The Benefits of a Dean's Book Club

A faculty-driven book club can help professors embrace innovation and improve teaching.

In 2011, I had an idea: Why not start a Dean’s Book Club for faculty? I thought that starting a book club here at the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business in Virginia could be a way to stimulate ideas among our faculty for curricular and pedagogical change. That same year, the book Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession was published, stimulating much discussion among business educators. It seemed an important book for our faculty to read, particularly to encourage us to think more about how we integrate liberal arts and business education.

So, in 2012, I offered to buy the book for as many faculty members who were interested in reading it, and about two-thirds of our full-time faculty took me up on the offer. We scheduled two separate book club meetings, and I sent an email to faculty with questions to guide our discussion. Faculty who received the books were not obligated to attend the discussion, but those who did agreed that establishing an ongoing book club would be worthwhile.

After that first meeting, we realized that a book club would be an inexpensive way for us to encourage change and help faculty find new ways to improve their teaching. With that in mind, the next year I not only recommended two books on how to teach critical thinking to faculty, but also invited faculty to recommend books on the same topic. Then the faculty voted on the selection and held separate meetings for each book. Once again, the books inspired spirited and thoughtful faculty discussions and provided approaches that could be easily adopted in a classroom.

In 2014, faculty nominated books about academic integrity, with many voting for Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Our discussion of that book led us to develop the document, “Best Practices for Creating a Culture of Academic Integrity,” where faculty shared approaches to prevent or reduce cheating. In 2015, our selections included Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning and Thinking Fast and Slow.

Our book club meetings offer faculty great opportunities to share ways they are incorporating ideas they’ve learned from our selections. For instance, Joe Ben Hoyle, associate professor of accounting, was inspired by Make It Stick to give his students extra credit if they read the book. His reasoning is that if learners understand the behaviors that will cause them to retain knowledge, they will learn more effectively than if he simply tells them how to study. So far, students have self-reported that they would change the way they studied as a result of reading the book—one noted that he was now doing extra problems to reinforce learning.

Maia Linask, assistant professor of economics, has revised her grading scheme to include more small, low-stakes assignments, based on Cheating Lessons and Make It Stick. She allows students to take quizzes twice and to revise problem sets, which could reduce their incentives to cheat and help them learn and retain more information.

Starting a Dean’s Book Club is a small initiative for any business school as it requires only a minor investment in time and money. Yet it has the potential to influence organizational culture, help faculty to become better at their craft, and impact student learning. Plus, as we’ve found, it’s a lot of fun.

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Nancy Bagranoff is the dean of the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond in Virginia.