Meet IIM professor Mrityunjay Tiwary, who teaches an MBA course using board games

Mrityunjay Tiwary   | Photo Credit: Nikhil Chandra

Nikhil Chandra, who graduated from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow this year, was especially excited about the Business Simulation in his final semester for the simple reason that it involved board games, which he used to play with his cousins as a kid. His was the first batch to have the elective.

Instead of listening to lectures or watching PowerPoint presentations, which Nikhil did in most other classes, in Business Simulation, he played Monopoly and other games. At the end of each class, Professor Mrityunjay Tiwary would connect the games to the business subjects Nikhil and his batchmates were learning.

Jellybean Singh, another student who opted for the elective, says, “The classes used to stretch for probably six to seven hours. But I never really complained about it because it was a lot of fun.”

The elective was awarded the campus’ Most Unconventional Course last year.

Mrityunjay Tiwary

Mrityunjay Tiwary   | Photo Credit: Nikhil Chandra

Along with fun and games, there is a lot of practical learning, too, says Jellybean. “We have case studies, we have an internship [in our curriculum]. But if you talk about applying the concepts we learn, this is the closest that comes to having a practical subject.”

Mrityunjay, during his PhD days at IIM Bangalore six years ago, was more of an outdoor sports guy. His friends, however, were board game buffs. “At repeated requests, I joined one of the board game meetups in Bangalore,” he says, “Then, I used to tag along with my friends when they played. Gradually, I got interested.”

Practical application

The idea of using board games to teach, however, occurred to him just two years ago after playing with his friends. “We usually discuss the game for a minute or two — about our mistakes and other things. So, I just realised that I was talking about some of the concepts that I studied in the management curriculum and that is when it occurred to me to reverse engineer this experience and design a course that uses board games to simulate the application of management concepts.”

Mrityunjay spent the next one-and-a-half years putting the course together. It wasn’t easy, he says. “These games are made for fun. But here, the objective is to learn. So, I had to tweak the rules of these games and introduce variations.” With volunteers, he conducted numerous trials before launching the course.

There were logistical challenges too. The games are typically made for four or five people. But Mrityunjay’s classes had 25 to 60 students. So, he had to alter the single-player games to team games. “It also brought in team dynamics to the course. I could see it made a significant difference; teams lost because of their infighting,” he explains.

What about convincing the management?

“They liked the concept. They approved the budget for getting the games and a few other props I required. But this course also needed a little bit of freedom from our regulations. For example, a standard class duration is one-and-a-half hours. And, a game takes about four hours. And, the game has to be played in one stretch. The maximum I was allowed was three hours. But after the first year of the course went well, the management has allowed four-and-a-half hours, so there is enough time for a game followed by a discussion.”

Except for Monopoly, Mrityunjay does not divulge the games he uses for teaching. “I want the novelty of the course to be preserved,” he says. But this is how it works: the class is divided into groups. Each group has a CEO. The games are complex enough that the CEO cannot keep track of everything. So, there is a distribution of duties. And, each move is made after a discussion.

“These sessions don’t teach them new concepts,” Mrityunjay explains, “Rather, it helps them apply the concepts they have learnt in this simulated situation.” Which is why the elective is available only in the last semester of the course.

“Students can make business decisions and see their repercussions. For example, they may have studied different trade-offs theoretically across courses. It’s one thing to know the trade-offs but they also get to know what are the costs of making an error or the benefit of a better decision,” the professor explains.

With the COVID situation worsening in India, institutions might have to continue teaching online for most of this year too. Mrityunjay’s Business Simulation, however, cannot be taught online. “It’s important to see the props, discuss freely with your teammates and opposition… All this won’t be possible online,” he says.

“Fortunately this course gets offered only in December, January and February. Hopefully, we would be in better shape by then.”

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 11:25:09 AM |

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