Dr Ian McAndrew – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr Ian McAndrew (Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations, Department of Management, School of Business, University of Otago) – a Sustained Excellence winner 2008
Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations, Department of Management, School of Business, University of Otago
Ian came to New Zealand in 1987 with extensive scholarship and practice in labour and employment relationships gained in the United States. He draws on these experiences to develop successful undergraduate and honours courses. Ian’s philosophy is to ensure his students understand that theory and modelling and academic studies are a basis for being successful in work and life. Ian has an innate respect for and interest in his students. “I have never had any doubts about who I teach for. I teach for students. I have always respected their evaluations and have always sought them, read them, reflected on them, and learned from them”. Remaining active as a professional in labour relations himself, allows Ian to ensure his graduates have the best possible preparation for practice. His “Ponderosa County” negotiation exercise is well-known throughout the country. Ian’s portfolio is peppered with student endorsements of his enthusiasm and knowledge, summed up by the student who says, “Ian doesn’t just ‘teach’ a course, he lives and breathes it and inspires those who do it to live and breathe it as well”.
The negotiation course
I would guess that a thousand people or more have passed through Ponderosa County in my negotiation course over the past 20 years. It is an intensive, demanding but ultimately, for most, exhilarating experience in negotiation, problem solving, human relationships, self discovery, confidence building, and the enjoyment of learning.
In its undergraduate format, the exercise runs over a month. Students typically spend about 35 or 40 hours in negotiations, and a like amount in preparation and team meetings. They negotiate over nights and weekends, often until 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning. They curse, and cry, and laugh, and order lots of pizza. And eventually they get a settlement they thought they’d never get, and they leave together, triumphant, happy, relieved, and usually ready for either a bed or a beer.
The sophistication of the course has developed over time. In the beginning, there was only Ponderosa County. These days, along with instruction in theory and practice, students experience a sequence of progressively more complex negotiation exercises, designed to build skills and confidence, before taking the daunting journey to Ponderosa County.
Opportunities for reflection are a critical part of experiential learning, and we routinely use student journals and team debriefing sessions to accomplish this. In addition I have invested quite a lot of experimentation in organising innovative ways of debriefing negotiation experiences, and have shared those innovations through conference presentations and academic publication.
The employment rights course
My other undergraduate course covers employment rights and responsibilities. It too has origins in my work as a practitioner. From 1993 to 2002, I was a mediator and adjudicator of employment disputes as a part-time member of the New Zealand Employment Tribunal. With the decline of union representation over that period, the rights of individuals to protect their employment entitlements became of paramount interest, and the employment rights course emerged as a natural offering in the management curriculum.
The philosophy behind this course is the same as that behind the negotiation course – strong theoretical foundations, informed by research and practice, helping students acquire practical skills and knowledge they appreciate, but also an understanding of how research and theory inform and support practice. It is very much a case-based course.
I teach three courses at the Honours level; two modules of advanced study in industrial and employment relations, which remains my core substantive field of interest, and a course in mediation. I also teach executive education , and facilitate learning through the supervision of research theses, dissertations and projects for students at Honours, Masters, and PhD levels.
I enjoy teaching overseas as well. I now make annual visits to universities in Vienna to teach courses in mediation and negotiation. Students there enthusiastically embrace the interactive style of presentation coming to them from New Zealand.
My teaching philosophy
One of my strengths as a teacher is that I have been for many years an active practitioner in my fields – substantively labour and employment relations in terms of process, negotiation and mediation. I teach students a lot of skills in those fields, and they enjoy learning skills that they can relate to and use. However, I am also a scholar. Grounding ‘understanding’ in theory is, to my mind, what separates truly effective practitioners from the rest, in any field of business endeavour.
I want students to learn useable skills, and to really enjoy doing so. However, I also want students to understand that theory and modelling and academic studies generally are not things to be ‘endured’ at university before moving on to a career and ‘real life’, but rather are things to be absorbed as a basis for being successful in ‘real life’.
Students study a lot of cases at university. Most of these seem to be short and to make just one or two points. I prefer to challenge students with more detailed, complex cases averaging 20 or 30 pages. Details can bring a case to life and give it credibility. That the cases I use are real gives them an authenticity that pulls the students right into the story.
