Category Archives: Teaching

Effective student feedback

In our book Teaching with cases: A practical guide, Bill Schiano and I talk at a fairly high level about how to give effective student feedback by using a spreadsheet and personalized emails. Our argument is that by giving every student individual feedback in addition to the grade, you reduce the number of grade justification requests and complaints. This blog post is a detailed guide on how to do it – too detailed for the technically inclined, probably, but we all have to start somewhere.

You probably already have all the tools you need on your computer – a spreadsheet and an email client that works with your spreadsheet – such as Excel and Outlook, for example. (For myself, I use Excel and SerialMailer, a cheap serial mail client for Mac.) You can probably use online software as well, for instance a Google spreadsheet (which is nice because editing by more than one teacher is easy) and Gmail, though I have never tried it.

The idea is to use the spreadsheet to organize all your feedback, and to set it up so you use as little time as possible to give as much feedback as possible. I will demonstrate this, with an example for a fictitious course with three in-class sessions (with participation grading, 40% of grade), an individual written examination (30% of grade), and a group assignment (30%). I will show the various details of building the spreadsheet below – if you want to skip ahead and inspect the thing your self, I have made it available for downloading.

I start with a spreadsheet of students and email addresses, provided to me by the administration or downloaded from our LMS. Let’s say it looks something like this:


(If I have the time or can get the administration to create it from their databases, I ask to have first and last names in separate columns. For this demonstration, I won’t bother.)

Then I add columns for each of the assignments that I am going to grade:


(In this example, the individual examination has six questions, of which the students should answer four.)

For the group project, I create a separate sheet (in the same workbook, called “Groups”


The group sheet is exceptionally simple, just group number, points and comment. If you have several group assignments, this is where you will put them:


Note that I also create a group numbered 0. This is what I use for students who drop the course or don’t do the group assignment.

With that done, I assign students to groups in the Students sheet…


…and then I am ready to start teaching my course.

As the course rolls along, I enter points and comments for each student. As mentioned in the book, it is extremely important that you do the participation evaluation immediately after each class. I tend to give the students a score of 1-3, sometimes 1-6, with some definition. As I will show later, what scale you use does not really matter, as you can normalize them to whatever you want later in the process.

Anyway, assume the course is finished, and you have entered comments and points for everything – for the individual student, in the Student sheet….


…for the groups, in the Groups sheet:


To finish the evaluation part (we’ll get to communication later), you need to a) match the group points and comments to each individual student, b) calculate a final score for each student, and c) determine the letter grade for each student.

First: Group grades and comments. For a small class like this, this is probably a bit of overkill – you could just copy comments and points over to each individual student. But doing it the way I show here has the advantage (aside from being correct from a database administrator’s point of view) of error-correction (any error you make will be systematic and therefore easily spotted) and repeatable (the first time you do this, it is a chore, the second time, you just copy your previous spreadsheet and fiddle with it). Moreover, if you have a class with more than 40 students, a bit of “programming” saves time and effort. (I have done this for classes of 350 students, a situation where participation grading is not really possible – except as a small reward for exceptional students – but where the group feedback mechanism becomes extremely valuable.)

So, first – link individual students with their group’s scores and comments, using the LOOKUP function:


The formula is


and what it does is take the student’s group number (E2), look it up the first column of the “Groups” sheet (Groups!$A$2:$A$8), using fixed references to be able to copy the formula to the rest of the sheet, and displaying the group score (which is in column Groups!$B2:$B8). This nicely picks up all the group scores and comments:


We now have all the information for each student, then we have to calculate the various scores. We have the exam score already (the average of the exam points) and the participation score (a sum of the score for each session.) We now need to calculate the total points, which isn’t too hard: The max for participation is 9, for the others it is 10, so the formula for the total will be:



(I use comma as a decimal delimiter, parentheses for readability). We can now add a student ranking in the G column (students are always interested in this, so why not tell them?)


Now we are ready to set the grades. The simple way to do this is to sort the students by their scores (or rank, if you will):


How you set the letter grades is up to you, of course, but it helps to have the students sorted. I set grades by starting at the top, trying to get a reasonable distribution, and make sure that I don’t use absolutes so that some unlucky student narrowly misses a better grade. Let’s say we end up here:


Now we are ready to communicate the results to the students. We will do that by writing a letter to them, composed largely of common text (i.e., feedback that is the same to all students), and them use the mail/merge function of word to merge in the individual details from the spreadsheet.


