For the next 11 days I will be in Cambridge, MA studying at Harvard Business School. This is a real thrill for me since I will be able to witness first hand how one of the most prestigious and well known academic institutions operates. The Global Colloquium for Participant-Centred Learning is an Executive Education program that above all trains business school instructors how to teach using the case method. In doing so this exposes us to the core of HBS, and offers a chance to think deeply about how to improve the experience of our students. The program will reconvene in early 2010 either in Boston or Shanghai with an intensive case study writing workshop, so by the conclusion I fully expect to have been transformed as a teacher.
My colleagues have been through this program for the last few years, and every one of them has returned full of enthusiasm and genuinely impressed. However I've expressed skepticism in the past about the use of cases for three main reasons:
- Most of the support for the case method applies to participant-centred learning more generally. But techniques such as experiments, field trips, discussion groups, simulations, problem sets, are fundamentally different. To what extent can we disentangle the case method from similar techniques?
- In macroeconomics in particular a class discussion can be a waste of time if students arrive with faulty mental models. More so than softer modules, there are theories, models, and historical narratives that I need to get across prior to students forming opinions or interpretations. Theory comes before history. Although I already use cases for managerial sections of my courses, for the macro side the closest I've come is exercises and simulations. Are there any macroeconomic cases that also reveal the theoretical aspects I want to get across?
- This last point refers to a massive debate about rigour vs. relevance, but the bottom line is simple: cases must be built on solid theory. They can be fundamentally unscholarly in their lack of citations and biased view of a topic, and in many cases this is presented as a strength. If a case misrepresents an argument, or ignores relevant information, it is flawed. They need to be robust.
Aside from the above issues that I look forward to exploring, I am hoping to develop the following:
- Pedagogy: By entering the classroom again as a student, and experiencing the teaching styles (and theory) of some famous practitioners, I intend to understand more about how I teach and how I can improve
- Material: Being exposed to many cases should give me ideas about cases to use and cases to write. I have brought with me notes for potential cases and especially in light of the second part of the program I hope to come away with new cases to teach with
- Organisation: Harvard is an industry leader. I intend to observe all aspects of the Program Management to learn more about the effective delivery of education. As a director of one of our most popular programs any insights I can glean I'll be looking to bring back to London and implement
- Management: By studying from some of the most famous cases in management from the teachers on the HBS MBA program, I am hoping to develop my skills as a manager.
- Networking: As ever the best resource for a student is fellow students. I'm looking forward to the intensive workshops with fellow teachers from all over the world, hoping to take away not only ideas but personal contacts.
Over the course of the next 2 weeks I'll be posting sporodic comments based on the above categories. I will not be revealing anything about the class discussions or attributing anything directly to instructors or other participants. I believe strongly that classrooms should be held under Chatham House rules (public lectures are obviously different and I'm happy for these to be recorded). I will also try to refrain from posting detailed thoughts or comments related to the cases that we use in class. I imagine the internet poses a real challange for the case method since students can "prepare" by searching the internet before hand and gleaning other people's insights. I will try not contribute to that, but if I feel a particular case fails, I may choose to explain why. Finally, I vow to update the 'class' section of my personal website in response to how I develop.