Faculty Experiences - Gonzalo Freixes
Anderson School of Management
What matters most to you in your teaching?
How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?
How have your students responded to your use of technology?
What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?
Preparing Students for the Real World
In general, learning how to do research, to apply rules to fact patterns and to write well are useful skills to have in any profession. I try to provide students with these skills so they are better prepared when they go out into the real world.
I think it is important that students enjoy their learning process and that the process is rigorous and challenging. And I like to mix both the theories in the areas that I teach with the practical application in the real world. I try to bring all these things into the class to make it an enjoyable learning experience.
I teach taxation and business law. Most people have real life experience with legal or tax problems or they have at least heard or read about them. So these are areas where it can be fun to bring theoretical concepts to life. I want my students to understand exactly how they work.
Before I discuss how I use technology in my courses, I have to say that I am not a big fan of technology in the classroom. I think people rely too much on PowerPoint, slides and overheads in their presentations. When the lights are dimmed and the students sit back, it is like watching TV. It is a passive learning process which is not as effective as active learning. In contrast to this, my classroom is very dynamic. For example, I call on students and we have discussions. I use technology to support what I do in the classroom but not as a substitute for what I do in the classroom.
I use technology to support what I do in the classroom in two ways. First, I have an extensive website for all my courses so students can download my lecture notes, practice exams, homework problems and answers to problems. I have a link to the publisher’s websites where they provide interactive quizzes for the students. I put a lot of materials online to make sure that my students will understand the concepts that I am going to teach in class and have practical applications. So when it is time to test them, it is not the first time they see the concepts put to use -- all my tests are application oriented.
Secondly, the research components in my tax and the law classes require students to do tax and legal research using online databases. I teach the students to do tax and legal research using LexisNexis for the law class and the CCH (Commerce Clearing House) for the tax class. These are databases that summarize all the major aspects of the law. I invited the CCH training representative to come in and train the students on the use of the database. I made the arrangement so the Rosenfeld Library at the Anderson School could purchase the CCH database license. This allows our students to access the database on or off campus.
After the CCH database training, I give them a complex research assignment based on a real life scenario, for example, “Company A is proposing a merger with company B. They are looking at these four choices: a stock exchange, a purchase of assets, a merger or a consolidation. Please analyze these options from the tax perspective and offer a recommendation.” The students work in groups of 3 or 4 to do extensive research on the database. I let them work in groups so they can learn the collaborative process as well as team building and team work skills along with the research. Each group has to find all the laws, regulations and the case decisions dealing with these areas to prepare the recommendations. Then I give them a sample legal or tax memorandum. They have to put the recommendation together using that format. In this memorandum, they have to summarize the law and they have to cite all the authorities they found in the database. This assignment is worth a third of their grade, it is a big project. I set a really high bar.
Business classes often don’t incorporate enough writing. But students need a lot of work with their writing because when they go out into the real world they will have to write reports, summaries and prospectuses. Our department has implemented business communication classes and I try to incorporate some of that curriculum in my class and in the research assignment.
The students find this research and writing assignment useful. They are grateful for it because after they graduate and try to get jobs with big accounting firms, they can say in their interview that they know how to do tax research and how to write research memoranda. In general, learning how to do research, to apply rules to fact patterns and to write well are useful skills to have in any profession. I try to provide students with these skills so they are better prepared when they go out into the real world.
I think my students respond favorably to the use of technology in my course. They really enjoy the CCH training and the database research project. My students loved the course websites I put together for them. I have former students who are now in law school or doing graduate studies in taxation law who call and tell me that they are still downloading the notes and the materials from my course website.
What future goals do I have in using technology in my teaching? First of all, I have to maintain the course websites continually and update their content, especially since tax law changes all the time. Another goal I have down the road is to have the students use the CCH databases more frequently. Instead of one large project, I may assign two or three smaller projects. In these projects the problem would be simpler and they would come back with a half-page answer based on their research in the database.
In terms of the database itself, there are competing technologies to the CCH database. I’ve recently tried another database and see some benefits in using it. I would like to be able to expose my students to another type of database in order to better prepare them for the working world.