Example letter using SerialMailer

As said above, I use a product called SerialMailer on my Mac. The concept is simple: You write the letter, link to the spreadsheet, and insert field names into the text. When the letter is sent out (or printed), the field names are substituted for the values for each individual student.

Here is how to do it in Word (if you want to send it out via email, you need to have Outlook as well.):

First, open Word and write the letter:


(As you can see, I recycle much of my texts…)

Let’s start by replacing “student” in the opening salutation with the student’s name. Then you open the Mailings tab in Word and hit Select recipients from an existing list…


…and select your spreadsheet:


I get this message, click OK:


And open the “Students” sheet (i.e. the individual sheet):


If you click “Insert Merge Field” now, you should get a list of the column headings in the spreadsheet:


Delete the word “student”, choose “Insert Merge Field” and choose “Name”, and the field code will be in the document:


If you hit “Preview Results”, the code will be replaced by the content for each student:


Now write field labels and insert the fields you want to share with the students. I like to add the listing at the end of the letter, but you can do whatever you want:


Hit Preview, and this is what each student will see:


And there you go. Now hit “Finish and Mail Merge”, and select whether you want to print the documents on paper (or PDF) or send them out via email (shown).


You must tell Outlook where the email addresses are in the spreadsheet:


Then specify a subject and choose HTML Message (if you want formatted text):


…and, well, this is where I will have to stop, since I do not use Outlook. But trust me, it works well, the students love having individualized feedback, and it really isn’t that much more work than just providing the grade. As an added bonus: If students want a grade justification, you can just tell them that they already have it…

(Corrections and feedback welcome, of course.)

Teaching Hacks: Using Google Docs under It’s Learning

(This is a new category I just dreamed up – will post little snippets of useful stuff for teaching. My view is that technology should make your life easier and the experience of the student better – otherwise, don’t use the technology.)

At BI Norwegian School of Business we use a learning management system called It’s Learning. As these systems go, it is (I think) no better or worse than any other system, but the interface is a bit clunky. However, it has a very useful feature (which I learned from Ragnvald Sannes), namely the ability to display Google Docs within the page:


This is very useful because

  • you can create all your course documents (syllabi etc.) in Google Docs, which is much better for editing and everything else. You can even edit the docs right in the It’s Learning window.
  • you can give the students read, comment or write capability as you please. Giving the students write access to a shared document is useful for many purposes – I use it as a shared arena for proposing term papers, for instance. Linda Rademaker uses a shared spreadsheet for student group formation – the students write themselves into groups, and she has a tab with “Lost sheep” who have not found groups to work in.
  • you can also share a Google Folder with the students and link that right from It’s Learning.

To set up a page like this, first create the document in Google Drive, copy the link to the document (“Share” in Google Doc, set the access rights to whatever you want), go to It’s Learning, click “Add” in the left column, choose “File or link”. Here you can choose various options, but what has worked for me is choosing “link” and pasting in the link. Make sure the “Embed page within itslearning” is checked, write the Title, and there you go.

Certainly has made my life easier, and hopefully made the students’ experience better.

(By the way, this does not work in China, of course (no Google Doc access), in case you teach there.)

Cases: How to prepare for and learn from them

My versatile and creative colleague Hanno Roberts and I have made a series of five videos on case learning and preparation, originally for students at the BI/Fudan MBA program. This teaching method is difficult both for teacher and student, but highly rewarding provided you give it proper attention – which means effective preparation. Hanno and I talk about the goal of case teaching, how students can prepare individually, how to prepare as a group, how to go through the case discussion in the classroom, and then we sum up with some strategies for how to retain what you have learned.

Hanno and I did these videos against a green-screen, with little preparation – we basically met, outlined a structure with some keywords, decided broadly on who should say what, and dove right into it. Most of the videos were shot once, and then the very capable Milosz Tuszko edited them, added background, logos and keywords.

The updated videos are a less wooden than the previous version, methinks, and available in high resolution and with better sound. We clarified the differences between my version of case teaching and Hanno’s (both work, by the way). Over the years the original videos have been much watched – hopefully, our students (and others) will watch them carefully, and the result will be better case teaching, more learning, and an even more enjoyable experience teaching.

