Experiments in Teaching

Faculty at three schools describe new courses they've designed to refine students' skills and spark their enthusiasm about business.
Experiments in Teaching

Often, change within a business school comes not from a comprehensive curricular overhaul, but from a single new course or method that approaches teaching in more innovative ways. At the three schools featured here, professors identified an opportunity to enhance the learning experience—and designed a new way to teach their students.

Educators at each of these schools—Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia; Rochester Institute of Technology in New York; and the University of Colorado at Boulder—describe the ways that a revised approach created change that affected their larger programs. In the process, they say, they not only enriched the experiences of students and faculty, but also provided starting points for growth in other areas of the curriculum.

Charting the Thought Process

“Clockwise” Analyses Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business Shenandoah University Winchester, Virginia

by Giles Jackson

In their book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa find that at least 45 percent of the 2,300 students they studied made no statistically significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing skills during their first two years of college. That finding is especially alarming when employers want to hire graduates who can ask the right questions, gather relevant information, assimilate it quickly, and use it effectively to solve problems. Students who can think independently are in high demand, but in short supply. Why? One reason is that the educational system trains students to answer questions, not ask them.

To address this deficit, I created what I call the “Clockwise” method, which guides students through a circular, three-step thought process. (See an example of the chart on this page.) First, students analyze the content of a Financial Times article to summarize key points; next, they critique the author’s approach to the topic; finally, they connect the article’s content to other related materials, such as newspaper articles, research papers, book chapters, presentations, think tanks, and trade groups.

Clockwise integrates analytical, critical, and lateral thinking into a single framework. This method gives them a way to process large volumes of information more effectively and “think things through” systematically prior to a decision.

The Search for Structure

I have long used the Financial Times as a starting point for class discussion, because it uses a common language that bridges the gap between academics and real-world business. However, many students struggle with the content of its full-length articles. For that reason, I have built a corpus of summaries of FT articles, which now exceeds 1,500 entries, to make the newspaper’s content more accessible for my students.

I’ve assigned each summary to one of three categories: issues, cases, and biographies. Issue summaries address a specific question: “Which governance model is best?” or “What do the best leaders have in common?” Case summaries profile individual companies, bringing one or more business issues to life. Finally, biographical summaries profile entrepreneurs, executives, thought leaders, and other important figures in business.

Students are especially interested in the bios, because they learn how successful people think and what makes them tick. For instance, in a bio of Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choo, she noted that “People who are overeducated become risk-averse.” It’s important that students read and discuss ideas like this, because they otherwise would rarely hear them in business school.

But while these summaries made the FT more accessible, something still was missing. Students want more structure, especially when their critical thinking skills are underdeveloped. I created Clockwise to provide a structure they can use to analyze sophisticated material, ask better questions, and make stronger connections. Students new to Clockwise work exclusively from my summaries. As they become more proficient, I introduce more original sources, which tend to be longer and more complex.

Clockwise in Action

My Clockwise lesson plan includes a three-stage process: First, students work independently, creating their own charts for several article summaries. Next, they come together to build composite charts for each article. Finally, they compare and contrast several different charts, making connections they perhaps had not made on their own.

Stage 1: Independent Work

This stage is entirely self-directed. Reading the assigned content for the first time, students are instructed to consult any Web sites cited and research unfamiliar terms. Then, they begin the chartbuilding process, using either traditional pad and pencil or free mindmapping software.

Summarize (analytical thinking): Students break the main ideas of each source down into a bulletpoint format. Students often find that doing this exercise well can be a challenge. Many of them have never written a précis before, and some fail to read the material carefully enough or grasp the author’s intent. There is considerable variation in quality among students’ summaries early in the semester. But I emphasize to them that their results are only as good as their initial analyses.

Clockwise provides a structure students can use to analyze sophisticated material, ask better questions, and make stronger connections.

Critique (critical thinking): Next, I ask students to assess—in bullet point format—facts, arguments, opinions, and unstated assumptions in the summaries. I want students to identify blind spots in the author’s reasoning by subjecting each of the bullet points to critical review. I also ask students to highlight what’s valuable about the content, in terms of its usefulness in real-world decision making.

