Four Classroom Teaching Differentiators in a World of TikTok and Other Digital Innovations

A strategic issue that many professors face within the university is how to teach in a world when one is both competing for attention in the Digital Age and also trying to justify value-add over other methods that people can use to educate themselves. For example, people can read books. They can watch videos on TikTok or YouTube. They can take classes remotely or even do self-study using online platforms. At the core when it comes to the classroom, professors compete against other learning resources that scale dramatically and are delivered at lower cost. I am all for further development of those types of resources and educational models, recognizing their benefits, challenges, and limitations. With that as context, I wanted to share some thoughts about how a professor can differentiate themselves when it comes to the traditional classroom and adding the most value.

The digital world doesn’t necessarily scale that well when it comes to compassion and developing interpersonal relationships, so I think a first key differentiator for professors can be to try to foster a good environment that connects real people together. That means focusing on multiple connections. Connect students to one another, perhaps via icebreakers. Encourage higher-level connections by fostering team-building and having people share their wants and desires. Set up a safe environment where people can learn. Invite constructive feedback. This past week I told students that I really “loved” how some of them were really blunt about their dislike for one of the assigned readings. They provided feedback that they weren’t sure how it was relevant, and so I did my best to frame things in the proper light (e.g., some pain is good for them, here are the essentials to take away beyond the classroom). Where students are receptive, I also try to make some time for students to meet me and one another outside of the classroom (e.g., meeting for coffee, drinks, breakfast, potluck dinner).

A second idea for differentiation is related to personalization (which is something I teach in my applied behavioral economics course). While professors often have responsibilities to follow specific instruction plans, I think there may be increased opportunities for students to be able to personalize (portions) the type of instruction they would like to receive. I recently held a class that allowed students to choose one of four doors that they could open, and then I led the class discussion in a direction based on what door they voted to open. I have heard through the grapevine (i.e., in this case Reddit) about other professors creating “liquid syllabi” where students can completely edit and provide suggestions to a syllabus via Google Docs and the like. I am not sure how workable that type of approach would be in reality. However, there seems to be value to customization and personalization of instruction, which is something else that digital platforms may not be able to do as well. I also think that being able to provide feedback to students on their work is a point where professors can differentiate themselves. However, given the size of classes, number of assignments, types of assignments, etc. there can be limitations on scaling this.

A third idea is around just-in-time education and providing bite-sized snippets of education (TikTok excels at bite-sized snippets). There is so much out there for students to learn. As professors learn where students’ interests lie, what their aspirations are, and where they are having trouble, it may be possible for professors to provide mini content or crash courses on material. As an example, I have often told students that they will likely see Scrum/Agile project management methods when they go into the working world. Perhaps one of the most brilliant books I have seen is the format of the book, Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction by Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson. The book is about 50-pages long with simple to-the-point language, a lot of cartoon-style drawings. It can be read in 20 minutes. For a classroom setting, I’ve even digested down this book further into a 2-4 minute crash intro to be delivered at the point when I sense students might need or want such information. While it may be harder for professors to compete against the digital world when it comes to delivering bite-sized, engaging information, perhaps there are opportunities to combine approaches from the digital world into the classroom (e.g., more use of Cameo, TikTok, YouTube, digital exercises/games).

A fourth area of potential differentiation is to provide students with opportunities to connect with the outside world. This could be by having guest speakers, offering unique case studies, facilitating access to projects in industry, or helping students develop new skills that can be used when they leave school (e.g., learning tools like R or Python). On the flip side to this, universities appreciate when alumni and companies can help to enrich the student classroom. Possible ways to help include donating money, sponsoring/hosting student projects, guest speaking, and offering to provide materials that can be used in the classroom. I am very thankful to people at companies like Acorns, Personal Capital, Telefonica, Vitality, Voya, and others for helping both me and my students with their learning journeys.

One of my aspirations in life is to give back to students and enrich their lives in some way. I am evolving my thinking on the best ways to teach in the classroom, so I welcome ideas and feedback. At some point, I also hope to think about how to extend teaching beyond the traditional classroom. Perhaps a topic for a future post.

Podcast Interview on Behavioral Investing: Managing the Emotions Behind Our Decisions

Last month I chatted with Tony Roth, Chief Investment Officer at Wilmington Trust, N.A., a subsidiary of M&T Bank (NYSE: MTB) as part of his podcast series, Capital Conversations. For me, it was an interesting conversation to have had for a number of reasons, and three perspectives really captured the direction of my thinking. 

