Although the material covered and mode of delivery differs with each course, there are several common elements of pedagogy that represent my teaching philosophy. These elements are as follows:
- Participant-centered learning. I have a strong preference for engaging the students in active rather than passive learning opportunities. I do not believe lecturing on the text material is the best way to present the subjects that I teach. I also do not feel that my role as a professor is simply to be the expert who has all the answers. Rather, I consider myself to be a learning facilitator. I guide student discussion toward the goal of increasing our collective understanding of a given topic. Every student is expected to participate by offering his/her own unique insights and experiences. Therefore, all of my classes are based on active class discussion and debate.
- Emphasis on experiential learning and practical skill development. As a professional school, I believe that the College of Business is obligated to teach students skills that will enhance their professional careers. I want the students to develop skills that they will actually use. I am not interested in having them memorize material. Rather, I want to make sure that they can take the tools and concepts we learn in the text material and course readings and apply them to a variety of realistic situations. Although we discuss the latest academic research in the area of study (particularly at the graduate level), that research is not useful to the students unless they can apply it to practice. Therefore, I strongly emphasize real world applications and problem solving and try to deemphasize conceptual models and MBA-type jargon. There can be no better asset to any professional career than the ability to communicate clearly, so all of my course deliverables emphasize either written or verbal presentations.
- Global perspective. I did not begin my academic career with a particularly international view of strategy or entrepreneurship. However, over the past several years I have become increasingly aware of the “flat world” which forms the institutional context in which today’s managers operate. I believe that it is critical to address all strategic issues from a global perspective. I try to approach all of my classes with this perspective, whether it is a very practical topic, such as international sourcing of supplies and services, or more complex one, such as doing business in different cultural contexts.
- High expectations. As capstone courses for advanced students, I believe that my courses should be challenging. I want to bring out the best in all of my students, and that can’t happen if the bar is set too low. Therefore, I set high expectations and a relatively heavy workload for the students. It is important for the students to learn the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from truly making their best effort and achieving more than they thought possible. I find that this life lesson is increasingly necessary for both undergraduate and graduate students. I take it as a compliment if the students note on my evaluations that my teaching was effective, but that exams or deliverables were challenging.
- Use of technology. I am a strong advocate of incorporating the latest technology into my courses. Used properly, these tools improve student satisfaction and enhance their ability to communicate both with me and each other. Online delivery also helps students to learn how to work in virtual teams, an important professional skill. Because of the institutions that I have worked in, I have not had the opportunity to teach a fully online class. However, all of my classes have a significant online component (see below).
Methods and Strategies
The following are the methods and strategies I employ to put the elements of my teaching philosophy into practice:
- Participant-centered learning. I teach strategy classes using the “Harvard-style” case discussion method. This is the traditional way to teach strategic management to business students. The students are expected to thoroughly research and analyze the case prior to the class meeting. During the meeting, all students are expected to participate extensively in the case discussion, and their participation is graded. I call on students throughout the discussion to ensure that everyone has a chance to voice their views. I do not use cases in the entrepreneurship classes, but we still spend at least half of the class period discussing course readings. The students post discussion questions regarding each reading on the online discussion board prior to the start of class, and I use these questions to guide the class discussion.
- Emphasis on experiential learning and practical skill development. Case analysis (in strategy courses) and writing a business plan (in entrepreneurship courses) are both examples of putting tools and concepts to work in real situations. In addition, Entrepreneurial Consulting is completely centered on experiential learning. The main thrust of the course is a consulting engagement with an actual entrepreneurial or startup firm working on a real project. All of the projects and assignments in my courses involve writing and presentations, both individually and in teams. The strategy courses contain a current event panel as well as a final team presentation along with weekly individual case analyses and a take home final case analysis. The entrepreneurship courses require a final team presentation and mini presentations throughout the term as well as a final written project (feasibility analysis, business plan, or consulting report) and weekly drafts or reports. In addition, I support highly motivated business plan teams by sponsoring them for internal and external Business Plan Competitions. In these competitions, both the written business plan document and the student presentation of the plan are judged by panels of experts.
- Global perspective. Besides approaching class discussions from a global perspective, I also try to select readings that encourage this thinking. For example, in my most recent Strategic Management class, three out of six cases dealt with non-US firms, and another two were about US firms dealing with global issues. Only one was about a firm that does not have any global markets or competition.
- High expectations. Students generally respond well to my expectations, and do quite well in my courses despite the relatively high workload. I believe the following comments are representative of the effectiveness of this approach.
- Use of technology. Although my institution does not offer online classes, all of my courses are fundamentally organized around the web. I use Blackboard as the focal point for distributing course material, receiving student assignments, and posting grades. In addition, I use my web site as a repository of links to use for completing assignments and obtaining further information on course topics. I also use web-based communication tools to extend student interaction and class discussion, including chat sessions, wikis, and blogs.