Styles of Knowledge in the Management Education Network: An Ethnography of End-Users’ Experience
Designing a productive relationship between management education and actual management practice is a dilemma that educational institutions, policy makers, and students alike are assumed to face. Doing so implicates bridging ‘gaps’ between management education and management practice within which questions of ‘relevance’ are assumed to naturally emerge (Ghoshal 2005; Bennis & O’Toole 2005; Arum & Roska 2011; Chia & Holt 2008a). Yet it is uncertain whether such issues are meaningful within students’ everyday experiences, what forms they might take, and how and if they come about at all. Relevance may take multiple and conflicting forms (transcending an institutional definition that restricts it to concerns for employment, profit, and status), and as an everyday experience management learning may present a deeper social nature (Lave & Wenger 1991; Brown & Duguid 1991) that resists it being located at either the individual or institutional level (and hence problematizes ideas of gaps and relevance). The project takes up these invitations to explore the uncertainty of what meanings and forms relevance takes for management education students and how they come about. We narrow our engagement to studying how students negotiate what we call ‘styles’ (Kolb 1979; Reynolds 2001; Chia & Holt 2008a) of management knowledge, such as those produced through ‘formal’ professorial teaching methods, and how these affect, and are affected by, individual learning experiences. These everyday experiences of relevance are explored as SBM students transition through and within academia and beyond. Findings will develop in-depth understanding of whether ‘bottlenecks’ (Middendorf & Pace 2004) assumed to exist in the transfer of management knowledge to actual management practice are individual, institutional, pedagogical, or epistemological concerns, how these interrelate within the everyday experiences of SBM students, and how relevance, gaps, and bottlenecks are socially constructed from the perspective of students themselves. Outputs will contribute to discussions regarding the nature of management knowledge (Chia & Holt 2008a; Chia & Holt 2008b; Lave & Wenger 1991; Brown & Duguid 1991), produce action-research informed events as sites of alternative ‘styles’ of management knowledge, and inform future SBM teaching styles.
A set of research questions has been designed to explore how different styles of management knowledge matter in everyday experiences of management learning and how these are involved in the social construction of ‘relevance’. These are:
1) What are student perceptions of the relevance of management knowledge acquired through management education to management practice and what meanings and forms do these take?
2) What are the bottlenecks in the transfer of management knowledge from management education through to management practice that students experience within and beyond SBM teaching practices?
3) What are the styles of management knowledge that matter as students transition from being management education freshers through to management practitioners?
Literature framing the initial moments of the research is currently undergoing a process of validation as pilot study findings develop themes. A table summarises:
Bennis & O’Toole 2001; Ghoshal 2005; Mintzberg 2004; Arum & Roska 2011; Chia & Holt 2008a; Chia & Holt 2008b; O’Connor 2011; CME; Carnegie Report (2012) and the liberalisation of M.ed and M.ed epistemologies; academically adrift; etc.
The project resists the mainstream assumption that ‘relevance’, ‘student engagement’, and ‘application’ of management knowledge are ‘problems’ that automatically emerge no matter the institutional configuration of management education. It draws from arguments between CMS and CME, and discussions about the nature of management knowledge (e.g. Lave & Wenger; Brown & Duguid; Chia & Holt 2008a) to develop an ethnographic approach to explore how these ‘problems’ are socially constructed through the normative organization of management education.
To explore the impact of ‘formal’ management education particularly, the project draws on the concept of ‘styles, which suggests that users have unique ways of acquiring management knowledge (Kolb 1979; Kolb, Boyatzis, Mainemelle 2001). The project takes up the idea of styles after Reynolds (2001), Reynolds & Trehan (2005), Chia & Holt (2008a), Chia & Holt (2008b), Gulati (2007), and O’Connor (2011), who extend the idea of styles to the institutional organization of management knowledge, such as formal or practice-based teaching methods, and how different cultures and political standpoints implicate different ways of negotiating what is taught in management schools.
Bottlenecks, constraints, opportunities
To develop understanding around how styles of management knowledge, such as that produced through formal teaching methods, impact the relevance that students experience, we develop an analytical strategy around Middendorf & Pace (2004) who identified ‘bottlenecks’ in the transfer of management knowledge between the management education institution and the students and developed interventions through which such bottlenecks can be ameliorated. But whereas the Middendorf & Pace model assumes relevance takes the same meanings and forms for students as it does for institutions by only identifying bottlenecks from an institutional perspective (i.e. from assessment scores and employment found after education) the project switches the analytical perspective in order to develop thick understanding around if and how bottlenecks form and how they might be addressed from the perspective of everyday experience.
