Historically, academics have broadly seen the Ph.D. as a high-end research degree with teaching emphasis taking somewhat of a back seat. Teacher training for Ph.D. students has been limited to teaching assistant roles for the purpose at hand, such as leading labs or class sections, grading assignments, or other prescribed tasks—training that only skims the surface of what they will be required to do when they become professors. In fact, some doctoral graduates step into their first teaching classroom with no teacher preparation at all.
Given average Ph.D. graduates will take a professorial position with about half of their responsibilities dedicated to teaching, there is growing concern that business doctoral programs are not adequately preparing students for the realities they will face in their careers. While leading educational authorities understand why there has traditionally been so little emphasis on teaching preparation, they say it is no longer acceptable and are calling for change.
The Carson College is one of the first business schools to answer that call.
TEACHING EXPERIENCE REQUIRED FOR DOCTORAL CANDIDATES
As of fall 2018, all Carson doctoral students are required to take a weekly, three-hour teaching seminar that focuses on a balance of teaching theory and tactics. The decision was twofold: Ph.D. students indicated they want more formalized teacher training, and college leadership wanted to improve the undergraduate experience, as Carson Ph.D. candidates commonly teach undergraduates.
Debbie Compeau, professor of management information systems, instructs the class that she developed and taught at her previous institution. Students learn how to design curricula, develop and deliver course materials, and evaluate students. Each student also practices teaching and develops a teaching philosophy. A typical class session involves a learning activity, often a case study, in which students discuss real-world classroom situations and how they would handle them.
BUILDING EFFECTIVE TEACHING PRACTICES
“I’ve always been a champion of teaching and learning,” says Compeau, who was recently promoted to associate dean of faculty affairs and research. “Gradually, teaching is taking on more importance in the role of business schools. If as a business college we are serious about our goal of producing Ph.D. graduates who know how to teach, we need to require students to take this course.”
Up to this point, Ph.D. students were taught as apprentices, Compeau says. Faculty advisors helped students prepare to teach classes and sat in when they were teaching. But the system was very ad hoc. It depended on the capabilities and interests of the person advising the student, which can vary, and was based on pure learning from experience without exposure to theory and research that can inform practice.
Students miss discovering “why” something works when they learn in these ad hoc ways, she explains. In class, students have to be able to deliver a lecture. But they will build better lectures if their ideas are based on a set of principles about how people receive and learn information, she says.
REWARDS OF TEACHING
The most rewarding thing for Compeau is when her students come back after class or even months or years later and tell her how they are using what they learned in her class.
Gihan Edirisinghe, a Carson finance doctoral candidate who recently took Compeau’s class, says her guidance and research-based information helped him evolve while respecting his personal stance on teaching.
“This class reinforced my somewhat unconventional approach to teaching, while showing many chinks in my armor. Our discussions ranging from teacher as a performer, to technology in the classroom, to managing student issues gave me numerous ideas to make my teaching more effective,” says Edirisinghe. “The teaching philosophy and micro-teaching assignments also gave me invaluable feedback.”
To learn more about the Carson College doctoral program, visit go.wsu.edu/phd.