Teaching Management for non-Managers – The Flipped Classroom

Posted by jlubans on March 25, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I completed a long piece about my teaching experiences in Riga. This was for Del Williams, the editor of Advances in Library Administration and Organization.

The essay gave me an opportunity to reflect and philosophize about how I teach, and whether mine is a good approach; do the positives pile higher than the negatives?

The traditional approach to teaching management of libraries, and most any other type of graduate class, is lecture/textbook. I took a different approach in the mid-80s when my wife and I first team taught our class – no textbook. Our assigned readings included a few of my essays and dozens of the classics in the field of management and leadership theory including two or three by librarians. We lectured about the usual management topics (personnel work, systems analysis, organizational culture, the political process, budgets, and administration) but only enough to lay a basic foundation of understanding. We emphasized case studies, experiential activities (group work – even a “day in the woods”,) conflict resolution, and we made use of several self-tests including ones for conflict, teamwork, management style, and organizational culture.

Also, we asked for student feedback through the plus/delta (what’s working, what needs change?) Always, at semester’s end we used an anonymous version plus/delta to get student input in time to make changes for the next semester.
Every class session included at least one or more small group discussions of course content. (Retrospectively, one could say that we “flipped” – an unfortunate term - the classroom, the peer teaching innovation now used increasingly to help students master concepts (with statistical evidence that it far surpasses the lecture in learning by students – see my notes below about flipping).

We never did a department-by-department analysis of “the library.” Instead we kept a wide focus and drew from all of the organizational literature; after all, both my wife were graduates of a rigorous master’s program in public administration at the University of Houston. This program required statistical analysis, microeconomics, political theory and organizational development. We found all these to be highly relevant to our library careers and we adapted what we learned to fit our teaching.

Our case studies, a library budget group assignment, and a solo building renovation project, did draw on library experiences and, in class discussion, we encouraged students to talk about their work experience (often in libraries) and to make the connections between library work and theories mentioned in the class. So, we did not exclude the library per se. We just assumed students would come to better understand “the library” through personal experience and through the eyes of their peers. And, they did.
We knew from our own experience as administrators in libraries and other not-for-profits that there was little unique about budgeting in the library, nor was there much difference in personnel work when compared to other not-for-profit bureaucracies, and in many cases, for-profit organizations.
My day-job added another dimension to my teaching as a Visiting Professor. I was in charge of a major reform initiative in a large library. We undertook to improve in dozens of ways what we did and how we did it, all within existing resources. My leadership approach was to turn to self-managing teams and to encourage participation by everyone - regardless of status - who wanted to be involved. (I discovered that the best ideas came from support staff who had been doing the work for ages; their input largely ignored by the professionals.)
We had good success, indeed remarkable success. My teams accomplished what we set out to do, something that previous change initiatives - led by the foremost experts - had failed to achieve. (For more on this surge in productivity and innovation see the “Teams That Were” chapter in the Leading from the Middle book.)

In the class, most students relished our approach. By the end of the course they understood many management concepts and, even if they would never be managers, they now understood what it meant to be managed. We had some excellent students and these students were among the ones that offered us the most encouraging feedback about the class and its design. For them, our bringing in the theory from outside the field and small group work were highly important for personal development. Also, our insights about organizational culture and the political process opened their eyes to a better understanding of why organizations behave the way they do.

Overtime, I have come to realize that if you have students who want to be challenged, who want fresh perspectives, who want to learn about themselves, and who want to work with other people in doing a good job, that the best thing we can do is to de-emphasize the lecture and increase opportunities which help hone their skills in getting along with others – either by leading or following - and in understanding why some groups reach their goals and why some groups drift aimlessly.
So, in Riga, a year ago, I built on my previous classroom experiences and then further de-emphasized the lecture. I believe my teaching in Latvia worked well because the students were very well prepared and engaged for each class. Their engagement, intelligence and my approach to teaching enabled them to make conceptual connections across the course.
David Hestenes, one of the pioneers in the anti-lecture (or “flipping the classroom”) movement, puts up a cautionary note: "Students have to be active in developing their knowledge. They can't passively assimilate it." Indeed, some students disagree about flipping. They prefer the lecture model because it is less demanding of them than peer teaching (another term for flipping). When peer-teaching students have to do the assigned work before class; a lectures-only approach can permit procrastination to reign until the night before the final.
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Here are some notes about the anti-lecture for your own exploration:
Berrett, Dan. “How 'Flipping' the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture” The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 19, 2012
This article provides an example of the so-called “flipped” class – in this case, an evolutionary biology class at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Some students enjoy the "flipped" lectures that require them to help one another understand the material. Others resent being forced to work in groups.”

Hanford, Emily. Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool.
January 1, 2012 from American Public Media (APM) broadcast on National Public Radio.
Hanford’s study is notable because it uses test data to show that different approaches to teaching and learning (mostly small groups and peer discussion) are vastly superior to the lecture for learning concepts.
Also, from the NPR URL there is a link to several other stories and research by Ms. Hanford for APM:
These include: “Rethinking the Way College Students Learn”; “Rethinking the Way College Students are Taught”; “The Problem with Lecturing”; and, “Inventing a New Kind of College”. Also, her “Reporter’s Notebook” has insights about alternatives to the lecture.
Washington Post “Some academics dismiss appeal, value of lectures.” Washington Post, February 17, 2012, online at


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