Professor Wim Van der Stede is CIMA Professor of Accounting and Financial Management and Head of Department of Accounting. His teaching includes a flexible and mobile approach to space, helping students find their voice by providing them with name cards and a focus on combining theories with current examples from the field.
‘I love to teach, but also not to teach’, begins the Professor, explaining that for him, it’s important to have set times where he can focus on teaching and times to focus only on other aspects of his work. He compares the intensity of the experience of delivering a class to that of a Formula One driver on race day, entering totally focused on the topic and the students in front of him, no matter what emails might be pinging through to his mobile phone.
While Professor Van der Stede is highly focused, he describes that in his mind, ‘teaching is no way static’- and neither is he. ‘If you walked into Sheik Zayed Theatre, you might have trouble finding me! You would hear me, but you might not see me right away. I like to walk around, stop. Talk directly to people.’ This approach allows him to engage with students no matter what size the class happens to be, and, he explains, allows him to hear from students who might otherwise be too shy to contribute or ask a question. To facilitate this, he provides all of his students with printed name cards – and spare blank ones with a marker should they forget them. With their names readily available, and his movement through the room, it’s harder for students to hide and easier for them to ask — sometimes challenging — questions that can take the lecture into new areas to help everyone gain a better understanding of the topics.
In order to make sure he both delivers all the relevant information and accommodates the evolving nature of sessions as students contribute, he identifies the importance of being prepared, planning key points and a good structure to help students logically follow complex ideas. He provides PowerPoint slides as placeholders — for both himself and the students — and enjoys using the preparation time to think about his subject as a whole. Indeed, he describes teaching as part of a process: ‘I teach what I love, what I research. The teaching forces me to explain and think of ways to communicate the ideas. Then I identify cases and these become sources for my teaching … teaching for me is not something entirely separable from my writing and though the intensity of a session is temporal.’
Since the earliest days of his teaching he has been keen to use a case-based approach to help students understand the real life applications of theories. Through the analyses of the cases, the students learn to develop problem-finding skills, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and they can be probed to articulate and defend their ideas. Professor Van der Stede feels this approach is always well received and allows illustrating that although a concept may be ‘five, ten years old, what we know about it and how it is contextualised varies and changes … it’s dynamic’. Take the 2016 Nobel prize winning notion of “contract theory” whose key tenets have been well established yet which also still have widespread application, such as, say, in the ‘gig economy’. Examples from Deliveroo or Uber let you illustrate this, but also allow you to compare and contrast the context of application with some very good cases from the 1970s that practiced ‘scientific management’.
With this combined approach of theory and application, he hopes students will gain what he calls the ‘ammunition’ to sharpen their conceptual understanding and think through and support their positions. When it comes to writing exam questions he also advocates including up-to-date cases to frame questions and challenge students’ understanding. ‘I tell them I’m not interested in just hearing their opinion if it’s not backed up by a logical, well-thought-out, complete yet terse analysis. If you have an exam question about bankers’ bonuses, say, you can see that it takes some discipline to not just be opinionated about it.’
And, just as current examples change and move on, so too do approaches to teaching within the department. This year, for example, some modules will be taught twice per week in medium-sized groups, instead of in lectures and smaller seminars. This, the team believe, will allow greater integration between theory and application and greater opportunity for students to take part throughout the 90 minute sessions.
‘There is no one size fits all’, he concludes, aware that what works for some courses, groups or teachers, may not work so well for others. Amongst the Excellence in Education Awards winners, this is clearly reflected in the diversity of their approaches and styles.
We thank Professor Van der Stede for his time and insight.