OB Faculty Win RULE Grant for Innovation in Undergrad Curriculum

in Organizational Behavior, School
July 27th, 2011

SMG globeThe Organizational Behavior faculty for the School of Management undergraduate OB221 class, “Dynamics of Leading Organizations,” have been recognized for curricular innovation based on recent enhancements to the course.  They have received a prestigious Boston University RULE grant supporting “innovative and successful new pedagogical practices” which promote “collaborative learning, teamwork, and communication skills.”

OB221 is a required core course for all School of Management undergraduates, as well as business minors. Serving almost 800 students each year, OB221 is the largest single course offered at the School of Management.  It’s designed so that students from across the University are quickly and fully engaged in learning about management and leadership practices at three levels: the interpersonal, group, and organizational .

Serving almost 800 students each year, OB221 has become the largest single course offered at the School of Management.

As such, the course is built to move students from an understanding of personal values, motivation, attitudes and behavior to an appreciation of the complexities of working in teams and leading organizations.  Thus, it must be designed not only to impart knowledge and understanding but also build the basic skills and real-world practices of managing and leading people.

To meet these challenges, faculty members Jack McCarthy, Sandi Deacon, Lloyd Baird, and their colleagues redesigned the course and have implemented a series of team-building and experiential exercises designed to explore and build practical management skills while delivering critical lessons on individual behavior and team dynamics. In addition to major curriculum and format changes to the course, several key initiatives were recently introduced, including a new “GPS Urban Adventure,” a community service requirement, and a collaborative project with the University’s College of Fine Arts and School of Theatre.

The GPS Urban Adventure: “An active, hands-on exercise whose lessons students can carry into the class’s more traditional teaming and management challenges.” 

–Senior Lecturer Sandi Deacon

Explains Senior Lecturer Sandi Deacon, the GPS Urban Adventure “functions as an introduction to  teamwork, giving students a chance to learn about their teammates, group dynamics, and themselves in an active, hands-on exercise –  whose lessons they can they carry with them into the class’s more traditional teaming and management challenges.”  Using hand-held GPS devices, the students venture into the city of Boston as intact teams to find various historical sites at “waypoints” that are pre-programmed into the GPS unit.

There are several teambuilding activities that the groups engage in along the way, and the lessons are captured and discussed in a class debrief session, and again later when the teams make a presentation to the class about their lessons during the experience. “It’s designed to help students build cohesion by completing complex tasks and learning about each other in a fun, interactive and engaging team exercise,” Deacon says.  “The lessons are then reinforced and applied as they continue to work with their teams on projects throughout the semester.”

“The Community Service Initiatives allow our students to function as a real team in a setting that matters. We want our future managers to be responsible citizens in their own organizations and the world beyond.” 

–Associate Professor Jack McCarthy

In addition, in collaboration with the University’s College of Fine Arts and School of Theatre, live stage plays are being used to help teach lessons about human behavior, team dynamics and conflict. For example, this past fall, OB221 students  studied conflict resolution through watching – and then discussing with the actors, writer and director – a performance of the original play “Fallujah,” written by BU senior Evan Sanderson, about an embedded American journalist’s captivation with the stories he hears from those he encounters in during war time Iraq.

“We used specific scenes from the play as an innovative case study for learning and conflict management,” Deacon explains. Then, during a talk-back session following the performance, students learned from the actors, director, and writer, who powerfully highlighted the importance of team work, creativity, adaptability, and innovation in their own efforts to produce something lasting and meaningful.

“Our efforts will pay off well beyond OB221. As we experiment and learn what works, we will leverage new approaches not only into other School of Management courses but throughout the University.” 

–OB Chair Lloyd Baird

As a way to bring the team experiences full-circle, OB221 faculty ask students to end the course with the curriculum’s Community Service Initiative (CSI) component, which encourages participants to cap the learning accrued throughout the course and apply it outwards beyond the classroom and into the community. Student teams seek out community-based organizations and non-profits in which to provide a service, such as preparing meals for cancer patients and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, working at the Greater Boston Food Bank, and organizing clothing drives for the homeless.

As Associate Professor Jack McCarthy says, “The Community Service Initiatives in O221 serve as a way for our students to actually function as a real team in a setting that matters, where they can give back to our community, work together, and perform a service that is far more meaningful than coursework. We want our future managers to be responsible citizens and effective teammates in their own organizations and the world beyond.”

So, through all these efforts, OB221 has been energized and transformed. As McCarthy states, “For behavioral change to take place, people – students and faculty alike – need to be willing to take risks, move out of comfort zones and try new approaches. We rebuilt and restructured the course to help make that happen in creative ways.”

Professor Lloyd Baird, Chair of the Organizational Behavior Department, says that, “Our efforts will have payoff well beyond OB221.  As we experiment and learn what works, we will leverage new approaches not only into other courses within the School of Management but throughout the University.”