Dr. Todd Jick, PhD
Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Business in the Management Division; Reuben Mark Faculty Director of Organizational Character and Leadership, Graduate School of Business.
Dr. Todd Jick teaches leadership in the Columbia School of Business, offering multiple sections of an elective course on Organizational Change that enrolls up to 420 MBA students per year, with 70 students per section. Beyond his classroom, Dr. Jick supports all incoming students by facilitating orientation sessions to prepare them for success in the Business School discussion-based classroom. He actively contributed to the teaching community during the pandemic by giving a faculty presentation about teaching inclusively, and by creating an online training platform, Zoom Instruct, to demonstrate “Interactive Zoom Teaching in Action” in collaboration with Aditi Parekh at the Harvard Kennedy School. The resource provides a visual glimpse into Dr. Jick’s classroom and highlights interactive techniques for online sessions that can be adapted to any course context.
With the shift to remote teaching in Spring 2020, Dr. Jick embraced new techniques and tools to promote interactivity and inclusivity in his discussion-based classroom. Dr. Jick met the unanticipated moment by learning how to teach online from intense self managed training on Zoom and virtual pedagogy, from multiple teaching resources at Columbia and beyond, to learn innovative engagement strategies. Read on to learn more about what Dr. Jick did in his course, what lessons and experiences he’s carrying forward, and the advice he has for other instructors at Columbia.
Lean Into Techniques That Support Student Learning
My class sessions are interactive discussion- and case-based. My general teaching approach is to create an environment in which all students are encouraged to participate. My job as a professor is to coalesce and stimulate the discovery experience for all the students, to be able to pool their knowledge into learnings, debate some of their ideas and opinions, invite them to bring their own selves to the conversation, and do that in a productive and engaging way for 90 minutes per class session.
I was trained in traditional case teaching, sometimes referred to as “sage on the stage” and had developed a well honed routine for in-person discussions, and with due humility, it had been successful over many decades. Prior to the pandemic, I had actually been quite resistant to online teaching as the leap seemed a bridge too far. For 40 years, I taught “high-touch” style and then in ten days I had to convert to high-tech! The basic starting point for this shift was to recognize the need to accept the limitations of the online experience but more importantly to seek out its features which enabled some additive benefits. Indeed, there was much to be gained by the online experience once I opened myself up to the creative possibilities: How to seek out benefits to the tech side that might help me do high-touch? And how do I mitigate some of the detriments of the tech side through some of these techniques?
The collective energy of being in the classroom is not the same in the Zoom room; students may be leaning back, more relaxed and resorting to a passive mode of learning. My goal was to try and figure out how to create the “leaning in” experience that you get more naturally in-person when everyone is seemingly more visible in the classroom by using techniques in Zoom. So I “leaned in”—with energy, passion and physical posture–in order to model for my students to lean into tools that would increase their engagement and learning. I now see the potential for inclusivity and interactivity online, and in hybrid, so I have since incorporated learned new techniques thanks to the pandemic teaching.
Chunk Class Sessions
Whether teaching in-person or online, recognize the limits of attention spans and organize your class plan into 10 to 15 minute chunks during which you share concepts, tools, information in interactive ways. Make slide decks more accessible to help students absorb what is presented, and don’t overload with a density of words or concepts. Thus I learned to err on the side of less is more on the slides. Build in opportunities for interactivity, whether through discussion, polls, etc.,.and make time for closure. All of these adjustments learned during the pandemic have carried over post pandemic
Mix Things Up to Engage Students
I was looking for ways to continuously provoke, engage, and stimulate all my students. On Zoom we were all just small tiles of equal size. But on the other hand, each student seemingly had equal chances of participating in the conversation if managed well. I started to use an online wheel of names spinner which included every student’s name. I would spin the wheel, it would land on a student’s name, and thus any student could expect to be called on.
