Curriculum design – the easy way?

I was listening to an operations management seminar today, and the gist of it was (well the part I understood) that there are three things a service business should consider: defining the target market, deciding on the product, and figuring out the delivery model.  Where should a post-secondary program start?  Some people may think that the target market is easy, all high school grads.  Luckily there is a wide diversity of high school grads and some are more suited to a business program than others.  If we attract students that will not thrive in our program, the program will fail.  The delivery model is also up for grabs.  Although post-secondary education has (and unfortunately still does) focused on the lecture method of delivery, psychology research clearly shows that its fairly ineffective.  Western has been very successful using the case-method, then we have the alphabet-soup of PBL, TBL and others.  Last, the product.  What is the product we are trying to deliver?  Great education of course, but are we specializing in certain industries?  certain functional areas?  certain thematic areas? Continue reading “Curriculum design – the easy way?”

Leadership – a rare jewel?

In my relatively short professional and academic career I have seen first hand the importance of good leadership.  Like most of us, I’ve experienced working for/with fantastic leaders and I’ve also experienced the drudgery of working for (not with) poor leaders.  There are lots of good books on leadership – interestingly, I suspect that the good leaders read none of them, they are, as you say, natural born leaders.  What is good leadership:

  •  not following – obviously being a leader means that you can’t be a follower.  What are you doing that is innovative, pushing the boundaries, and making tomorrow’s new product/service?
  • you have disciples – not drones, but disciples.  People that understand your vision, believe in your vision, and trust you.
  • you have vision – this goes with the first point.  As a leader you must have an idea of where you are headed.  Endless committees, delaying decisions, waiting to see what the market place looks like are not leadership skills.
  • you have courage – leading is risky.  If you don’t like risk or can’t handle the potential outcome, don’t take the position.  Warming a leaders chair does not make you a leader – at best you’re a caretaker, at worst you’ve tied up a chair that is critical to the institution.

I have not always agreed with a great leader (and in a few cases there have been some heated debates), but when all is said and done, I would still follow them into battle.  To the great leaders that have shown me the light, thank you.  To the weak leaders that are still warming seats, move on. 

Once a student always a student?

Call me crazy, shake your head – I’m going back to school.  Over the past few years as I’ve realized that I love teaching and how little I really know about teaching and learning, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about doing some formal education on, well, education.  Since I can’t just quit my job and go back to being a grad student (Tessa would kill me), in 2006/07 I enrolled in UBC Vancouver’s Faculty Certificate Program.  Its an 8 month program where I went out to Vancouver once a month to learn some education fundamentals.  While doing that program I met Harry, an education faculty member who specializes in post-secondary curriculum issues – exactly what I was looking for.  With the move to UBCO, the possibility of doing some grad work with Harry has become a reality.  I am officially enrolled as a part-time masters student in the faculty of education at UBCV starting next spring.  I’m going to complete it over the next couple summers so that I can still work full time and pay the bills.  My expectations for the program are high although I suspect that I’ll be left with more questions than when I started – that is generally the sign of successful education.  As Christmas nears I hope you have taken the time to shovel some snow, drink some eggnog, eat some Christmas oranges, and kiss a loved one.  Happy holidays!

Congratulations UFE grads!

A week ago thousands of accounting students across Canada held their breath as they got the call or opened the envelope with their UFE result.  Many of them received the good news – a pass.  The UFE is a the main hurdle for getting your professional accounting designation (CA) in Canada.  It was 10 years ago that I got my good news and I remember it very well.The CA School of Business (CASB) is responsible for  the post-graduate training of all CA students in Western Canada.  I’ve been involved with CASB for the past five years helping students prepare for their careers as accountants.  I really believe that CASB’s system of education has a lot of positives.  Sure students complain vigorously while they are in the program and there are areas for improvement, but all in all, its very well done.  This year, CASB’s first-time pass rate was over 88%, an astounding accomplishment!  A result like this is not possible without motivated students, great mentors, excellent facilitators, and strong leadership.  To everyone that was involved this year, well done!Now, from my little twisted brain, here is my thought –  having students pass the UFE is not really the goal for CASB.  Sure it is one measurement of a successful program, but I think CASB’s goals are longer term and broader.  Question.  How successful is CASB at developing ethical, knowledgeable, social aware, excellent accounting advisors?   If the answer is 88% then I think the business world should be disappointed with CASB.  If it’s not damn close to 100% then we’d all better continue to work harder and smarter to reach that goal.