I’ve experimented with various strategies to help students generate fresh insights. For example, I might ask them to place themselves in the positions of different FT writers to see if they would interpret the subject matter differently. Or I might ask them to test the author’s recommendations in a different context, such as in a smaller company or different industry. I also encourage them to view the subject matter from a long-term or global perspective, so they learn to think beyond the next quarter and past their own biases. Over time, their critiques tend to become sharper and more insightful, as they draw from a broader and deeper knowledge base.

Connect (lateral thinking): Creativity is important, but it can be counterproductive if students do not understand how to use it well. Therefore, I believe we need an intermediate step between analysis and creativity, where students can “think laterally.” So, at this point, I ask students to make connections to other sources—to related articles, academic theories, and organizations in the field.

If the article is about corporate governance, for example, they might reference other articles on the topic, cite theories about corporate governance, and consult the Web sites of organizations such as the Institute of Directors and the National Association of Corporate Directors. This step lays the foundation for successive rounds of higher-order lateral thinking in Stages 2 and 3, including making more creative, “out-ofthe- box” connections.

State key message: Having made a complete revolution of the Clockwise chart, students now must identify its key message and place this at the center. This exercise is often far from straightforward. Students must look at the bullet points on their chart from the right distance, where a coherent picture of the whole comes into view.

Stage 2: Group Work

When students share their charts with their peers, they’re amazed at how different other interpretations are from their own. They also realize the value of sharing their viewpoints and collaborating to create “composite” Clockwise charts. Too often, they have been trained to value individual achievement. Creating composite charts shows them how different people can put their heads together to create a more comprehensive understanding of an issue or problem.

We create up to six composite charts on three large whiteboards in the classroom. The main tasks are to agree on the key points to be extracted from the source material, exhaust the critiques and connections, and decide on the central message. My role is to lead the discussion. If the situation warrants it, I’ll introduce related theory: For example, if the topic is sustainability, I might mention Michael Crooke’s SEER model, with its four cornerstones of the sustainable business. My goal is to reinforce the point that theory has practical value.

Stage 3: Pattern Seeking

The mathematician Marcus du Sautoy told the FT about the dopamine rush he gets from that “Aha!” moment when things fit together. “The brain is programmed to look for patterns—it’s how we know something is significant,” he explained. He added that we all need to feel that we’re contributing to a community to validate what we do. Stage 3 of the Clockwise method, when students make connections between different charts, is about just that: pattern-seeking in a community.

When we wish to fix a new thing in either our own mind or another’s, our goal should be not so much to impress and retain it as to connect it with something else already there.

For example, in one MBA capstone course, we were discussing four composite charts, based on an article on the importance of telling a good story by Peter Guber, producer of the movie Rain Man; a case study of the Procter & Gamble Dry Max diaper debacle; an article on the value of hiring a public relations professional; and a bio of Gary Vaynerchuck, an entrepreneur who has become a wine guru for the Internet generation. Connecting the dots, students saw how influential bloggers told stories to encourage customers to turn against P&G, and how the company hired a top PR firm to counteract the negative buzz. Reading the bio, they also saw how Vaynerchuck has benefited from doing his own PR, spending years cultivating an online community.

In another class, students discussed charts regarding the downside to being a disruptive entrepreneur, the personal traits that separate winners from losers, the criteria for evaluating investment opportunities, and the transition from entrepreneur to professional management. Students saw how the article on disruptive entrepreneurs illustrated the winning trait of being able to bounce back from disappointments. Having gained a better appreciation of what it takes to succeed, students understood why it is so difficult to let go. Then, the discussion went in multiple directions. “Isn’t it possible to let go without actually relinquish- ing control?” asked one student, pointing out that Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, empowers his CEOs by making them owner-managers, yet remains chairman of the board.

