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Lessons Learned

Faculty Development Committee

Lessons Learned

November/December 2001

"Content" and "Process" Issues in Teaching
                
By Hema A. Krishnan, Associate Professor,                   Department of Marketing and
Entrepreneurship

My first introduction to formal teaching was in early 1990 when, as a doctoral student, I was required to make a brief presentation in my strategic planning seminar course to the entire management faculty. I noticed the professor, who later co-chaired my dissertation committee, take copious notes during my talk. Later, while receiving feedback on my performance, I learned that he had taken five pages of notes on a 15-minute presentation! The professor structured his feedback on two themes: “content” and “process” of presentation. Since then, in my ten years of teaching undergraduate and MBA classes, my growth as a teacher can be attributed to focus on these two themes. 

I teach strategic management and international management at the undergraduate and MBA levels. All these courses revolve around the issues: what business is the company in, what business should the company operate in, what should be done to develop a sustainable competitive advantage?  Students are expected to develop a big picture perspective of organizations, adopt a global and ethical perspective, integrate functional areas, and develop critical thinking skills. With such broad-based issues, it is very easy to lose direction in these courses. Hence, the following steps are taken to ensure that the objectives of the students and instructor are met at the end of each course.

Content issues

1.  Comprehensive Syllabus: Having a very detailed syllabus can go a long way in easing the students’ concerns on course content, grading requirements, and most importantly, written and oral assignments.  The objectives and agenda for each class session, which tend to be at least about  ½ page long, are laid out in the syllabus and detailed instructions are given for every assignment including sources for collecting data. Such detail tends to be especially beneficial when students make individual and group presentations. A daily agenda stating the objectives is again distributed at the beginning of each class session.  

2.  Array of Assignments: A wide range of assignments is used in each course. One of the most popular assignments is the mini-group presentation. The following format is adopted for these presentations. The class session begins with one student group being asked to provide a ten to fifteen minute presentation of its analyses of the case assigned for that session. An effective lead considerably enhances the quality of class discussions. A second student group is then asked to build on the first presentation. This group may present a significantly different alternative, or focus on one or more issues, which may have been overlooked by the first student group. The second group is allotted ten minutes for the presentation. A third group is then called on to critique the two presentations, and to present its point of view. Finally, the other group(s) are called on to evaluate the significance and implications of the case and to describe what they learned from the case.

Another assignment that is very popular among both undergraduates and MBA students, usually administered in small classes, is the individual presentation. To maximize learning, students conduct several individual presentations during the semester. An individual presentation involves a 10-minutes presentation around a specific issue relating to a particular class session with the presenters (7 or 8 during a class session) providing a one-page outline to the other members. During the course of the presentations, the class fills out details on the issue on a spreadsheet. Thus, at the conclusion of the session, a matrix displaying details on this issue is generated.

A third assignment popular among students, usually adopted in the strategy courses, is computer-based simulation exercises. Students work in teams on one or more simulations and prepare individual or group reflective papers on the simulations. These simulations offer an alternate approach to the traditional case write-ups, which are also used in all my classes.

3.  Mid-term course feedback: I request information from students on the direction of the course halfway through the semester and share the feedback with the class. Based on their assessment changes are made, especially in the elective courses. Although these changes do not alter the fundamental direction of the course, they entail a change in the “process” of instruction and some minor changes in the “content” such as providing additional reading material, videos, etc.

4.  Current events: With the business and global environment changing at an extraordinary pace, I start each class session with a discussion on recent events and their implications for the course. These discussions, which tend to be about 15 minutes long in a 2 ½ hour class format, are lively and also draw out students who do not normally participate in class. Additionally, they help the students make the link between theory and practice.

Process issues

1.  Self evaluation: At the end of each class session, I make notes on my copy of the syllabus which include the actual time spent on the formal lecture, student presentations, general discussions, and video discussions. It also includes the names of students who did not participate, or students who monopolized the discussions, my speed of delivery, eye contact, whether the discussions were focused, etc. This is done to take corrective action for the remaining classes. At the end of the semester, I have about 15 post-it notes for each class. These post-its coupled with my syllabus are useful in developing my course for the following semester.

2.  Reminder E-mails: Short e-mail reminders are sent the next day summarizing the previous day’s learning, assessing overall class performance, and providing guidelines for the next session’s assignments. After this practice was started, few students approach me for additional clarification on assignments during the semester. Also, several MBA students have told me that with their busy schedules and extensive business-related travel, these reminder e-mails are very useful in planning their weekly activities.

3.  Customized PowerPoint slides: Slides integrating theory, articles, cases, and current business events are customized for each class session, and kept to a minimum.

As described above, in my courses, I try to create “order” from “chaos” which explains the repetition arising from stating objectives, providing guidelines and reminder e-mails, and daily agendas for the courses.

Finally, one of the invaluable lessons I have learned from my advisors, colleagues at Xavier University, and students is that learning is an ongoing process and to make a difference in the classroom, it is important that one be committed to teaching, and to the students.

_______________________________

Dr. Hema Krishnan is an associate professor in the department of marketing and entrepreneurship. 

Contributors to the Lesson Learned series have been selected by their deans to share their experiences in the classroom, describing a teaching technique or exercise that they have found to be effective.


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