Teaching in higher education for thirteen years has provided a myriad of opportunities for me to assess and improve my teaching effectiveness. As a teacher of business, management, human resource management and ethics my overall goals are threefold: instruct using innovative methods that educate both the practical and the theoretical; prepare students for the real world of work; and develop and appreciation for critical thinking and effective communication.
The field of business is, at its heart, practical in nature. Questions such as how to start a business, hire and fire staff and raise and manage funds are often asked of professors in this field. Courses are designed to train in practical skills, and yet often merely gloss over foundational theories in order to devote more time to skill training. In my experience, I have learned to elaborate a bit more on foundational issues such as systems theory and philosophical perspectives in order to provide context for larger concepts in an undergraduate course. For example, in my MGMT 325 Organizational Dynamics class online, I organize the course into four modules: ethical foundations of organizational behavior, the individual in the organization, leadership and team behaviors and the organization. Each module addresses a different level of development of the field. I use practical examples to illustrate theoretical perspectives, as in the topic of ethical development. After teaching the class the various ways to evaluate an ethical dilemma, I then provide a practical example or use a hands-on method for evaluating and testing their response to a real
dilemma. Classmates never unanimously agree and they always ask me for the “right answer” after the debate. I respond that there is no right answer and the point was the struggle for understanding and clarity of their own values. Later, students often visit me during office hours or even the following semester to express their understanding of the issue once perspective has been obtained. Hence, when I tie theory to practice, the students positively benefit.
I have found it beneficial to involve the community as much as possible. I have found this involvement both provides a valuable (and free) service to small businesses while also providing students hands-on experience. For example, I wrote a course to fulfill goal 9 (BUSA 270 Business & Society) and introduce undeclared students to the business curriculum. As part of the course, I built in a lecture on sustainable business practices that took place aboard the Cal Fremling Interactive Classroom. Along with the students, I invited local business leaders and College of Business Advisory Board members. In addition to learning about sustainability on the Mississippi and using examples from local businesses as we floated by, students were able to engage with local business leaders and communicate with them about their future goals. I am thankful to the Business Administration department and College of Business Dean’s Office for supporting this endeavor both in spirit and with funding.
Preparing students for the real world of work also requires professors to stay abreast of trends that are starting to appear in the workplace. I firmly believe that if we start to react to a trend instead of actively seeking out changes that are occurring in order to be proactive in the classroom, it is too late. Businesses are forced to adapt while those we graduate are ill-prepared. For example, I started reading about and listening to human resource professionals who were being asked to take on additional duties in the area of workplace safety. As someone married to an OSHA expert, this concerned me on several levels: (1) this is a very large area of expertise that, if done poorly, could cause injury and loss of life; (2) one does not just “do safety” well; (3) we do not address safety in our HR program beyond one chapter in the beginning HR class. I arranged for 20 graduating HR seniors to earn an OSHA 10 certification—a basic 10 hour certification that employees can take to become somewhat proficient in the area of safety—in both 2015 and 2016. I decided to collect data to see if it helped graduates obtain jobs after college. I worked with an outside contractor for 2015 and Erin Paulson, WSU Director of Safety, in 2016 to present the material. We had 20 students in year 1 and 30 in year 2. We plan to offer the certification again in Spring 2017, once again taught by Erin Paulson. I’ll speak more about the results in a later section, but this speaks to a key aspect of my teaching effectiveness: making the subject real.
Often, business students want to learn only what is transferable to a future or current job and protest when required to take classes that do not readily appear to have immediate value in their chosen career. Courses such as English Literature, Statistics and History are not given proper weight in the students’ minds because they represent wasted time and energy and do not appear to be transferable to the real world of work. When advising students, I inform them that the most important skill employers look for in a candidate is the ability to communicate (verbally and in writing) effectively. The second most valuable skill involves the ability to think critically and problem solve. In this sense, courses outside the business curriculum provide opportunities to develop those valuable skills and to help develop a larger sense of the world around them. Students who embrace this viewpoint often find themselves better able to critically think through problems and discuss difficult issues. I find this is most apparent when I teach BUSA 321 Applied Business Ethics. A semester-long course, my teaching style is interactive and open-ended. I use real-world case studies and regularly invite those involved with white collar crime research or the crime itself (formerly incarcerated business executives) to Skype with the class or provide feedback via letter. I’ve also visited the classroom of Dr. Steven Castleberry from University of Minnesota Duluth, a veteran of involving ex-prisoners in his MBA ethics classes, to broaden and freshen my ethics course. Students engage in heavy discussion and conduct primary, hands-on research in the field of business ethics. I’ve invited one group to present their findings at the Midwest Academy of Management 2015 conference.
In sum, I feel strongly that education should give learners at all levels the opportunity to expand their knowledge base; develop practical skills in their area of study; become critical thinkers and problem solvers; and propagate the desire to enhance themselves. I always tell my students that my job is to challenge them and their job is to learn how to think.
Below are the overall goals I have set for myself in teaching effectiveness. Please click the hyperlinked goal to view a discussion of each and supporting documentation.
- Attain 80% or higher overall consistent course evaluation ratings.
- Utilize D2L as both a course management system and to provide feedback.
- Incorporate College of Business learning goals and objectives into courses.
- Design courses, lectures, and presentations and utilize business professionals in class to provide students with an engaging and interactive learning environment.
- Incorporate new technology into courses.
- Write a course for Goal 9 to introduce undeclared students to the College of Business.