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There's something in the air on the other side of the Rockies...

… and it’s not what you might think. We’re not talking about Salvia or any other herb. It’s change that’s in the air on campus in BC.

Tim and I were out West for a speaking series last month, and while we were there we had an opportunity to meet with the Deans of the Business Schools at UBC and Simon Fraser. Even though we were primarily there to gain their commitment to participate in Focus 2040, we took advantage of the opportunity to learn a little more about their programs.

The appointments had been arranged at the very last minute; we would have been grateful for even a few minutes’ face time. Instead, we were welcomed like long lost friends and treated to long audiences that will be the beginning of lasting relationships.

There are some very cool things happening on those campuses; two that are most evocative of the change in the air are

  1. Evidence of the Fit First philosophy trickling into academia; and
  2. One early-adopter who’s using Twitter to improve his students’ classroom experience.

Fit First

Both UBC and SFU have adopted a new model in admissions. The old paradigm was to rely on high-school grades as the primary differentiator, and they found the bar inching higher year after year. The cutoff point was well into the mid-90’s, and they found that there were really good candidates being excluded because of their respectable-but-not-stratospheric marks. Perhaps more importantly, in the words of one Dean, “we also found that employers wouldn’t touch” many of the most academically gifted students because of deep shortcomings in other areas critical to success.

The solution? An acceptance process that still considers grades, but only as one measure of fit with their program. In the same way as our clients learn to lead with fit, selection committees at these two business schools are learning to consider (and how to weight the relative value of) such diverse aspects of an individual as work experience, leadership, community involvement, and even involvement in the arts. They are actively working to populate their programs with people who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to the table… and there’s no question that the business community will benefit from that in the near future.

Twits or Tweets

Laptops made their way into the lecture halls a decade ago, ostensibly to help students take notes, conduct research and so on. Ask most students what they use their laptops for in class, though, and the honest ones will tell you they have several programs running – Gmail, Facebook, Instant Messenger, their browser… and possibly the prof’s notes or reference material. There are lots of distractions, but reality for most students is that many profs simply read their notes out loud from the front of the room anyway, and those notes are all available online.

So the lecture is made bearable with pleasant distractions, which understandably irritates many of the professors, who (correctly) wonder if anyone’s listening. Some even argue in favour of banning laptops in class, thereby eliminating the competition for their students’ attention. These academics seem to think that such a ban would somehow encourage students to listen in rapt attention as they read from their overheads.

One professor at UBC has turned the conventional thinking upside-down. Rather than wage a war on technology, he’s leaning into it as a means to get – and engage – his students’ attention. During his lecture, he operates a Twitter feed and has it projected on the walls of the lecture hall… while he’s lecturing, he and his students post comments, questions, observations and feedback – which turns the lecture into a dynamic ‘conversation’ and a much more valuable experience for all concerned.

Huh. It almost makes me wish I was a student again.


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