Innovations

Creating new mechanisms for making a deeper impact on students is one of the most exciting things about teaching. I try to bring an entrepreneurial and disruptive spirit to the classroom not only in my attitude/persona in the class but also in the learning mechanisms and experiences I create for students. Sometimes the experiments work, sometimes they don’t. The point is to keep trying to find a way to go beyond the usual and the mundane and the rote. I find this is the surest way to break students out of their ‘student’ mode and get them to actively take charge of their own learning and development. Here are a couple of the experiments that have worked.

POP (Professional Online Portfolio) – The POP is a website that students create and control themselves. It features professional yet friendly photos of the student, examples of school or work projects they want others to see, descriptions of their community and leadership experience, and information about personal interests and life goals. Crucially, this website is not controlled, monitored, or owned by the university. It is made using one of several free website creation platforms (Wix, Weebly, etc) and is 100% the result of each students’ choices for design, content, and approach.

It is critical for student buy-in that the POP is NOT simply “another class project that doesn’t actually matter for my future.” Once students realize that their POP – which features THEIR name, THEIR face, THEIR work and life – is going to be seen by potential employers and people other than just their professor, their incentive to do their best work is enhanced and they hold themselves to a higher standard than they would if the project was simply done for a grade.

Both surveys and anecdote confirm that the web is used more and more by potential employers to research applicants and to learn more about them than can be communicated in a resume or cover letter. Students push their POP into the world by adding a link to it in their resume, email signature, LinkedIn profile, and cover letters. See the reference URLs for an idea of what students are doing in their POP.

The impact of implementing the POP project as a requirement for all JSOM undergraduates has been significant. For students who are about to or have recently graduated, the shortest way to say what is happening is this: it is working. Since its introduction in 2013, a couple thousand students have created POPs and pushed them into the world. BCOM faculty regularly get email from former students reporting that they were called in for an interview because of the strength of their POP and several have received internships or job offers as a direct result of the impression of friendly professionalism they made in the POP. These reports are re-circulated back to students working on their POP and serve as evidence that the POP can and does open professional doors.

For JSOM faculty, the POP has motivated instructors to create/modify student projects so they can be more effectively displayed on their students’ POPs. Because Scantron exams do very little to inspire professional or personal confidence in a potential employer, instructors have begun requiring more real-world projects that can better demonstrate subject matter expertise to someone outside the classroom. This has led faculty to collaborate more and implement high-value assignments and projects. Because it matters in a concrete way for students and for the school, the POP has without doubt raised the bar for undergraduate teaching effectiveness in the Jindal School.

The POP Project was recently selected by the International Business School Accreditation Board AACSB as one of their Innovations that Inspire. This program was created to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the AACSB by recognizing today’s most unique business education innovations. Out of over 300 innovations from around the world to be nominated, only 30 were chosen for this recognition. It is really gratifying to have created something so powerful for students also be recognized by my business education peers.

Group Presentation Feedback Conversations – Student give several individual and group presentations in my Advanced Business Communication course. For most class presentations in most classes, feedback is only given by the instructor – if it is given at all – a few days after the presentation in comments scratched on a piece of paper and a number grade in the Blackboard gradebook. The presentations themselves very rarely matter to the other students in the audience and this leads to a distracted audience who has nothing at stake and nothing to gain from actively engaging with the presentation. This speaking context, with 1) an unengaged audience with nothing at stake and 2) disembodied, time-stale, and grade-based feedback leads to a ‘just get through it’ and ‘this doesn’t matter to anyone’ mentality on the part of the speakers, which leads them to do much less than their best work.

To short-circuit these structural incentives to do less than quality work, I have developed several ways to open up the process of giving students feedback on their presentation. The most unique and useful of these is the feedback conversation I lead after every presentation. After Group 1 sits down after their performance, I ask the class “What are some things Group 1 did that we are glad they did? Some things they did that worked well? Things that helped us not only understand the material but see how we could use it in our every day life?” What follows is approx. 10 minutes of open, student-led feedback on Group 1’s presentation. I facilitate this discussion and interweave my feedback into the flow of the conversation. Then, I ask the class “Ok, so if Group 1 was going to do this presentation AGAIN, what are some things they should do differently next time?” Then I facilitate an approx. 10 minute conversation about things that perhaps didn’t work well for Group 1.

This open, student-led feedback conversation does several things:
– It enables Group 1 to get feedback immediately, when the presentation experience is fresh.
– It gives Group 1 feedback from a wide array of actual humans who just experienced their presentation. This matters because feedback from only 1 person is naturally going to be limited.
– It helps members of Group 1 get used to getting, appreciating, and accepting public feedback, which is an everyday thing in the professional world.
– It helps members of the audience get experience giving constructive feedback and helping their colleagues improve, which is an everyday thing in a professional setting.
– It creates, as the semester progresses, a shared storehouse of feedback and ideas that subsequent groups use in their presentation. A kind of ‘hive mind’ is created which simultaneously raises the bar for student performance while giving students the tools they will need to achieve those higher standards.

These feedback conversations consistently get mentioned by students in their course evaluations as something they appreciate and wish were done in other courses. I have begun to use modified versions in my other courses and am excited to see how the presentation-enhancing effect gets – hopefully – carried over from one course to another.