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Eric H. Shaw, Ph.D.

Department of Marketing
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, FL 33431
Telephone: 561 297-3639
Fax: (561) 297-3978
E-mail: shaw@fau.edu



As a university professor, my teaching philosophy is shaped by my broader academic philosophy. I believe a university is a community of scholars who exist to synthesize teaching, research and service. To use a marketing metaphor, a university provides a channel of distribution to produce, warehouse, promote, and ultimately retail knowledge. The retailing aspect involves the dissemination of our knowledge base to final consumers, from teacher to students. Teaching is enhanced and validated by research and service because they provide crucial feedback loops to test that the knowledge disseminated from teacher to students is current, relevant and accurate.

Given this academic framework, the foundation of my teaching philosophy involves engaging students as active participants in the learning process. This philosophy guides and reflects what I am trying to accomplish with students (i.e. my objectives) and how I attempt to achieve these objectives (i.e. my strategic approach). My overriding teaching objective is improving students ability to think critically, in general, about the subject of marketing, in particular. This objective, to my mind, is what distinguishes a college education from other forms of schooling.

To involve students in critical thinking, my strategic approach is the Socratic method. This teaching method involves leading students through a sequence of questions and answers so that they progress step by step, point by point, from problems to logically coherent solutions. There are several benefits of this highly participative and interactive method. First, it involves students in a thought process; so that even if they subsequently forget particular answers, students have learned a method of working out problems rather than relying on memorized responses. Additionally, the teacher also learns from the arguments and counterpoints of the students. This provides a crucial feedback loop, because even good teachers need to continue learning in order to remain good teachers.

Another important teaching objective, closely related to critical thinking, involves improving my students' ability to communicate effectively. To achieve this objective requires frequent thought provoking writing assignments and oral presentations, along with extensive written and verbal feedback about their strengths and weaknesses. In my Marketing Strategy classes, for example, students learn by doing actual real life applications of concepts. They work in small groups and write four to six strategic marketing plans of about 20 pages each. The number depends upon how fast they learn. I believe this course is so well received, and students put up with such a heavy work load, because their work output is a practical product - a strategic marketing plan. Students recognize the relevance of these plans as something that will contribute to success in their future careers. Students can also clearly see the incremental improvement in their work product from case to case, and the dramatic progress from their first to last strategic marketing plan over the entire semester. In all of their work I encourage students to act professionally and to strive for excellence; both are built into the class reward structure.

Translating marketing concepts into real business world applications, not only makes learning easier, but its also more fun and provides students with professional marketing skills and a portfolio of plans they can use as examples to show prospective employers. These plans are based mostly on business cases of real companies, but also on a computer marketing simulation and occasionally on pro bono consulting projects for local business firms.

In addition to writing the plans, students also give at least one oral presentation. While one group presents a case the rest of the class act as a critical audience questioning assumptions, disagreeing over evidence, arguing points of analysis and countering conclusions. I continually prod students toward thoughtful questions and answers presented clearly, simply and directly. After the case presentation, we critique everyone's questions and answers, instructor's included; and students quickly overcome their initial hesitation about telling fellow students or me how our analysis missed the point or where we went wrong. Effective communication also embraces the ability to listen well. Listening to others exposes students to diverse opinions and alternative points of view; and a recognition that there may not be a single correct answer, but multiple possible solutions.

I focus my teaching objectives and strategies on improving my students' ability to think critically and communicate effectively because I believe these are the most fundamental skills people can have and where I can make the greatest difference in my students' lives. In a satire parodying Socrates, a contemporary playwright described a school using his question and answer method (which ironically became the model for Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum) unflatteringly as a "Thinkery." A place to raise unanswered questions and probe unquestioned answers, from my philosoph--ical per-spec--t-ive, represents an extremely complimentary description of a university.

Because of the often overlooked importance of students in the educational process, I spend considerable time and effort voluntarily serving on numerous student related committees and as faculty advisor to a variety of student organizations, particularly those recognizing and rewarding scholastic excellence. Service to students is also part of my teaching philosophy, allowing me to keep in touch with the ever-changing problems they confront and ever-shifting attitudes and values they hold. Keeping up with students and being receptive to their problems provides me another form of feedback to adjust course content and presentation of materials so they stay current and challenging.

Finally, to complete the circle, I believe my teaching is enhanced and validated by its integration with other elements of my educational philosophy - academic research and service to the business community. I engage in research and consulting in my areas of teaching expertise, particularly "strategic marketing planning" and "the development of marketing thought and theory." Revisiting the marketing metaphor, research and consulting empowers me to perform fully in the academic channel of distribution from production to consumption, and ultimately to retail knowledge that has undergone the crucible of being both academically peer-tested and business field-tested. Thus, enabling me to deliver to my students the most up-to-date, pertinent and accurate knowledge, using the most efficient and effective teaching methods that I am capable of providing.

Envelope Send comments to Dr. Shaw at shaw@fau.edu.

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