Teaching Business with Frankenstein, Jazz, and GPS Tours

in Faculty, News, Organizational Behavior
March 9th, 2012

Instructional Innovation Conference features SMG class

BU’s Quarter to Six jazz ensemble performs for SMG students as part of Jack McCarthy’s Organizational Behavior class. Photos by Vernon Doucette

BU’s Quarter to Six jazz ensemble performs for SMG students as part of Jack McCarthy’s Organizational Behavior class. Photos by Vernon Doucette

Excerpts from BU Today:

For its first hour and a quarter, Jack McCarthy’s Organizational Behavior 221 class serves up your standard-issue business lecture, replete with corporate-ese—“task interdependence,” “mutual accountability,” “the five dysfunctions of a team”—and organizational flow charts. McCarthy enlivens things some by playing movie clips and an interview with Hollywood director J. J. Abrams to underscore points about teamwork.

But no one is prepared when he walks stage left in the School of Management auditorium, opens a door, and admits a strolling saxophonist, followed by the rest of the BU Quarter to Six jazz ensemble. Punctuated by applause and whoops, the half dozen musicians improvise a performance, and at the end McCarthy, sounding more talk show emcee than academic, exhorts the room “to give it up once more for the BU jazz ensemble!”

Later this month, actors will perform excerpts from Monster, the College of Fine Arts recent Frankenstein adaptation. Few firms are in the business of making creatures from the dead, but that week’s curricular themes of conflict and power dynamics are “exhibited unbelievably in the play,” McCarthy says. Another session will review how teamwork among owners, trainers, and jockeys made Seabiscuit a prizewinning racehorse.

“We often think about education backwards,” says McCarthy. “We think about education as being the lecture, and that there’s this wise professor who imparts wisdom once a week.” That’s wrong: “The best way to learn is through application and doing. We need experiential exercises, and we need something outside the box.” The approach spins off of psychologist Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory that different people learn best in different ways. “When you have students engaged, and when you have creative examples from different domains,” McCarthy insists, “you’re much more likely to tap into diverse learners and diverse learning styles.”

That’s why he and colleagues still include the old-fashioned lecture, especially during boot camp, McCarthy’s term for the more traditional freshman year curriculum. “If all I talk about is Seabiscuit, the GPS adventure—it’s going to be happy land. And some students love that, but some students hate it. They’re like, ‘I’m going to be on Wall Street; I’m going to be a banker. That has nothing to do with me.’”

Yet happy land is a not a gimmick: CEOs tell him they want employees who can collaborate and improvise, says McCarthy, and “who collaborates and improvises? Musicians, dancers.”

Read the full article here.