​​​​​​​​​​​Business College Preparation Needs An Upgrade​

Questions about the readiness of college business students isn’t a new concern; therefore, why does this continue to be an issue for businesses who hire them?

According to Payscale’s 2016 Workforce-Skills Preparedness Report, managers are frustrated with college graduates’ writing proficiency and public speaking skills.  These topics aren’t always or are minimally developed in college classrooms.  Another point frequently raised is related to graduates lack of effective critical thinking skills.  A source of these deficits is related to curriculums, which too often focus on memorization and regurgitation versus developing independent thinking and analytical resources — and this must change.

The challenge is that numerous professors continue to use traditional styles and sometimes outdated teaching methods.  These approaches typically require students to take copious notes, complete a significant writing assignment, and have a few testing checkpoints.  These activities can lead to the capture of theoretical knowledge; however, these experiences don’t always translate to practical readiness.

​Students need to be challenged with active and ongoing engagement instead of only having a few graded assignments.  The goal of college classes shouldn’t be to teach students to regurgitate information.  Students – especially business students – should be challenged with active and collaborative learning environments in addition to passive teaching models to develop higher-order thinking.

The benefits of these combined approaches are that:
* professors can better assess students’ critical thinking skills and abilities;
* it supports team-based learning;
* increases opportunities for students to support each other’s growth;
* it fosters relationship building that otherwise might not develop.

As someone with almost 20 years of schooling, almost 10 years’ experience managing multi-million dollar programs, and approaching 10 years teaching college students/professionals, I’ve used these collective experiences to create – as some students describe my teaching style – a  non-traditional methodology.  My goals are to develop employable resources who think independently, purposefully, critically, and strategically.

My classes focus on the development of students’:
* Critical Thinking / Thick-Skin – Taught to develop, analyze, convey, and defend their positions in a group setting;

* Public Speaking Skills – Presentations are delivered in multiple formats (individual / group);

* Independence – Assignment requirements and sometimes guidelines are provided to students, but they’re given freedom of expression to meet the objectives — as sometimes better or more creative solutions are developed by allowing flexibility;

* Team-Based Deliverables – Multiple opportunities are provided for students to collaborate inside and outside of the classroom to achieve common goals.

During the semester, students participate in:
* Class Meetings – At the beginning of every class, anything that the entire class should know or discuss is reviewed.  This forum provides students with opportunities to ask questions, receive immediate feedback, and learn from others’ similar to business team meetings.

* Current Events Discussions Emphasizing Critical Thinking – Students must be prepared to discuss a current events topic of their choosing every week.  By allowing students to pick from a variety of potential subjects, the articles selected are usually aligned with students’ interests.  This approach makes the assignment more meaningful and can also lead to increased engagement than if the topic was selected for them.  Furthermore, these discussions use topical subjects to provoke students in active learning, teach them to think critically, and provide immediate feedback.  The benefit is that students learn to deliver an executive summary, communicate key points, identify a topic’s pros and cons, and also learn to become comfortable with providing their reflections.

* Weekly Homework Assignments – Every week, students complete three or four short-answer writing assignments related to class discussion topics.  These submissions emulate email communication that might be reviewed in business environments.  Moreover, this information provides valuable input about a students’ writing abilities and thought processes with periodic reviews and feedback.

* Project-Based Deliverables – Students work as a team to complete a couple of deliverables, which include group and individual components.  For the final project, students leverage the information learned, skills developed, and teaming abilities to complete a class deliverable.  By having students work together multiple times, it provides valuable opportunities for the class to understand and benefit from the value of teamwork.  Moreover, it helps to demonstrate in a practical way that more can be accomplished working together than can be achieved through individual successes.

​Another interesting component is that there aren’t any written exams; instead, all testing checkpoints are oral examinations.  This approach teaches students to be more proficient at presenting information, along with improving their ability to think quickly — especially in pressure situations.  The purpose of the oral exams aren’t necessarily to make students uncomfortable, but instead to prepare them for future business conversations and challenges to their positions.  In most business environments, employees are seldom asked to take an exam; however, business professionals are required to present information to individuals or groups.

​The antiquated models of students working independently to achieve – not always earn – a grade needs to change.  Starting on the first day of class, students should be part of an integration process that transforms individual learning into a dynamic and effective learning organization.  The teaching goal shouldn’t be for students to simply convey terminology that’s captured, regurgitated, and not always fully processed or understood; instead, the organizational goal should be to create collaborative learning environments.  As a result, these types of organizations can teach students to engage in team development, practice multiple communication styles, leverage their critical thinking skills, and work strategically to achieve common goals.

Some might argue that this approach isn’t fair to those who do better with written exams.  This might be true; however, my students – in completing a variety of interactive learning activities – are actively challenged to use their communication, time management, problem solving, critical thinking, negotiation, and other skills throughout the semester.  Furthermore, another benefit of increased student interaction is that additional data points can be collected to aid in the development of a comprehensive assessment of students’ progress — along with having multiple opportunities to make adjustments throughout the semester with shared ‘teachable moments’ that everyone can benefit… including me as the instructor.

​Teaching students shouldn’t be about the pursuit of a perfect grade, which arguably isn’t always a sufficient measurement of understanding but really just a data point at a moment in time.  The goal in teaching students should be excellence and not perfection, as excellence will happen as long as students put forth their best effort.  Unfortunately, too many individuals falsely believe that a higher grade point average translates to intelligence or an elevated ability, which is an overused and unnecessary bias.

History has demonstrated that there are many individuals who weren’t good students or test takers.  Nevertheless, these individuals still had brilliant minds that didn’t fully develop in environments with strict evaluation criteria or a standardized approach to teaching.  As a result, schools generally and institutions of higher learning specifically must create dynamic learning environments that allow for flexibility in the achievement of learning goals and objectives that won’t unnecessarily stifle non-traditional learning.

From a personal perspective, I was (for the most part) a challenged student because I’m not a linear thinker.  Also, I don’t always do well on standardized or written exams, but I can easily deliver information verbally.  Moreover, I don’t like to be limited by inflexible instructions, which can sometimes lead to frustration and at times withdrawal.  Notwithstanding, once I was in supportive environments or classes that permitted independent thought and creativity, I delivered my best performance.

​Students must be given opportunities to develop solutions using their analytical skills, which can lead to increased comprehension and better outcomes.  I’ve learned – through personal experiences and the fortune of working with struggling students – that those who have educational challenges are generally more than capable of doing the work.  However, these students sometimes need instructors to recognize their capabilities and help them to deliver course requirements a different way.  If college business students are expected to excel immediately in dynamic work environments, then students should be better taught to meet these demands — which can be achieved by developing collaborative and dynamic learning environments that better prepare students to identify, analyze, and resolve opportunities inside and outside of the classroom.

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