Ramana Sonti: My thoughts on facebook, life and teaching
Because this is platform 9¾
Recently, a letter written by a professor at Pilani to his students went viral on the internet. We all resonated with it too, agreeing that we really wished too that we could communicate with our teachers better. We weren’t looking for the regular π, β, or μ (Funny how they make everything sound like greek, isn’t it?) that was discussed in class. No, we were looking for something more. We were looking to be taught, to be inspired, and to be…less confused.
And so, we at The Daily Bitsian decided to analyse a developing ‘campus culture’ which included the teachers too! Intrigued? Wait till you hear the thoughts of Professor Ramana Sonti, the HoD of the Economics and Finance Department at BITS Pilani Hyderabad Campus on his teaching ideology, his short but satisfying experiences interacting with students from all disciplines and his faithful student following on Facebook!
How would you describe your teaching ideology?
My ideology…is simple really. I wish to ignite young minds. I don’t try to teach everything there is to a subject. I try to teach what is relevant and try to plant one or two big ideas in each class so that the students are inspired to explore the subject on their own. And in a group of 300 students, even if ten people grasp the concept, not in terms of your T1 and T2, but the key idea, then I think I’ve done my job.
How much did your ideology change in the fourteen years that you have been teaching?
Hmm… It certainly didn’t start this way. When I was fresh out, right after my PhD, I tried to convey everything that I knew to the students. I was impatient and I had a tendency to fault the students for not understanding what I taught. Today, I know that if the students don’t understand something, it’s not entirely their fault. Between then and now, I have worked on coming up with better ways to make them understand, and I realise that exam performance is an imperfect measure of their knowledge.
So, I don’t look down upon the students, I don’t blame them. I take responsibility for, say, 90% of the mistakes myself and I can do that because today I’m far less insecure and much more open to feedback.
How essential do you think interaction between the faculty and students is?
Oh, Very important. Because if there is no interaction, one, I can’t get any feedback. Feedback is essential for me to grow. And I think feedback shouldn’t be impersonal, it should be given as among equals. After being in different schools across the world, I have learnt to treat my students as my equals who simply happen to be twenty years younger! Sure, students will make mistakes. But when else can they make mistakes? They aren’t always professional and they don’t always use the right words to express themselves but it’s not their fault. So I believe in treating them as equals.
I also believe that interaction need not necessarily be about academics, it could also be about any subject. I talk to them about their extracurriculars, like I ask you about the college magazine (Editor’s comments: Yay), so that they have that additional level of comfort when they approach me.
Sir, How best can students and teachers interact?
One, Attend Class. Haha…You keep hearing that, don’t you? Although you have this flexibility and you should use it, use it judiciously. It is human nature, isn’t it? If you attend class, you’re more familiar to me and it is easier for me to interact with you. Two, interaction shouldn’t be limited to class. I try to keep an open door ‐‐ sometimes literally! But otherwise too, you can always feel free to walk in and talk to me.
Another thing is that, there’s something for everyone outside class! I see the number of notifications on shoutboxx, it is really great! Well, faculty can also be a part of it! Involving us is also a great way of increasing student‐teacher interaction. Social networking is also great. We all get to know each other as people through facebook. You can see that, ‘Oh Ramana paints. Ramana sings!’ and you will find me more familiar. The same works for me when I’m friends with the students.
In fact, I got the economics association t‐shirt too. I’m also a part of the EA, you know‐‐though I’m not a student!’ (Points at the t‐shirt lying on his table!)
Where do you see BITS as an institute heading? And, where do you see BITsians ending up once they graduate from college?
Here I have to confess that I’m new to BITS. I’ve been teaching here for just one and a half years now.
Broad remark? BITS is known for its flexibility. Unlike when I studied in my university, BITS has had humanities, PoE, PoM in its curriculum since long before. Today you even have minors in politics, Economics and Philosophy. I mean, how interesting! The system was designed to be flexible and accessible… but I think that it’s difficult for dualites to take advantage of this because there is no room for them to do much by way of open electives.
For the students, all I have to say is that these four years of undergraduation is a rite of passage. You come in as boys and girls, and walk out as men and women. This is platform 9¾ . (Editor’s note: We love him for the Harry Potter reference!) This flexibility is what makes you a well‐rounded personality with the confidence of being your own person. Unfortunately, this advantage is more accessible for single degree students than dualites.
And also, it is perfectly alright to be confused, or to be interested in something other than what you’re studying in college. Alumni in BITSAA have a bewildering variety of careers. Don’t feel guilty.Don’t worry about packages. You can all get ‘secure employment’ because you’re all bright students. Choose what you want to do and know that you’ll do it! And even if you don’t know what you want to do, that’s okay. At 29, I still had no idea what the heck I was doing! But it will all make sense in hindsight. So, finally all I have to say is, whatever you do – curricular or extracurricular – remember that ‐ If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!