Entries for August 2005

Apple customer service rocks!

My laptop screen started acting strangely last Saturday, and disappeared entirely by Saturday night, so on Sunday, we took my iBook out to the Apple Store at Legacy Village. They verified that I needed a new logic board, confirmed that the repairs would be covered by Apple, and asked whether I wanted the repaired laptop to be shipped to the store or to my home. I had the use of a Windows-based laptop, courtesy of the Weatherhead Help Desk, for just long enough to drive me nearly insane, and provoke me to make a solemn vow that I will never, ever go back to the dark side again. My iBook arrived on our doorstep a few moments ago, good as new, and I am so happy with the very quick turnaround time that I am likely to forget that the laptop ever was broken in the first place.

I'm not the only one experimenting....

Youngjin Yoo will also be using blogs again in his classes this fall, and he's also teaching a hybrid online/face-to-face Saturday MBA course.

Short blog entry today because I want to get some more research done before I meet our new MGMT 250 students next Tuesday!

what is it about college that helps students learn?

Oops, I missed two full weekdays of blogging? To be honest, I've been holed up in the library, getting up to speed on the literature in developmental psychology and adult learning and development. I'm writing a research proposal to gather data on the general topic, "what is it about college that helps students learn?" Specifically, I'm applying for approval from the Case IRB to analyze which elements of the MGMT 250-251 course sequence have the most powerful impact on students. I want to know how much students are improving in their critical thinking skills, systems thinking skills, and emotional intelligence. Do they really become self-directed learners by the end of their sophomore year? If so, what is it about their experience which helps them to develop, and if not, what else might we try so that they will gain the skills needed to be self-directed learners?

So far, the most useful resource has been the book In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life, by Robert Kegan. Kegan proposes a developmental model for human beings, and asserts that by the end of adolescence, most of us are firmly beyond the second stage of development of our consciousness. We enter into college at the time when we should be solidifying our grasp on the third stage, or order of consciousness, which Kegan calls "traditionalism" ( see figure 9.1, pp. 314-315 in In Over Our Heads). My aim for our undergraduates in management is that by the end of four years of college, they should have a firm grasp of traditionalism, and be moving beyond it into the fourth order of consciousness, "modernism" in Kegan's framework.

The thing is, Kegan's ongoing studies show that most people are not at this forth order of consciousness when they enter graduate programs, even if they are in their thirties or forties. So my dilemma is whether I am setting expectations too high for our undergraduates, or whether we as a society are not setting expectations high enough?

It's a very valuable exercise, to be framing this research. It is pushing me to be explicit about the kinds of skills I expect our undergraduates to be developing, not just in laypersons' terms, but in terms of what scholars have concluded are common patterns of intellectual and moral development.

why I ask students to blog

Below is the beginning of the assignment instructions that I will distribute to the students in MGMT 250. If anyone has any comments or suggestions, I would welcome your thoughts!

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Here’s what Hillary Johnson said about blogging in Inc Magazine:

“Most people think of blogs as public diaries kept by the kinds of egotists who make loud, inappropriate political comments at family barbecues or hog the discussion at book clubs, or wannabe journalists who post inflammatory stories with no fact-checking. … For me, a woman who didn't graduate from Stanford and doesn't live in Silicon Valley, reading blogs by other entrepreneurs provides unexpected access to a virtual peer group.”

Students in MGMT 250 this fall will be offered the option of maintaining a blog and commenting on the blogs of other class participants. Any student who wishes to earn a B or an A for their final course grade will need to complete this assignment. There are three goals of this assignment:

° To encourage students to reflect on what they are learning and what they want to learn about the management of organizations and people
° To provide valuable practice in written communication and impression management
° To facilitate the development of connections among students and between students and course staff that will deepen the learning experience

Reflecting carefully on your own thinking is a very important skill to cultivate. Whether you are planning to enter management or any other professional field, your learning will not end on the day you graduate from college. You will need to engage in lifelong learning, which involves developing a sense of how to sort through different sources of information and distinguish between facts, well-reasoned judgments or conclusions, and poorly supported opinions. To encourage you to develop this skill in reflecting carefully on your own thinking, this course blogging assignment will challenge you to go beyond simply stating your opinion, or quoting a source that you respect and accepting its assertions at face value. In your course blog entries, we will challenge you to state not only what you believe about managing organizations and people, but also why you believe it. Developing your skill in articulating and advocating for your beliefs will help you become a more effective manager or professional.

Good to know we're not alone

"B-schools in constant turmoil, flavor-of-the-month curriculum changes, and admissions decisions based on job-placement concerns instead of academics." Business Week comments on some recent criticisms of b-school rankings.

Ted Snyder, who I knew when I studied at the University of Michigan, is quoted at the end of the article, with the philosophy that I have heard all business-school administrators express at one point or another: "Rankings are part of the competitive terrain. Ranks are feedback. Rankings are not our identity." The question is, do they act on that philosophy, or do they treat the feedback as data as a to-do list? I'd rather see them treat the feedback as data in need of interpretation, conducted through ongoing conversations with their faculty, trustees, and other stakeholders. As the Business Week article makes clear, there are at least two schools of thought about what is wrong with business schools, and how their problems should be addressed. I'm glad to hear that other schools are considering some of the same dilemmas that we are wrestling with at Weatherhead.

There are a lot of ranking systems out there, and they are not without controversy. Each uses some criteria not used by the others, but many of them omit criteria which insiders might consider important. Endowment management, for instance, is not taken into account in the Business Week or US News and World Report rankings. Furthermore, many include data which prospective students might consider relevant, but is not necessarily an indication of educational quality, such as the percentage of applicants rejected and the average starting salary of graduates. Really, the rankings are more indications of reputation than of educational quality.