Communities of practice & communities of learning
A broad interpretation of communities of practice and learning (Lave & Wenger 1991; Brown & Duguid 1991) informs an analytical engagement with the social nature of knowledge, and how relevance might be socially constructed through interactions between different communities, institutions, individuals, and practices. The project draws also from Chia & Holt (2008a; 2008b) who discuss the nature of management knowledge within business schools and how particular styles of management knowledge may produce the problem of relevance.
Mainstream approaches to M.ed
Remaining open to the social nature of knowledge, the project sets itself against mainstream studies of management education studies of management education (e.g. Kolb, Boyatzis, Mainemelle 2001; Pfeffer & Fong 2002; Middendorf & Pace 2001). These appear emblematic of formal styles of management education, reproducing problems of relevance through epistemological commitments that decontextualise theories and models, suggesting abstract managerial competencies are taught and then re-applied to businessworlds defined by stability and certainty. As counterproposal, the project presents a more interpretive and social constructionist approach to exploring how styles and experiences of relevance interrelate.
New approaches to M.ed
Alternative approaches to management education and understanding the impact of formal teaching methods on experiences of relevance are found in Hjorth (2010); O’Connor (2011); Carnegie Report (2012); Khurana (2007); Chia & Holt (2008a); Chia & Holt (2008b). The project draws on these to present contrast and comparison to normative formal styles of management knowledge and explore involved styles of learning such as practice-based or experiential learning and how these affect the meanings and forms of relevance.
Schatzi, telos, process, practice; social constructionism
The research design will develop data at the community, institutional, and individual levels to understand how these interact to impact students’ experience of management education.
The project is organised as a case study (Eisenhardt 1989; Yin 1984; Stake 1995; Flyvbjerg 2011) of the School of Business & Management made up of mixed-sites (Marcus 1998). The singular case study allows for in-depth understanding of the relevance of management education, and the mixed-site composite allows for contrast and comparison (Glaser & Strauss 1969) between institutions, communities and individuals.
At the community level, different disciplines will be explored as these might employ varying styles that affect experiences of relevance, and individual experiences will be understood against the backdrop of diverse ethnic, gender, and geographic communities making up the SBM student population. Other communities, such as academics, and individuals from industry, will be studied as they impact student experiences of management knowledge. In-depth understanding of individual experiences and demographic analysis will allow in-depth understanding to be transferred to wider communities.
At the institutional level, different ways of organizing management education and knowledge within institutions such as universities will be studied, with a particular focus being SBM at QMUL in order to develop in-depth understanding.
At the individual level, everyday experiences of community backgrounds (e.g disciplinary, ethnic, gender, etc.) and ways of organizing management education within institutions will be studied.
The design consists of:
A mixed-temporal element, through which different temporalities of management learning are studied (from first year undergraduate to Ph.D students and alumni),
A longitudinal element, whereby sites of learning are studied over a year and a half period and a cohort sample is recruited, allow for the transitory and mobile experience of management learning to be studied. The sample target size for the cohort study is 5 first year undergraduate SBM students (2.4% representative sample), and 5 third year undergraduate SBM students (2.2% representative sample).
Within the case study, a mix of ethnographic methods are utilised:
One-to-One Narrative Interviews, allowing sites to express experiences of learning and the impact of formal teaching methods on the relevance of management education in ways that matter to them. A broad semi-structured interviewing approach allows students to situate management education in thicker and more meaningful learning trajectories stretching back to childhood, outside academia to everyday life, and into imagined futures.
Participant observation of lectures, seminars, and the earliest moments of QMUL management education from induction through Freshers’ Week allow for a broad interpretation of educational experiences, and for institutional, community, and individual factors to be studied from the perspective of students.
Each participant will be asked to keep a personal diary to record their everyday experience of institutional and community styles and develop a thicker understanding of the factors influencing relevance, engagement, and application.
During year 1, demographics of the student population will be analysed to develop understanding of the ethnic, gender, geographic, age, sex, and disciplinary characteristics of SBM students.
An action-research informed element whereby alternative styles of management knowledge, such as practice-based teaching and learning methods, are studied through organising events that act as particular research sites.
Pilot study will validate and ground themes drawn from literature in students experience.
Ethical approval has been awarded for all aspects of the research project except ethnographic participant observation of first year undergraduate induction (semester 1 2013-2014) and participant observation of 3rd undergraduate seminars and lectures (semester 2 2014-2015). Approval is expected by August 2013.
