educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author, writer/contributor, program executive, and radio host
© 2015: S. L. Young / Email: info (at) slyoung.com / All rights reserved
In many college classes, the process used to teach students is almost identical: attend classes, listen to passive lectures, submit written assignments, take tests, and hopefully pass.
As a college professor, changes are made to the structure of my classes each semester for continuous improvement --- for me and my students. In refining my teaching process, considerations are made about the lessons students should be taught, including soft skills (e.g., oral/written communication, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, etc.) that will emulate a business environment as much as possible. This process starts at the beginning of a semester after communicating my expectations that students must be prepared (every class) to discuss business related current events and course terminology.
My responsibility is to create a dynamic, collaborative, interactive learning environment that teaches students to become active organizational participants. During the first class, students are taught about the concept of a learning organization, which each becomes a member. At this point, the process of learning about the organizational members begins --- for me and the students.
In the early weeks, students learn about each other by sharing basic personal information. Then, throughout the semester, students learn more about each other through ongoing interactive activities that encourage students to sometimes be vulnerable.
By teaching students about theory and actively reinforcing course concepts, students are taught to take chances without worrying about embarrassment. It’s about teaching students to understand that learning is about practice, performance excellence, and not perfection, which can lead to increased opportunities for unrestricted learning. If my students are prepared and do their best, then the learning process can be expedited through active participation.
The methodology used in my classes to emulate a business environment is to:
* Convey My Vision - Students are told during the first class that everyone walked into the classroom as an individual, and during the semester that the class will become a collaborative organization --- by me encouraging an active learning environment. As such, students are counseled on the importance of each of its members contributing and benefiting from the team’s experiences.
* Demonstrate Team Member Importance - Each student’s name is learned and used from the first class and throughout the semester. By calling on students by name, each student’s learning experience is personalized and connections are made beyond a superficial nature.
* Set Expectations - Students are encouraged to focus on excellence and not perfection. Grades are important; however, it’s better for students to learn and master the course content rather than to memorize and regurgitate information for a test without retention.
* Create a Non-Threatening Learning Environment - Students are encouraged to take risks. The classroom environment is for students to learn and grow without worrying about failure. If students’ reservations and fears are removed or at least minimized, then there are increased opportunities to grow beyond passive learning.
* Give Status Updates - Information that the majority of students might want or need to know is shared at the beginning of each class. This process emulates team meetings within business organizations. The additional benefit is that students receive messages at the same time. Also, this communication strategy reduces the amount of questions received from students between classes. After class, the information discussed is posted online for later review.
* Discuss Current Events - Students are asked to voluntarily discuss a business related current event each week. Any student who participates provides a topic summary and identifies any potential issues. Then, the student is asked questions to stimulate critical thinking and also learn to quickly respond. Any student who completes the exercise is awarded extra points toward their final homework grade --- as participating students are pushed beyond the basic course requirements.
* Encourage Interaction - Students are encouraged to get to know, learn from, and help each other in the classroom. This type of engagement is stimulated by providing students with opportunities to obtain additional information about each other on a personal level --- sometimes by sharing their vulnerabilities. By being vulnerable in the classroom and admitting to personal challenges, this helps students to remove unnecessary barriers due to their reservations. This approach also increases opportunities for students to bond beyond being in the same classroom.
* Request Input Throughout the Course - Students are encouraged to provide input throughout the course. The normal evaluation process obtains student feedback about a course after its ended. This input can be useful; although, it doesn’t do anything to change the current learning environment. Therefore, students are given an anonymous survey to complete around the fourth week of classes to identify things that are liked or any opportunities for improvement. Any changes that can be implemented during the current semester are made as soon as possible.
* Develop Shareable Course Content - Students are given my personally developed course content to minimize the need to take notes during class, which provides students with better opportunities to actively learn and engage with the topics discussed real-time instead of focusing on taking copious notes.
* Homework After Each Class - Students are given homework assignments after each class related to the topics discussed. This strategy provides another opportunity to convey course concepts, for students to master the subject matter, and for me (as the instructor) to gauge student comprehension.
* De-emphasize Exams - Testing is a measurement of knowledge, which doesn’t always properly capture concept comprehension, retention, or mastery. During testing, students may provide answers based on course concepts and terminology, but still don’t understand its importance. Also, translating this to corporate organizations, there is seldom a time that a worker is given a written exam. In a corporate setting, if someone doesn’t know an answer, then the individual researches it or asks for help. This approach shouldn’t be any different in a classroom setting either.
Learning can be performed independently; however, active and collaborative learning are beneficial not only for an individual learner but can also expedite organizational learning, too.
It’s time to rethink the way college business classes are taught to create learning environments that are better aligned with corporate expectations for well-rounded and collaborative resources who are prepared to make immediate contributions on their first day on the job. In turn, corporations will receive resources that are: less afraid to take risks due to potential embarrassment, better prepared to think critically, more willing to communicate their ideas, and most importantly focused on organizational versus individual excellence.