Novel Approach

A business course at the University of Oklahoma employs innovative learning techniques.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT OU Jeremy ShortJeremy Short is the Rath Chair in Strategic Management at the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. His research focuses on multilevel determinants of firm performance, strategic decision process, entrepreurship, research methods, franchising and family business. Introduction to Management is a course that provides knowledge of interest to individuals of all ages and backgrounds who wish to learn more about managing careers, individuals, organizational situations, decisions, and relationships. The course features a graphic novel that chronicles the tales of Atlas Black as

I think it’s an exciting time to be part of higher education. I consider myself to have the best job in the world.

he works to fund his college expenses, start a new business, and act as a fledgling entrepreneur, along the way illustrating key concepts from principles of management. Recent studies conducted at OU find graphic novels are associated with superior student recall compared to traditional textbooks alone. The content of the course uses innovative delivery material including online lectures, a traditional textbook, and a graphic novel textbook. In this insightful discussion, Jeremy (pictured) elaborates on the course features, what the students think, efficacy studies, interactive learning communities and his thoughts on the future of education.

Victor: Your Introduction to Management Course features some unique course materials like a graphic novel textbook. Why a graphic novel? What inspired you to take this approach?

Jeremy: The graphic novel integrates two great devices associated with passing down knowledge throughout the ages. First, it uses storytelling where concepts are more naturally applied because you can see how a theoretical framework or valuable concept is fleshed out. In contrast, textbooks often have scores of unrelated examples and I think that can be confusing at times. Second, the graphic novel leverages the power of visual presentation to ‘show’ how the material is being applied. Again, one issue with many textbooks is if the authors are not careful then they can end up with a work full of stock photos with little to help reinforce the specific concepts in the book. I think my main inspiration was movies. I have always loved movies and I saw how powerful they could be in terms of storytelling, and of course I’ve memorized hundreds of lines from movies but very few from textbooks. When I saw more adult-oriented graphic novels such as Maus and Persepolis and the 911 Commission Report in graphic novel format, I realized that I couldn’t make a movie, but I could write a graphic story that could be effectively used with an adult and college-age audience. So, I was able to develop several graphic novels and co-author a Harvard Business School case in graphic novel format.

Victor: How do you incorporate the materials? What is the response from students? 

Jeremy: The graphic novel is the primary textbook for my course, Introduction to Management. The book tells the story of Atlas Black as he graduates college, gets his first job and eventually starts his own business. It applies concepts from entrepreneurship and management courses in an interesting and digestible format and I incorporate it just as I would a traditional textbook – chapter assignments are outlined in the syllabus with related exercises. Feedback has been very positive. In fact, students in my classes, as well as students we’ve surveyed about using graphic textbooks, say they prefer the graphic novel format to a traditional textbook.

Victor: You’ve conducted research on the use of graphic novels to teach business concepts. What are some of your findings?

Jeremy: My research with Aaron McKenny and Brandon Randolph-Seng used a 2-study approach. The first study explores the potential of graphic novels to impact learning outcomes and finds that the graphic novel was related to high levels of learning. The vast majority of students (82 percent) either strongly agreed or agreed that Atlas Black compared favorably to other management textbooks they have used in the past. Eighty percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that the graphic novel format helped them develop their ideas about strategic management in a more organized way compared to reading traditional material.

The second study compares the impact of graphic novels with that of traditional textbooks and finds that verbatim recognition was superior with graphic novel texts. That is, students using the graphic novel textbook performed better on verbatim recognition identifying specific passages than those using a traditional textbook.

Victor: The course also features animated rap videos. How did you decide which course concepts to illustrate using this method? What other innovative tools do you use in the course?

Jeremy: In addition to the graphic novel, I also use a traditional textbook in the course as well. I use animated rap videos to accompany each chapter of that text so key elements are brought to life in a more visual and engaging way, helping reinforce them.

When we developed these last year, I was inspired by the old Schoolhouse Rock series as well as Flocabulary’s ‘This Week in Rap’ series. I met Buck and Clint Vrazel, (collectively known as Twinprov, an Oklahoma City-based improvisation group) when I gave a TEDxOU talk on the power of graphic novels and I asked them to craft some rap songs based on material in the book. The decision on which concepts to illustrate was a fairly organic one between myself and Twinprov.

In some cases I had a specific idea of what might be covered in a given chapter, but in others Twinprov would come to me with an idea that I liked; it tends to depend on the dynamics of each chapter. For example, they knew I was a Star Wars fan so one of their songs discusses organizational structure in the world of Star Wars. One innovative tool in teaching the course this year is that students are asked to provide a response to the “rap-up” videos. The hope is that their responses are interesting enough to encourage interaction from other students, making the experience more personalized. One idea we are developing now is the incorporation of mini graphic novel cases similar to the Harvard Business School case I co-authored in graphic novel format.