Details about each video below the fold…

Continue reading

Teaching in China – some reflections

I am just back from teaching a four-day module (called IT management and eBusiness, though I might change that title somewhat) at the BI-Fudan MBA program.


picture2017This is just about the 15th time I teach in China, all of it in cooperation with Fudan University, which gives me some cause to reflect on how teaching in China has changed – all seen from my rather narrow perspective, of course, but still. Just as the Shanghai Bund view has changed (the pictures are from 1990 to 2010) so have the participants, contents and business environment of my courses.

The students have changed: In 2004, the age range and English proficiency of the students varied much more. About two thirds of the class had rather rudimentary English skills, I had to simplify the language, and the Chinese co-teacher spent a lot of time explaining concepts and partially translating what I did. This is not any longer – gone are the days when Chinese students would sit quietly and avoid your gaze. Now they participate more or less like students anywhere in the world. English skills still vary, but not any more than they do in any European country. The co-teacher (this time the very capable Dr. Wei Xueqi, left of me in the picture) still has one hour of Chinese teaching every day after I am done, but spends more time discussing and less time translating.

The course has changed: I used to lecture much more, focus more on basic concepts and methods. Now I use cases (five in this course, plus one for the in-class exam) and the students analyze and present, challenging each others’ conclusions. I now basically use the same teaching method (heavy on case teaching) in this course as I do in any other course at a M.Sc. or MBA level I teach.

The business environment of Shanghai and China has changed. In 2004, China’s business environment was firmly divided into FDI (foreign direct investment) and SOE (state owned enterprises) and the management culture, measures and methods were very different. Copying was rampant and you sometimes felt as if you were introducing capitalism to an audience where a sizable portion of the students were unsure whether it was a good idea. Not so any more: The students now all have experience with international business, frequently with much more experience than my Norwegian students, particularly when it comes to production and industrial planning. A larger and larger portion of the class works in service industries and in online enterprises, something which I have reflected in choice of cases and examples.

I used to go to China because it was different and therefore interesting. Now I go there because it is interesting – but not so different. At least not in the classroom.

Teaching with Cases: Detailed table of contents

bookcover2The Table of Contents in the paper and PDF version of Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide is only at the chapter level. For readers wanting a more detailed overview of the book or to find something specific, here is the detailed table of contents:

Preface  vii
Acknowledgements     ix

Chapter 1: Introduction: Why you should read this book 1
Why case teaching?     2
How case classes and students vary     4
Class size     5
Core versus elective     5
Part-time versus full-time     5
Gender     5
Weekly versus  modular courses     6
Domestic versus international     6
Single versus multi-section     6
Executive versus graduate versus undergraduate     7
One of many case classes for students vs. only or one of few 7
In school versus other location     7
Practical Guidance for all Case-Teaching Faculty     7
The central framework: Foundation, flow, and feedback     8

Chapter 2: Foundations: Preparing for the course     11
Taking Ownership    12
Making a Contract     14
Developing Content     16
Structuring the syllabus     26
Selecting cases     18
Selecting readings and textbooks     24
Using guest speakers     26
Using assignments     28
Working with Students     29
Motivating Students     32
Enthusiasm and Engagement     33
Relevance     33
Opportunities to build valuable skills     33
Safe participation     34
Fun     34
Finding Information about Students’ Backgrounds     35
Helping the students prepare for case discussions    36
Classroom participation requirement     36
Establishing Infrastructure     38
Establishing seating arrangements     39
Using Name cards and seating charts     42
Setting length and frequency of class sessions     44
Session Length  45
Session Frequency  45
Wrapping up     46

Chapter 3: Flow During the Class Session    49
Preparing Yourself    51
Crafting a teaching plan     52
Demeanor in class     54
Dressing for class and impression management     55
Managing your anxiety     57
Preparation     57
Exercises     58
Rituals     59
Starting to Teach     59
The first class     59
Opening classes     62
Building trust in the class     64
Managing the Discussion     66
The Emcee: Calling on students and managing airtime     67
The Scribe: Using the board     70
Board plan     71
Writing on the board     74
The Conductor: Using body language, silence, and movement 76
Using the physical space   79
The TV Host: Asking questions   82
Giving up control     84
Time management     85
How long to let a discussion go     86
If you are running out of time     86
Breaks and other interruptions    87
Teaching long class days     88
Beyond Discussion     89
Using theory and other non-case material     89
Inductive versus deductive case use 90
Communicating Theory  91
Role-Playing     93
Multipart cases     94
Group work     95
Group Presentations     96
Group Discussions    98
Team teaching in the classroom    99
Are you getting the most from each student?     101
Humor in the classroom     102
Energy    103
Raising the energy level     104
Relationships among and with students     106
Concluding a Discussion     107

