Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Starting a Marketing Campaign

As I have said occasionally on this blog, one important step in having a great class is selling the class to the students.   If they are not convinced that the sacrifice is worth the reward, even the best teacher will have trouble getting the strong effort from them that is needed.   Most college students have had plenty of classes over the years that seemed like a total waste of time.   They often start each new semester with that cynical expectation.   As early as possible, I want to begin selling them on the vital importance of what we are going to be doing.   I want to create that positive mindset.  I want them to anticipate something special.

Thus, although my classes do not begin until January 11, I have already sent out an email or two just to introduce myself and start building momentum for the semester.   This morning, I sent out the following email message to my future Intermediate Accounting II students.   I want the students to understand that I am not looking for them to sit calmly in their seats taking notes.   I want them to be very active participants in the learning process.   More importantly, I want them to have a completely different view of the learning process.   Learning is not a punishment to endure.   Learning is exciting.   Learning is not an obstacle to fight past.   Learning is a journey to be cherished.  

One email is never going to change the mindset of all my students but, hopefully, they will now begin to think about the possibility that this class will be different in a positive way.   I will have tickled their curiosity.   Of course, I still have to make the class different and challenging and unique and interesting and rewarding.   But, if I have opened their minds to that possibility, the chances of success for everyone has already gone way up.

To:   Intermediate Accounting II Students

From:   JH

Happy Holidays!!   Hope you got the GPA from the fall semester that you wanted.   The system that I always want to see is:   You work very hard and you learn a lot of amazing things and you get very good grades.   I trust that worked for you. 

About this time each semester, I receive a number of emails from future students who pose a question like this:   “I understand your class is challenging and I understand you have different goals than some of the other professors.   What can I do now while I have some free time so that I am ready to do my best when the semester begins?”  

Good question.   In many ways, I don’t care much about the amount of accounting you already know.   In my class, C students can (and often do) become A students.   With some effort, all of this accounting stuff can be learned.   It is neither rocket science nor brain surgery.    Although it is nice if you have a 4.0 GPA, it is not a requirement for doing well in Intermediate Accounting II.

What do I want from you?   I want a raging curiosity about how the world works.   I want enthusiasm and energy.   I want a willingness to put in an hour or so of study each and every day.   I want to see a genuine excitement about learning and education.    I want to see you set priorities rather than simply march ahead in a random fashion.   I want you to decide what success means to you and then go full speed ahead to make that success happen.   I want you to take control of your life rather than have it take control of you.  

I am not nearly as interested in students who seem bored by everything they don’t already know.   I am not wild about students who find an endless variety of excuses for not working.   I am not excited by students who want to give up the first day they are asked a question that requires them to think rather than spout a memorized litany. 

As odd as this might seem, I really do want you to walk in to class each day excited to be there, excited by what you might learn.   I want you to learn this material so deeply that you will come to the point where you won’t need me—where you have a true understanding so that you can figure out new and unique problems by yourself.   That is what college is supposed to feel like.
If this intrigues you, let me make a suggestion.   If you go to the following URL, you will find a speech that I gave a few years ago about what I wanted from my students.   Because you are going to be in my class, you might find it “educational.”   You can skip the first ten minutes or so.   That is just a bunch of introductions.   Watch the speech.   

At the end, I pose a question and ask the crowd for an answer.   How would you answer that question?


Monday, December 7, 2015


As I try to mention every now and then, if you want me to send you an announcement whenever I post a new blog entry (about 20 times per year), send me an email at Jhoyle@richmond.edu.

My good friend Bob Jensen passed along the following URL a week or so ago:

The related story talks with one of the authors of the book Taking College Teaching Seriously:   Pedagogy Matters!    The story begins with an interesting assertion:   “The call to increase the number of U.S. adults with college degrees and improve college completion rates across the country has only grown louder in recent years.  But relatively little has been discussed about the actual teaching that occurs inside the thousands of lecture halls, labs and classrooms on college campuses.”  

