Professor Fiona Scott Morton Receives Teacher of the Year Award
Fiona Scott Morton, senior associate dean for faculty development and professor of economics, was chosen by students to receive the 2007 Yale SOM Alumni Association Teaching Award. The honor is given to one professor each year.
I'm a "chalk and talk" kind of lecturer. I don't do multimedia much at all. I don't use overheads. My students laugh a fair bit in my class, but I don't prepare the jokes, so I guess I rely on them to supply the material. I think my class is clear, fast-paced, with directed discussion — people who want to stray off the topic are not allowed much airtime — and comes to a clear conclusion. This will be my eighth year at the School of Management so it's gratifying having that official piece of paper saying "students like your class."
I teach Competitive Strategy, where I build on the work that the economics group has done with students over the course of their time at SOM. We use the economics as a way to talk about particular concepts that are central to strategy. Then I teach those concepts, and I teach them in real settings. Not in textbook settings, but in a case format. This requires students to think about how the example that we're looking at matches the theory that we're talking about that day.
I think one danger that is present in a lot of MBA programs is that students are taught by example, and only by example: Let's do a case about GM in 2006 and then let's do a Hewlett-Packard in 2004, and then let’s do a Boeing in 1999, and then let's do Microsoft in 2001. In contrast, here at Yale we have particular concepts that we're trying to teach the students. Such a concept might be something like differentiation — what’s the difference in competing when you make a differentiated product versus a homogeneous product? Then we’ll talk about the scope of the firm. Should I own the operation that provides the input into my core product? For example, if I'm a brewery, do I make my own bottles, or do I own a dedicated trucking fleet to deliver my beer?
There is a good literature in economics that provides excellent models and theoretical concepts for thinking about those problems. And we use some of those theoretical concepts in my classes. Typically, for any given day, there's a reading out of the textbook that has a theory attached to it. And then, the case that we do for that day is an application of that theory. So the students have to know the abstract concept, and then apply the abstract concept to something real and concrete. Once you can pull the theory out of the particular example, you can talk about it much more articulately.
I think theory-based teaching of strategy strikes the students as being particularly rewarding and useful. They get to the end of the class and they realize how much they know, and how very applicable it can be to everything that they need to think about, in terms of strategy, going forward. The theory is not stuck in the particular example from 2001; it’s portable and applicable to the issues they will encounter in their careers. That's why I like the class, and I think that’s why a lot of the students resonate with it as well.
Another thing I like about my class is that there's a right answer and there's a wrong answer and the students have the tools to figure out which is which, so they can contribute. Students get very clear feedback on what we're after. I cold-call people. If they're not prepared, I remark upon it — because you aren't going to all learn together if the students come to class unprepared. So you have to set high standards for the students and the class, and expect them to live up to them. We work hard in my class. But we learn a lot, too, which is why we’re here.