Understanding Booth’s Curriculum Review: How are academics evolving?

By Tyler Kearn ‘15

Tyler Kearn '15

Tyler Kearn '15

Conducting a review of Booth’s curriculum involves a lot of people. There’s the review committee – comprised of Canice Prendergast, Ayelet Fishbach, Rob Gertner, John Heaton, Erik Hurst, Steve Kaplan, Stacey Kole, and Doug Skinner – but then there is all of the people that they speak with and involve in the process. “The fundamental premise of our investigations was that we could learn from many different sources how to think strategically about the curriculum, both in the classroom and outside,” said Prendergast, chair of the committee.

This meant speaking with not just the faculty, but students, alumni, other business schools and institutions, and even firms that recruit at Booth. Overall, the number of people involved was in the hundreds, according to Dean Kole.

All of this effort to take such a deep dive into the school’s curriculum is not done every year – in fact, the last time such an effort was undertaken was in 2007-2008. Out of that review, several classes were added, including Professor Bertrand’s Firm in the Non-Market Environment, as well as LEAD for the part-time programs.

Last year, Dean Kumar felt that it was time to embark on a review again, not because anything was wrong, but because the education landscape is changing and the school wants to make sure it stays at the forefront. “We launched this year's review not because of any specific concerns, but with the belief that the curriculum should always evolve,” Kumar wrote last spring in his letter from the Dean in the Chicago Booth magazine.

“Satisfaction with the curriculum remains high,” Kole said in looking at the results of the review, but that several areas emerged as opportunities for the school going forward. One is to give students more tools with which to navigate Booth’s famous flexible curriculum. “I was surprised at the difficulty that students sometimes have in managing that flexibility, partly as they do know not enough about classes they are considering to make an informed choice,” said Prendergast. “The message came through that students would like more and better information about courses,” said Kole, and action is already being taken. Academic advising appointments now involve sitting down with transcripts, so the advisors know the student’s academic background and experiences, and further changes are in the works.

The other major area for opportunity involved innovation around classes and the educational experience. “On the issue of technology in the classroom, students were not clamoring for more technology, but in looking across what others were doing we see a lot of experimenting going on, and felt it would be a good idea for us to do more experimenting as well,” Kole said.

In addition to experimentation around technology, there was a focus on experimentation around classes and their formats. “One example would be shorter classes, could we have 5-week classes?” Kole said. Another example is flipped classrooms, in which students learn new material outside of class and use class to then practice or present what they’ve learned. Already, Booth 455 has a classroom set up to facilitate this, which is arranged so students sit in clusters rather than facing forward towards an instructor.

The next steps with the review involve the Dean’s office taking the committee’s recommendations and creating an implementation plan. “In areas like new course innovation, the use of experiential classes, and especially the use of technology, we are confident that the Dean's office will put in place the framework that will get us to that point,” Prendergast said. The timeframe on seeing these changes come about will be fast. “I expect we will begin to see curricular innovations as soon as next year,” Kole said.

A few other interesting things came out of the review process. There was investigation into whether Booth should have a mandatory class on ethics. “There was not widespread support among students for having a required ethics class,” Kole said. There was a look into whether students should have to take an experiential or lab class while at Booth, but it was also not recommended by the committee. “There were questions about scaling,” said Kole. In regards to LEAD, Kole said, “We didn’t hear a systematic call for more leadership development coursework.”

Finally, there was a look into further expanding Booth’s offering of overseas and global experiences. “When we investigated that with our global advisory boards, there was pretty strong distaste for what I will call a travelogue type of educational experience,” Kole said. She further points out that Booth’s campuses in London and Hong Kong do not mirror the Chicago campuses in that they are largely dormant when the Executive MBA Program is out of session.  Thus for non-Executive MBA students to utilize those campuses requires the creation of new classes and programming.

All in all, the curriculum review and of the resulting findings have been the result of a lot of hard work by people around Booth, and the faculty and administration is pleased with all the support they have gotten. “The committee is really grateful to the students who devoted time to help with the review process,” Kole said.