Co-Teaching Ethics – HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management

SuchanekI was fortunate to be able to start 2014 with a conversation about responsible leadership with Andreas Suchanek and Christina Kleinau from HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management in Germany. HHL Leipzig has an integrated approach when it comes to responsible management, based on their mission statement “We educate effective, responsible and entrepreneurial business leaders through outstanding teaching, research and practice.” As Andreas and Christina put it, “we offer various, often mandatory courses, about the aforementioned topics, have field projects related to them, and are in a continuous process of scrutinising what we do and whether it is in line with our conceptual ideas about responsibility.”

One of the approaches that HHL Leipzig has taken to ensure that they develop more effective, responsible and entrepreneurial business leaders, is that of co-teaching ethics across the core courses. Here they share some of their experiences with us.

1.     Why did you start co-teaching in this field?

Understandably, students have difficulty relating conceptual, theoretical ideas about ethics and responsibility to the detailed, specific knowledge that they gain in other subjects. Put differently, standalone courses on business ethics often suffer the fate that they are not integrated with the usual topics of business administration. As a consequence, their impact is rather limited. Because of this, we started using co-teaching as a way to better communicate these messages to the students. The pilot involved seven sessions with lecturers from areas of Macroeconomics, Accounting, Finance, Economics and Information Systems, Logistics and Corporate Governance. The choice of topics evolved each semester so that the content of the class remained up to date and involved all the different business disciplines at some point.

2.     How does it work in practice?

For each co-teaching session, two articles are chosen. This involved some co-ordination with the respective co-teacher to ensure that the content of the articles would enable discussion whereby both ethical as well as subject-related competencies would be required to analyse the issue at hand. One of the two articles for each session was required reading for all class participants to ensure a certain level of common knowledge about the topic. The other was a more demanding article that was given to one small student group. This group was then given a specific question (based largely on the more-demanding article) to which they had to compose a response and present to the class. Class discussion then built on the student presentation. In this way, the co-teachers and other students could bring in their insights on the issue, and the spontaneity of the discussion exemplified how ethical and practical aspects of a problem are indeed often inextricably intertwined.

3.     What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

The success of the course lies therein, firstly, that it is now a compulsory component of full-time MSc studies at HHL and, secondly, that it was well-received by students who were clearly engaged and appreciative of the added insight into the practical application of conceptual ethical ideas in everyday management practice. Nonetheless, feedback from the course did suggest that students still felt that there was a gap between the ideas discussed as potential solutions to ethical problems in the classroom and strategies which could be implemented in everyday business life. Hence, conveying a deep acceptance and understanding of the idea that it is in students’ and managers’ long-term self-interest to actively seek ways to manage ethical conflicts – despite the complexity and difficulty that they may face in this process – remains a challenge for the teaching of business ethics and corporate responsibility. Another basic challenge is the fact that the two respective lecturers have typically two different theoretical approaches and it costs some effort to actually work on a conceptual integration, thereby also delivering a certain teaching quality.

4.     What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into practice?

The effectiveness and even, the feasibility of a course in this format – whereby lecturers from other subject areas actively participate in co-teaching – certainly depends on the commitment of the respective co-teachers to the course. Hence, the in-depth coordination of the ideas which each co-teacher wishes to present in their specific session is certainly conducive to the success of the course. As such, advice to other schools would be to engage in exchange with colleagues in order to build the rapport which then inevitably comes to fore in the class discussion – irrespective of whether the ideas which are themselves discussed, are in harmony or in conflict.

5.     What are the next steps for your plans in co-teaching?

At the conclusion of the course, feedback was collected on how to continue to improve the format, and hence, effectiveness. In addition to the challenge of enhancing the daily relevance of ethics, and the advice to continue developing a deeper rapport between colleagues, students requested more time between or within class to reflect individually or in small groups on the issues which had been discussed. (The course was held as a 1-week block course – the intense format clearly has both pros and cons).

– Have you tried co-teaching at your university? What have been your experiences? Feel free to share them in the comments area below. –

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