Archive for the ‘curriculum’ Category

rigor-cientc3adfico1Several years ago the Provost at our university asked all department heads to report on what we were doing to ensure academic rigor in our programs.   After several rounds of discussion with department faculty, I drafted a memo for the Provost.  Following is that memo – I hope that you find it instructive.

TO: Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
FROM: Dr. Percy Trappe,  Department Head
RE: Memo on Academic Rigor
DATE: April 2012

The faculty members in our department believe that the following five core principles form the foundation of academic rigor:

Principle #1 – Rigor is a Commitment that should be Articulated in a Program’s Mission & Values
Our faculty have collectively developed a Mission and Values statement that clearly articulates a commitment to an active, experiential learning environment that prepares students to apply their knowledge.  The department emphasizes the high value placed on continuous improvement, collaboration, the promotion of individual strengths, and stakeholder relationships.

Principle #2 – Rigor is Defined within a Program’s Learning Outcomes
Program-level learning outcomes that traverse individual courses promote a culture of academic rigor.  Integrated coursework where prerequisite courses enable higher level learning in subsequent courses promotes faculty collaboration and the development of consistent, systematic and measurable standards.   Courses in our department contribute to two different sets of Program Learning Outcomes: (1) College Core, and (2) our degree programs.   The accreditation of our program provides external validation of these learning outcomes.

Principle #3 – Rigor is Refined through Continuous Improvement and Assessment
Faculty members utilize feedback from systematic assessment in order to continuously improve the curriculum content and meet the needs of our stakeholders.   Employers, alumni and the department’s advisory board are actively engaged in a formal process of feedback and improvement.

Principle #4 – Rigor is a Collective Faculty Value
Ultimately individual faculty members are responsible for the rigor within their classroom.   In our department each course has a faculty leader.  This faculty member is responsible for working with other faculty members to ensure that learning objectives are met and a reasonable level of consistency in academic rigor exists across sections.

Principle #5 – Rigor is Refined through Faculty Evaluation
As part of the faculty evaluation process, the department head and members of the faculty advisory committee give faculty members feedback regarding how well they are meeting expectations of academic rigor and, if needed, offer suggestions on how to increase academic rigor in their classroom.

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe


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Experiential-Learning-Chart-300x200Experiential learning, often referred to as “Learn by Doing”, focuses on hands on learning inside and outside the classroom.   Recently, Deans at two prominent business schools have emphasized the importance of experiential learning.

Nitin Nohria, Dean of the Harvard Business School, recently wrote an article entitled “What Business Schools Can Learn from the Medical Profession”.  He states:

“The clinical experience gained by fledgling doctors is an ideal example of how professional schools address the “knowing-doing gap.”  To give MBA students a dose of real-world experience, HBS is introducing its biggest curriculum change in nearly 90 years. Students in our Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development program will engage in practice-oriented activities throughout the year. This work has begun on campus, where students have been taking product development workshops and crafting investment pitches. But the program’s most ambitious aspect starts in January 2012, when HBS will send the entire first-year class—more than 900 students—abroad to developing markets, where they will work in teams of six with a multinational or a local company to develop a new product or service offering.

Our goal is not only to enhance the experience of our students but to improve management pedagogy. That is what HBS did with the case study method, which is now used universally. It’s time to do the same with managerial field training. Our commitment is to learn how the experience should be structured, what role the faculty should play, and what company support is required, in order to develop a method that other institutions can embrace.”

At the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Dean Alison Davis-Blake wrote about the virtues of experiential learning in the article ‘Learn by Doing Across the Globe’.

This is an exciting week at Ross as we kick off our 2014 MAP team projects. That means that more than 450 first-year MBAs are heading out to tackle real business challenges with nearly 90 companies and organizations in more than 20 different countries. They will spend seven weeks working side-by-side with some of the top practitioners in fields such as marketing, healthcare, manufacturing, and nonprofit management. Companies and organizations including Amazon, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, ICIC Bank, World Wildlife Fund, and many more around the world will put our teams to work on projects from new market entry to digital banking to supply chain strategy.

The MAP experience integrates and applies the lessons our students have learned in the classroom and is a hallmark of our focus on action-based learning.

Clearly experiential learning is an important emphasis in the world’s leading business schools.   What role does it play at your university?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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visionI recently read the 2012-2013 President’s Report for Clarkson University. In the report I found something very interesting – a “Vision of a Clarkson Education”. Unlike most university mission statements, the focus was on the educational experience offered at the university. I am impressed. The vision talks about the “what the education is designed to enable the students to do” and talks about a the characteristics of their “personal and friendly learning environment”. Bravo!    Below are some of the highlights of Clarkson’s vision statement:

  • The Clarkson University educational experience is designed to provide talented and ambitious students with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve positions of leadership within their chosen profession.
  • A Clarkson education is designed to enable students to solve real-world, open-ended problems with creativity and risk taking to obtain solutions that are practical and sustainable.
  • A Clarkson education is designed to develop and refine exceptional communication skills with an awareness of potential cultural differences and to lead effectively and work productively within disciplinary and multidisciplinary teams composed of members with diverse interests and backgrounds.
  • A Clarkson student’s education is greatly enhanced by a personal and friendly learning environment.
  • A Clarkson student’s education draws undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff together into a cohesive and stimulating learning community, wherein an atmosphere of scholarship and spirit of research is cultivated.
  • Together, these provide a unique educational experience that is directed toward developing the whole person.