The first perspective was that as a society we have really been under a lot of stress for the past two years, a type of stress that I have not seen in my lifetime. So while investment markets are not currently very volatile, it is a good time for many people to get a fresh start and re-assess their situations.

The third perspective is that people are really different, and sometimes it can matter a lot. We understand some of these differences better than others (such as innumeracy and its impacts). There are other differences (like capability and confidence mismatches relative to new technologies, like cryptocurrency) that are less understood. As another example, the younger generation thinks about finance and life very differently than older generations. How to better address individual behavioral differences and situations will be an ongoing opportunity where people will need help.

The second perspective was that there are so many different behavioral elements at play when we think about different people, the interplay of fast, automatic thinking versus slow, reflective thinking; the digital world, and the numerous challenges of finance. It is unlikely that we can find one silver bullet, behavioral solution to fully address all problems. That said, we can put in place processes to help ensure that we make the best decisions we can for the things that really matter, while also avoiding some of the major obstacles that happen on a regular basis, such as overconfidence,  natural biases in forecasting the future, thinking in narrow frames, and others.

Thanks to Tony Roth and the Wilmington Trust team for hosting me for the podcast.

Case Examples of Empirical Research Methods As Related to Consulting Firms

Since many of my students aspire to work in consulting after they graduate, the purpose of this post is to round up some examples in the consulting space as related to research methods. This post will be updated from time to time.

Great Resource for Research Seminar Students on Statistical Power Simulations Using R

In the past, I have used power calculators like GPower for straightforward research designs, but I have never really found a good, practical resource on executing the mechanics of power simulations, especially when research designs and analytical frameworks are more complex. This great article provides a framework (with R code) to execute power simulations and may be useful to students in Research Seminar (AEM 6991). https://cameronraymond.me/blog/power-simulations-in-r/ . There is also a GitHub posting at https://github.com/cameron-raymond/power-simulation-tutorial.

Potential Student Resources for Data Scraping

Here are a few resources that students may find useful for research seminar projects that involve data scraping. This list of resources may be updated from time to time:

Message to New and Prospective Students at Cornell University for Applied Behavioral Economics in Finance and Marketing (AEM 6150 – Spring 2022)

Welcome to Applied Behavioral Economics in Finance and Marketing (AEM 6150)!

This new course is geared toward developing knowledge, ability, and professional skills to apply behavioral economics in business settings. The course is especially geared toward students who may consider future professions in consumer finance, marketing, product development, data science, or consulting/advisory. Because this is a 7-week course, I assume that you have some exposure to behavioral science concepts (e.g., AEM 6140 – Behavioral and Managerial Decision Making or equivalent background). If you do not, I have identified some supplemental readings in the syllabus that you should consider reviewing; you should also contact me (sds77@cornell.edu) so that we can better assess whether the course is right for you.

In terms of personal background, I am a new, incoming faculty member at Cornell. I have a non-traditional background and have spent more than 30 years in the corporate world with more than a decade of those years setting up behavioral science units and initiatives in the real world (e.g., nudge units). I continue to work full-time as a consultant and researcher in the behavioral economics space. I especially bring my experience in setting up some of the first nudge units in the world to the design of this course (which includes some cases from companies I have worked with). I am also a Cornell alum who has had a very fortunate career, and so I have a deep attachment to the community here. I would like you to be challenged in this course and succeed in life beyond Cornell. If you would like to learn more about my background, please refer to my bio.

Thank you for considering taking this course. Please feel free to reach out to me via email if you have any questions (sds77@cornell.edu).

Things a Consultant Can Do to Increase the Chances of Their Recommendations Being Implemented Successfully by a Client

This post is based on a question that was posed to me on Quora.

Here are a few things to consider for this type of situation:

  • See if you can get a resource assigned within the company to take the lead on program managing changes into the organization. Also to help increase the probability of success, see if the incentives of the assigned resources and sponsor can be aligned with the initiative outcomes.
  • If you have the skillset and desire, propose extending your contract to potentially help with piloting and incubating the new changes. You could structure your contract to include performance outcomes if you haven’t already done that for the prior phase.
  • Potentially partner with another consultant that has experience with implementing changes within an organization. This could become part of a longer-run business model for you.