Thursday, September 17, 2009

MBA 2.0: Trading in Textbooks for Blogs?

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that Great Leadership is required reading for an MBA class. Wouldn't it be great if more online MBA programs followed suit too!

Bret Simmons, Assistant Professor of Management from the University of Nevada, Reno, is requiring his MBA students to subscribe to at least 5 leadership blogs and provide comments to at least one of them each week. They bring the comments and responses to class to discuss and are graded on their online activity.
I thought this sounded like a pretty cool idea, and wanted to learn more, so I contacted Bret and asked him for an interview. I also contacted one of his students, Christine Adams to get another perspective.

GL: When and why did you start using leadership blogs in your MBA class? How are you using them? Do you use other forms of social media as well?

Bret: I started using blogs in my MBA class about 18 months ago. I use case studies in my class, and I used to have students write stuff up prior to each case study. I got tired of collecting and grading papers, so I decided to require students to blog about each case prior to our in-class discussion. I like it much better. I also have them all join Linkedin and join a group that I create for the class. In Linkedin we can all see and communicate with each other and I can access their blogs easily.
GL: What are the advantages and disadvantages of blogs over traditional textbooks?

Bret: I still use a textbook for the class because of the nature of the subject matter. One thing I am doing this semester is requiring students to visit blogs like yours, Bob Sutton, Mary Jo Asmus, Wally Bock, and Art Petty. These excellent blogs allows my students to have conversations with someone other than me about leadership and management. I have a very definite perspective but it is by no means the only one, so reading these blogs helps my students get a broader picture of leadership.
Now that I have my own blog, I use it to support material we cover in class. I often leave a class with new questions about the subject and materials from interacting with students. I’ll do some research and document what I find at my blog. My blog provides an easily accessible record of all that we talked about during the course. If after the course is over a student encounters an issue at work and remembers we might have covered it in class, he or she can just visit my website to get my thinking on the topic.

I think the blog is a powerful communication platform. Many of my students have never even read a blog before my course, and of course few if any have ever blogged. I just developed a new course on personal branding and blogging is central to that effort.

GL: How are the students reacting?

Bret: I think they like it. They certainly prefer it to writing a paper every week and so do I. The behavior I am trying to encourage is preparation, and blogging serves that purpose quite well.
Christine (former student): Dr. Simmons is preparing us to differentiate ourselves in an increasingly competitive job market. The skills he is requiring us to master increase our written communication skills, highlights our strengths in business and proves to potential employers that we are investing in our future. Bret's courses contain real life applications that we are able to use on a daily basis.
GL: You strike me as an early adopter. What do you see for the future regarding the integration of "Web 2.0" into college curriculums?

Bret: I honestly have no idea whether or not I am an early adopter. I know that I will continue to explore ways to use Web 2.0. Personally, I would like to see more academics take up blogging themselves. It is by far the best thing I have done for myself in my academic career so far.Way to go, Professor Bret! So how about it, professors, teachers, and trainers – are you ready to trade in your textbooks for blogs? Or at least incorporate them into your curriculum? Here are half a dozen reasons why you should (come on, it wouldn’t be a blog post if we didn’t offer up a list):

1. Blogs are free!Having two in college, I’m faced with hundreds of dollars of used textbook bills each semester. A single book can cost up to $200.00! It sure would be nice to take advantage of the vast amount of expert information available on the web ease the financial burden a bit.

2. Diversity of thoughtAs Bret said, instead of 1-2 perspectives, you can expose your students to a broader range of thought leaders on any topic.

3. You can’t talk to a textbookWith blogs, you can leave a comment and get an answer. You can also participate in a dialog with “students” from around the world.

4. Blogs are more current.In many fields, by the time a book is published, it’s already reached its half life.

5. Administrative and learning efficiency
Bret points out many of the ways blogs have made it possible to keep a record of conversations and assignments, with less time on his part reading and grading, leaving more time for discussion, research, and learning.

6. Blogs can reduce back painAll those textbooks in a backpack are heavy! You can carry all of your blogs in a single laptop.

Is this a trend? I hope so, and I’ll bet most bloggers would welcome the opportunity to contribute to academic and corporate learning.


Becky Robinson said...

Hi Dan,
Thanks for sharing about this idea; it's a great one.

I had heard through the leadership blogger grapevine that Bret was doing this, and was intrigued to find out how he is implementing these ideas. Thanks so much for taking the time to interview him and share about his ground-breaking work.

Bret Simmons said...

Thanks, Dan!

I do still use textbooks, but I hate most of them. they are way too expensive and even though I love the peer reviewed process, they are slow to change their content.

If more academics would blog, we could work together to link our content and the content on sites like yours and other great blogs to bypass the textbooks. We could shift this paradigm in a few years if people would get behind it.

We would also need to see more very high quality blogs like yours, where experts post fresh content regularly and take the time to really encourage and *answer* comments. We could create an integrated community of thought leaders that could play a role in management education across the globe. that would be exciting.



Steve Boese said...

Dan - I teach a Grad class in Human Resources Technology and this past quarter I introduced a blogging 'assignment' for the first time. I asked the students to read, comment on, and analyze one selected HR blog. Additionally, I had them write a guest post for their selected blog and optionally work with the blog owner to actually publish the guest post.
What I found interesting was while I got overwhelming support and participation from the HR blogging community (within 15 minutes of Tweeting about the idea, I had a dozen bloggers volunteer to participate), I had a much more difficult time getting the students to understand the importance of reading blogs, and to really embrace the project. I think out of about 15 students only 3 actually had a guest post published. I think it may have been the novelty of the assignment, and I hope in the future I will have more success with this project as students and faculty both open up to this community. Thanks for sharing the story.

