What are some of the strategies that you use in your courses to engage students?
First of all, let’s look at my target population in the School of Continuing Education. Our students in Career and Professional studies, including my graduate course in organizational behavior, are unique and engaging for me as an instructor. For the most part, they are very well educated, often seasoned professionals from varied disciplines and many different countries. They come to McGill to take courses that will help them get a start or advance in a career, move from professional ranks to management, or change career direction. These adult students are motivated to be engaged, so the stage is set.
To serve such student diversity and keep students’ attention for three hours of an evening class, I work to quickly establish a safe open environment where students take responsibility for their own learning. To achieve this, I seize every opportunity to facilitate discussion among the students on relevant topics. In the first class, I ask them to share their thoughts with a partner, somebody that they are comfortable with. I don’t have them report to the entire group right away. Then I move to small groups, and finally, when they have gained confidence, I ask them to share their thoughts with the whole class. Getting to the point where they are comfortable enough that we can have a general discussion in the classroom is a process that lasts a couple of weeks. At that point, there is no need to worry that it’s always the same people speaking out.
How do you evaluate your students’ learning? What kind of assessment strategies do you use?
The students have different strengths and academic backgrounds. I use several evaluation tools to allow each student an opportunity to “shine.” There are class activities and quizzes, a teach research project, and an individual reflection paper that requires students to analyze their own organizational behavior and come up with a realistic development plan based on their individual goals.
What is the most important thing students in your discipline learn when taking a course with you? How about students from outside your discipline?
The students improve their ability to recognize, “read,” analyze, and understand the human behavior of colleagues, managers, subordinates, and groups in the organization. I see the learning in action as students recount current organizational experiences that now make sense to them. This insight enables them to be informed and engaged participants in organizational problem solving and changes, whether as a professional or a manager. Organizational skills are important no matter the discipline you choose.
How do you help your students understand what research and/or scholarship is in your discipline (including findings, methodologies, etc.)?
The students are interested in new management theories and how to apply the findings. In teams, they are given the opportunity to study an actual organization, its strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations for improvement. This practical activity brings home the reality and value of management scholarship. The students have a hunger to continuously learn and improve in their own discipline, and to apply their new skills to their current or future working situation. This activity gives them a start and confidence to continue after the course.
What are your recommendations to new faculty members to help them develop in their teaching role?
Get to know your students. Who are they? What do they want to learn? What do they know now? How do they best learn?
Talk to other more experienced faculty members about their teaching experience, what works, what does not work for them. Take advantage of all of the valuable tools and assistance offered by Teaching and Learning Services, such as courses, coaching, online materials.
Work to develop a style and various methodologies that suit your personality. Remember that you do not have to do it all the first year.
What advice do you have for undergraduate students about how to get the most out of your courses?
Learning is not a passive process. Learning is an active process. I do my best. I give you lots of variety, I coach and answer questions before and after class, I answer a million emails—but you are the learner. I as the teacher am not responsible for your learning. You are. So … jump right in!
Since the class is based on discussion, it is crucial that you are present. Come prepared and participate actively in class and in the group assignments, and do so in a respectful way.
Why do you teach?
I love to help others learn. Each time I give a course, there are elements that I decide to do a little (or a lot) differently to better help my students learn what they need to learn from the course. I teach because of the students: bright, creative, appreciative, and so diverse. There is no pleasure better than having my students succeed, to receive an email, LinkedIn message, or classroom visit to hear that they have been promoted, have just landed that dream job, or have just been accepted into an MBA program. They are the people who will ultimately change and improve our organizations.
I am also a lifelong learner. As a child, I loved the smell of new textbooks and pencils and still do. I learn from my students every class, every semester. It is a very healthy symbiotic relationship.
Photo by Owen Egan