Design study and gain ethical approval
February 2013 - July 2013
Recruit pilot study sample
February 2013 - March 2013
Stage 1: interviews and diary keeping as pilot study
February 2013 - August 2013
Stage 2: participant observation and cohort study
September 2013 - September 2014
June 2013 - November 2013 - Incremental
Demographic Analysis of student population
June 2013 - November 2013
Action Research Event
Semester 1, 2013/Semester 2, 2014 (depending on logistics)
Respondent Validation sessions & focus groups
May - August 2014
Analysis of findings
Stage 1: May - November 2013 (pilot study)
Stage 2: November 2013 - May 2014
Write Up initial research report
May 2014 - June 2014
Write-up full research report
July 2014 - February 2015
Dissemination of findings via publications and conferences
The ethnographic approach and broad interpretation of what constitutes a learning experience allow for a range of SBM institutional styles and modes of learning to be studied from the perspective of students. Data is currently emerging on multiple aspects of learning experience within and beyond academia:
- The transition from pre-university education to university education and the induction process
- Employability services provided within SBM
- Teaching styles
- Connections between SBM and the business world and their nature
- Internships: constraints for international students; benefits for learners
- Disciplinary styles
- Interaction with teachers
- Interaction with other students and learning from group activities
- Practice-based and experiential learning outside mainstream management education
- Everyday life; travel; impact of employment on attendance, etc.
- Impact of ethnicity on opportunities for internships, etc.
- Aspirations for management education
- Management education as an identity building, or sensemaking process, but also a sense-breaking process
Aims & Impact
a) In-depth understanding of students’ experience of formal teaching styles and how these impact the meanings and forms that relevance takes, student engagement, employability, knowledge and skills acquisition of SBM students
b) In-depth understanding of how management knowledge is organized within SBM impacts student experiences of relevance
c) In-depth understanding of the transition from management education fresher to management education leaver and transition into employment and the skills, styles, and episodes of learning that matter most to students’ experience of relevance
d) Understanding whether relevance and student engagement are institutional, individual, pedagogical, or epistemological concerns and how these interrelate
e) Action research events that displace boundaries between communities (i.e. students, academics, industry) in the management education network (e.g. CreativeWorks London and London Creative & Digital Fusion collaboration event planned)
f) Publications in leading journals and conferences (currently presenting at British Academy of Management; Ethnographic Practice in Industry Conference; Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism; Management Learning 2012)
g) In-depth understanding of students’ experiences of teaching styles within SBM able to inform future SBM teaching styles.
2013: Design research project addressing initial understanding of central debates in field
2013: Design and implement pilot study
2013: Identify the most important themes for students from pilot study
2013: Design and seek funding for a boundary displacing event able to act as a site in an action research approach, and act as a viral, visibility enhancing intervention that engages leading scholars and practitioners and tightens relationships with the student community
2013 - 2014: Implement boundary displacing event, and use as site of alternative learning style within project
2013 - 2014: Identify the most important arguments in the field from extensive literature review
2013 - 2014: Use initial findings from pilot study to develop a set of draft papers for submission to leading journals
2013 - 2016: Disseminate findings regarding relevance of different teaching learning styles employed within the school to students’ experience of everyday management practice in order to inform SBM teaching styles.
Summary of Project Development
1st year undergraduate
2nd year undergraduate
3rd year undergraduate
Begins September, after ethical approval stage 2
Stage 2 of data collection
Below is a general interview schedule used to prompt interview participants not recording a personal diary. Otherwise, participants’ personal diaries are used to compile interview schedules for each participant.
Organisational, Management, Learning Leadership group, Queen Mary, University of London.
Interview Schedule- End Users’ Experience Cohort & Mixed-site Study
Short summary of research interest:
The study concerns: (a) student perceptions of the relevance of management knowledge acquired through management education to management practice (b) the constraints, bottlenecks, realizations and epiphanies in student learning within and beyond SBM teaching practices (c) the styles of management knowledge relevant to users’ experiences.
Short summary of approach to these concerns:
I am interested in your experience of management knowledge (1) previous to beginning management education within university (2) within the context of your university education (2) the context of management practice in your everyday life since leaving education.
I will ask about each of these issues in turn. You are welcome to start wherever feels most comfortable for you. I will also try not to interrupt you.
Before Management Education
1) Can you tell me about the time before beginning management education and your experience of beginning management education?
Prompts re. Expectations:
*What were your expectations when you arrived at the School?
*Why did you choose business and management?
*What did you want from the school?
*What skills were you expecting to acquire?
*What elements were necessary to realise your expectations?
*What particular subjects or skills were you most interested in?
*What did you think or hope the teaching would be like?
