Course Design: Should We Permit Student Participation?

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Today's managers consider employee participation and empowerment vital to making organizations more competitive in the marketplace. Employee participation is said to lower operating costs, improve productivity, quality, commitment and morale, and reduce turnover (e.g., Kotter & Heskett, 1992; Milliken, 1996; Mumford & Hendricks, 1996; Scotto, 1996). Employee participation/empowerment is the centerpiece of the Total Quality Management movement. It is the heart and soul of the movement to autonomous work teams. Employee participation in the performance appraisal process has produced resounding improvements in morale (Cawley, et al., 1998). Even a number of colleges and universities allow their faculty members to individually weight areas of emphasis (e.g., teaching, research, service) prior to their year-end performance appraisal.

Amazingly, however, this fundamental management principle of the new millennium is not practiced in the classrooms of most business schools. Emery and Emery's (2001) survey of 106 business professors at ten colleges and universities found that only six had experimented with either allowing the students to develop the course syllabus (within accreditation standards) or to determine the weighting of the assessment vehicles (e.g., the students could weighting for the tests between 10-20% each, for the homework 30-40%, for quizzes 10-20%, for presentations 5-15%, for the final exam 15-30%, etc.). Each of these professors chose to implement it as a group rather than as an individual decision-making process. Further, only three of these professors still practice some form of student self-determination in their courses. The three that discontinued the process, cited lack of tangible benefits, lack of student consensus on syllabi or weighting decisions, increased class divisiveness, and lower student satisfaction (as measured by course evaluations). We believe, however, the time has come to increase student participation in determining the weighting of appraisal criterion. Discontinuing efforts in this area, because of failures, is a kin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.

The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, examine the participation literature from the standpoint of both a manager and an employee to determine whether the theories might be generalized to the teacher-student educational environment. Second, determine whether students favor taking on a more active role in weighting course assessments and if so which factors might be related to this desire.

LITERATURE REVIEW

There are two theoretically distinct approaches to examining the appropriateness of employee participation. One evaluates it as a consequence of leadership styles (e.g., job satisfaction, productivity). The other examines it as an outcome of organizational processes/strategies (e.g., participatory decision-making and appraisal design) and individual differences (e.g., self-efficacy, locus of control) on job satisfaction, commitment, productivity, motivation, learning and attitude.

LEADERSHIP THEORIES

Situational or contingency theories of leadership are considered by many to be the most valid approach to explaining leadership effectiveness. These theories grew out of an attempt to explain the inconsistent findings of trait and behavioral theories. Specifically, These theories propose that the effectiveness of a particular style of leader behavior depends on the situation. As situations change, different styles become appropriate. We will examine three leadership theories that suggest conditions under which a participatory style might be most effective.

Decision Process Theory

Reviewers of empirical leadership research over the last thirty years (e.g., Bass, 1990) suggest that the situational theory of leadership advanced by Vroom and Yetton (1973) and reformulated by Vroom and Jago (1988) is perhaps the most statistically valid model of predicting and prescribing leadership effectiveness. …