Victor: This summer you’re offering the course through the University of Oklahoma’s interactive learning platform, Janux. What is Janux? How have you updated the course to leverage the features of the platform? How do you expect it to impact student engagement and learning?

Jeremy: Janux is an interactive learning community built on social learning. It integrates communication features found in social media with other tools that facilitate conversation, learning and collaboration between the students.

We’ve updated the class in a number of ways to take advantage of the Janux platform. Students are now asked to engage with each other by telling their unique stories in regard to elements of management they are working to improve. Aspects might include time management, career management or management of goals and/or relationships. When someone is engaged in social media such as Facebook or Twitter, part of the thought is the belief they have something interesting to say, and those they follow have something worth listening to. We try to hit on both of these possibilities with the activities used in class this term and the Janux platform allows us to encourage and enable that interaction in real-time discussion boards, through whiteboards and even within the course material itself – for example, students can highlight and make notes in the texts and in the video transcripts, then share their thoughts with their classmates, leading to a rich dialogue. Additionally, the video production quality of the “rap-up” videos and the videos that introduce each chapter of the traditional textbook is top shelf.

Victor: The course is offered either for-credit or as an open enrollment MOOC. Are the two versions kept separate or do the students cross-collaborate? How does that enhance the educational experience? 

Jeremy: In some areas they are kept separate. For example, more in-depth quizzes are required of enrolled students. But, in all the areas of social interaction there is no separation. Janux allows and encourages students to cross-collaborate. For-credit and open enrollment, non-credit students are not kept separate in regards to their thoughts and comments. By blending the cohorts, the learning experience for both is enriched since they are able to collaborate with one another, including the professors, and share experiences and perspectives. This is great because many of the students can learn from those taking the course that might have considerable work experience that all students can find valuable. The emphasis on enhancing engagement stems from features of social platforms that encourage interaction, information sharing and collaboration and are incorporated into Janux.

Victor: If someone is interested in taking the course, how can they sign up?

Jeremy: Simply visit, create an account and get started with Introduction to Management! Students will have to purchase access to both of the books, but the cost is less than $50 total.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education in general these days?

Jeremy: I think it’s an exciting time to be part of higher education. I consider myself to have the best job in the world. Certainly much of my current views on education are impacted by the lens of the institution that writes my checks, OU. In that regard, I’m very happy to be at a place that values traditional academic research and an engaging on-campus experience while embracing other educational values such as civic and social engagement, and the incorporation of new technology. In my department, which focuses on Management and Entrepreneurship, I can see firsthand a trend towards colleges and universities working to be more entrepreneurial in the courses and services they offer and I find that to be engaging as well.

Victor: What are your thoughts on technology’s role in education?

Jeremy: The mission of the University of Oklahoma is to provide the best possible educational experience for our students through excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and service to the state and society.

I believe technology can help us in academia to fulfill the goals of our respective institutions. In my case, I can teach a course that is of value to many students at OU (Introduction to Management) while providing content to open-enrolled students that they will find valuable. At a time when tuition has become a huge barrier for many students, we can leverage technology to provide access to valuable learning materials for some of those students who might not otherwise choose to enroll for credit or have the need to earn a formal degree. For example, I was humbled last year when a student who completed all elements of the open course sent me a picture of his hometown in Australia.

Another element of technology I’ve enjoyed is the pressure and excitement that occurs when recording lectures. I believe it forces me to think through every statement I make to ensure I’m taking advantage of the limited time I have to get my message across. At the same time, it also provides the benefit that I don’t have to worry about misspeaking in class since everything has been planned in advance. And, I know class is never going to be cancelled due to an illness or unfavorable weather.

Victor: Anything else that you may have wished to discuss but we didn’t get to? 

Jeremy: I think one element that doesn’t seem to really get discussed enough is the element of trade-offs in education. For example, graphic novels offer rich storytelling in a short amount of space, but traditional textbooks can offer great detail. I’ve learned some valuable lessons about graphic presentation through the graphic novels that I was able to incorporate later when I co-authored a traditional textbook. So, I think the interplay between various mediums can be explored more as well.

Trade-offs exist with technology, too. I can teach an online class that in many ways is as effective or even improves upon in my view large lecture classes where students tend to have very little interaction with their professors. But, for now, I believe the one-on-one mentoring and training I engage in with doctoral students would be very challenging in a purely online environment.

I do hope more dialogues that present trade-offs and help bridge the gaps between the pros and cons of different approaches will move to the forefront of some of the discussion that is occurring in education. I don’t see myself as having an agenda for graphic novels or technology. I’m simply someone who wants students to have the best possible learning experience and I believe both are valuable tools.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:


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