The Economist in an article in [opens in new tab] its February 8 edition adds to the periodic lament that we have been hearing about business schools for decades. In another article it talks about implications of MOOCs. We know that the long standing issue is the colonisation of the business schools by the so called ‘academic guilds’ since the early 60’s, and the envious mimicking of the likes of Harvard that forces business schools to splurge on buildings . But this time the main factor, as might have guessed it, threatening the business schools is technology, i.e., MOOCs et al. But the article makes some very interesting and thought provoking points that are often not realised by those who run business schools. First, business schools are more like film studios rather than hair salons, so the essential nature of the service is different as there is creativity of a different kind involved. Second, textbook publishing companies are now the direct competitors of universities because of the former’s access to technology and content creation. The top tier university may survive a little longer due to the ‘reputation’ effect, but the middle tier will soon loose out. Actually, I am already seeing these pressures in my experiences and interactions with people in the mid tier.
Novak, E., Johnson, T. E., Tenenbaum, G., & Shute, V. J. 2014. Effects of an instructional gaming characteristic on learning effectiveness, efficiency, and engagement: using a storyline for teaching basic statistical skills. Interactive Learning Environments: 1-16.
The experiment: Students in a statistics course were provided problems with an added element termed as a ‘storyline game characteristic’ whereby a real life scenario was created and a statistical problem was embedded in it.
Experiment outcome: The storyline did not increase student performance or engagement.
My take on it: I suspect that what the researchers call the storyline element is in fact not a proper story. They do not provide details on what constituted the storyline except a screen grab (figure 2 p.6) and a brief description (p.6). The students play the role of a career coach and advise clients on the best career options based on the statistical information provided. In this situation it is obvious that adding the role playing element may have unlikely enhanced cognitive elements of problem. Such add ons may inhibit learning as the storyline is not an intrinsic part of the problem but a diversion; The authors do highlight this point. in the discussion section. But then this begs the question: how to create learning experiences involving problem solving embedded in a story in the proper literary sense of the word? My literature scan continues to look for answers …
The authors highlight variance in emotional experience of learners to games; this is a good point which I guess I have overlooked so far assuming that everyone experiences games in the same way. Some students may like to get on with the task of learning the concept in a drill-like fashion and getting on with their lives without the messy emotional entanglements associated with games, but others may enjoy the visceral experiences. But then it is also said that stories are the fundamental means through which humans learn. This issue needs further exploration I guess…
Other useful finds: The article provides a proxy for measuring ‘student engagement’: The Instructional Material Motivation Survey (IMMS) developed by Song & Keller (2001). Given my special interest in the topic of engagement in interaction design, this could provide interesting clues as to how the L&T crowd views engagement (as opposed to game developers, movie makers, web designers, writers etc!)
“…games are good at showing and embodying processes, rather than delivering raw facts. Games give players the opportunity to get their fingers into a system, muck about with it, and see the results. ” Eric Zimmerman
In Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow, he argues that there are serious cognitive issues faced by those who teach psychology. Hence the question: Can psychology be taught? Daniel reports an experiment which showed that if a human is under distress, it is less likely that other humans will come to the distressed person’s rescue if they knew that the condition of the distressed person is known by others. In other words, most of them will avoid to take action. This is an awkwardly counter intuitive behaviour which no one would admit to follow if asked. Students who were simply told about this behaviour still continued to misjudge the potential reaction of a random individual who was shown in a video to be giving a general impression of being friendly and helpful! In other words, the mere presentation of a (statistical) fact about human behaviour will not affect a related behaviour of students. If you present a generalised statistical fact about human behaviour to students, a statistical inference that goes against the so called ‘common sense’, students will visibly accept it, pass assessments recalling their ‘learning’ BUT if you put those very same students in a specific situation related to the statistical generalisation of human behaviour, the new learning that highilghted will not affect student behaviour. Therefore according to Daniel “teaching psychology is probably a waste of time” (p.170).
But he also presents a solution which for me hold a profound insight on designing learning. Another set of students were first shown videos of friendly looking people and told also that those people did not come to the rescue of distressed individuals. The students were then asked to guess global results from these specific ‘case studies’. Student responses accurately represented the statistically determined outcomes from experiments. In other words, when students were surprised by presenting a specific scenario that went against common sense (two friendly looking people not helping others), the students immediately realised that helping others is a difficult behaviour to follow.
Daniel says: “surprising individual cases have a powerful impact and are a more effective tool for teaching psychology because the incongruity must be resolved and embeded in a causal story” (p.174)
I am thinking to what extent the above scenario applies to business education as well? Particularly the ‘fluffy’ units such as leadership, management, and entrepreneurship where we tend to present ‘facts’ and abstract concepts without (emotional charged) surprises that abound in those domains.