By Bruno Verbergt
University of AntwerpFaculty of Applied Economics
Master program cultural management.
Teaching and evaluating general and strategic management
Management is a praxis in which elements of scientific analysis, professional skills & experience and creativity play a major and interactive role (Mintzberg 2010). Many management courses aim at developing management skills or at transferring scientific knowledge.
The master students cultural management at the University of Antwerp are foremost oriented towards the development of competences, such as
- to have insight in the scientific knowledge on cultural management, understanding its relevance within a cultural organisation and capable of applying it where needed;
- to systematically select, process and resume sources and scientific literature on a specific management problem;
- to detect, analyze and resolve complex problems in cultural management scientifically and creatively, on the basis of an interdisciplinary mindset and an open and critical attitude;
- to evaluate and communicate the analysis of and solutions to problems creatively and eagerly with peers, and to be able to inspire outsiders;
- to reflect on own thoughts and works, to be able to translate reflections into constructive activities and to suggest more adequate solutions.
The classical evaluation methods are most of the time focused on knowledge (oral or written examination) or on research and writing skills (papers). Stages and internships help the student in experiencing the application of the theory and in practically developing his or her management skills.
In order to get a broader insight in the competences achieved by the students, three evaluation methods are used for the course “General and Strategic Management”.
- Short blackboard assignments. At the end of a three hour classical course (mostly ex cathedra combined with break-out sessions), a short assignment is given to groups of two students that forces them to master the subject and reflect on its application in the cultural field. On the topic of cultural governance e.g., students were asked to describe in maximum 400 words one aspect in which the Flemish and the Dutch code on cultural governance differ from each other. On organisation culture, the assignment was to describe which organisation culture design would fit best for a specific cultural industry. On industry analysis, students were invited to find and describe examples of periodic overcapacity in a cultural industry, or to imagine how a cultural industry would look like with absence of product differentiation and brand identification.
- Wiki paper. All students are invited to contribute to a paper, which has the format of an academic journal paper (research questions, academic and social relevance, methodology, analysis, conclusion and discussion). As there were 90 students, two wiki papers were set up and students had to contribute to one of them: “What is cultural management and how should one best learn it?” and “How does the leader of cultural organisations differ from other leaders?” A typical entry would introduce the ideas or research results of one author or article, in combination with editing previous contributions. Each week, five to six students were allowed access to the wiki paper. At the end of the week, the teaching professor reads every entry, gives individual feedback and edits the wiki paper for the next group of students. Also, in order to prepare themselves properly, students due for contribution in two weeks, do receive a copy of the wiki paper.
- “Audit” exercise. At the beginning of the academic year, the faculty approaches 14 cultural organisations, preferably from the same industry. In academic year 2011-12 it were public libraries and cultural centres, in 2012-13 it are orchestras and music ensembles. The directors or managers are requested to allow groups of five to seven master students to “audit” the cultural organisation. The teaching professors of general and strategic management, financial management, marketing management and human resources management all ask the master students to check whether and how the management (financial, marketing and HR-)methods and models are applied within the organisation. The resulting paper is assessed by the professors, and is the basis for a debating exam (which is the same exam for all four courses), where two groups of students interrogate each other.
The “blackboard” assignments and wiki-papers are self teaching opportunities for the students. Therefore, their marks do not have a heavy weight on the final score of the students. Also, every students gets personal feedback on his or her wiki-paper and on half of their “blackboard” assignments, for which a general feedback is given during classes.
- The “blackboard” assignments give an adequate insight to the tutor on how the taught material was understood and could be applied by the students. The students over all positively evaluated them. The fact that personal feedback is given on these assignments was also very much appreciated.
- The wiki papers were reaching a point of saturation after four to five weeks. Students of week 6 were invited to contribute to the same paper as students of week 2 were, in order to allow them more room for contribution. Technical problems with the wiki application on blackboard were a source of frustration to many students, as well as the fact that their contribution was unevenly distributed in time: some students had to work on the wiki paper at the beginning of the course program, other students near the end. The fact that it was nearly impossible for students to “claim” the subject of an entry – and the subsequent risk of preparing an entry which can be based on the same scientific article as one of their colleagues – made the over all evaluation of the wiki paper assignment by the students negative. From the teaching professor point of view, it was clear that students had been, certainly after the first five to ten entries, reading carefully the present state of the wiki and that, in order to be safe in adding an original contribution, students really had to study different scientific papers on the subject. The wiki paper assignment needs refinement in the future: less contributors and a forum where students can claim a specific topic, maybe even combined with a suggested list of articles to be considered, might overcome the frustrations. It might also improve the overall quality of the end result of the wiki paper.
- The “audit” exercise puts a heavy burden on the shoulders of the students. Students need
/to organise themselves for working in a group of six or seven,
/to deploy the best of their social skills in the relations with the organisation staff,
/to discover each of the team membersâ€™ strong and weak points and
/to work towards a strict deadline
Many students complained about not having enough time and only few realize that having a few weeks more time would most probably give them more opportunities in being more accurate and complete, but not in having learnt more. One of the directors of an “audited” orchestra opened his comment with “Like all audits, this one made by the students has many mistakes.“
Once the final exam is over, the appreciation on the “audit” exercise grows. It was one of the strongest elements captured by the visitation commission, also because of the positive feedback by alumni students. For professors, many aspects that are explained in the papers, contain valuable information and serve as examples and illustrations in future classes.
MINTZBERG, H. 2010. Managing. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler Publishers.