I am often struck by the importance of the words that we speak.   Clarkson is speaking volumes.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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The culture of an academic institution is the key to success.  No other factor plays a greater role.  I  have been fortunate to work with a Dean who has done an outstanding job of developing a highly productive academic culture.  Interestingly, this Dean never formally articulated this culture.   Here is my attempt to define the values  of our College of Business:

  1. Continuous improvement of curriculum, faculty and administration: Faculty, administration and staff utilize feedback  in order to continuously improve the curriculum and meet the needs of our students and other stakeholders.
  2. Respect for diversity of academic disciplines and differing opinions: Our school includes faculty in multiple fields who participate in their respective fields through scholarly research and engaged teaching.  Faculty strive to integrate this research into the educational process.
  3. Collaboration, teamwork, and the promotion of individual strengths: Our school maintains a collegial and supportive culture with a respect for each individual’s talents and ideas, and an environment that supports success and the pursuit of excellence.
  4. Dynamic stakeholder relationships: We build mutually beneficial relationships with students, business, government, and alumni communities in order to increase our value to all constituents and supplement our resource base.
  5. Service to diverse group of stakeholders: Our school  provides leadership and performs service to all levels of the university, for academic and professional organizations, and in the business community.  We utilize our professional knowledge, skills, and talents to the betterment of the community at large.

What do you think?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Our previous generations of leaders were raised in an environment where elocution, the art of giving speeches, was an integral part of their education.   Abraham Lincoln was greatly influenced by the book Lessons in Elocution or a Selection of Pieces in Prose and Verse for the Improvement of Youth in Reading and Speaking by William Scott.   (see “The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words” by Ronald C. White)  Henry Ford was greatly influenced by the McGuffy Readers.   (See Wikipedia)   Both of these books  not only taught reading skills and classic literature but also imparted idealized middle class virtues to millions of schoolchildren.

McGuffey and Scott believed that students should read aloud in their classes.  Formal public speaking  in 19th-century America was a common requirement for students.

These books contain stories filled with virtue.  Folks just don’t write like this anymore.  Kings, queens, and military leaders are presented as great moral leaders (or failures).  Fables are a steady fare.

Virtue is missing in today’s society.   Perhaps reintroducing elocution into the modern curriculum would be a beginning.

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Franklin Folts – Harvard Business School 1930’s to 1950’s

I am becoming a student of “classic” management literature – that is titles from 1840 – 1940.  Today I purchased a copy of the book Introduction to Industrial Management by Franklin E. Folts (McGraw-Hill, 1938 – pg 369-370).  Franklin Folts was a professor of industrial management in the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.   I am fascinated by the moral grounding of the practicing executives in the book.  Following is a quote from the executive of the Panther Manufacturing Company:

I believe that an executive’s word must be as good as his bond.  If he tells his men that he will follow a certain course, he must stick to that course even though circumstances develop which were not foreseen.  ……..  Now it happened that in one of the first studies by our time-study department, an error was made by one of our engineers.  As a result of this mistake, the men who performed a certain task could earn a bonus of 150% to 175% which of course was excessive.  When the matter came up for discussion with the conference committee, it was evident that the workmen expected me to ask the have the rate revised, but I told them that the rate would have to stand, first, because I had agreed to make no revisions downward except under specified conditions, none of which actually existed, and secondly, because they were in no way responsible for the error.  The incident occurred four years ago.  The rate is still in effect.  I have always considered not only was this the one honest course I could follow, but that it was good business as well, for when the men found that I was willing to stay by my word on that particular rate, they were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt on subsequent new rates as they came up for consideration.

Do professors try to instill this kind of integrity in their students today?  Is “staying true to your word” a value in today’s business world?  I wish that Professor Folts had published the name of the executive at Panther Manufacturing Company.  He sounds like the kind of person I would like to be associated with.

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Three Legged Stool

Three Legged Stool

About ten years ago, I was engaged in a curriculum discussion with a professor of marketing about the true core of the business curriculum.  This learned professor stated that, in his opinion, there were three foundations to business:

  1. sales and marketing,
  2. finance and accounting, and
  3. business operations.

Over the years I have found this “foundation” to be solid and instructive when considering the core business curriculum.

As I contemplate the “foundation” of the dean’s office, I am left with a very similar three legged stool.  Here is the proposed stool and the rational for this foundation:

  1. Communication.  The dean’s office must communicate effectively with its constituents – department heads, upper level university administrators, faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends.  On one level this is ‘marketing’ – defining and maintaining the brand of the college.  On another level this is plain old ‘respect’.  Constituents deserve the respect of being kept in the loop.  Communication by email is not sufficient.  Listening is a very important skill.
  2. Data. The dean’s office should take a data driven approach to its decision making.  Data in the form of budgets, alumni giving, enrollments, FTE’s, assessment results, survey results, etc. should be collected, analyzed and distributed.   Data should be a foundation for decision making.  This parallels the accounting function within the business environment.
  3. Process. The dean’s office should be process driven.  Most faculty handbooks clearly define processes for promotion & tenure, annual evaluations, faculty hiring, curriculum assessment, curriculum change, etc. .  These processes should be clearly documented and the outcomes clear.

Where is “management”?  Where is “leadership and vision” in this equation?  In my opinion, the effective leader will stay true to the mission and strategic direction of the institution and develop the ‘plan of action’ based on this mission.  Leadership requires adopting the the circumstances and charting a clear course that is shared by all.

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