Finance course to be reviewed

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Last week, an online petition entitled “BU 383: Inspiring Students…to Stay at Home” began circulating among students at Wilfrid Laurier University. The petition outlines concerns the “vast majority of students” enrolled in BU383/283, Financial Management I, have with the new structure of the course.

The petition is addressed to the “undergraduate business programs director and other relevant WLU staff” and is signed “concerned SBE student.”

Lisa Keeping, undergraduate business programs director, said a hard copy of the petition was delivered to her office last week.

“I was disappointed because it was anonymous, and I mean I’ve certainly dealt with student complaints before but I’ve never had a petition that was posted online,” she said of her initial reaction.

Generally, she approaches situations like this by talking with the concerned student and then approaching professors to try and find a solution.

William McNally, the course coordinator, designed a new structure for the course this year, which he and Keeping referred to as a “flipped classroom” approach. In the past, the course was taught using a lecture format — where students were lectured in the classroom and would do problems outside of class time. In the new approach, students are provided with an online textbook with video lectures, spreadsheet templates, interactive graphics and algorithmic practice problems which they are to engage with at home. In class students work through their workbook and ask questions of the professor as needed.

According to the petition, this new approach is causing students to struggle in the course.

“This particular approach was a result of kind of feeling like because finance is A: a difficult discipline for a lot of students and B: it’s a problem based discipline that it would be a good course to do the flipped approach because the lecture approach students have not liked that in the past,” Keeping said.

The student who wrote the petition, who wished to remain anonymous, said she doesn’t find this new approach effective.

This is partially part due to her busy schedule which makes it difficult for her to find time to teach herself the concepts.

“My issues were that when I did sit down to do the homework on my own time … and I reached out to the professor for help, I was told that he will not help me and he doesn’t have office hours, etcetera, which is unreasonable I think,” she said.

Few students attend class, she continued.

While she believes they are supposed to all be on the same page so they can work through problems together, this doesn’t happen because students are all at a different point in the course.

“There is no engagement because everyone is at a different pace and you can’t even group together because there are literally six people in the classroom.”

Pat Rogers, Laurier’s associate vice-president of teaching and learning, explained that she has used the flipped classroom approach in the past.

While McNally and his fellow professors are following a similar model of a flipped classroom, it is not identical to the way Rogers described the structure she implemented.

“It’s basically moving the getting knowledge, getting the concepts outside the classroom and using the classroom differently to engage in deep discussion,” she explained in regards to how she ran her flipped classrooms.

Rogers would prepare problems for students to work through together in class, providing the opportunity to engage in discussion.

In an e-mail, McNally said he allows students to shape what happens in class and that he does not prepare any problems in advance.

As a result, the student who wrote the petition explained there is no discussion in BU383’s version of the flipped classroom. Students work quietly and individually ask the professor questions during class time.

After receiving the petition, Keeping contacted McNally and the area coordinator, Brian Smith.

McNally declined to speak in an interview, as did the other professors who currently teach the course.

On Monday, Keeping sent out an e-mail to all students enrolled in BU383 and BU283 to acknowledge she had received the petition and outlined their course of action.

They have sent out surveys to students to get more concrete input on their experience with the course format.

“My main issue was that they gave the impression that something was going to change,” the creator of the petition said of the survey.

“But from the nature of the questionnaire that was sent out, the questions that were being asked weren’t reflective of the issues addressed in the petition.”

Part of the problem with the online and anonymous nature of the petition, Keeping said, is that it is difficult to tell how many students in the course are actually concerned.

“Although there’s a number of people who have signed it, it seems to be you don’t need to have a valid e-mail address to sign it, you can put any name you want,” she said. “So Bruce Wayne has signed it, for example.”

Max Tian, a third-year math and business student who is currently taking BU383, commented on why the student may have chosen to create an anonymous, online petition.

“On the one hand if you’re doing things online that sort of invalidates some credibility to it because anybody can sign up anybody can sign the petition,” he said.

“But at the same time, going online is a lot more effective way of communication than standing in front of a classroom asking people to sign a physical petition form.”

He also said he finds lecture-based courses to be more effective.

“When I go to lectures I’m paying attention to what the prof is saying, what’s written down on the board — I’m writing it down myself,” he said.

“It helps me personally memorize a lot of the concepts better.”

Rogers explained she has found her version of the flipped classroom approach to be more effective because students are more active in their learning.

“It’s hard work for students, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. “You probably resent it bitterly at the time. But what happens at the end is you really understand stuff.”

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