The future of business schools

So I haven’t posted for awhile, mostly because my thoughts have either been too scattered, too focused on specific classroom stuff that I can’t discuss, or on program development that is hush-hush until formal approval.  At the beginning of November I had a fascinating conversation that really challenged me to think about what are we trying to do here at UBCO that is different than everyone else.  Of course, maybe we don’t have to be different.  Forcing differentiation is not a good thing, it should either come through stakeholder demands, or visionary insight.  I’ve been hoping and praying for some of the latter for a month now!

Note: usually I don’t like to complain without offering potential solutions as well, but today is an exception.  I’ve delayed writing this for a month in hopes that I could find some light at the end of the tunnel, I’m not waiting anymore.

There is substantial literature out there that has suggested that management education needs a serious change of direction.  Personally, I don’t see many significant shifts.  Why?  I think there are three possible (non-independent) reasons: (1) management education doesn’t need to change and the literature is wrong, (2) internally we don’t know how to change nor de we care to learn how, or (3) the risk of failure is too large so we remain in our ruts.Finally,  if all the programs are similar how do we justify what we do?  Why do we all try to replicate the structure of every other major business school?  Maybe, just maybe, there’s room for very unique, very niche management topics.  Perhaps we’ll be offering a management degree for students focusing on alternative travel, real alternative, like time-travel.  Imagine dealing with the human resource or accounting issues involved in that.  Before I work on that program I promise I will first figure out how unique it is, maybe there are already 100 schools offering that program.  Second, I will muddle through my first question in this post which was why can’t management education move forward?

Too much …

Is it possible to give students too much help?  I had an interesting experience this past week – midterm #1, much the same as I have done for the past 4 years.  Same level of difficulty, same topic coverage.  One major change – I made it open book.  Students could bring in the text, their notes, and even last year’s exam with the solutions.  Why open book?  I wanted to remove the necessity of memorizing facts. I had already told students that the exam would be similar to last year’s so there weren’t any surprises.  Well, one major surprise on my part … How did some students fail to achieve competency?  I know that test-writing is one of my weaknesses, I know that time was tight.  Was it a bad test?  After a lot of thought this weekend, I’m confident that the test itself was not the problem.  I’m wondering if students delayed learning the material since it was open book.  Sort of a false sense of security .. too much security.  Just a conjecture and I don’t have any empirical evidence.  What are your thoughts?

Tranformative education

UBC President Stephen Toope was onsite the other day and delivered a short inspirational speech to an audience of about 100 staff and faculty.  He claimed that universities need to deliver a “transformative education” to undergraduate students … that got me thinking.  First, let’s be realistic.  The bulk of any transformation that occurs during a student’s undergraduate program occurs simply because they start as an 18 year old and finish as a 22 or 23 year old.  University or not, significant change is likely to occur during that period of your life.  Beyond that “natural” transformation, what incremental transformation should university provide?  More specifically, what transformations are you hoping to bring to your students? I believe that students need to (1) be globally aware, in simple terms that means that they need to show as much compassion/concern/caring for the student beside them, for the person next to them on the bus, for the person 1/2 way around the world as they do for themselves.  (2) want to change the world without conquering the world.  Conquering implies that you know best and everyone else be damned – the journey is as important as the destination.  Change implies that you have a vision, a destination, that you are committed to but the journey or path that is taken to accomplish that goal is flexible and allows for others input. (3) be innovative.  The big problems facing society, whether environmental, sociological, or financial, will not be solved using old ideas.  We need to encourage our students to be creative and reflective.  I’m a firm believer that people don’t spend time thinking and reflecting – we’re trying to do too much too fast.  Those three are pretty lofty so I’ll stop there.  Let’s go transform!