Chapter 4: Feedback: Assignments, Grading and Guidance 111
The Evaluative Mindset  112
Designing Evaluation   113
Designing assignments 115
Individual Oral Assignments   115
Individual Written Assignments 116
Group Oral Assignments  117
Group Written Assignments  118
Designing Exams     118
Selecting Cases for Exams   118
Writing Exam Questions  119
Take-Home Exams   121
Designing Term Papers  122
Term Papers as Research Method  124
Grading    125
A matter of scaling     125
How to structure feedback     127
Group Work  130
Final Exams  130
Class participation     131
Capturing Participation  133
Setting Expectations  134
Setting Expectations by Self-Evaluation  135
Exams  136
The dreaded extra-credit requests    139
Handling academic dishonesty     140
Conclusion     143

Chapter 5: Managing Classroom Issues     145
Issues with Individual Student    145
How do I manage students who hog airtime?     146
How do I manage combative students?     147
What can I do about students’ computer use in class?    148
What do I do if a student does not pay attention in class?   149
What do I do if a student complains?     150
How do I accommodate students with disabilities?     151
Issues with groups of students     152
What Do I Do When Students Are Not Well Prepared? 152
How do I get students to prepare better?     153
Reward Good Preparation 153
Help Them Along  154
Draw Out Prepared But Reticent Students 154
Require Case Write-ups or Give Pop Quizzes  154
Give a Stern Lecture  154
Make An Example of a Student or Two  154
How do I stop side conversations?     155
How Do I Manage Dysfunctional Class Behavior?  156
Hissing  156
Genuflection   156
Sharking  157
What if the class turns against me?     157
How is Teaching Executives Different?  159
How should I deal with student pranks?     161
How Do I Deal with Student Representatives?    163
How Do I Deal with Dysfunctional Groups? 164
Free-Riders  164
Personality Conflicts   165
Poor Project Management   165
Poor Performance   165
Issues Beyond Students     166
What if I can’t find enough cases that fit?     166
What do I do if I have lost track of the discussion?     167
What if I run out of questions?     168
How do I deal with problems in an intensive-format course? 137
Prepare Differently  169
Manage Expectations  169
Manage Process Closely  169
What can I do if I am low on energy?     170
What If the Administration Gets Involved?

Chapter 6 Quantitative and technical material     174
Flipping the Qualitative and Quantitative    175
Being Qualitative about the Quantitative  175
Being Quantitative about the Qualitative  176
Explicitly Teach Estimation   177
Quantify Anything   177
Know the Industry Data   177
Change Assumptions or Problems on the Fly  179
Teaching Quantitative Material   179
Making a Teaching Plan for a Quantitative Case   179
Pacing the Discussion  180
Asking for a Number at the Beginning   181
Managing Math Phobia and Aversion to Numbers   183
Making the value clear   182
Acknowledging the Phobic  182
Filling in the Holes  182
Fostering a Sense of Self-Efficacy  183
Using the Board  183
Making the best use of students     185
When Students Go Wrong  185
When No One Has the Correct Analysis  186
Discussing a Quantitative Case with Subjective Numbers or Estimates   187
Using Groups  188
Teaching Technical Material   189
Motivating the Study of Technology   189
Structuring the Teaching of Technology  190
Conclusion 192

Chapter 7 Adjusting for language and culture     195
The Foreign Student  197
Making Adjustments for Foreign Students   200
The Foreign Teacher   202
The Teacher Abroad  204
Expectations for teaching   205
Teacher power     206
Student behavior     207
Using Interpreters   208
Trust the locals     211

Chapter 8: Preparing for the next time     213
Debriefing a course     213
Interpreting and using student feedback     215
How to Read Student Feedback   215
Striving for High Evaluations   217
Reviewing Case Selection   217
Debriefing with a Teaching Group 218
Archiving Material   218
Evaluating case teachers, including yourself     219
Before Class  219
During Class  219
After Class  220
Managing relationships with alumni     220

Chapter 9: Fostering Case Teaching at the School Level  223
The Commoditized Business School  223
Relevance is Relevant   224
Integration is Integral   225
Institutionalizing Case Teaching   228
Recruiting, Incentives and Promotion   228
Teaching-Related Procedures   230
Getting Infrastructure Right   230
Classroom Design  231
Good, Abundant Board Space   231
Blackboards Rather Than Whiteboards   231
Seating   232
Making Cases Easy to Use and Produce   233
Case Production   234

