HBS Dean Light on Class Size, Economy and More

Jay LightToday’s edition of The Harbus features an extended interview with Harvard Business School dean Jay Light. Here are just a few kernels extracted from Kathy Wang’s interview…click on the link above for the whole conversation.

Do you think a class size of 95 is too large to allow for a personalized learning experience? Do you think that a size of 70 or 50 would be better?

No. I think there is a flat optimum. I think the case method is better in large class sizes. I’ve taught a lot of class sizes in my life. I think 60 people is too small. You don’t get the diversity of opinion. An individual student may say, “Oh, this is great, I get to talk more.” But from the point of view of the quality of the discussion, I think it continues to ramp up as the number of students in the class goes up, to the 80-100 range.

How have the events of the last year played into curriculum planning for HBS?

It certainly has influenced a lot of cases, but more importantly, it has led to new courses that are part of the EC curriculum, and redefinitions of existing courses. What really happened is student demand changed. The second year curriculum is a function of what students really want to do with their lives, more than anything else.

As students start to become more aware of the risks out there, I think what you will see from them is the appetite to look at things in a different way, and you will see the second year curriculum respond to that. Part of that is faculty leading the charge saying “Hey, we should be teaching about these things,” and part of it is students saying, “Hey, we should be learning about these things.”

You identified in 2006 the globalization of HBS and its executive program overseas as some of the school’s largest issues. We’ve now seen the results of those efforts-what will be the focus of the school going forward? What do you see as the greatest issues facing HBS and the most necessary areas of focus for the school?

Well, in terms of the MBA program, you will see 2-3 things. One is continued emphasis on becoming more global in terms of cases, courses, curriculum, etc. Work on that is never done.

Second would be leadership-ways to work on leadership skills beyond the 90-person classroom. We have a number of faculty test courses working on this now, so that is really important.

Thirdly, I would say two combined things-the structure of the fourth term, and opportunities for experiential learning, by which I mean having students go out of the classroom into the field, etc.

I think by the fourth term, students tend to get a little bored with the 3-cases-a-day routine. And I think that’s both a problem and an enormous opportunity to think about how to structure that fourth term differently to allow for a whole different range of educational experiences for students. Some won’t take place in Boston and will involve field projects, etc. So I think working on those ideas for fourth term is something we need to push ahead on.

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