Jannis Angelis

Jannis Angelis is an Associate Professor of Operations Strategy at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), and Fellow at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).

He has a PhD from Cambridge, and previously explored strategy at Harvard, flexibility in knowledge-intensive firms at Stanford and Berkeley, lean at Cambridge, high performance organisations at Oxford and MIT. Professional roles include work on export processing zones at the ILO (UN), associate director in a venture capital firm in London, director of a niche consulting firm, and international consultant at ITC (WTO/UN).

Pedagogic reflection

Universities are different from other learning institutions in that they provide critical thinking in contrast to mere training. By delivering courses that offer multiple views and approaches, students are encouraged to engage in critical thought before acting, described as a cognitive approach to education as opposed to the technique driven behavioural approaches of training programs. Some students learn better from passive teaching techniques, with low control and personal responsibility. Others learn better from active-type techniques, such as problem-solving projects. I find that a suitable approach is to employ a combination of case studies and concept focused theoretical discussions.

Contextualisation of concepts and theories is a key to the improvement of knowledge developed throughout the modules. So the curriculum needs to take into account a stronger element of particularities. This, in turn, necessitates stronger theory-practice linkages, often beyond what case-based teaching can accommodate. The student body has also become international, which requires a geographical expansion of research and possibly also greater use of cross-cultural programs. Module curriculum needs to extend the use of illustrations and expand the scope for contextualized discussions and explanations for greater student understanding of the prevalent business situation in respective case.

Generic or unique value?

On value provided, I find that teaching material and module content have become rather standardised, with many universities practically offering similar courses. This makes it more difficult to claim added value of particular institutions and programs. To counter this, I am exploring “water cooler” teaching. The expression is derived from TV show assessment, where successful shows are those employees talk about around the office water cooler and thus making it a must-see. The common teaching material is expanded through a conceptually critical approach which covers fundamental and underlying assumptions and well as discusses limitations of the various concepts. This has the advantage of expanding student understanding of relevant concepts or theories and their use, as well as enhancing value for enrolling in the program in the first place. In other words, participants derive a customised and valuable learning experience instead of a commoditised and generic one.

The main drawback of the approach is that it requires substantial preparatory and concurrent time and mental investment by the lecturer, off-the-shelf teaching packages or shared content must be developed further prior to any use. Key is to retain rigour and detail and not overly simplify material. On a positive note, since students typically are aware that they may need to apply the concepts taught, the combination of criticality and relevance are highly appreciated.

Comprehensive or light content?

Overall, I find standard module teaching materials quite thin in both concepts and techniques. There is little in–depth conceptual material to draw from in class, and techniques presented are generally not sufficiently in-depth to enable students to grasp the characteristics of the techniques, nor to properly explain their application. This requires a particular type of teaching, with plenty of war-stories and examples without underlying rigueur. Students often find it highly entertaining but it is also fails to instil in them necessary understandings and skills for later actual use. Moreover, student interaction is actively endorsed through cases. But the students have a range of backgrounds, inexperienced in certain fields and proficient in others. This causes a situation of student knowledge imbalance, which both students and lecturers must deal with to ensure that students remain involved and interested in class.

To help reduce this problem, I have developed an approach called “up one, down one”. The term derives from the rowing expression used when the boat cox seeks to improve the kick-to-slide ratio by increasing the stroke rate while at the same time increasing recovery time. Here it means that content is aggregated to the underlying theoretical foundations rather than mere symptoms. Taught content is also reduced in aggregation to various applications or techniques, covering their elements, implementation and details about how to ensure their effective use. The main drawback is that this requires lecturers having substantial and detailed knowledge of conditions of application. It also requires on-going update of teaching materials, since this type of information has rapid obsolescence.

OES Country Champion goals

  • Strengthen links between academics and practitioners interested in developing novel teachings
  • Act as gateway for those interested to share experiences on linkages between teaching and research
  • Provide policy makers with insights into and enable discussions on modern teaching
  • Create a community of friends of Oxford Education for those in country and others interested in participating

If you are interested in getting involved in OES activities in Sweden, send Jannis an email (jannis.angelis@indek.kth.se)