I hope we'll be able to keep all this in perspective when the US News rankings come out in a few weeks. Last year we issued the obligatory press release but didn't discuss the results or their basis much, because they portrayed us favorably. If we criticize them when the results portray us unfavorably, no one will take us seriously. So, now's the time for public conversation about whether we even want to participate in the rankings.

Education is a human right and we have community responsibilities

Two pieces combined to strike a mournful chord in a minor key as I read this morning's Plain Dealer. The first was the front-page headline, Cleveland voters reject school levy, and the second was an op-ed piece on page B9, Just enough cash to live opulently (which was reprinted from the Scripps-Howard News Service, with the original headline "Forbes' working stiff and his millions" and written by Paul Campos at the University of Colorado.

The first piece explains that with a pitifully low turnout (11 percent of registered voters) a small number of West Side voters who opposed the school levy drowned out the voices of Cleveland's schoolchildren and their needs. The reason given? They did not receive notice from the levy campaign of the reasons for requesting the levy. MaryBeth understands, but I'm not feeling that charitable this morning. Did none of those opposed voters consider purchasing a Plain Dealer at any point in the past month? Or visiting a local public library and reading it for free? Did any of them calculate how much it would cost to mail campaign materials to every household in the city of Cleveland, and compare that with the paltry budget for the campaign? Since when do people need an engraved invitation in order to vote in favor of a public good? Yep, you can tell, I'm really ranting and raving about this.

According to article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages." But apparently we have been neglecting teaching this value to enough Clevelanders that now, only 15,008 of them were willing to take the time to go to the polls and vote "yes" on the 8 mill levy. Without the revenue from the levy, the school board will need to address a projected $30 million deficit for next year.

How can this be? Well, the second piece may help to explain things. Paul Campos comments on a Forbes magazine article which calculates what it would cost to live in comfortable opulence in different US cities (such as Columbus, Ohio. Professor Campos criticizes the article authors for assuming that individuals at this enviable standard of living would only dedicate 1 percent of their income to savings, and for omitting all federal taxes and charitable donations from its calculations. Perhaps it's unfair to criticize Forbes for this one article. After all, they also publish items like this -- the most powerful women humanitarians. Still, it's hard to find those kinds of pieces amidst Forbes' overwhelming emphasis on financial wealth. Furthermore, Forbes definitely seems to be aiding and abetting the individuals in our society which is increasingly dominated by values that seem to have more to do with "keeping up with the Joneses" (or with the Gateses) than with fulfilling their community responsibilities. I share Professor Campos' concern that our society is overly materialistic, with the effect of transforming "human beings into talking monkeys -- that is, creatures who are genuinely satisfied to live lives dedicated to acquiring an endless stream of shiny new toys." There should be more to life than the pursuit of comfortable affluence.

My response to the despair I felt when I read the headline about Cleveland's failed school levy is to commit to action. If the best I can do is to find a local charitable equivalent to DonorsChoose (which concentrates its efforts in other cities, although they are currently engaged in a matching funds drive which will allow them to commit to further expansion), then that's what I'll do. If I can find the time to volunteer, then I will, even if it means that I'm spending less time at my daughter's private preschool. (We donate to the scholarship fund there as well.)

I may not be willing or able to live like Paul Farmer right now, but I will do what I can to demonstrate my belief that education is a human right, and we have community responsibilities to support public education. If you have suggestions for how I might act on my convictions, will you please let me know?

Deye mon gen mon

"Deye mon gen mon" is Haitian saying which translates as "beyond mountains there are mountains" and the saying is explained in this way: "as you solve one problem, another problem appears, and so you go on and try to solve that one too."

Mountains Beyond Mountains is a book by Tracy Kidder which tells the story of Paul Farmer, a doctor who works at Harvard and the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and at Zamni Lasante, a clinic he founded in the mountains of Haiti.

This book was selected as a common reading for the Case community for the coming academic year, the fourth year of our common reading program. My colleagues selected this book to inspire, I am sure; Case is involved in a variety of ways in fighting poverty and disease, and recently won a multi-million-dollar grant to do research on fighting tuberculosis, and there is much work left to be done. First-year students were invited to submit essays in response to several prompts, and upperclass students were invited to address equally tough questions.

I will be taking the book with me on vacation for a slow rereading, since it was almost too intense to absorb on my first read, back in June. [I did eventually write up an answer to an essay question; see my post from several months after this one, on my areas of moral clarity.]

By the way, this idea of a common reading is not Case's innovation. Duke students were invited to read the same book last summer, and this year Case students will be joined in spirit by members of the LaRoche College community in Pittsburgh, by campus residents at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and by first-year students at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, among others.

women working together

To shatter the glass ceiling of the Technorati top 100, many women gathered last week at BlogHer, a conference in San Francisco. I've added the BlogHer blogroll to my righthand column -- it is currently 194 links long, and I expect it to grow as those like me, who only participated in the conference virtually, ask to be added to the list. It is mostly women bloggers, and a few blogs managed by women, like Christine Halvorsen's four blogs at Stonyfield Farms, or with women contributors, like Halley Suitt's role at tompeters! (Thanks to Donna, aka socalmom, for explaining the connections.)

Bloglines citations listed 74 references to BlogHer on July 31, and as of this moment a Technorati search on BlogHer lists 1573 blog posts on the topic, so this has definitely been a web happening.

A challenge to my readers: if the list of blogs that you read regularly is not more-or-less 50 percent female, check out the BlogHer blogroll, and add some female voices to your reading routines!