Prompts re. Aspirations:
*What sort of future did you imagine for yourself after management education?
*How did you think management education would help you realise your aspirations?
*Who or what did you want to become within or after management education?
*What did you want from yourself?
*What aspects of management education do you look forwards to most?
*What aspects of management education do you least look forwards to?
During Management Education
2) Can you tell me about the management education you have received since beginning?
Prompts re. Bottlenecks and Accelerators
*Can you describe a particular example of positive experience from your management education?
*Can you describe a particular example of negative experience from your management education?
*What kind of support have you had in learning? (ask for specific examples: from faculty staff; from involved action and activities; from friends or other students; from others outside of university setting- what was this like, how did it help or hinder?).
*What are the highlights from your time within management education?
*Can you tell me about a particular episode from your time in management education that you look on most fondly?
*During this episode, what was it that made it special (ask for specific examples: study topic; the teacher; other students; style of teaching or activity; something else)?
*What aspects of management education do you look forwards to most?
*What aspects of management education do you least look forwards to?
*Can you tell me about a particular episode from your time in management education that you feel could have worked out better or that you struggled with (study topic; the teacher; other students; style of teaching or activity; something else)?
*What problems do you experience during your time in management education? For example, do you find theory, practical elements, or group activity to be particularly challenging?
*What is your favourite module or subject? In your own words, please describe in as much detail as you can what makes the subject special to you.
*Are there any times when other modules or disciplines contribute to your learning (i.e. other humanities; arts; creative exercises, etc.)?
Prompts re. Content & Style
*Can you describe how you learn most easily? (ask for examples: from general theories, best practices, case study examples? From class activities, workshops, seminars, and group work?)
*What is the role of the faculty member within the classroom?
*What is the role of the student in the classroom?
*Can you describe your relationship with faculty staff in the classroom and school?
*Can you describe working with other students?
*When you are in a classroom, what aspects of the class or module do you look forwards to most?
*When engaged in a module, what aspects of the course stand out as being most important for you?
*Can you describe learning in a lecture context?
*Can you describe learning in a workshop/seminar context?
*What other approaches do you think are missing or could be incorporated that would contribute positively to your learning experience?
*What is most important for you to learn? (ask for examples: best practices; social skills; expression and creativity; strategic planning; practical experience).
*Are there any other modules, disciplines or approaches to learning that matter to you? (ask for examples: arts, art, creativity, expression, involved action, creative writing, drama, language, philosophy, mathematics)
Prompts re. Projections
*How do you imagine management education will pay off?
*What kind of benefits do you expect from management education (monetary; well-being, etc.)?
*What elements are necessary for these benefits to be realised?
3) What has your life been like since you undertook management education?
Prompts re. Aspirations
*What have you done with your management education since leaving?
*How have your aspirations changed or developed since you began management education?
*How has management education contributed to actualising your aspirations?
*What aspects of management education have had negative impact upon actualising your aspirations?
*What do you aspire to do with your management education now?
Prompts re. Expectations
*In what ways has management education benefitted you?
*Has management education benefitted you the way you expected it would?
*Has the school satisfied your expectations?
*What expectations have fallen away?
*What new expectations have emerged?
*What aspects of life have changed most since management education?
*What does the future hold for you now?
*How could your time in management education have served you better now that you are in management practice (i.e. more practical experience; more time with important theories; better social skills; more openness and creativity)?
*What elements did you expect to be put in place that were not?
Prompts re. Content & Style
*How does having had management education impact your everyday life?
*How have you applied management education to your life outside of academia?
*What skills do you find most useful in your life?
*What aspects of management education matter most for you now? (ask for examples: content- theories, best practices, case studies; social and conversational skills; involved action and practical experience gained whilst in management education; analytical skills, creativity, expression).
*What other skills not necessarily taught via management education do you find matter most in your life? (ask for specific examples to exemplify skills and knowledge being used).
*What relationships matter most to you now you are outside of management education? (ask for examples of how they matter).
*What relationships from your time in management education matter to your life now? (faculty staff, other students, careers and employability services, family and friends).
*Are there any examples of times when you find you are missing some skills or knowledge?
*If you change some aspects of your time in management education, what would they be?
*What other aspects of university education matter in your daily life (arts, art, creative writing, drama, language, sociology, philosophy, politics, etc.)
4) Respondent Validation and Crystallization of Themes
As each interview crystallizes (Kvale 2007) around topics that are important to participants within the general narrative boundaries set out by the research, notes taken throughout the interview process (Wengraf 2004) will be used to ask additional questions, provoke thicker description, and act as a respondent validation process.