The more dissimilar the articles, the harder students must work to make connections. That’s why the choice of articles in any given class is crucial. If all the articles are about entrepreneurship, students will find it easy to make connections. By combining articles from different functional areas, industries, and cultures, I force students to cross more boundaries—in fact, after one challenging class, one student declared, “My head hurts.” The work may be challenging, but it offers great rewards, not least of which is a sense of ownership in the learning process.

Surprising Results

As William James once observed, when we wish to fix a new thing in either our own mind or another’s, our goal should be not so much to impress and retain it as to connect it with something else already there. “The connecting is the thinking; and, if we attend clearly to the connection, the connected thing will certainly be likely to remain within recall,” he said. Clockwise inspires that process. It always surprises me that students continue to bring up certain issues from week to week, even when we’re discussing completely different subject matter.

After a semester of working with Clockwise charts, students in the MBA capstone course are more than prepared to write their final term papers, where they are encouraged to explore a specific issue or question. A former banker, for example, discussed the idea of power, which had cropped up in many of our class discussions. A former professional poker player explored the hypothesis that true creativity in business is impossible without risk.

Their papers are enriched by their new ability to assimilate information, evaluate the merits of ideas, and connect ideas to a larger range of theoretical and practical content. A growing number of my students are using the method in other classes.

Nurturing “T-Shaped” Thinkers

Tim Brown, CEO of the design consultancy firm IDEO, has talked extensively about how his company looks for T-shaped people “who specialize in a single field, such as mechanical engineering or industrial design, but who also are able to branch out into other skills such as anthropology and do them well.” These individuals, he says, can see the world from different perspectives and recognize patterns in human behavior that lead to more creative ideas.

I can prove to students that they’re more T-shaped at the end of the course than they were at the beginning, simply by asking them to repeat three charts they did at the start of the course. When they compare their later versions with the originals, they see that the new charts are radically different. After they’ve produced and worked on 70 to 100 charts over the course of the semester, students approach the same subject matter with a perspective that’s far wider and deeper than they did when they were Clockwise neophytes.

We are currently exploring how we can leverage technology and social media to enhance the Clockwise method. The Clockwise protocol relies heavily on class participation, but because some people are uncomfortable expressing ideas in public, social media might level the playing field and encourage greater participation from all.

Ultimately, the value of Clockwise will depend on the method’s impact on students’ work after graduation—that’s too early to tell. But we are now in the process of creating a Clockwise community to track its use in practice. Meanwhile, I am working closely with Bob Hein, former CFO of Airbus North America and senior executive counselor at Byrd, to develop a Clockwise application for the boardroom.

Giles Jackson is associate professor, director of internships, and chair of the management science division at Shenandoah University’s Byrd School of Business in Winchester, Virginia. He is also president of GenEd LLC, which develops innovative pedagogies.

Expanding On Innovation

BIZ 1-2-3, First-Year Innovation Sequence E. Phillip Saunders College of Business Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester, New York

by Brian O’Neil, Victo r Perotti , John Tu, and John Ward

Several years ago, our faculty decided to take a more active approach to exposing our first-year students to business innovation. Before this, our first-year MBA students had been taking a single course, “World of Business,” but many students and faculty felt we should be doing more.

With the encouragement of our dean, Ashok Rao, a curriculum design team created Business 1-2-3—or BIZ 1-2-3—a series of three 11-week experiential courses: Business 1, “Ideas and Creativity”; Business 2, “Business Plan Development”; and Business 3, “Commercialization.” Our students also take a course in business software applications concurrently with Business 2, which enables them to use Microsoft Excel to develop their business plans.

The objective of this course sequence is to introduce first-year students to the concepts of innovation, design, and creativity, as well as to teach them how to research, develop, and commercialize a business idea. Most important, it’s designed to get them excited about innovation.

Business 1: The Idea

“Ideas and Creativity” meets twice a week in the fall quarter and teaches students the fundamentals of business via short lectures, exams, and reading materials. To make the class truly interactive, we also incorporate current issues and a simulation that reinforces learning of the basic business functions.