In addition, the chat function on Zoom gave access to students’ thoughts and ideas, and it created opportunities to address confusions and student questions in real time and relevance. And students’ opinions could weigh in when I used a polling format through Zoom or Poll Everywhere. This would bring all students’ voices into the conversation including non-native English speakers and more introverted students. Finally, after class sessions concluded, students could contribute to 24/7 online discussions. I use the Yellowdig platform to create opportunities for additional contributions, whether from students who need more time to type out their thoughts or for active speakers to continue the conversation. I highlight sample posts from the asynchronous contributions at the beginning of every class, bringing visibility and stimulating and motivating students to contribute in-class.
In addition to Zoom chats, polls, debates and to mix things up and avoid monotony, I used what I called the fish bowl technique to add focus and drama to the discussion of a topic or issue in the online classroom. This involved choosing and pinning four or five students on the screen. Each student would either play a role or debate an issue, while the other students watched and were expected to provide comments on what they observed. I continue to use all these techniques in my in-person classes. In essence, this was a version of “come on down front” in the live setting but translated to the remote platform. It works in both contexts.
The more techniques you try, the more comfortable you get with them, the better the teaching experience. Build in more time in your class plan than you expected as some techniques take longer. It may not go exactly as planned online because there are technical glitches, or whether in-person, and that is okay. Learn from the stumbles and adjust.
Advice for Instructors and the Future of Teaching at Columbia
Teach to your strengths while learning new techniques.
We each bring a different style, a different set of strengths to the classroom, and I think everyone should start with what they’re good at. Each faculty member needs to identify what their strengths are and leverage those.
I am convinced that we don’t have to do the proverbial “out with the new and back to the old.” A lot of what I learned in online pandemic teaching has benefited my in-person teaching. My teaching in fact has been strengthened. There are so many techniques and a wide range of possibilities when it comes to teaching and learning if you open yourself up to them, some being tried and true and others being innovative and experimental . I had taught for 40 years in one way—case method, live, and organically interactive feeling and sensing and preparing for that form of educational approach. And yet, I entirely converted my teaching approach in ten days during March 2020.
How did it go? It took perhaps two months for me to feel comfortable, making rookie mistakes and misjudgments along the way. However, it gave me huge pride and a career upgrade to feel that an “old dog can indeed learn new tricks!”.
For me teaching has been the centerpiece of my career. I am passionate about it, and I believe in the need to continually improve and upgrade what I do. We are part of a laboratory of evolving teaching. A lot of this work can be done through peer learning. A lot of what I did in those ten days we had to pivot online was to go on the Internet and find Youtube videos that presented online teaching advice. There are supports and resources available through the CTL and Samberg Center at the Columbia Business School. Avail yourself of those resources, and then you will get the support that will make you more capable of these kinds of changes.
Go forward in your teaching.
Let us start with the assertion that we have to move our teaching forward for two main reasons.
One is because there is a lot of competition for knowledge and for the imparting of knowledge that exists today that didn’t exist 10 to 20 years ago such as Youtube, the Internet, LinkedIn Learning and others. Students are now more comfortable with many other sources of knowledge or teaching that didn’t exist prior. We faculty are in a more competitive position. But our unique value remains if we continuously grow and upgrade.
The second reason is the students themselves. While we may or may not consider them “customers” per se, they are demanding more of us. They have more exposure to ideas and they are sensitive to a lot of issues which includes the language, the style, and the value add of their teachers. We faculty have become more akin to public figures, and we’re part of the public dialogue on various issues. We have to face the fact that the world has changed. We need to go forward in new, innovative, and creative ways to provide the connection, the engagement, and the pedagogical outcomes which can make the classroom such a gratifying experience.
What is the biggest takeaway of all? We need to spend more time thinking about our teaching. I recognize we have other demands on our time but teaching must be equivalent to those other demands, and if treated so, we should avail ourselves of resources and supports, get better and better, so that we have a truly gratifying experience in the classroom