Dr Hamish Anderson- Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr Hamish Anderson (Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics & Finance, Massey University) – a Sustained Excellence winner 2008
Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics & Finance, Massey University
Hamish has taught finance at Massey University for 13 years and has been an Executive MBA teaching fellow for the past 10. His teaching involves a variety of delivery modes from distance and traditional faceto- face methods, to block courses throughout New Zealand and in China, all supported by extensive on-line resources. As an early adopter of online learning environments, Hamish has developed considerable expertise in the area of on-line formative and summative assessment practices. Of all his teaching, Hamish has found Executive Education to be the most challenging but also the most rewarding teaching environment. “It's like a lions den; they’ll eat you alive if you are not prepared!”
Discovering my Career
I never intended being a teacher. In fact, I originally thought the one-year lecturing contract would be a great way to fund my ‘OE’ before getting back onto the corporate ladder and making my imagined fortune! Due to my teaching inexperience I thought I’d be assisting someone for that first year, so I was shocked to discover I was in charge of more than 400 students. It is fair to say I learnt more that first year than my students. Most importantly, I learnt that the adrenalin rush and immense pleasure you get from helping someone achieve beyond their own expectations is addictive. Like anything addictive, I have found that teaching has been impossible to give up and it is now well and truly my chosen career. In a research-led teaching environment, job satisfaction is incredibly high when you research in an area you are passionate about and then have the opportunity to pass on that passion through teaching.
When I started teaching I faced a common problem of many fledgling academics - I was strong in content knowledge but lacked formal training in how to effectively deliver that knowledge. Therefore my initial teaching methods were shaped by my experiences as a student, effective teachers I had the privilege of learning under, as well as peer and student feedback. Through reflection on these sources my teaching philosophy evolved into one of engaging students with finance. To do this I deliver an inclusive learning experience that is relevant and accessible. Further, I use my passion for finance, enthusiasm and patience in conjunction with a variety of teaching strategies to create such a learning experience. My goal is to deliver a relevant and accessible learning experience that extends all students.
Business students want to see how a theory works in the ‘real world’ outside an ivory tower and textbook. Therefore to demonstrate the relevance of finance I continually connect finance theories to practice with real world examples and seek to demonstrate how students can apply the tools and concepts in their own organisations. Before every lecture I research current issues that help explain the concepts we’re covering. Small video clips, company announcements, share price and volume graphs around corporate events and business interviews are valuable teaching resources. I also seek to relate theories to adult students’ prior working experiences to provide a concrete link between theory and practice for these students. Creating an active learning environment is essential for any teaching, but particularly so when conducting two to six consecutive full days of teaching. To maintain student interest and engagement throughout these block courses I use debates, case studies, Excel based problem-solving exercises, negotiation role-plays and board presentations along with the traditional “chalk and talk”. All activities are based around current events or real companies, to provide students with tangible links between theory and practice. This enables students to grasp the relevance of a topic to their business and personal lives.
Making it Accessible
Creating an accessible learning experience for all students is critical in transferring financial knowledge. I find many students are unable to initially grasp the relevance of my subject, as they perceive finance (often rightly!) as an overly complex, jargon ridden subject, filled with complicated formula. In other words, they perceive finance as inaccessible. In fact many of my students arrive with giant barriers to learning finance! Common barriers to learning finance include fear of:
- being wrong or asking “dumb” questions
- numbers, and
- how others may perceive them.
Therefore, it is important to make the subject accessible by breaking down the barriers to learning and reducing the complex into easily digestible bites. First, I establish a student’s learning barriers by reading their body language and from one-on one discussion moments with each student throughout the course. The one-on-one moments also allow me to extend the experts in a class, while ensuring novices attain a minimum comprehension level to enable self-learning post class. I then create an active and open learning environment which helps to break these learning barriers down. For instance, a learning environment that encourages students to ask questions is critical.