But at the heart of the course is the idea generation process. Early in the semester, students work alone to generate business ideas that address needs in the market. They develop those ideas quickly through class discussions and break-out groups; next, they form teams of three to five students each based on common interests. By week five of the quarter, each team begins to conduct research to more thoroughly define its ideas.

At this point, the teams develop photo essays that capture the essence of their ideas. Additionally, each team must present its business idea several times, in different ways, during the fall quarter. For instance, in week six, they must make a threeminute elevator pitch; in week 11, they give a ten-minute audio-visual presentation and field questions. At each stage, the teams receive feedback from classmates and faculty, which they use to develop their business plans in Business 2.

Business 2: The Plan

The key objective for “Business Plan Development” is for students to understand the basics and uses of the business plan. Students learn that a well-structured, detailed business plan can help entrepreneurs uncover potential pitfalls and opportunities that they otherwise might miss—and, more important, that detailed business plans are necessary to attract funding from venture capitalists.

In Business 2, students meet once each week to attend lectures, discuss new material, and discuss the development of their plans with faculty. We encourage students to visit the Small Business Administration’s

Web site, where they can find

a template for writing a business plan and review samples of plans from a variety of industries.

We schedule assignments and deadlines for deliverables, so that the teams can present their progress in class, hand in materials for evaluation, and incorporate feedback into their plans. By the end of the winter quarter, the teams have completed their plans and are ready to pitch their ideas.

At the end of the quarter, each team also must hand in a written report for evaluation, make a 15-minute presentation to a panel of VCs, and answer the panel’s questions. This is incredibly valuable experience for students because it forces them to defend the merit of their ideas.

Business Software: The Skills

“Business Software Applications” teaches students how they can apply Microsoft Excel to business problems and business plan development. We focus on using the software in areas such as product costing, project budgeting, accounting statement analysis, target market analysis, sales and invoice management, cash flow analysis, and breakeven analysis. By taking the course concurrently with Business 2, students can apply the Excel skills they learn to homework assignments linked to the development of their business plans.

We’ve found that one of our students’ biggest challenges in Business 2 is to apply what they learn in class to what they’re doing for their own business plans, because in their eyes, the two seem immensely different. That’s why close coordination between the instructors of the Excel course and Business 2 is critical to the success of both courses. With the proper prompting, encouragement, and cross-linking of ideas in both courses, the teams are better able to make connections, get assignments done on time, and enhance the quality of their business plans.

Business 3: The Capstone

“Commercialization” serves as the capstone in the sequence, a time when students translate the content of their business plans into the public sphere. First, we expose students to the technology trends that are most important for startups, through readings and discussions. Second, we increase their literacy in new media, by requiring them to practice using Web-based and video production tools. Finally, we introduce them to a firm’s business processes and support them as they take their business ideas to market.

Early in the quarter, we introduce students to Web site design principles and teach them to use Adobe Dreamweaver, software used for professional Web design. By the end of the quarter, student teams must design Web sites for businesses that will address multiple audiences, including customers, potential investors, and other stakeholders.

We introduce students to video production midway through the quarter. Each team is provided with a handheld Kodak Zi8 video camera and taught to use Adobe Premier Elements video production software so that they can create promotional materials and explore simple filmmaking techniques. The goals of the videos depend on the needs of their individual businesses, but the videos our students produce range from advertisements to explanations of their business ideas.

At the end of the course, we collect student work into an online showcase and share it with the college community at ritbiz3.tumblr. com/. This Web site serves as a place for students to demonstrate their work and elicit response to their ideas, creativity, and new skills. As part of their participation grade, all students are required to give preliminary feedback to other groups by identifying their favorite videos and explaining why they chose them.

The BIZ 1-2-3 Showcase represents the range of work the course inspires. Student ideas have included an on-campus nutrition and personal training service; a temperature-controlled backmassaging backpack that provides “comfort on the go”; and a campus classifieds service that would allow students to buy and sell their services and secondhand goods online. In the 2010–2011 academic year, we noticed that our students were generally less focused on for-profit businesses and more on socially focused startups—especially those that aimed to make campus life better for our students.