Do you agree or disagree with that statement?   I think that very assertion is worth a discussion.   My tendency is to mostly agree with the statement based on what I have seen as I go out and about.   But there are some wonderful exceptions.   For that reason, I found the comments at the end of this story almost as interesting as the story itself.   In colleges, do we discuss teaching a little, a lot, none, or what?   What do you think?

Thanks to Bob for sending that along.

As I have mentioned previously, I led a couple of teaching programs here at the University of Richmond recently.   In the most recent, I began with one of my all-time favorite quotes about teaching (a quote that I have mentioned in this blog a number of times over the years):  

“Great teaching is not about the number of years you do it.   Great teaching is about the amount of time you spend thinking about it.”

Whenever I bring up this sentiment, I get very little resistance.   It has a common sense appeal that people like.   But, never once, over all these years that I have been doing this, has anyone ever raised his or her hand and asked the perfectly obvious question:   “So, what do you think about when you are thinking about teaching?”   If “thinking about it” is so darn important, shouldn’t someone address the issue of what thoughts we should be pondering?   Do we get hung up admiring quotations or do we actually consider their implications?

I raised that very question in my presentation.   And, then I told a story about one of the things I think about as I consider how I want to teach my classes.    When my older son was a senior in high school, he did extremely well in his art classes and decided that he might want to attend the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).   Over my winter break that year, we scheduled a trip to Providence, Rhode Island, to tour the campus.   As luck would have it, the area was recovering from a huge snow and ice storm.   On Friday, January 7, 1994, we were spending our last day on the campus before heading home the next morning.   As we walked across campus in the snow and ice, we saw announcements that the students were putting on a presentation of videos that had been made in some of their classes.   It sounded fascinating so we came back to campus that evening for the show.  Because of the bad weather, we arrived early and wandered around in one of the classroom buildings to kill time.   In a computer lab on the basement level, we found a young student working at a computer monitor.   We asked her what she was working on and she was ever so enthusiastic to show us.   Okay, this is nearly 22 years ago when computer programming was primitive.   She had been working on designing a stick figure on her monitor that could toss a ball and then catch it.   And, sure enough, as we watched, the stick figure did exactly that.   The student was so thrilled.   She told us all about how hard she had worked that entire day and how exciting the whole process had been.   Her enthusiasm for the exercise was contagious.

As my son and I walked from the room, I turned to him and asked the question:   “I wonder how many of my accounting students work this hard on their Friday evenings?”

To which my son replied, “Better still.   How many of your students get that excited about learning accounting?”  

We both laughed but I have thought about that conversation for over two decades now.   How can I get my students so interested in financial accounting that they will gladly work on Friday evenings and be ecstatic when they finally manage to solve the assigned problem?

It is very easy for me to rationalize and say “well, she was doing computer programming and I’m teaching accounting” but is coming to understand the essence of financial reporting truly more boring than getting a stick figure to throw a ball?   Or, do I just assume that my students will think it is boring and, therefore, I accept that as inevitable?

Since January 7, 1994, I have spent a lot of time thinking of ways to make my coverage interesting/engaging/intriguing.   As far as I’m concerned, it should be a pleasure to learn how the world of accounting works and not drudgery.

What have I learned from all this thinking?   There are lots and lots of things I could bring up but if I had to list just one thing, it would be this:   Excitement in education is all about the questions.   The questions you ask your students (in class and on tests) have to be interesting.  They have to be challenging.   They have to be worth the effort.   They have to be puzzling.    Focus on the questions.

If all you do is provide some type of rule or fact or process and then ask the students to memorize it, no student is ever going to be excited about your class.   Think about the questions.   What questions can you throw at them that will make students stop and wonder?   What questions can you ask that will puzzle them enough so that they will truly want to work out the answer for themselves.   

That has been on my mind now for an awfully long period of time.