Accelerating the Transformation of Teaching and Learning

Members of the new Teaching & Learning Leaders alliance share ideas and jointly develop best practices for their classrooms.

Accelerating the Transformation of Teaching and Learning

Lauren Chenarides, assistant professor at W.P. Carey’s Morrison School of Agribusiness, shares tips for promoting successful online group collaboration at a Teaching & Learning workshop in fall 2019. (Photo courtesy of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business)

 

AS BUSINESS EDUCATORS, we know that one of our most pressing challenges is determining how to keep our teaching and learning practices relevant to a diverse—and increasingly distracted—student body. What counts as learning? How do we bridge the gap between knowledge and skills? How can we help faculty develop as teachers? These are questions I continuously consider as associate dean for teaching and learning at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business in Tempe.

We have adopted a variety of strategies to develop our teaching and learning environment at W.P. Carey. For example, our instructional designers partner with the university’s technology office to hold faculty trainings on using Slack for teaching and learning. We hold monthly workshops where faculty share best practices for everything from delivering case-based teaching to creating inclusive, innovative, and nontraditional classrooms.

We also hold quarterly showcases of teaching and learning. At each showcase, professors from different departments and with differing perspectives make fast-format presentations that give their colleagues a taste of the tactics they employ in their classrooms. Afterward, professors gather in breakout rooms for further discussion. Some faculty are already utilizing practices they learned from colleagues.

We model the structure of these faceto- face presentations after our classroom practices. Each session is streamed live through Zoom and recorded for on-demand access; we “flip the classroom” by providing attendees opportunities to prepare ahead of time so they can better discuss the material together.

Our inaugural teaching showcase welcomed more than 100 participants, with many subsequent workshops attracting more than 50 attendees in person and online. Recently, we have begun featuring visiting experts from other universities, and we partnered with our colleagues in engineering on a session focused on active learning.

Through each of these initiatives, we have adopted the “small win framework,” introduced by organizational psychologist Karl Weick in 1984. We want to get our faculty excited about achieving small wins to advance their teaching. We don’t want to overwhelm them with the idea that they have to transform their teaching with giant changes, all at once.

Every academic year, each department designates a professor to act as its “teaching lead.” After each workshop or showcase, the eight departmental teaching leads and I come together and ask, “What tools or approaches have we heard about from other programs that we might try here? What can we try next time to make these sessions more impactful?” Whether we are establishing awards for teaching, onboarding new faculty, or developing new programs, we want to constantly be asking, “How do we keep moving forward?”

I think it’s important that we constantly focus on that -ing—on the idea that the transformation of teaching and learning is a process that is always being reconsidered and always ripe for improvement. That idea led me to ask a broader question: Could we have greater impact if we reached out to other business schools and exchanged ideas with their faculty about teaching and learning?

In July 2019, our dean, Amy Hillman, encouraged me to work with my colleagues at other business schools to form a network dedicated to teaching and learning. The idea also was inspired, in part, by a session at the 2019 AACSB Associate Deans Conference called “Driving Innovations and New Technologies,” which I co-moderated with my counterparts from Columbia Business School and Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business. As we prepared for this session, we noted that, since more schools were creating roles at the intersections of teaching, learning, and innovation, it would be beneficial if educators in those roles could connect and learn from each other.

Soon after, I partnered with my counterpart at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln College of Business, Tawnya Means. Last fall, we both began to collaborate with colleagues to form an emerging global network of like-minded business schools. As part of that network, called the Teaching & Learning Leaders alliance, we are working through challenges, sharing ideas, and adopting best practices for our classrooms.

EXPANDING THE NETWORK

The Teaching & Learning Leaders alliance held its inaugural meeting in January. Conducted primarily through Zoom, the meeting brought together ten educational leaders from business schools in the U.S. and Australia. Group members were able to benchmark their schools’ best practices against those at other b-schools and share ideas about gamification, student-led learning, and the development of effective assessments for both teachers and learners. Working from a Google Slides document, we created one presentation, shared via Zoom, that highlighted those ideas. We discussed the biggest puzzles our schools are trying to solve related to teaching and planned further collaboration.

At this meeting, we also collectively set goals for teaching and learning. For instance, one of our objectives is to prove out the practices we ask faculty and students to use. By gathering online ourselves, we showed the promise of hybrid learning and synchronous online classrooms.

It’s important that we constantly focus on the idea that the transformation of teaching and learning is a process that is always ripe for improvement.

Our group wants to define and refine what excellence in teaching and learning looks like. At the meeting, it was inspiring to be surrounded by other leaders from across the world who believe in that same process.

ENSURING ENGAGEMENT

While we want the Teaching & Learning Leaders alliance to create a welcoming environment for all, we don’t want the group to evolve into a listserv that lacks true engagement. To maintain and grow our community, we are planning more hybrid gatherings organized around existing conferences, as well as workshops where members can share their expertise with other professionals in the field. Some of us are exchanging resources and putting together conference submissions to extend our initial discussion.

Mike Goul, our senior associate dean for faculty and research, opened the consortium’s inaugural meeting by reading from “Integrating the Science of How We Learn into Education Technology an article by Stephen Kosslyn that appeared October 11, 2019, in the Harvard Business Review. In it, Kosslyn highlights a discrepancy between the research conducted on teaching and the application of that research in our classrooms.

Kosslyn also calls for business schools to do more to promote and adopt successful teaching practices—and to back that effort up with time, funding, and energy. The purpose of our new alliance is to help faculty at each member schools do just that.

As I was finalizing this article in March, my collaboration with the teaching leads at W.P. Carey was in overdrive as they worked to prepare faculty colleagues for remote teaching at Arizona State University, as a consequence of the novel coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, my fellow Teaching & Learning Leaders were sharing resources with each other as they navigated this unprecedented situation.

In the process of transforming our teaching so quickly and comprehensively, the Teaching & Learning Leaders and their teams have been able to turn to their network of colleagues for ideas and support. During the crisis, the value of our alliance has been amplified and accelerated far more than we could have imagined when we first decided to work together.

Daniel A. Gruber is associate dean of teaching and learning and a clinical professor of management and entrepreneurship at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in Tempe.

 

UPDATE (5-1-2020): After this article was finalized in March, Kenneth Michael Goul, mentioned in the last section above, died of cancer at age 64. The W.P. Carey School of Business community remembers his service and is saddened by the loss. 


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