Innovative Teaching: Anita M. McGahan

he STR Divison’s Teaching Committee asked outstanding strategy teachers to share some of their innovative teaching practices and materials. This post features Professor Anita McGahan (link to webpage), interviewed on behalf of the Division’s Teaching Committee by Assistant Professor Hakan Ener (link).

Anita McGahan is the Rotman Chair of Management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in Canada. She served as Chairperson of our Division (2006-2007) and as President of the Academy of Management (2016-2017). In 2010, she received the Academy of Management BPS (now STR) Division’s “Irwin Distinguished Educator Award” and, in 2012, the Academy conferred on McGahan its Career Distinguished Educator Award for her championship of reform in the core curriculum of business schools.

Prof. McGahan is a strong believer that students benefit from having a variety of learning sources and experiences inside and outside the classroom. This belief has led her to launch a Youtube channel for strategy students (link), in addition to leveraging the insights of managers whose professional experiences relate to topics in strategy. She recently described her approach in an interview.

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What is the idea behind launching a Youtube channel for strategy students?

Prof. McGahan’s Youtube channel brings together videos that she produced for students to learn about industry analysis, including topics such as Porter’s Five Forces Framework and measuring industry profitability. These videos overlap with and reinforce the contents that she covers in the classroom, rather than being part of an online course.

The Youtube channel delivers a few key benefits, not only for students, but also for Prof. McGahan herself. Many of her students use the Youtube channel as a way to reinforce the main learning points outside of class at their own pace. This is especially attractive for non-native English speakers, who may sometimes have difficulty keeping up with the fast-paced classroom lecture and discussion environment in North America. In fact, some of Prof. McGahan’s international students took the initiative to add subtitles to her videos on Youtube, and made sure that all classmates could follow the lecture online.

For Prof. McGahan, the Youtube channel provided new insights about how her students are keeping up with classroom teaching. She noticed that viewership statistics on her Youtube videos spiked on some days after her class ended, suggesting that the materials covered in the classroom may have been difficult to follow for students. This information was useful for Prof. McGahan to subsequently fine-tune her teaching.

How to leverage managers’ professional experiences in teaching strategy?

Business school faculty who use the case method will tell you that hearing from a guest speaker with professional experiences that relate to the events described in a case study is a very useful way to complement students’ learning. Prof. McGahan has taught with the case method extensively in her career, and has been fortunate that some of her former students have had first-hand knowledge of the events in some of the most popular case studies written on strategy.

An example is the Netflix case (link) which explains how the company grew and successfully confronted Blockbuster. One of Prof. McGahan’s former students, Shane Evangelist, served as the General Manager of Blockbuster Online, the business unit tasked with seeing off the competitive challenge from Netflix. When Prof. McGahan taught her students the Netflix case, she invited Shane Evangelist to class in order to share his side of the story. Shane spoke candidly about his experiences, and reinforced the learning points of the class.

Given how challenging it can be to align guest speakers’ schedules with her classes, Prof. McGahan began to build up a library of videos where managers from her social and professional networks (including former students, friends and acquaintances) spoke about their experiences. These videos now cover a broad range of topics about strategy, and capture informal conversations led by Prof. McGahan, who features selected parts of these interviews throughout her strategy course. While these videos are intended for use in her classes and therefore not available to the public, Prof. McGahan’s approach can inspire all strategy teachers to think about the interesting managerial experiences that their contacts can recount.

After our interview, I found myself asking: “Could I do more to hear from my contacts about their experiences related to the situations I describe in my own classes, and transmit these experiences?” As Prof. McGahan’s experience shows, our former students can speak to us from the heart, and they may have ideas on what lessons from their experiences may be useful for our current students to hear. Documenting hard-earned managerial insights, and carefully integrating those into strategy courses turns out to be a rewarding process for everyone involved.