4 Pillars of building Academic Culture | Passionate, Purposeful and Participative Campus

Passion and purpose are central to building an academic culture and they are also interchangeably depending upon each other. Without passion, no purpose can travel a long way, while without purpose, passion alone cannot produce desired results. If we continuously work on these 4 precepts, it is possible to build an academic culture which delivers, thrives and resonate with students and faculty in equal measures.

Schools, colleges, and universities teach that ‘change is the only constant’, but, alas, they have not changed themselves in the last 200 years or so. The last change in the school and college education system was with the industrial revolution when public schools and colleges came into existence. Since then, in general, the education world kept its eyes closed and let the digital revolution pass by unnoticed. Chalk and talk method of teaching and learning in a classroom, which resembles a factory’s floor like seating arrangement, remained unchanged like a Gordian’s knot. Even the highly advanced streams like management and engineering largely follow these conventions of education. Online education and MOOC courses came into vogue but for coaching classes and supplementary learning only. The mainstream education world shunned online education as a poor distant cousin. But, the reality of the day will not stop biting, if we just close our eyes towards the problem. It is like closing the eye when a tiger is face-to-face. It is not going to change the reality that tiger may eat you up. What is this tiger in front of us? What is this syndrome of closing the eyes?

The Disruption

The disruption is about the fact that the ‘academic content’ is moving to online space and it is happening at a pace faster than we can ever imagine. This is precisely the ‘tiger’ which is facing the educational institutions. Conventionally, teachers have mastered the art of providing ‘academic content’ and if they still think that their prime job is to provide content through classroom teaching to students, it will look like closing the eye for the tiger which is facing them. Students have better technological dexterity and can search content and videos faster on net. They also have the opportunity to compare the content which they have received from the teacher with that of what is available online. The role of teachers as a content provider is diminishing very fast. It has been reinforced and pointed out that moving technology out of the classroom will improve student learning (Bown 2012). Bown (2012) effectively demonstrated how technology can be most powerfully used outside the classroom and when it is done so, students arrive in the class more prepared. The most pertinent question which a faculty can answer for the student is: Where can I find them?

Framework for Academic Culture

It all starts from answering the question: Who are we as an institution? What do we want to achieve over the horizon of time? If we do not know where do we want to go, it really does not matter what way we go. Institutions with clear vision and mission will have greater chances of creating good academic culture. Operating with a strategic mindset is extremely critical. The vision and mission must be delineated into strategic plan and priorities. It is further to be reflected in collegial environment which a lot depends on good processes and systems, leadership and institutional support. The academic quality is visible through teaching quality, updated and relevant curriculum and impactful research. Academic institution must reach out and work with business, community and society to create necessary impact.

  • Expectation: Stability, Strategic Mindset, Collegial Environment
  • Derive from: Good processes and Systems, Leadership, Organization, Institutional Support and Resources
  • Essential Elements: Quality Teaching, Evidence of Learning, Relevant Curriculum, Impactful Research, Engagement with the Business, Community and Society

Pillar 1:
Learning and not just Teaching

If students are not learning the way we are teaching, then we need to teach the way students want to learn. Do we know enough about how students learn? We are good in our subject area but hardly pay attention to how learning works and specifically how my students learn. Institutions need to train faculty not only in pedagogy but also on various aspects of learning. In our experience of training faculty in ‘teaching philosophy’ resulted in individual faculty writing their own teaching philosophy which allowed them to consolidate on ‘student centric’ thought process and learning of students. This resulted in greater student satisfaction and learning experiences. There is a purpose why we teach. The purpose is definitely not that we get salary and that is why we teach. The purpose of teaching is to make students learn. If there is no learning, there is no teaching. Teaching per se cannot be the objective of higher education.

Pillar 2:
Outside Classroom and not just Inside Classroom

Learning is a 24 x 7 phenomenon. It can happen anywhere and anytime. We cannot just bound it or schedule it within a time table. This would be like saying that we will generate certain thoughts or do innovation on Monday and Tuesday and for rest of the days no thoughts will come to our mind. The critical factor in creating a passionate and purposive campus is to capture all possible spaces where learning can happen. It can happen in market place, cafeteria, open lawn, corridor and many such spaces which are not just confined to the four-walls called classroom. In fact, classroom is one out of all such spaces. The time-table led learning episodes need reinforcement with a more flexible and un-structured environment, which is outside the classroom episodes of learning.

Pillar 3:
Innovative Pedagogy and not just Lecturing

Pedagogy is a gateway to learning for students. Even the most complicated subject can be easily understood by students if teachers can adopt the right kind of pedagogy. Often the clue to making students a self-learner lies in pedagogy. If we keep on depending upon the lecturing method, we will be forcing the students towards directed learning and students tend to look up to teacher for anything and everything. Self-directed learning is a matter of habit and like any habit this can also be cultivated. It is up to the teacher how the ownership of learning is subtly pass on to the students. This requires creation of ‘conditions of learning’ using apt and innovative pedagogy.

Pillar 4:
Leading by Example and not just Transactional

If we want to plan vacation or visit some places, we ask our travel agent to plan it and book tickets and hotels. Travel agents send us to places which he himself may not have visited. As a teacher, we are expected to do better than the travel agent. Students learn better from teachers who ‘walk-the-talk’ and lead by example. Teachers with great record of accomplishments and track record of being truthful, dedicated and man-of-words tend to influence student learning a great deal. We teach who we are. Out teaching is a reflection of our soul. Feeding and nursing the soul is so very important for a successful and effective teaching. We must practice all that we would like our students to see and become.

Practices we can build on and nurture …

  • Culture of reading (Common Read / Reading Club / …)
  • Culture of writing (Blog / Opinion / Magazine / …)
  • Culture of debating (Forum / Talks / Events / …)
  • Hobby clubs
  • Affiliation Group
  • How about winter classes in the lush green ground?
  • How about student engaging class for their peers?
  • How about sending students to select library/reading centers in the town
  • Can our professor sit with students over a cup of tea/coffee/dinner and talk/listen?
  • Can our professor teach one-on-one to slow learners?
  • Can student be seen as a mentor for professors (It is an established fact that people in 40s can and should learn from youth in 20s and 30s to stay relevant).


  • Bowen (2012) Teaching Naked – How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning, Wiley.
  • Fink, L. Dee ( 2013) Creating Significant Learning ExperiencesAn Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Palmer, Parker J. (1997) The Courage to Teach, Wiley.

Author: Dr Prabhat Pankaj

Dr. Prabhat Pankaj is a postgraduate in Economics and a Ph.D. in applied economics. He is a teacher by choice and started his career 30 years ago in 1991 from Arunachal University. He has been teaching Economics at postgraduate and undergraduate levels for about 30 years, in Universities and B-Schools in India and abroad, including 7 years in Bhutan. Dr. Pankaj has also obtained his Executive Education in "Management and Leadership in Higher Education" at Harvard University, Boston, USA. Furthermore, He has written for the Times of India and other popular publications. Currently, he is serving as the Director of Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur.

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