Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Good Beginning To The Semester

It was the 2nd day of classes today, and the first case of the semester in my advanced corporate (case) class. It probably went as well as any class I remember teaching. I intentionally chose a lighter case - some number crunching, but more descriptive/intuitive than computational. But it made for a good warmup and tone-setter for the class.

One thing that helped was that almost everyone in class (with maybe two exceptions) had something to add. Another was that I knew almost all their names already (at the end of the first class, I had them hold a piece of paper in front of them with an assigned number listed on my class roll. I took their pictures one by one with a digital camera, and after shrinking and cropping the photo and putting them on two sheets with names, I had a "cheat sheet" that I could review. The whole process took about less than an hour, and I probably will be able to do it in half that next time. They were surprised, since none of their professors had ever gotten their names down so fast. Of course, at a better school, I'd be given the pictures automatically, but them's the breaks.

I like teaching cases, but having a successful class is largely a matter of student preparation and participation (if they're prepared and participate, most problems are solvable, but if not, you're screwed). And it definitely leads to better preparation on the part of the students if they know that I know who they are and WILL be calling on them - by name.

As for today, in a 75 minute class, we heard from 25 of the 27 students (often multiple times). Even more encouraging, some of the quieter students that I'd had in prior classes seem to be the most vocal.

As an aside, I informed the class on the first day of class that they'd be given a quiz on the third day (i.e. in one week's time) that covers selected skills and knowledge they should have obtained from the principles class (like time value, DCF valuation, NPV/IRR, common financial ratios, etc...). I gave them a very detailed list covering what they should know, so they have no surprises (it's in the syllabus and was even emailed out to the students the week before classes started). This should send the message regarding what they know coming in to the class in order to succeed in the class.

The combination of the high visibility and the quiz on prereqs might have something to do with the fact that of the 30 or so that started the class, six have already dropped after only the 2nd class. It might be that, or it could be the usual adding and dropping that happens in the first week (I call the in-and-outers "tourists"). I guess they went back over the border.

Either way, it's a smaller class, and the remaining ones will get a lot more attention and should be better prepared.

So, the semester is now officially off and running.

Update: Businesspundit links to a piece on changes in the way cases are taught at Columbia here.