It’s been a packed last couple of weeks, leaving me picking up the pieces and trying to clear some of my grading backlog before the Thanksgiving break. Rather than leave the blog alone for another week, let’s try an open thread based around something that’s come to mind just now, namely: Business degrees and the pedagogy used in the curricula for those degrees.
The usual way business courses play out is the usual way any set of courses plays out: You have a sequence of classes on various topics, the early ones being mainly theoretical or overview courses, maybe not in the business department at all. (For example, all business majors at my school have to take Calculus, which is why I am thinking about this in the first place.) The classes get more specialized and, usually, harder as you climb the ladder. Eventually you get to the top of the degree program and have a “seminar” class that is project-based, usually involving case studies.
So, for your discussion, consider this idea: Business degrees should not be conducted in this way. Instead, EVERY course should be project-based, beginning with the first semester of the freshman year and continuing on. (For the sake of argument, restrict your attention just to courses in the business department, not outside classes like calculus.) You can have a syllabus of basic learning outcomes for business majors if you like, and maybe some way of assessing student acquisition of those outcomes prior to graduation, but EVERY business class should be predicated on project-based learning — and let students go learn the theory on their own, with professor guidance if necessary, if and only if that theory has something to say about the project they’re working on. Courses based on imparting “material” through lectures or lab assignments disconnected from the context of a specific problem would be eliminated.
I’m not saying I am in favor of this. It’s just a provocative alternative. Discuss.
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Excellent blog post in the NY Times website this morning telling us that the choice of college major is not as important as we think. The author shares this research finding:
A University of Texas at Austin professor, Daniel Hamermesh, researched career earnings data sorted by choice of major and concluded that:
“Perceptions of the variations in economic success among graduates in different majors are exaggerated. Our results imply that given a student’s ability, achievement and effort, his or her earnings do not vary all that greatly with the choice of undergraduate major.”
A study conducted by PayScale Inc. found that history majors who pursued careers in business ended up earning, on average, just as much as business majors.
The author goes on to cite four reasons why a liberal arts major would be a fine choice for career-minded college students, including the development of transferable skills and the value — both personal and professional — of majoring in something you truly enjoy rather than something you don’t enjoy but think might be useful someday.
I’m reminded of this great post over at Cal Newport’s blog from last year in which he advises prospective business majors not to major in business but rather to choose a classical liberal arts major and then take 4-6 math courses on the side. That amounts to majoring in something like economics or history and then getting a math minor. The liberal arts major will show employers that you are broadly educated and have those transferable skills, such as the ability to do research and communicate clearly in oral and written forms. Then the math minor adds a significant amount of training to show that you can handle quantitative information — a skill sorely lacking among a huge portion of new job marketeers today — and that you’re not in the liberal arts major to avoid hard work, which is unfortunately a common public perception of liberal arts programs. (That perception is something that we who work in the liberal arts colleges are partially responsible for perpetuating by not communicating the value of the liberal arts clearly enough.)
This combination doesn’t always work — engineering, for instance, really does require a degree in engineering at some point — and the student who goes this route takes on a double responsibility for making sure his or her liberal arts degree is really academically rigorous and for being ready to explain to hard-headed employers that they have the skills that will make them viable in the long term as employees. But I think it’s right to tell students to first study what they love, and then worry about the career part a little later. I’m certainly advising my own students to that effect. And given that most jobs are going to require new employees to learn on the fly the things they need to know anyway, it makes sense to develop students’ passions for learning and abilities to learn on their own, which is IMO one of the major things a liberal arts education is good for.
In a comment on an earlier post, I said I would try to blog about Flat World Knowledge and their business model soon. Here’s a 20-minute video that goes over this business model which allows textbooks to be free but still provides compensation to authors.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Again: Free textbooks can be done; it just requires a different approach than the one we’re used to.