Key Takeaways from the Harvard Business School Publishing Seminar on Participant Centered Learning

In addition to my day job of helping run online learning programs at NYU-SCPS, I also am an adjunct faculty member in our division of Leadership and Human Capital Management. All of our courses use case studies to teach students how to analyze business problems.  Though I've been a victim of the case study method in graduate school, I have not taught business school case studies until about a year ago.  I have used mini-cases, and lots of scenarios, but the teaching the multi-layered case study still new to me. 

Still, I start with the notion that teaching that puts students at the center of learning is an idea I always strive to put into practice in my classes.  The Participant Centered Learning, Art and Craft of Discussion Leadership session allowed me to see how the experts conduct the in class session and prepare for it.  In the spirit of PCL, we also got to try it out.  

Photo Mar 17, 1 59 15 PM

My takeaways:

  • Preparing the process of how the discussion will unfold is as important as preparing the content. Generally, when preparing my classes, I spend more time thinking about the process than the actual content.  Our instructors view content and process as individual blades on a pair of scissors, both essential to cutting.
  • The technology was almost invisible, and instructors were adept at using it to aid our discussion.  "When used correctly, the "boards" (in this case, the most beautiful black boards I've ever seen) become like an extra instructor in the class.  In a future post, I'm going to write about how we might achieve a similar effect in an online class
  • Students bring gifts to class, but you have to be prepared to accept them.  A gift could come in the form of a question, or a mis-understanding, or an argument.  It's the instructors role to decide whether or not to accept the gift, and then direct the discussion.
  • Stick to getting through 1 big idea in an hour, but break the discussion down into smaller "blocks."  Different instructors will spend different amounts of time on different parts of a case.
  • Assess class participation *immediately* after class.  At HBS, every case based class typically has 100 students.  Still, instructors assign a grade, and usually a code to what a student's contribution was during a particular class.  
  • End class with a question about the discussion so that the conversation continues after class.

Powered chalk boards and museum quality art on the walls aside, the part of which I am most envious? That each class has 8 to 10 sections per semester, with a section leader for each. Those instructors work together to craft the discussion questions and develop a teaching plan, and then debrief to see how it worked.  That approach of co-design and development seems like a great way to develop novel approaches to a case.

I would highly recommend these workshops for anyone teaching case studies.  

One thought on “Key Takeaways from the Harvard Business School Publishing Seminar on Participant Centered Learning

  1. Roseanna DeMaria

    I completely agree! HBSP’s PCL course is first rate in every way. PCL is very powerful in imprinting the learning because it demands that the student live the learning. Wondering if this model has limitations depending on subject matter? Or level of learner (e.g., graduate, under grad, post grad)? Learning goals?
    Most importantly, I’m deeply interested in how PCL can optimize the learning crucible of the online classroom. Hmmmmmm…..


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