Anonymous said...


Definitely a trend. I've experienced two things, specifically:

1. Requests from university profs (who honor copyrights:-) to print out certain posts or a series to use in the classroom.

2. Increasing comments from MBA students who identify themselves as such--and ask some really good questions.

The future is here. . .

Eclecticity said...

That is a tremendous honor and should be a point of pride for you Dan. Keep up the good work and keep challenging "your" students! E.

Jason Shick said...

I am fairly new to blogging but there is so much valuable information out there and as you mentioned, it's free! Textbooks are expensive and so are home libraries. Your idea of using blogs more in formal education is very exciting, hopefully it will gain some traction in the years ahead.

Ajo Cherian said...

Dan, I am currently a student in Bret's class. As I wrote on my blog, I believe the requirement by Dr. Simmons to read other related blogs and write our responses to the class readings via our own blog is an innovative way to teach us how to communicate our thoughts well in a written form on the web. It can potentially be read by anyone in the world.

I think it helps to raise the bar. Gone are the days of only the professor seeing your writeup on a case. Now anyone (even your future employer) can search and find your thoughts and gauge your writing skills if they choose to. I think that thought alone, will help me to strive for excellence in writing and posting my thoughts. It’s an innovative way to use the available technology to develop a skill and it’s working.

Wally Bock said...

Wonderful post, Dan. I think you managed to tell the story of what Bret is doing, but also add a helpful framework.

If Dee Hock was right that "The past is ever less predictive, the future ever less predictable," then textbooks will have to struggle to keep up. I suspect there will be a middle way composed of blogs, textbooks in digital, updatable formats, and independent research that will make programs of all kinds richer.

Tom Glover said...

This was one of those confluence of ideas things for me. I am just preparing to launch my own leadership blog on 10/1. Having taught leadership to MBA students for a number of years, I've finally decided to start sharing the material that I've gathered over the years with a wider audience.

The interesting thing is that I've spent the last two years working in what was seemingly a completely unrelated field of using technology in instructional design, specifically using Web 2.0 technologies.

I'm very excited with the way Professor Simmons is incorporating this inexpensive and yet extremely valuable learning opportunity for his students.

Thanks for sharing this Dan.

Dan McCarthy said...

Wow, lot's of comments on this one. That's great, thanks.

Becky -
Aw, the old leadership blogger grapevine.... thanks!

Bret -
How does it feel to be the subject of that grapevine? Looks like people like what you're doing!

Steve -
Good for you, keep pushing the envelop! Be glad to help in whatever way I can.

Steve -
I'm not surprised - reading your blog should count for an MBA! I agree, the MBAs and other students leave great comments and questions.

E -

Jason -
Welcome to the blogosphere!

Ajo -
I was hoping to hear from another of Bret's students. Thanks for that additional insight.

Wally -
all right, a Dee Hock quote, an OD classic! Thanks.

Tom -
Let me know if there's anything I can help you with. You may want to submit one of your first posts to our Leadership Development Carnival (see sidebar).

Anonymous said...

Bret's class is one of the most enjoyable and engaging classes I've had as an MBA student! The platforms he uses to teach the material definitely caters to my generation (mid 20's). Keep up the good work, Brett!

GeorgeCSmith said...

Being one of Brett's students, I can say first-hand that blogging is beneficial. Just the interaction alone is enough to keep me interested.

Textbooks are becoming more and more ridiculously expensive. And you can't have a conversation with a textbook.

How do you think publishers can get in the game of blogging or make their products more interactive and easily accessible as blogging?

Mark D. Cohen said...


I too am one of Bret's students. It is the most enjoyable class I have had in years. I favor blogging as well because of the reasons you mentioned, namely the price of textbooks.

However, there are two other reasons I also prefer blogging instead of textbooks. One is that I do not enjoy reading textbooks. They are some of the most boring reading a person can do. The other reason is my main one: I can gather my thoughts in words as to what I think about the topic. That is invaluable.


Dan McCarthy said...

Jeff, George, Mark -
Thanks for providing added color based on your own experience with the use of blogs in Bret's courses.
George, I think the answer is yes, and perhaps the smart ones already are. Imagine the possibilities.... an enhanced, integrated learning experience that captures the best of of both!

BomiM said...

Hey Dan,

This is a "WOW"! ... Just could not resist sending this brilliant idea to a colleague who's currently a prof. at one of the Univ.s teaching Marketing for MBA folks.

Thanks for this one.


Dan McCarthy said...

Bomi -
Thanks, and it's good to hear from you!

Sally said...

Great post! I have been using Blogs and other social media in my classes at Skagit Valley College during the last year or so. SVC is a Community College in Washington state. It is great to see that educators at all levels are using Web 2.0 technologies.

Anonymous said...

Dan--one major advantage that I experience in Bret's class when writing blogs.

The pressure of writing is gone.

When writing a paper, the pressure can be huge. Does this sound smart enough? Will he like my writing style? Where's my grammar book? Need to look up a comma rule. ACK! The deadline is two hours away and I need another two pages...

When writing a blog, the pressure is minimal. I can write what I think easily in two or three paragraphs. No referencing the text and following MLA citation style. I can draw on my experience without having to get all academic and "smart" covering up my points. My writing style is solid and my personality can shine through my words.

Bret's class, along with the blogs we read, is fun, wonderful and will be listed among my most favorite.


Dan McCarthy said...

Sally -
Good for you!

Elaine -
I agree! That's why I'm blogging and not going for my Phd. (-: