As part of my PhD program in Organizational Behavior, I was enrolled in the first year of Harvard Business School’s MBA program. The OB course was not until late in the school year, but I was so excited to finally see the way I would be expected to teach for the rest of my career. Part way into that course, I have a distinct memory of the professor in the “pit”—the bottom of a tiered classroom filled with 90 students. The professor was engaged in a role-play exercise with one of my classmates. What the professor and the one student were doing was perfectly fine—that role-playing student, standing in the pit with the professor was highly engaged. But, when I looked around the room, at least 80% of the other students had phased out. And the one question I had in my head at that time – and never could get out of my head, apparently for the rest of my career—was “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing for the rest of my life???”
The answer to that question can be found in the fact that I have never taught an Organizational Behavior course.
Let me be clear, the problem was not the discipline of organizational behavior, the problem IS the way teaching is done in every subject in higher education. From lectures, to case studies, to recent “innovations” like e-learning and even “flipped classrooms” (at least as they are usually implemented by most professors), the sad fact is that I cannot think of a highly successful industry in the world that has changed less in the last 150 years.
After my MBA class experience, I went right home to my 128K original Macintosh computer and tried to figure out a way to create software that would be more effective than what I had seen in class – something that would allow every student to do that role-play and experiment with their own ideas about how to solve the case problem. My first couple of jobs before my PhD program had been in computer programming, so I had high hopes for my abilities. But, I didn’t have very many lines of code written on my Mac before it broke; I had quickly exceeded the memory capacity of my machine. Then was not the time to do what I saw as the future of education.
And while I’ve returned to this idea over and over again since then, I have not been able to figure out a way to make it work … until recently.
This blog is about that journey.