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In Boston, Massachussetts, two of the world’s most famous business schools, Harvard Business School and the Sloan school at MIT are doing more than merely teach business students. Both have taken a leading role in teaching professors from underdeveloped regions of the world – in how to teach business.
Both are training tomorrow’s business school faculty – who may one day prove to be their competitors – in a range of issues, from curriculum design to economics.
For Harvard, it is a priority to spread the word about the teaching method that uses the case study – a detailed account of a real business situation in which students study the dilemmas facing the organisation’s leaders.
Harvard is the pioneer of the case method and it is big business.
The school sells more than 6m cases a year and more than 80 per cent of its classes are built around the case method.
But Thomas Piper, professor of business administration at the school, says many people do not understand what is involved in teaching a case effectively.
So, for the past five years, Harvard has run the Colloquium on Participant-Centered Learning (CPCL), a 10-day programme aimed at top business schools in emerging economies that want to train their key faculty of deans, department chairs and professors.
Part of the programme includes sessions on case writing to help these schools develop their own field-based research.
The programme focuses on issues such as how people learn, how faculty teach, what is meant by participant centred learning, how to design a class and so on.
“We do some careful assessment of the learning and development needs of the participants in each school,” says Prof Piper.
CPCL, he adds, is about teaching teachers that there is no right or wrong answer for a case but a right thought process about business.
Through its CPCL programme, HBS has focused mainly on Latin America and has instructed close to 300 students in this version.
This summer the programme will expand to include, among others, Taiwan and mainland China. It is expected that 60 students a year will take part in this programme.
Six months after the programme, once faculty members have returned to their schools, HBS seeks feedback.
Prof Piper admits that it is not all plain sailing.
One of the significant concerns is critical scale – how many people need to learn the case method in order for them to have an impact within an institution.
The region really needs its own cases, but he says Latin American cases are thin on the ground and those faculty who are developing them receive little credit from their peers.
At MIT’s Sloan School, its China Management Education programme has been running for longer, for the past eight years.
Chinese faculty from Tsinghua University in Beijing, Fudan University in Shanghai and Zhongshan University in Guangzhou spend six months at MIT, collaborating with MIT faculty from their own curriculum area, developing their curriculum and learning teaching methods that are relevant to China.
Alan White, senior associate dean who leads the programme with Lester Thurow, professor of management and economics, says the school usually has between six and eight participants on the programme each year: so far more than 60 faculty have been trained at MIT. The “students” sit in on curriculum development, research seminars and attend MBA classes.
MIT also runs a teaching seminar for them and there are ongoing review sessions.
Prof White says the programme has been immensely successful.
While other schools send their own faculty to schools in Asia to teach teachers there, MIT has been dis-inclined to do this because faculty at Chinese schools have such a heavy work load.
By bringing participants to MIT they are on their own. “It is a wonderful period of time for them to develop their curriculum and research interests,” says Prof White.
He describes the programme as institution building. “Our model is a very effective one, contributing to faculty development and it is faculty that will make a great institution.”
MIT is also expanding the scheme and introduced the model into South Korea last year.
The success of both the MIT and Harvard programmes has not been merely one way.
Both US schools report strengthened research relationships, joint research opportunities and academic networking, as well as gaining insights into the specific regions.
Although the US schools are exporting their brand and philosophy of management education, thereby raising their profiles overseas, there is nonetheless a strong philanthropic element at work.
Both see their mentoring programmes as helping the cause of management education.
“Harvard is a tiny part of the puzzle for these schools. It is really down to people in these schools who are really working hard,” says Prof Piper.