Engage ESSEC students

Feedback from my participation in HBS GloColl

By François Longin, Professor of Finance

I’ve just come back from the Global Colloquium on Participant-Centered Learning Program (GloColl) at Harvard Business School (HBS). Many thanks to ESSEC for giving me the opportunity to join this program about education. It was great! Beyond my expectations!

In this first post I would like to share with you a few changes that I will make in my courses at ESSEC to increase the engagement of our students. Although the propositions below fit very well with the case studies teaching approach, I believe they can also be efficient with the traditional lectures that I use for most of my courses at ESSEC. For more feedback about the participant-centered learning (PCL) approach, you may read the post Educating Leaders: Participant-Centered Teaching by Prof. Geneviève Helleringer, who also participated to the 2019 HBS GloColl; you may also look for additional resources proposed by HBS for teaching with the case method.

Organize “Pair & Share” at the start of sessions

For the first session of some of my courses (with not so many students) I will start with a pair and share sequence. This way is a good way for students in the class to know each other better (ice breaker) and to start the class with a lively discussion based on their knowledge and experience.

Let me take the example of the session focused on Finance that I teach in the Managing in complexity course at ESSEC Grande Ecole (coordinated by Prof. Laurent Bibard):

  • I request students in the class to pair and ask the following question: “Can you describe with a few figures how financial markets work?” Each student has 3 minutes to accomplish this task. This first exercise encourages students to recall their knowledge about the subject and build on their working experience.
  • The two students of each pair have then 3 minutes each to present their work to each other. The goal of this second exercise is to engage students to communicate clearly and to listen to each other (soft skills).
  • Then I ask a few students to share with the group what they have learned from the other student about complexity in financial markets. I write what students say on the board and use it to frame the continuation of the session: the points that I planned to cover and other points beyond the scope of the session.

I also plan to use this method for my SimTrade course for the ESSEC Global BBA program, for my Investment and Financial management courses at ESSEC Executive Education.

An interesting variation of the “Pair & Share” approach is the “buzz groups”: for a few minutes, I could let students talk among themselves or practice a managerial/financial scenario. This allows all students to participate in a more interactive way and engage with class content.

Organize votes in class

To organize a vote in the class is an interesting way to engage students and create constructive discussion among them.

Let me take the example of the Financial management course that I give for first year students at ESSEC Grande Ecole:

  • For an open issue like the choice of a valuation method (accounting vs finance), ask a clear question with two potential answers (say yes or no).
  • Then count the number of students for each answer. Has each student cast a vote?
  • Then ask students from the minority to justify their choice, and thereafter ask students from the majority to do the same (better not to start with students in the majority because those in the minority may feel overwhelmed and may feel uncomfortable to express their arguments).
  • Finally ask students in the minority group if they changed their mind by listening to students of the majority group. Conclude or not!

Beyond participation, a vote often generates discussions among students and creates tension in the classroom.

“Cold call” and “warm call” students

In order to increase the attention of students, cold calls and warm calls are quite effective. With a cold call, a student is called without notice by the instructor, while with a warm call, a student is told in advance that he / she will be asked to reflect on a given subject in a moment (giving the student the opportunity to gather thoughts before speaking up).

  • For all the sessions where students must prepare an exercise (homework), I will cold call students. I believe that it will be an effective way to increase the level of preparation of my students before class.
  • In all my courses, for all the sessions, I will use a warm call and ask a given student at the beginning of the session to summarize the main points presented during the session (take away) at the end of the session.
  • I will also prepare in advance the list of the students that I will cold and warm call according to their background (in exec programs).

As some of my courses are multi-section with external lecturers, I will also share with them this idea and suggest them to implement it in their own section.

Structure short case studies

For some of my classes, I have a pedagogical sequence with given questions that I ask to the students. I had better use a short case study given before class with an assignment.

Let me take the example of my SimTrade course for the ESSEC Global BBA program. I’m used to present a video on penalty kicks in the classroom to illustrate that sometimes inaction (for the goalkeeper to stay in the middle) is better than action (to jump), and then present implications for firm management practices and trading in financial markets.

From now on, I will send the video link before class with an assignment (a few questions to think about). I will again show the video in class (this is a very short video), organize a vote of the rationality of the players (the kicker and the goal keeper), and cold call some students to launch the discussion.

Next post

In the next post, Prof. Geneviève Helleringer and I will share with you our feedback about what could be done for ESSEC at the institutional level.