Teaching MBA students

When I started my PhD it was clear for me that I wanted to connect with others, exchange ideas and to receive as much feedback as I could. I also wanted to work with organisations, to learn how they function, and I wanted to make my own contribution, hopefully doing something impactful and meaningful. Thus, for the years to come, 1) consulting and research-projects with companies and 2) writing about my findings as well as presenting/discussing them were my main priorities. Of course, I also taught courses. Quite a few, actually. And I liked teaching and the students were happy, too. But I knew that very good teaching evaluations would not help me to move forward in my career. Hiring committees – at least in Information Systems (IS) – seem to be mostly interested in good publications… which is sad.

It’s now 4 months since I have joined Victoria University. And, quite surprisingly for me, the most striking experiences I had so far were in teaching. I teach taught a project course in our Master of Business Analysis Programme and the only IS course in our Business School’s current MBA programme. I found the later one the most challenging, but also the most satisfying teaching experience I had so far. I had 30 students in the class – which allows for a lot of interaction. And I thoroughly enjoyed those two evening hours every week. I learned a lot – about specific examples how NZ companies are run, what topics the students found useful… but also about how to teach these professionals and how not to.

Let me share some of the learnings from teaching this course. If I find the time I will share more in another post:

  • Many of the students were older than me and had much more practical experience. I acknowledged that in the beginning and told them that I expect an MBA class to be a discourse where I facilitate and set the rules and where they learn from me, but also from each other. The format I used was: The first part of the class (which took 75% of the time) was spent discussing the topic that they had prepared (by reading a case study). I used a whiteboard to collect their input and shared it via slides after the class.  During the second part I introduced the topic for the next week. The students enjoyed the format and during some classes I had input from 22 (out of 25-28 attending) students. At 9pm…
  • In order to have this open format I felt that I needed to earn their respect. The obvious way, according to senior colleagues, is to show case that I know quite a bit about the topics. Which I did, of course, it was my first course at the new uni, after all. But I feel now, that it was much more important to build trust by being honest and 100% transparent in my decisions. E.g., I got some of the nicest feedback (personally and via email) after I shared what I perceived could have gone better, i.e. where I made mistakes.
  • For example, one mistake I made was trying to show them how some of their class mates had solved their assignments. I was really impressed with some of the student reports, so I thought sharing is a good idea. It turned out that the students liked to discuss with others and where very open to hear other ideas – but after that they preferred to hear my thoughts and “solutions” rather than a collection of what others did. 
  • Case studies are great. This is not completely new, not to me – I did my PhD based on case studies and published many more since then – and also, not to others: some guys at Harvard have been making a lot of money since many years. But for an MBA class on Information Systems (and for many diverse topics like IT-Security, Big Data, Ethics, IT-Strategy, …) there is nothing better. It was surprising to me that there are practically no case studies about some topics that have been around since years: Social Media, Digital Innovation, … I am motivated to write some case studies myself, to fill this gap.

I enjoyed teaching this MBA class so much that I applied for the position of “academic leader” of our new Executive MBA programme… I got it and I am looking forward to engaging more with our MBA students in the future.

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