On the one hand, critics allege that professional schools cater too much to prospective employers. Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, argues that "the raison d'être of a college is to nourish a world of intellectual culture; that is, a world of ideas, dedicated to what we can know scientifically, understand humanistically, or express artistically. [...] When, as is often the case in business education and teacher training, practical skills far outweigh theoretical understanding, we are moving beyond the intellectual culture that defines higher education." Employers, on the other hand, complain that students are ill prepared for the workplace. According to the 2013 Gallup/Lumina Foundation Business Leaders Poll on Higher Education, only about one-third of business leaders agree that "higher education institutions in this country are graduating students with the skills and competences that my business needs."
I help my students deepen their conceptual understanding and analytical skills by applying them to actual business problems. This makes my course intellectually rigorous and practically relevant. My course combines Nobel prize-winning ideas like portfolio theory, the Capital Asset Pricing Model, option theory, market efficiency, and behavioral finance with case assignments that require hands-on, relevant workplace knowledge. My case assignments are based on current events like a recent IPO (e.g., Facebook, CDW, KING Digital Entertainment), a hedge fund's billion dollar short position (Herbalife), or Stanford University's decision to divest from fossil fuel stocks. I also invite guest speakers to discuss business developments and current events. For example, Brian Schell, CFO of BATS Global Markets, visited my class to discuss trade execution and Michael Lewis' new book on High Frequency Trading.
Students too often equate learning with studying for exams, which often reduces it to last-minute "cramming" of textbook material. As a result, they tend to forget material shortly after the end of the term. Instead of taking away new skills and insights, all they take away from a course is their final grade. David Jaffee, a sociology professor at the University of North Florida, recommends classroom-assessment techniques that combine teaching and learning activities with assessment by providing students with feedback about what they did well and where they need to improve. He also proposes "giving students opportunities to demonstrate their abilities in a real-world context."
To encourage active learning I structure my classes around case studies, classroom discussions, and applied problems. For each topic, I assign readings and quiz questions that are due on Blackboard several hours before class so that I receive student feedback about the most challenging issues before coming to class. I start almost every class with a quick Pop Quiz.
My lectures, in-class exercises and class discussions address quiz questions that have proved challenging to students and they provide students with sufficient understanding to tackle the assigned case problems. Robert F. Bruner wrote that "[c]ases convey the messiness and ambiguities of professional dilemmas, the blind alleys of analysis, and the need to extract an insight or make a decision." My case questions tend to be open-ended. They encourage students to struggle with techniques and ideas and the demanding task of judging which concept to apply to a given decision problem. In addition to their formal case writeup, I require each group to present part of their analysis in class. Before they present, they fill out a case survey, which allows me to group presentations based on how students tackled the case problem. By sharing their struggles, ideas, and solutions, students critically evaluate the merits of different approaches. Groups receive detailed feedback based on case-specific rubrics. In addition to Pop-Quizzes and case studies, each student takes two exams. My exams are comprehensive and require students to demonstrate mastery of the material we covered throughout the course.
I aim for a course environment that sets rigorous academic standards, requires serious work effort, encourages curious inquiry, and celebrates creative solutions to open-ended problems. Some classroom discussions expose ignorance, which is especially uncomfortable for undergraduate students. I always strive to create a non-threatening classroom atmosphere that encourages students to think out loud. Instead of being discouraged when they come up short, I urge students to consider the feedback they got from me and fellow students and to try again. Through my own behavior I try to model a culture of rigorous inquiry and professional dialogue. I suspend judgment while examining the facts of a case problem. We discuss the methodologies and techniques that were used to generate these facts. After we weigh the evidence, students take sides by proposing a given course of action. I expect my students to reason through problems, not just to regurgitate a specific solution to a problem type.
Most of the students who take my class are finance majors, but many are still in the process of deciding what they want to do after graduating. I encourage students to decide whether they truly want to pursue a career in finance, and help them understand how much dedication this decision requires. Students tend to be surprised about the high expectations I have regarding their case work. Grades for the first case tend to be low, and students receive ample feedback about how to improve their cases. Many groups take on this challenge and improve their case work drastically. Many students struggle with the case assignments and the course material. Yet students also value the skills they develop throughout my course. My KU faculty evaluations indicate that students are very satisfied, and publicly available student evaluations on RateMyProfessors.com tell the same story.
- Investment Theory
- Finance Case Studies