Stanford says these numbers would be higher if not for placement test and background hurdles that Stanford places in front of students who want to take the advanced courses. “In general, students would like to have more advanced classes,” maintains Rajan. “I’m not surprised because the students view the base level classes as going through drudgery. In a subject like marketing, probably 60% to 70% are taking an advanced class. We also have really good teachers in the advanced classes and more applied content. From a recruiting standpoint, there’s even greater appeal for students who have taken them. The fact that they are gated makes them more popular.”
If anything, he says, students are more likely to be dissatisfied with the basic courses. “Students love the advanced classes. Their complaints tend to be about the base level classes. The issue is that those classes are where you learn the nuts and bolts. They complain that it doesn’t appear to be as relevant to them. The fun comes when you do your electives and advanced courses.”
STUDENT DISENCHANTMENT LED TO A SCALING BACK OF THE REQUIRED CURRICULUM<
Another element of the new curriculum–the percentage of required courses meant to put more rigor in the program–did less well. Students wanted greater flexibility. “We had to scale back on the number of heavily required classes,” says Rajan. “The new curriculum made that close to 65% of all the units. Students were unhappy with it. ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘you are giving us choice but you are also making us do all these required courses.’ I have cut that back significantly. We are now under 45%, and we have introduced a lot of choices everywhere in the curriculum. Students don’t have to do operations. It’s a menu of classes and that has been much more successful.”
One of more compelling changes launched in 2007 was to get faculty more involved in mentoring students through formal advising relationships. Aided by placement exams, the student would then be able to craft an individual study plan with the active guidance of a Stanford professor. These relationships, moreover, were to result from student-faculty interaction during a new seminar course in the first quarter called Critical Analytical Thinking (CAT). In seminars with about 16 to 20 students, the course examines issues that transcend any single function of discipline of management. Typical questions explored in the seminar: What responsibilities does a corporation have to society? When do markets perform well, and when do they perform poorly? When does it make sense to exercise discretion; when should relatively rigid rules govern behavior?
But the “advising relationships” didn’t quite work out. “We had a notion that we would teach this critical and analytical thinking course in the beginning and faculty would become defacto advisors to students,” explains Rajan. “That didn’t take. In general, faculty were much more comfortable in their own areas rather than advising students on which operations class they should take. So what we did was create a bunch of staff advisors to work with students.”
And then, Stanford discovered another unexpected challenge in adding the critical thinking seminars. “One issue with seminar classes is that there needs to be many sections of them,” says Rajan. “Trying to assure some level of standardization across them has been hard. The students come to us and say, ‘This is a required class but my roommate is doing something else.'” Getting consistency into those seminars, a cornerstone of the curriculum, also has been difficult because a good number are taught by retired professors from around the university. “So we are trying to more tightly coordinate them,” says Rajan.
SOME OF THE MORE PROFOUND CHANGES WERE NOT EVEN ANTICIPATED
Ironically, some of the more profound changes at Stanford were totally unanticipated by the new curriculum. They have been wrought by technology, resulting in flipped classrooms where students are now expected to do a lot of the learning online and then come to class for a more engaged discussion. The upshot: Interactivity has increased, and there is more coaching and leadership development.
“Faculty have come up with video for many courses students take–accounting, strategy, micro-economics, data and decision making–so classes become more of a discussion rather than a recitation of case facts and so on,” says Rajan. “That model has worked really well. The level of student prep is very good. Over time, we will do that model a little more in classes. The videos we’re producing are five-to-ten minutes long for level setting and then something similar at the end. Students now like it. They feel it is a very efficient model of learning, and we are getting pressure to do more, interestingly because if they have a professor who uses video well, they want it in other classes.”
Rajan maintains that the acceptance of video teaching by faculty and the refinements made to the new curriculum are evidence of a culture that listens and responds to student demands. “We do a lot of changes based on student feedback and what they feel they want,” he says. “It is very easy to get things done here. The whole culture is about change and improvement. I was going through our list of electives and 28% of them are new. We have about 145 electives this year. We had 110 just three or four years ago.”
Most Popular Elective Courses At Stanford GSB
|Most Popular Courses||Teachers|
|Interpersonal Dynamics||Scott Bristol, Gary Dexter, Richard Francisco|
|Formation of New Ventures||Jim Ellis, George Foster, Mark Leslie, Peter Reiss|
|Managing Growing Enterprises||Irv Grousbeck, Joel Peterson, David Dodson, Peter Kelly, Kevin Taweel, Jim Ellis|
|Building and Managing Professional Sales Organizations||Kirk Bowman, Peter Levine, Mark Stevens|
|Entrepreneurial Finance||Shai Bernstein|
|Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital||Peter Wendell, Peter Ziebelman, John Glynn, Raymond Nasr|
Source: Stanford Graduate School of Business