Learning How to Learn
The Professor as Facilitator in a 'Hybrid' Class
At the beginning of the course the professor tells students, among other things, that some college classes are novels and others are collections of short stories. She says she’ll start things off by providing students with a basic reading list and guiding them through the foundational topics in traditional teaching fashion, but for more modern or unique topics, she’ll switch to the role of facilitator. Then it will be up to the students, working in teams, to develop their own reading lists. They’ll be expected to spend 25 percent of their time for the class surfing the Internet looking for the most up-to-the-minute news about business and management and sharing that news with other team members.
What kind of class is this, anyway? It’s Management 503, Organizational Analysis and Management, which Terri Griffith, Management department Chair and Professor at the Leavey School of Business, teaches as a blended, or hybrid class that’s not at all what most students are used to. More than a few of them freak out. “I get asked by some students, ‘Why are you not standing in front of the class and writing on a board while I take notes?’ ” she says. And her answer is, “For the rest of your career, people aren’t going to be standing in front of a room, lecturing to you. You need to learn how to learn.”
Griffith says she realizes things have changed dramatically since she gave her first lecture to an undergraduate class almost three decades ago. Technology has made the best lectures by the best lecturers readily available on video. Millennials, the students now going through college, have different work expectations. They figure their working life will be a fluid and ever-changing situation where they will be constantly innovating and learning new skills to face new challenges.
One of the most critical questions facing them, she says, is how to acquire and process information effectively.
GIVING STUDENTS WINGS: Terri Griffith tells her students there won’t always be a professor telling them what to do, so they need to learn how to figure things out for themselves.
“We’re all dealing with a firehose of information,” she says. “There are something like 30 new business books being published every day, and not all of them are good. To succeed, students need to learn how to pick and choose among them. They need to learn how to learn. As instructors, we need to do more with setting up student expectations.” Management 503 aims to teach students to understand the elements of an effective organization. “Our goal is to understand and affect the interplay of people, organizational structure, infrastructure, technology and context,” the syllabus says. Because the class looks at a number of different organizations in different situations, Griffith says, it’s a short-story-collection class. Each organization has a different story with a different lesson. (Accounting would be a classic example of a class that’s like a novel; the terminology and procedures learned at the first class session carry through to the end of the course.)
Half the grade for the class is based on individual concept write-ups, in which students take a business-organization concept, define it, attempt to apply it to a real business and track the results. It’s learning by doing, and can take various forms. A couple of years ago, Griffith assigned students to produce a video, and some of them grumbled that this was something they’d never have to do again. Afterward, most found they learned more than just video technique from the experience, and when she asked another class to do a video more recently, no one complained. “When I talk to students about their classes, I find they’re most excited when faculty members actually ask them to do something,” Griffith says.
Using a kitchen analogy, she says the students who really pick up the lessons of the class are the “Iron Chefs.” Like the chefs on the popular TV show, these are people who can make the best possible business dish from the available ingredients. The truly elite students are the ones who can imagine and create a new dish that hasn’t been done before.
“Ultimately, I’m looking for students who can do something with the material above and beyond what they learned in class,” she says.
Robert McCaul, who took Management 503 in the winter of 2013, says the class was clearly and dramatically different from the usual college course, and that he got more from it as a result.
“The traditional method of learning is easy,” he says. “I am used to it, and you can typically game the system. Here students are evaluated on their actual level of learning, and the new learning techniques require energy. Although I find them enjoyable and satisfying, I need to remember to leave a reserve of energy for class.”
Griffith says she intends to keep working with the blended or hybrid class structure and refining it as time goes on. She’s working at expanding the use of activities outside the classroom and using class time specifically for those activities in which students can learn from the direct presence of their instructor and each other.
“If we let go of our walls, we can teach globally and get the best of everything,” she says, citing world-class lectures on video as an example. “Then if we’re doing wonderful face-to-face activities that are special, students will really want to come to class.”