BIZ 1-2-3 students also have additional incentive: the opportunity to participate in RIT’s Imagine Festival, an annual one-day public event that invites members of RIT’s community to submit their most innovative ideas, which are vetted by a selection committee. With over 20,000 attendees, the festival gives our students a chance to show off their hard work.

Looking Ahead

After two full iterations, we continue to seek ways to improve the sequence. One significant change is that we now include 20 design students from RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences to work with 20 business students in one 1-2-3 section. We plan to reach out to students and faculty in other disciplines to better prepare our students for the workplace.

We are particularly proud of our BIZ 1-2-3 sequence and of the way participating faculty have invested in its development. So far, it is a key factor in increasing the retention rate of our first-year students, and we believe it represents a best practice in business education.

Brian O’Neil is a distinguished lecturer in decision sciences, Victor Perotti is an associate professor and champion for digital business, John Tu is a professor of management information systems, and John Ward is a lecturer of marketing and international business at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business in New York.

Doctorates in Residence

by Mathew Hayward

An ongoing challenge for business schools is how to integrate scholarship and practice into their doctoral programs, much as medical and law schools do. To achieve this integration, many schools offer executive-in-residence programs that provide seasoned executives with offices and ask them to teach courses for a year or more. But in our experience, these executives often don’t interact with our academically qualified professors. Consequently, they often lack an understanding of research and its relevance to the business world.

To give executives a better introduction to scholarship, the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder now offers the Visiting Doctoral Program. Created by Sanjai Bhagat, a finance professor and head of the doctoral program at Leeds, the program allows mature students to immerse themselves in the school’s offerings through paid doctoral work. The program encompasses doctoral-level seminars, where these students work side by side with their younger counterparts, studying an identical curriculum and fully participating in seminar proceedings.

Students in the Visiting Doctoral Program can choose the disciplines that they wish to investigate. In addition to conducting academic study and building faculty relationships, these student-practitioners contribute to courses and the professional development of other students by helping to teach MBA and undergraduate courses. They provide mentoring, career advice, and other counsel for students at all levels.

The program aims to help executives who may be uncertain about doctoral study by giving them a short-term opportunity to see if a PhD program is a good fit for them. At the same time, our faculty can evaluate their candidacy for research. It also serves as a transition into a formal program. If the student is in good standing, he or she ultimately receives formal academic recognition. The student can then pursue a doctorate either at the Leeds School, if accepted, or elsewhere by transferring credits. Once a student is admitted to Leeds’ PhD program, all course credits apply—typically 12 credit hours.

One of the first to enroll in this program, Douglas Bennett already had earned his BS, MBA, and JD degrees. Bennett is an Army combat veteran with experience in government and politics on Capitol Hill. He was a partner in a national law firm and, for the past 20 years, an entrepreneur. Bennett is just the type of student that the Visiting Doctoral Program was designed for. We found that our younger candidates benefited from his experience, and he benefited from exposure to business theory and scholarship.

The Visiting Doctoral Program has become an opportunity for the school to make seasoned executives like Bennett a vital part of Leeds’ community of scholars. Just as it can with executive-in-residence programs, the Leeds School can tap the Visiting Doctoral Program to draw upon senior executives’ networks and experience for development and even open up additional opportunities for research projects and collaboration. We are pleased that the Visiting Doctoral Program has proved to be a successful way to attract executives whose aspirations and contributions align with those of the Leeds School.

Mathew Hayward is an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Giles Jackson is associate professor, director of internships, and chair of the management science division at Shenandoah University’s Byrd School of Business in Winchester, Virginia. He is also president of GenEd LLC, which develops innovative pedagogies.

Brian O’Neil is a distinguished lecturer in decision sciences, Victor Perotti is an associate professor and champion for digital business, John Tu is a professor of management information systems, and John Ward is a lecturer of marketing and international business at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business in New York.

Mathew Hayward is an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder.