BUSINESS SCHOOLS POST-9/11/01
By Professor Susan P. Eisner, (E-mail: email@example.com), Ramapo College of New Jersey
(Published in Journal of Business and Economic Research)
In the year since the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks on the United States, many educators have sought ways
to respond appropriately and effectively in their classes. Much has been written to guide elementary
and secondary educators; it is largely curricular in nature. Little has yet been geared toward
college educators or pedagogy. This paper begins to serve that need by presenting pedagogical
options business school instructors may find helpful. The literature review and results of a student
survey suggest that active learning may be particularly effective in business school teaching today.
“How did a terrorist attack successfully access the Pentagon?” “How did our airports allow this to happen?” “How do we react to people who are glad this happened?” “How will life change socially and economically if the US goes to war?” “Where will relief money come from?” “Did the U.S. shoot down the plane in Pennsylvania?” “Is this the end of the world?”
These questions are representative of those asked in the first days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. What makes them particularly notable is who asked them publicly – not the media, not public figures, but freshman business school students at Ramapo College of New Jersey, located 45 minutes from Ground Zero.
In the year since, many colleges have sought ways to serve the “teachable moment” they saw. A variety of curricular initiatives ranging from one-credit courses to panels of experts to re-oriented seminars have been created. Educators seeking guidance as they fast track responsive curriculum can learn from the general media what others are trying. But is still too soon for much of the academic literature to have published relevant reviewed articles.
This paper is designed to begin to provide such a resource to business school faculty exploring teaching options one year into the war on terrorism, with its ripple effect on students and heightened need for cooperation between business, government, and society. It presents a snapshot of current U.S. public opinion, the psychological impacts of terrorism, concurrent relevant issues, and media habits of “Gen Y” to better understand our students’ frames of reference. These suggest that active learning pedagogy – with its student-driven foundation – may be particularly effective in teaching today.
Specific pedagogical recommendations and examples of active learning vehicles used at the School of Administration and Business of Ramapo College post-9/11 are included. It is from these that the above questions were generated, and through which a “teachable moment” became a stimulating year characterized by deep learning.
Frames of Reference
Communication, psychology, active learning, and multiple intelligence literature suggest that effective learning is facilitated when student frame of reference is taken into account and compatible with pedagogy – knowing “where our students are coming from” can help us reach them in the classroom. One year into the war on terrorism, U.S. college students live in a country where most agree terrorists able to launch a major attack against the US are living in the U.S., the “state of the country” satisfaction rating is 47%, 54% feel U.S. economic conditions are getting worse, and 76% rate economic confidence as only fair/poor (Gallup Poll 9/17/02, 9/10/02). The 9/11 terrorist attack and corporate greed/corruption are blamed for the economic downturn (Moore, 2002),
which brought the number of jobs lost during 2001 to 1.1 million. That was the largest annual job drop in two decades, and is predicted by some to result in an additional 1.6 million lost jobs in 2002 (Economy - Overview, 2002). In July, Time predicted a third straight year of market losses for the first time since WW II (Gibbs, 2002).
Since 9/11/01, a majority of Americans have been concerned about another terrorist attack. Trust in government and media both increased after 9/11/01, but have now fallen (One Year Later, 2002); public positive opinion of media performance has dropped 24% to only 49% since November 2001, and is now lower than it was before 9/11/01 (Impact on the News, 2002). Most Americans keep up with national and local news most of the time, but track international news only when major developments occur; lack of background information to keep up appears to be a factor in relatively low interest in international news (Public’s News Habits, 2002). College students surveyed as the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001 found 70% supporting ground troops being sent, 70% opposing the draft, and 70% having donated blood or money or having volunteered in relief efforts after 9/11/01 (Berke, 2001). That general desire to “do good” coincided with a sluggish economy leaving many college seniors without solid job offers at graduation and may have translated into greater interest in public service careers. Since 9/11/01, Peace Corps applications have increased 20%; Columbia Teachers College application rose 13% (Murdock, 2002).
The impact of online news is substantial among those under 30 years old. They get more of their news online, where they can get it at their own schedule, than from any format excepts local TV news; 65% of those who go online come across news when they go online for another reason (Public’s News Habits, 2002). Young people tend to read books but not newspapers, they read news magazines and watch morning TV shows, and 63% report wanting more time to devote to news (Kohut, 2002). Home for the summer, teens and college students boost ratings of talk shows with themes they find of interest (Pursell, 2002).
Common emotional responses when impacted by war or its threat include fear, loss of control, anger, loss of stability, isolation, and confusion (Goode/Eakin, 2002). New York State estimated that 3.1 million people in and around New York City would experience substantial emotional distress post-9/11/01, and that at least 500,000 would develop post traumatic shock distress (Goode/Eakin, 2002). A survey of Arizona college students and staff soon after 9/11/01 found a high level of distress, though they lived far from the attack sites. Valuing family and friends more, becoming involved in community, and expressing positive forms of patriotism were among coping strategies they chose (Clay, 2002).
Psychologists say that those closest to the attack sites, females, and those with insufficient coping strategies are most likely to experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. Additionally, indirect exposure to mass violence can lead to increased human connectedness, volunteerism, charity, and tolerance (Daw, 2002). Ability to make meaning from events – having witnesses to one’s life, being able to tell one’s stories to sympathetic listeners – can make a person a crisis survivor rather than a victim (Serlin, 2002).
Generation Y (Those Born 1977-1994)
Today’s college freshman are of the 71 million “Gen Y.” They do not remember the Cold War and have never feared nuclear war. Their formative generational events, instead, include the Columbine High School shootings – which brought school safety and gun violence home and left them fearful within their communities; MTV – which is by far the favorite cable channel of college students and with video games has attuned them to a visual style of loud graphics and rapid movements; celebrity scandals – which have left them much more judgmental about ethical behavior than the public at large and most admiring of those that they know; diversity – which accustoms them to a variety of global viewpoints and nontraditional families; the 2000 presidential election – which left them feeling a strong need for political reform and that their vote matters; and talk show/reality TV – which has given them a populist sense that every voice gets equal hearing and everyone can be a star (Paul, 2001).
As a result, Gen Y tends to be mistrustful of the media, which they think both misrepresents their views and exploited the Columbine shootings and scandals. They appear to be less responsive to traditional lecture methods, and do not unquestioningly look up to public figures. Celebrities are not Gen Y heroes – the majority of college seniors cite a parent as the person they most respect. Gen Y’ers are less likely to believe that there is any one right answer. Getting heard, having their say, and becoming known seem to them both easy and natural (Paul, 2001).
The spread of talk shows on TV, radio, and Internet continues. Chat is the fastest-growing Internet activity, and Internet audiences tend to have more education and income (a demographic compatible with the college-educated) than radio and TV audiences. Magazine editor Michael Harrison explains why talk shows attract so many: “People don’t know their neighbors anymore, and they wouldn’t have time to talk over the backyard fence even if they did. But there’s still a human need for community, so it’s a virtual, electronic, global media community.” Real-life topics appear to be most interesting to young listeners, with women drawn more to personal and private themes and men drawn more to political and public topics (Heath, 1998).
Market-researcher Michael Woods says the talk show mentality has affected how Gen Y learns: “What’s
changed the whole classroom atmosphere are shows like Jerry Springer. They think it’s okay to be disruptive and to challenge what’s being said. There’s the ‘prove it to me’ mentality. And teachers and everyone in the school environment are struggling right now with figuring out how to teach that mentality” (Paul, 2001).
Responses for Teachers When Students Are Coping with Trauma/Terrorism
An article in Link-up articulates the broad range of those impacted by 9/11/01 that has been described by many: “Many people were affected directly by the attacks, and others became secondary victims as they consumed continuous news reports. All Americans now live under the threat of terrorism … An important fact to remember is that you are not alone in your feelings” (Stevens, 2002).
Studies show that “violence inflicted by human beings exacts a greater psychic toll than the impersonal cruelty of nature … (terrorist acts are) a means to the end of spreading fear and panic, the first step toward a fragmenting of society” (Goode/Eaken, 2002). Experts providing guidance for teachers whose students are coping with trauma/terrorism stress the important role to be played by teachers. The National Association of School Psychologists stresses the need for teachers in particular to help students understand current events factually, to explain how those events do or do not impact their lives, and how to handle their emotional reactions (Children and Fear of War and Terrorism, 2002). They tell us that older students are likely to have strong and varying opinions about the causes of and threats posed by current events, to share concrete suggestions, and to want to do something to help (A National Tragedy, 2002).
Specifically, the National Association of School Psychologists says it is important that teachers provide opportunity for students to discuss their concerns, maintain structure and stability, provide information directly to students, be aware of whose who have recently experienced personal tragedy, be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be associated with the tragedy, provide an outlet for student desire to help, and monitor viewing of the event and its aftermath (A National Tragedy, 2002).
Effective College Teaching Methods After 9/11/01: Student Survey/Findings
A two-institution survey was conducted in September 2002 to determine student experience with and opinions of various teaching methods in the year since 9/11/01. Ramapo College is a four-year public college in the New Jersey state system, and is located about 45 minutes northwest of New York City. Nassau Community College is a two-year public college in the New York state system, and is located about 45 minutes east of New York City. The questionnaire asked the extent to which the events of 9/11/01 and the war on terrorism have been discussed in classes, the extent to which students wanted such discussion, the level of student interest in current events and terrorism before and after 9/11/01, the extent to which various teaching methods were used and effective post-9/11/01 in discussing the events, and the extent to which students wanted those teaching methods to be used.
The sample was selected to reflect various factors relevant to this study. Both lower and upper level courses, attended by both business and liberal arts students, were surveyed. Fifty-two percent of the 118 respondents were business majors. Forty-eight percent of respondents were undecided or liberal arts majors. Most respondents attend Ramapo College, where business school classes were surveyed. One-quarter of respondents attend Nassau Community College, where psychology classes were surveyed. An equal number of male and female students responded. Thirty percent of respondents were on active duty or knew someone who was, when responding. Thirty percent of respondents were at the World Trade Center or knew someone who was on 9/11/01.
The survey included twelve teaching methods known to be used in college classes, and consistent with those the literature reviewed above would suggest to be constructive: teacher lectures to class, teacher answers student questions, teacher leads class discussion, student groups discuss the events with teacher support, student groups conduct research about the events and report to class, students tell their experiences with the events to class, students share their opinions/feelings about the events with class, guest speakers talk with class, class discusses the events as seen in media/film/Internet, teacher recommends media/film/Internet for interested students to learn more about the events outside of class, graded assignments incorporate the events, and optional/extra credit assignments incorporating the events. Survey results are detailed in Appendix A. Key findings include:
Discussion was high, and highest, on and within the month after 9/11/01; it has been relatively low since.
Respondents highly wanted discussion on or within the first month after 9/11/01; their preference is lower, and at a moderate level, now.
Most respondents reported a high level of interest in both current events and terrorism since 9/11/01.
The most highly used teaching methods were teacher-student, in-class centered: teacher answering student questions, students sharing opinions/feelings with class, teacher leading class discussion, teacher lecturing to class, and students telling their experiences to class. Of these, interactive methods were seen by respondents as more effective than lecture.
Those five most highly used methods were among the methods preferred by respondents both at 9/11/01 and at 9/02, with teacher lecturing less preferred for 2002 than at 9/11/01.
Respondents would have preferred more usage of those teaching methods both at 9/11/01 and at 9/02.
Respondents are interested in more usage of some active/experiential learning methods including discussion of the events as seen in media/film/Internet, student groups discussing the events with teacher support, and guest speakers talking about the events with the class.
Opportunity to have questions answered, to share opinions/feelings/experiences, and to engage in teacher-facilitated peer discussion were the methods most preferred by respondents both at 9/11/01 and at 9/02.
Four-year college respondents, surveyed in business classes, reported greater preference for methods surveyed overall than did two-year college respondents, surveyed in psychology classes. They also reported greater preference for each individual method except for teacher lectures to class, and graded assignments.
Four-year college respondents, surveyed in business classes, reported a relatively high level of interest in eight out of the twelve methods surveyed; two-year college respondents were highly interested in four methods.
9/11/01 raised interest at four-year and two-year colleges in current events/terrorism, and is relatively high.
Four-year college respondents, surveyed in business classes, reported more class discussion now re: the events, a consistently greater desire for that discussion, and a stronger interest in both current events and terrorism than did two-year college respondents, surveyed in psychology classes. They also reported wanting more discussion of the events at all times surveyed for than occurred.
Two-year college respondents reported more discussion of the events in AY 2001-2002 than did four-year.
Respondent comments are also contained in Appendix A. They include the following:
“I believe the events of 9/11 had such a grip on people that the topic was intentionally not discussed. Perhaps the type of classes had something to do with this perception. Unfortunately, one of my closest friends worked in WTC1.”
“I am a business student. Only one of my teachers discussed 9/11 and that was only done once a year later. I really wanted to discuss the results in class but was never given the opportunity.”
“I had a very delayed reaction to the events of 9/11, and when it did hit me, no one was really talking about it. So I wasn’t really sure if I was the only one still thinking about it. I think teachers should reach out a little more to students especially after an event like that.”
“It was discussed at every graduation I went to …; it’s time to move on. I’m interested when we are under terrorist warning. Teachers’ effectiveness is limited, as they are as baffled as students”
“Lecturing doesn’t do any good in the last. The most effective way to speak about terrorism etc. is to lead discussions with students being actively involved. Times have changed and so has society. If children aren’t involved more in class, how are we teaching them to be intelligent leaders of tomorrow?”
“What helped me get through the tragedy were relaxed class discussions that would go all period during the week after 9/11. Now media and lectures are more stimulating.”
“9/11/01 is something of interest to everyone. Therefore, whatever is related in teaching to these horrible events will be more interesting. This could be a more effective teaching method.”
As a management professor at Ramapo College, I teach some 120 students each semester in business school classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. A New York City resident, I was at Ramapo College of New Jersey as the World Trade Center was attacked and fell. Faculty, of course, had no time to prepare whether, how, and what to teach. Tuning into student frame of reference was not something I yet knew from experts might be advisable to do then. But when I told students they could leave if they wanted to, or stay and watch and talk things through together, I found that everyone stayed. They spoke of their need for facts, answers, and community, of wanting to do something to help, and of being with those they could trust – just as the literature reviewed above suggests they would. Then they spoke of their feelings, with a candor and depth many have said their generation lacks – but which the literature reviewed above suggests they would, especially if they are reached through vehicles they are comfortable with. The questions they asked, and the feelings they stated are summarized in Appendix B.
With some students experiencing personal loss, with others being called up unexpectedly for active duty, with more questions being raised than consistent answers being given in public arenas, with fear a constant among students, and with that translating into student difficulty concentrating on class work, I designed for each class a combination of the teaching methods itemized in the survey, applying my experience with active learning to the uncharted waters students were presenting. Students were put in small groups to identify key questions they wanted answered. They each selected an Arab or Middle Eastern country they knew nothing of to research and report on, and to find examples of key course terms they were learning. Students from or representing different countries they knew well, including the U.S., volunteered to be participants in a class “Talk Show” in which they could share their knowledge, experience, and perspectives with their peers in a respectful forum facilitated by the professor, knowing sharing facts and objectively would be norms. An exam and final project specifications were re-written to allow individual critical thinking continuing that learning At semester’s end, students said these methods assisted the return of their attention to coursework, increased their interest in and quality of their learning, strengthened their relationships to other students, and gave them an enduring interest in following current events. They said they could now understand current events and its relevance to their lives – something the literature reviewed above identified as vital. Importantly, they said they had learned to ask their own questions, and how to find their own answers.
One year later, engaged in an ongoing war on terrorism and uncertainty in the Middle East, there has been time to research expert recommendations for teaching in times of trauma (see Bibliography). I now knew, as the one year anniversary of 9/11/02 approached, to ask students if they were on active duty or were close to someone who is, and if they had been at or were close to someone who had been at the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. From this, I learned that one quiet student had been among the Marines who liberated Kandahar, and had just returned to school from nine months service overseas. Another had arrived in the U.S. from Zambia for the first time just days before 9/11/01; she had had no family or friends here and was “terrified,” but was unable to leave as planes were not flying. Another student had seen the Twin Towers fall from her window, and described “looking at the sky for a month expecting a bomb to fall.” Another expressed pride in his school, because of the tolerance and volunteerism shown.