Formative Assessment: Building Confidence and Capability
The learning outcomes of business finance are very sequential in nature and students need to master one topic before moving onto the next. Also, repetition of problems and exercises is an important learning method for financial mathematics. As such, formative assessment is a critical learning strategy which enables students to attain a comprehension level that allows them to successfully negotiate the higher learning outcomes of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Since 1999 I have explored the use of on-line student support including the delivery of formative assessment. The quizzes provide students with a flexible learning tool which they can attempt multiple times, on demand, at any time prior to the final examination. Every quiz contains a randomly selected question set covering the same learning
outcomes and has the same overall difficulty level. Calculation questions covering both elementary and complex problems use randomly generated variables so students must recalculate a new answer for each quiz attempt. In total I have developed close to 1,500 questions and I add to these each year. The value for students of the on-line quizzes and large questions database is the ability for students to complete them multiple times and receive instant feedback. I encourage students to use the quiz learning tool to target their learning by identifying which areas they are yet to master.
Analysis of student performance clearly demonstrates that summative assessment grades improve when students attempt and master the formative quiz assessment. The mastery quizzes also provide me with a wealth of summary statistics which highlight areas and questions students find difficult. This allows me to target my teaching to where it’s most beneficial. Students are often surprised at my ability to target my teaching – as though I can mind read!
Relevance in Summative Assessment
In addition to the typical examination type assessments I design summative assessment to directly fit the business context of my discipline and include:
- written business and consultancy reports
- spreadsheet modelling to solve business problems
- preparing notes for business meetings
- role plays of presentations to boards of directors
I believe that if structured correctly, all of these assessment forms can assess the higher learning outcomes mentioned earlier. I write case studies based on real public and private businesses. The students complete consultancy reports that place the academic learning outcomes in a business context. In addition, they learn real world applications such as, spreadsheet modelling, importing and exporting goods, and using real data to determine project returns. Students engage with my subject when they can see real business applications of the subject.
I was stunned and honoured to receive a Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award. To be recognised at the National level for the simple commitment of seeking to extend all students is humbling and reinforces for me personally my decision to make teaching my career of choice all those years ago. I would like to thank all those who have contributed to my teaching over the years and Ako Aotearoa for making these awards possible. And above all, thanks to the students – for without them I wouldn’t have the career I’m passionate about!
Peer and Student Comments
Hamish has a well developed philosophy of teaching which has been honed over many years. He listens to his students and has sought expert feedback in an effort to continually improve his teaching ability and performance. This approach, effective at both the undergraduate and post graduate levels and in various modes, is student oriented, innovative, interactive and charismatic. Hamish also has a strong intuition which allows him to quickly adapt to changing situations and student abilities. This allows him to make sure no student is left behind by what many consider complex material, the study of finance.
Professor Lawrence Rose, Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Business, Massey University
I can say that no teacher gained higher satisfaction ratings than Hamish. Finance is an extremely difficult subject to teach well. The subject fills MBA students with fear and yet students would regularly report that Hamish’s approach gave them the confidence to achieve grades of which they did not think themselves capable. His ratings were always “Excellent”. Students on our China MBA programmes considered him a great teacher making even the most difficult concepts understandable.
Robyn Leeming, Retired Professor and Head of School, Graduate School of Business, Massey University
Hamish demonstrates a well integrated academic and professional practical understanding of his discipline, along with a strong flair and empathy for working and stimulating student thinking and learning. He is highly respected by students and accounting educationalists.
Philip Keeling, General Manager, Advanced Business Education Limited
Hamish has the three prerequisite attributes that make a great lecturer: an ability to engage students through relevance, a passion for the subject he teaches; and excellent organisational and management skills so necessary in effective teaching. His pursuit of being a better lecturer is evidenced in the continued improvement in his evaluations, which since 2001 have maintained an exceptionally high standard – about as good as they get!
Professor Chris Moore, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Business, Massey University
Hamish stood out from other lecturers I encountered due to his ability to relate complex principles to the real world. This focus, together with his clear explanations of difficult concepts, was instrumental in me choosing Finance as a major. During the completion of my Masters degree I worked as a Graduate Assistant under the supervision of Hamish. This gave me an insight into his attention to detail and his pursuit of excellence in all aspects of the student learning experience.
Dr Ben Marshall, Former student and current Colleague, Department of Economics and Finance, Massey University