Faculty Spotlight: Taylor Sewell, Carri Chan, and Peter Tollman on Redesigning Their Interdisciplinary Course

by | Jun 7, 2024

Consulting Practicum: Healthcare Management, Design, and Strategy (HMDS) is an interdisciplinary course taught by Taylor Sewell, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at CUIMC; Carri Chan, John A. Howard Professor of Business, Decision, Risk, and Operations Division, and Faculty Director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program at Columbia Business School; and Peter Tollman, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Business and Executive in Residence, Columbia Business School and Columbia Technology Ventures, and Senior Partner Emeritus, Boston Consulting Group.

Professors Sewell, Chan, and Tollman were awarded an Office of the Provost Interdisciplinary Teaching Award grant to help redesign elements of their unique project-based course. The collaborative faculty team worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to execute these course enhancements, including revising their coaching structure and implementing a partially flipped classroom model aimed at appropriating more time toward in-class activities. In this spotlight, the faculty share their experience. 

Describe your course and some of the challenges you faced.

HMDS is an interdisciplinary, masters-level course that brings together business students and health professions students from the medical, nursing, dental, and public health schools. The course uses an experiential, project-based learning approach where student teams work to solve a real-world strategic challenge for sponsoring healthcare organizations. The course was successful in its first iteration in Fall 2021, yet we identified several opportunities for improvement, such as devoting more in-class time for students to work on their projects, developing modular support and training programs for the varied academic backgrounds of the students, adjusting the coaching structure, and improving the enrollment process for better sponsor experiences.

What were the goals and objectives for the course redesign?

By the end of the semester, our goal was for students to achieve the following:

  1. Improved skills in strategic framing, problem-solving, synthesis, and communication—specifically within the context of addressing complex real-world business challenges.
  2. Improved skills in client relationship management, as well as in teamwork and leadership within interdisciplinary work.
  3. Increased knowledge of the healthcare landscape through engagement with industry leaders and their organizations.
  4. A strengthened network within a community of leading healthcare organizations.

What were the main redesigned elements in the course?

We worked with the CTL to create asynchronous pre-recorded lecture videos of Peter discussing different methods, skills, and models related to consulting. Working with CTL’s media production and learning design team, we produced over 2.5 hours of high-quality content that was integrated into our CourseWorks site. 

Shifting content delivery to the online environment allowed more in-person class time for students to work together on their projects and for us to provide coaching to the groups. One of the main changes we made in the coaching process included giving each team a specific instructor to mentor them, allowing students to get more consistent and higher-quality feedback. We also provided upfront tutoring of individual teams to help ensure that the structure of the engagements and work plans were well-suited to the strategic challenges posed.

Lastly, we improved content and teaching materials so that they are more closely tied to the “tradecraft” of real-world strategic problem-solving in healthcare settings.

What evidence from your activities and assessment showed the effectiveness of the course redesign? How did it improve student learning?

A number of students have sought our guidance on pursuing career opportunities related to the course content, as their exposure through the course has inspired them to pursue it. Furthermore, the evolution of the projects from the first coaching session to the final presentation demonstrates growth in maturity, detailed appreciation of the core business problems their clients were facing, and a synthetic understanding of practical solutions that would address them.

What did your students have to say about the redesigned elements of the course?

Overall, our students were very enthusiastic about the content, organization, and learning opportunities provided by the class. In particular, the redesign elements allowed students to apply their understanding of the presented concepts earlier in the semester, giving them a richer experience and the opportunity to focus on the collaborative environment this course creates. Here is some student feedback we have received on our end-of-course evaluations:

“It’s been an enlightening journey and a significant learning experience for me.”

“I jumped into this course with an eye on pivoting to consulting, and the healthcare angle made it even more interesting, especially in an era of a rapidly evolving healthcare industry with numerous challenges and opportunities. Seeing how vital and dynamic this sector is and getting hands-on with real-world problems was just inspiring.”

“Coming in without a background in consulting or healthcare, I was a bit apprehensive. But, wow, I learned a lot! Your guidance was invaluable, and the whole experience of working in a team with both business and med students was particularly enriching. Everyone brought their A-game and unique views, and it was great to see everyone bringing their unique perspectives to the table and fully engaging in their project roles.”

“Honestly, this has to be one of the best courses I’ve taken.The insights I gained about the consulting and healthcare fields, coupled with the interdisciplinary challenges and rewards, were outstanding.”

“I found this to be one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken, at any institution. I enjoyed hearing from different CEOs, but what I really enjoyed was working with my group and our client, and learning more about my industry and its best practices. I learn best by doing, and this class leaned into that heavily.”

“I think the course was well scaffolded—the combination of introductory videos, weekly updates, and the mixing of different expertises helped bring together people of different expertises and, as someone who has no business background, helped me learn a lot about how these kinds of questions are addressed in the business setting. I also thought the fireside chats were particularly strong.”

“It’s a great way to understand how theory coalesces into practice and it’s a high-efficiency way to learn about strategy, management, and navigating ambiguity.”

Do you have any advice for other faculty who are considering applying for a Provost’s Teaching and Learning Grant? Why should they do it? What should they expect?

The Provost’s Teaching and Learning Grant provided us with the resources to make meaningful improvements to our course that would not have been possible without the grant. For example, because students are coming to our classroom with varied skills, it is important to ensure additional support for students who may have gaps in their training for some aspects of the course, while also allowing them to highlight the areas where their skills are more developed. The grant allowed us to develop asynchronous videos on the business consulting concepts so that students could digest the material at their own pace, depending on their background and training. In addition to the funding, the grant provides support in the form of the Center for Teaching and Learning staff, who have a wealth of experience and expertise to help with course redesign.