Teaching and Learning Forum 97 [ Contents ]

A reflection on the teaching of
management information systems

Steve Benson
Faculty of Business
Edith Cowan University
I intend to present a critical reflection on my teaching practices in Management Information Systems education, particularly in teaching large groups. I will also consider some of the problems associated with group work including short term work. Personality profiling is useful for effective group work but is time consuming, error prone and may yield inconsistent results since people may self categorise inconsistently depending on their moods or recent events. Ideally teaching should be tailored to suit the target audience but how do we cope with a moving target? In any event how many academics have the time to carry out detailed personality profiling and how many students would welcome the intrusion? I describe a simple and effective strategy which makes personality profiling irrelevant and yet delivers results consistent with the practice.

Large Lecture Groups

From a personal perspective I have always enjoyed lecturing to larger groups of students. The intimacy which small groups engender actively prevents me putting on a performance and I use different techniques for small groups. Large groups cease to be a collection of individuals and become a gestalt - for me the figure is around forty, with my preferred group size being in excess of one hundred and fifty. In such an environment the statistical likelihood of my being able to hit a nerve or a funny spot is much increased. Conventional wisdom holds that most students can not sustain concentration for more than ten minutes at a stretch yet most lectures are scheduled for one or two hours with part time students demanding that all their tuition takes place as close together as possible. Think about it, most films have a multimillion dollar budget and most film makers do not expect to keep their audience enthralled for two hours, on that basis what chance of success does the average academic have? Irrespective of that it is my view that learning should be as much fun as possible (after all people remember the good times). I take an approach that TV channels should take, something for everyone in each lecture.

What works for me

Group Work

When employers list the skills that they require from our graduates, they often list all the transferable skills that are inculcated by the judicious use of group work. When I did my first full time degree the emphasis was on the individual and their efforts. Soon after this when I became an academic at the same institution one of my former lecturers took me to one side and said "Look, I've just latched on to this new teaching concept, you assign work to groups of students, say four, and they do the work as a team" He had "the light in his eyes" and so I asked what were the educational advantages of this method. The answer was immediate "only 25% as much marking - but I've got an idea about getting them to do the assessment as well". It was five years before I revisited the concept. By then I was a senior academic with responsibilities for industry links and I could see how group work would benefit my students. There were two aspects to this, one was analytical and short term where I wanted the students to analyse and discuss cases so as to get the benefit from each others experience, the other where I wanted them to work together over a period of time. In this last case I was hoping to get the teams to tackle jobs of much greater scope than they could as individuals, learning skills about presentation, communications, teamwork and project management. The first time I ran such projects I asked the students to organise themselves into teams. It was not a total disaster but I ended up with stratification, the high flyers formed teams as did the low flyers. Interestingly the high flyers failed to achieve good results since they spent too much time arguing about approaches etc. and the low flyers did not achieve because it was not inherent in their potential. Only the middle achievers demonstrated real success in terms of the outcomes that I had set. By then, via the process of osmosis which pervades all universities I had acquired a patina of educational psychology or at least I knew the names and concepts at which to nod sagely. I had read Jung and was familiar with the concepts introvert and extrovert and added to it Myers-Briggs personality types. I then knew that I needed to profile students and put them into complementary groupings. Detailed profiling was too onerous so I devised a simple instrument which required the students to rate their competencies in terms of: analytical ability, communication skills, organisational skills etc. and assembled the teams myself.

The first time the course ran in this format all went well apart from one student who made no contribution at all, accordingly I awarded a mark of zero. His appeal was based on the fact that the unit outline said that assessment was on a group basis, he freely admitted to doing no work but felt that legally he was entitled to a pass mark because all the other students in his group had passed. Legally his appeal was upheld. A slight modification to the wording on the unit outline was all that was required to prevent similar occurrences but I felt that the scheme could be further altered so that the students would be required to agree on the apportionment of marks before the grades were awarded. Besides ensuring participation this would also ensure that negotiation skills were reinforced. Anticipating potential conflict I stated that in the event of a group being unable to agree on the allocation of marks then I would act as arbitrator. To date I have not had to arbitrate in any such manner.

Working with groups for shorter term matters such as case studies requires a different strategy since there is not time to carry out even brief profiling. Here the benefits I was trying to gain were communication skills and critical discussion of the case material, assessment was not an issue. Knowing how the "judgers" and "perceivers" types operated I knew that I needed to adopt a different strategy for each group but the difficulty was to divide the class. People's self categorisation of personality types will vary according to mood etc. so it would not be possible to profile and classify students at the beginning of the course. In the end the answer was simple, I asked the class to divide themselves into judgers and perceivers on the basis of "Those of you who would like to discuss the case before answering the questions please move to this end of the room. Those of you who would like to answer the questions first and then discuss your answers please move to that end of the room." Simple, effective and with tangible benefits (other than reducing my marking load by 75%!).

Summary

What has been presented above is a personal reflection. Many of the things which I use work because I do them in my own way. I hope to have given an insight into my teaching philosophy and how I operate so that others may take, adapt and use some of my methods. I can be contacted via email [s.benson@cowan.edu.au] for discussion purposes.

Please cite as: Benson, S. (1997). A reflection on the teaching of management information systems. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p34-37. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/benson.html


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