Chapter 10 Technologies for Case Teaching  238
Take Control of the Technology  238
Technology for Teacher Productivity  239
Teacher’s Computer Use in Class   241
Presentation Software   243
Tools for Student-Teacher Interaction   246
Learning Management Systems     246
Build a Sandbox   246
Explore the System   247
Maintain Communication Norms   247
Create a FAQ Repository  247
Structure for Reuse  247
Facilitate Searching   247
Consider the User’s Experience   248
Maintain Structure   248
Automate Availability   248
Explore the Analytics   248
Seek and Accept Help  249
Other Technologies to Support Student Interaction  249
Social Media   249
In-Class Polling and Voting Tools   249
Questionnaires   250
Shared Documents   250
Analysis Tools   250
Online Simulations  251
Online Teaching   251
Teleconference Teaching   251
Get the Basic Technology Right 252
Communicate in a Way Suited to the Medium   252
Communicate via Side Channel and Back Channel  253
Get to Know the Students  254
Videoconferencing  254
Lighting and Background   255
Sound   256
The Video Camera   256
Concurrently Teaching Face-to-Face and Remotely   259
Teaching Asynchronously with Discussion Forums   260
Foundations: Designing the Course and Forming the Contract   262
Flow: Running the Discussion   265
Guidelines for Students   267
Feedback: Evaluating and Closing the Loop 269
Managing the inevitable technical failures   271
Conclusion   273

Index   275
About the Authors  293

Case teaching when you are not at Harvard

Our book is out!
bookcover2Bill Schiano and I have written a book, Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide, officially launched today at Harvard Business Publishing, available as paperback or PDF (304 pages).

Bill and I are both passionate about case teaching and use it whenever possible. We have aimed the book at the kind of people we were 18 years ago: Teachers wanting to use case teaching, but finding ourselves in institutions where case teaching is not the dominant teaching method. (We actually wanted to name the book Case teaching when you are not at Harvard, but saner minds intervened.)

There are a few books on how to do case teaching available, but common to them is that they are a) rather philosophical and abstract in their advice, and b) take the institutional environment for granted – i.e., they assume that you are at a school, such as Harvard Business School, Wharton, INSEAD or University of Western Ontario, where case teaching is the norm, the students are brilliant and fiercely competitive, classrooms are made for case teaching and excellent teaching is valued by the administration (and the promotion committees.)

We wanted the book to be relentlessly practical – what to wear to class, how to deal with disruptive students, how to get students to prepare, how to grade participation. We also wanted the book to address how to create the necessary infrastructure for case teaching with little or no administrative support, down to how you create name cards (let the students do it or use a spreadsheet/mail-merge function) and class chart (take a photo of the students holding their name cards, print it in weak grayscale for after-class note-taking.)

The book is built around three concepts: Foundations (how to set up the course, contract with the students, and set up infrastructure); Flow (how to conduct the discussion in the classroom, manage time and boards, ask questions, and conclude discussions); and Feedback (how to design grading and feedback, especially participation grading.) We have extra chapters on dealing with difficult issues (much of it based on questions from participants in HBS’ case teaching seminars); how to teach quantitative and technical material; how to deal with differences in language and culture (foreign students and foreign teachers); how to prepare for the next course; how to foster case teaching at the school level (many business schools are now looking to better teaching, including case teaching, as a differentiator); and lastly, a long and detailed chapter on technologies for case teaching, including our views on how to teach cases online.

The book also includes a collection of online resources (sample syllabi, sample teaching plans, etc.) for teachers, available at We hope to grow this collection as we hear from readers and build more material ourselves.

That’s it for now – I’ll be back with excerpts, a full table of contents, and various other nuggets eventually. But given that this book has been on my mind for a couple of years now, it is a rather good day…

Scandinavian cases: Call for abstracts

With two colleagues, Gerhard Schjelderup and Mikael Lönnborg, I am trying to create a case collection, to be published as a book. We start with a call for abstracts, with a deadline of June 9. You will find the details in this PDF document.

The main idea is simply to do something about the lack of available teaching cases on Scandinavian (or, for that matter, Nordic) companies. We want cases that are like HBS cases – no theory in the case, a thorough description of an interesting company with an interesting problem. Seems simple enough, no?

See you for the workshop on October 10!