From this, drawing upon the prior year’s experience and literature now reviewed, faced with the 9/11/01 one year anniversary and attendant media coverage, an active learning assignment tailored to the learning objectives and students of each class was created for each of my classes. Managerial Communication students viewed 9/11/02 media coverage using analytic communication tools. Contemporary Arts Management students viewed that media coverage applying analytic criteria media managers use in making decisions. Perspectives of Business and Society students inventoried that media for linked examples of key terms they had learned, and prepared a Talk Show in which those who wanted to reflect upon 9/11/01 one year later could volunteer as panelists (see Appendix C for description of that assignment). Students in all classes were given the opportunity to write up their findings for extra credit. The majority of students did so. The Talk Show was so memorable that we scheduled a second one for the following class. The topic was relevant to the course and a natural sequel: students from, or with knowledge of, other countries shared their information and experiences regarding topics central to the course. We learned about countries ranging from Afghanistan to Bulgaria, from Columbia to Zambia, and from Switzerland to Japan. More students volunteered than we could accommodate. More Talk Shows will be scheduled, as topics warrant.
The literature reviewed above suggests that incorporating student sharing of experiences/opinions, facilitating peer discussion, connecting course terms to topics already of interest to students, integrating media and communication vehicles students are comfortable with, providing them a way to “do something” and enhancing being part of a community will be both desired by and effective with today’s students. The examples given above suggest some ways that can be done. One freshmen described the outcome this way in the extra credit memo she submitted on 9/13/02. The ideas and conclusions originated with her – they were not made in a lecture. She is 18:
“After reading many articles about September 11 this week a lot of information was learned. Last year,
when the attacks occurred, I didn’t want to hear about it that much because that was all anyone seemed
to talk about and the whole incident made me upset. One year later, I am able to read these articles.
After just being in school for about one week, I look at the incident in two ways. While reading the articles,
I looked at it from the point of view of an American teenager but I was able to understand it from an
economic view. For the first time, I was able to see how this one incident affected the lives of not just the
victims but everyone else in the world. Never before did I really understand how many individual
businesses were hurt because of the attack. I really noticed the ripple effect that was caused by the
attacks. The things people took for granted are now given their true importance. The attacks of
September 11 showed America who the real heroes are, the people who help their country and their
fellow Americans. It is very clear now that our economy is like dominoes. If one little aspect doesn’t
live up to its potential or if it is hurt in some way, the rest of the country gets hurt in some way or another.”
In the wake of 9/11/01, many educators are seeking to adapt to teaching post-9/11 on a timeline imposed by current events more quickly than they are used to or most academic literature can serve. Most initiatives described in the general media are curricular, not pedagogical, in nature. Curricular adaptations tend to be driven by educators, and some post-9/11 adaptations have generated public controversy. Most require significant research, and may delve into a subject area outside of the faculty member’s expertise.
Alternatively, pedagogy that involves active learning tends to be student-driven and is accepted educational practice. Additionally, pedagogy that involves active learning coincides both with recommended approaches for post-trauma/terrorist actions and the communication habits of our students.
Student responses to the survey conducted for this paper are consistent with recommendations the reviewed literature suggest, and support the use of active learning tools as both desirable and effective in college teaching – even more so at a four-year college and in business school classes. This would seem to be all the more the case when frames of reference are taken into account. Economic conditions are infused throughout business school classes, most see economic indicators to be not promising today, and business school students appear to make a strong connection between the continuing war on terrorism and a weakened economy. They are also grappling with headlines of corporate accounting scandals, as many prepare themselves for corporate employment. As one business student said in the extra credit assignment he submitted reflecting on 9/11/01 one year later:
“ The most important thing to me one year later is that the economy pulls through. As greedy as it
sounds, I do not want to graduate college into a chaotic economy trying to find a job. I do not want
to fight my way through hordes of people looking for work just like myself because corporations
haven’t gotten themselves together.”
The events of 9/11/01 and the war on terrorism appear to be very much on students’ minds one year later. Appendix B details the questions they asked on 9/13/02, in the Talk Show described above. They include these:
“Are we going to prevent this without destroying civil liberties or going to war?”
“Are we really safe now? How can we really know for certain we can relax? Will we ever be safe? “
“What can I as a person do to help change this terror in our country and world?”
“Why can’t we do something about it – we can help the rest of the world, why can’t we help ourselves?”
“Will there be peace again in the world?”
Active learning techniques such as those described above not only help students learn, they help us as we strive to teach them by revealing to us in their own words where our students are coming from.
APPENDIX A: STUDENT SURVEY – EFFECTIVE COLLEGE TEACHING METHODS AFTER 9/11/01