Team based learning and more

I was recently asked to take on a pretty major responsibility organizing the organizers (“chairperson” sounds too formal!) of the education portion of the Canadian Academic Accounting Association annual meeting in June 2008.  Sure, a bunch of accountants hanging out together doesn’t sound quite like Woodstock or a JT concert but all-in-all its a pretty good time.  The exciting part is that lately education has got some real respect from the “research” crowd.  My role is to put a committee together (mostly done), make sure all the tasks get done (not done), and organize a full day session on a chosen education topic.  I’ll post later this week to let you know who will be leading that session.  I have a few ideas and I’m hoping that the rest of the committee will be as excited about them as I am. Now, on to team based learning.  On Friday I attended a small but productive workshop on Team Based Learning hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning at UBCO.  Unlike similar workshops at UofA that I have attended, there was no preplanned script that needed to be followed.  Six teachers sat around and discussed our experiences and concerns and I actually felt support.  That sounds weak but if you try new things as a teacher, support is critical.  It is doubtful that your students will support any change, and in most cases teachers won’t share what they’re trying.  I suppose that’s because if they share the idea, they may be required to also share any stories of failed success later on.  Anyway, back to the point.  Although each of the teachers at the workshop use team-based learning differently, the experiences shared by each were invaluable.  To those of you that were there – THANK YOU!  I look forward to the next workshop!  If you want to find out more about team-based learning, check out this site: http://www.teambasedlearning.org/.

A reply to Louis

If you haven’t read Louis post for today, you really should – there’s a link to the right for his blog which is 1000 times better than anything I can write.  His post is about a professor that writes in to criticize Louis for spending too much time talking about the average student.  “Why”, he says, “do you tell such stories about ordinary, average, and at times distasteful students?”.  Louis has a great explanation but in my opinion it is simply the “me-complex”.  We tend to like people that are just like us and in order to make it as an English Prof I bet he was a pretty decent undergrad student … unlike me.  I was pretty much a screw-up as an undergrad.  Too many other things to do, not sure what I was doing at university.  I was definitely NOT grad-student quality during my undergrad.  So when I hear stories about students struggling with motivation, students that are too busy to study, or students that are unsure of their career path I can honestly say that I understand.  What’s my proof?  How about the “dean’s vacation” letter I received in 2nd year?  That’s usually enough proof for students.  Clearly we don’t need 6 billion people like me (one is enough), we also don’t need 6 billion english-prof-wannabes.  Thank goodness we’re all unique, that’s what makes life interesting.  So, to the perfect professors out there that never stumbled, start looking for the one great thing about each individual.  You may have trouble spotting it since it is so different than your thing, but keep looking  – it’s there.  It needs to be found, encouraged, and emphasized.  Who knows, maybe that slacker at the back of the class may turn out to be the next famous English prof! 

A missed opportunity

The Hilton-Kelowna has been packed to the rafters the last few nights.  Yesterday one of my guests was wandering back from the beach, came inside where I was working, and said, “There’s a old guy smoking in your drive way”.  Sure there’s lots of old people in my neighbourhood and there are enough “nuts” that I thought I’d go see what the excitement was.  Sure enough, there he was – wandering aimlessly, puffing away.  My first thought was, “don’t throw your cigarette butt on my grass because I haven’t watered it for 3 months!”  Then I noticed his silver Mercedes with a flat tire.  I asked him if he needed a phone to give someone a call, he said he already had.  Then I figured that I could do it as easily as someone from BCAA, so I dove in.  Well actually my guest and I dove in.  First we had to undo the screw up the guy had caused trying to fix the flat himself.  Anyway, we were done 5 minutes later and the old guy and his wife were on there way.  So what’s the point of this story?  I missed the opportunity to teach this guy how to fix his own flat tire.  Looking back I don’t think there was any desire on his part to learn.  Once you’ve got a Benz maybe you don’t need to get your hands dirty?  Back to the point … how often do I miss the opportunity with students?  Teaching and learning always take more time than just doing the task but then we miss the opportunity to “pass it along”, “share the wealth”, “feed them for a lifetime” – whatever expression works for you, don’t miss the opportunity.So to my new, old friend, I apologize for not taking the time to teach you some fine flat-tire form.  I hope you never need it again, but if you do, I hope I’m there!