Teaching Effective Local Government Management

Article excerpt

City and county managers can and should play a leading role in the graduate education of the next generation of local government professionals. Master's degree programs in public administration involve practitioners in a variety of ways, including mentoring interns, serving on advisory committees, and teaching courses.

Some recent issues of PM magazine and attendance at teaching workshops held at ICMA's annual conferences suggest managers are welcoming the opportunity to move into the classroom as instructors. Concerns about the time commitment, course design, and teaching practices, however, may seem daunting.

We present an elective course on Effective City Management (MPA 8500) taught at Villanova University as a specific example of how we addressed these concerns. We also present student feedback on the course to provide a balanced view of our effort.

ACADEMIC-PRACTITIONER COLLABORATION

Craig Wheeland as MPA director invited three township managers (Chris Canavan, Larry Comunale, and Daniel Olpere), all with MPA. degrees, to teach MPA 8500 as a team. Craig Wheeland guided the team in designing and managing the course, settling on grading practices, and determining teaching styles, but he did not participate as an instructor.

The team chose two ICMA books to serve as the foundation for the course: The Effective Local Government Manager and Managing Local Government: Cases in Decision Making. The course met once per week for two hours in the evening (a standard schedule for Villanova), and the instructors taught the course primarily as a seminar rather than a lecture format, with ample opportunity for students to discuss the case studies.

Each week students read all or part of a chapter from The Effective Local Government Manager along with one case study compatible with the topic of the chapter. This active-learning approach, using cases, matched well the managers' acumen and ability to apply ideas to solve problems.

ADDRESSING TIME CONSTRAINTS

To address the time constraints facing each manager, we created a division of labor as we arranged teaching schedules for the 14 weekly classes. All three managers taught the first class (the subject was the profession of local government management) and the 14th class (the life of a local government manager). The remaining 12 classes were divided into three groups of four consecutive weeks. Villanova pays parttime faculty per credit hour, so the division of labor allowed each manager to be paid for one credit hour.

Using a division of labor achieved an acceptable balance for each manager's obligations to local government work and quality family time. Students benefited by learning from three managers with unique career paths and personal approaches rather than learning from one manager. The division of labor allowed the students to meet all three managers in the beginning and again at the end.

One student wrote about the course: "Having the class team taught by realworld city management professionals was an excellent way to teach this material. All three professors brought different, styles and insights to the material." The challenge of using a division of labor is to provide continuity from one instructor to the next, which the team accomplished by carefully planning the course in advance and keeping each other and the students informed by e-mail.

EVALUATING WRITING ASSIGNMENTS

In a team-taught course, it is difficult to evaluate student work consistently. …