I also try to use cases that are interesting in the sense that they involve interesting people doing interesting things. Our major mediation case, for example, revolves around the dismissal from employment of a rugby coach in controversial circumstances. It is just as easy and legitimate to learn from an interesting story as it is from one involving more mundane situations. Department of Labour mediators generously conduct the mediations to further authenticate the experience for students.
The employment rights course also lends itself to case-aided instruction, so I commonly use what I call “60 seconds” cases during lectures, displaying the key facts on PowerPoint, expanding on them orally, and inviting students to discuss them for a minute or two before venturing an opinion. This technique gives students an opportunity to think and talk through the subject matter, which in my experience leads to more learning than thinking alone. That they have discussed it with somebody
else also gives students more confidence in publicly offering an opinion, having ‘road tested’ their views on their neighbour.
Teaching strategies that engage students
In the early days of teaching at Otago, I used to wonder why students were willing to spend 30 or 40 hours in negotiations, and a like amount in preparation, often times negotiating overnight, and over weekends, pushing things to the deadline, holding out for that last dollar to negotiate a collective employment agreement for a group of deputy sheriffs in an imaginary county in a faraway place. Don’t they know it’s just a game, I wondered? Why don’t they just quietly cut a deal somewhere
in the middle and go home? Or just give up, roll over, and take the consequences?
I don’t really think about that anymore. They just won’t do it. Never have. Only one group of two teams has ever, in 20 years, taken the easy way out of Ponderosa County. The other exercises in my courses are perhaps more finite, and so require less time and effort. But they generate no less commitment to achieving good outcomes. Students put in the time and effort necessary to get results they can be proud of.
What are the reasons for this level of engagement? Fundamentally, I think that people take pride in their performance, and many are competitive by nature; nobody likes to lie down and be taken advantage of. But I believe that I play a part as well in generating the enthusiasm that students have for my courses. I teach them how to settle things, to make deals. But more than that, they learn to make only good deals, deals that give you a buzz when you finally get them.
And to conduct themselves with amiability, humour and good manners, but purposively, strategically, and with resolve. Between their efforts and commitment, and my guidance, they discover how to do all that, and gain the confidence that they can. And that’s a wonderful thing to behold. One of the true rewards I realise is to see students who began the course without the confidence to speak in public – let alone to debate, advocate or negotiate – become, in the space of a semester, someone who you absolutely could not shut up if you wanted to. That is, I readily accept, not a scientific measure of teaching or learning achievement; but it is one that matters a great deal to me.
Peer and Student Comments
Ian’s approach to teaching is practitioner focused, and as such is reality-based. You learn by doing. Right from the start of the course he ‘gets in character’, and this is a persona he maintains until the course’s conclusion. It is this level of enthusiasm that I believe ensures student engagement in the negotiation exercise. As a teacher I can only admire and envy his ability.
Dr Fiona Edgar, BCom (Hons) 2000, PhD (2003) Senior Lecturer, Department of Management
It was not only one of the most time consuming but also one of the most interesting, challenging, practical and funniest seminars in my whole student career. The fact that Ian was passionate and dedicated to teach us everything about negotiation strategies in combination with personal anecdotes from his many years of practical experience made the time in the classroom very enjoyable and never boring. In 2007 Ian taught at my university (Vienna University of Economics and Business
Administration) and my fellow students were as excited about his course, his charisma and the way he communicates the content of teaching as I was during my time in New Zealand.
Alex Ebhart, student at the Vienna University of Economics & Business Administration, exchange student at Otago 2006
I would challenge anyone to find a particular aspect of employment relations where Ian does not have a list a mile long of entertaining and informative stories based on his years of practical experience and grounded by watertight academic theory. To sum it up, when Ian talks you listen because whatever
is about to be said is dead set worth hearing.
Todd Gregory, BSc, BCom 2007 Commercial Analyst, Fonterra
I really enjoy Ian’s dry sense of humour and wit, and I believe that he balances the use of such humour perfectly so as to make lectures fun and interesting, without losing focus on the key points. I cannot think of any other teachers or lecturers who have such a fine balance.
Jason Tibble, BCom (2006) Key Accounts Executive, Lion Nathan
He did not simply give a student the answer he was looking for. In fact I can't remember a time when he gave me an answer without working for it. He always questioned my thoughts, even if I was on the right track. His testing questions solidified my perspective on issues as they encouraged me to continuously research until I was satisfied myself.
Philip Boyd-Clark, BCom 2004, PGDipCom 2004 Human Resources Advisor, MAF