.

Professor Jim Mayhew’s recent sabbatical to India merged an exchange of best teaching practices with a family adventure, a learning experience in its own right. 

“The key to India is patience,” Mayhew said.

The Rose-Hulman professor of mechanical engineering traveled to India on sabbatical from July to November of 2014, serving as an educational consultant to universities there seeking an exchange of best practices with American teachers. Based at Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Mayhew, his wife, and three of their children, lived on the campus located in the city of Chennai, which was previously known as Madras, the state capital of Tamilnadu, in the south. 

Mayhew’s host at IIT Madras was Professor V. Babu, an enthusiastic fan of Rose-Hulman who met Rose professors Don Richards and Allen White while he was a PhD student at The Ohio State University.

From an educational perspective, Mayhew explained that India maintains a number of national universities as a component of its overall system of higher education, not unlike the way American states sponsor their own schools. IIT Madras is a top tier research university in that regard, with approximately 8,000 students between graduates and undergraduates, all operating within the city of Chennai and its 4 million residents.

The Indian universities funded by the central government use English as the common language for classes, although very few of the students speak that as their native tongue.  “I thought of Indian states like our own 50 states, but that is a poor comparison,” he said, adding that it’s more accurate to think of them as different countries, like the European Union.  The differences between Indian states can be as great as those found in Germany and France, from language to culture.

Some of the best practices from Rose-Hulman that he shared with his counterparts focused on using active learning techniques, stating learning objectives for their courses, and seeking written feedback from students.  At IIT Madras, the norm is 50-minute lectures to classes of 60 to 90 students, with student feedback consisting only of numerical ratings of professors.

Mayhew did not teach while in India, but rather attended over 80 hours of classroom lectures in an effort to learn their curriculum well enough to advise future study-abroad students.  He was especially encouraged that five professors took him up on his offer to attend their lectures and provide feedback on how they might improve the quality of their teaching.  He also participated in the weekly meetings of their Teaching and Learning Center, a comparatively new effort on the IIT Madras campus, and one with a link to Rose-Hulman: Professor Jeff Froyd, formerly a Rose faculty member and now at Texas A&M University, helped them establish the center a few years ago, and conducts their annual teaching workshop for new instructors.

Rose-Hulman ties with Indian educational institutions are growing.  In August, Professor Anjan Ray from IIT Delhi arrived at the institute as the first mechanical engineering teaching fellow, and will teach in the department for the fall and winter quarters.