Despite the Internet, student teamwork is the big trend

While the Internet has given students a powerful new communication and research tool, one of the biggest trends in MBA education has been toward teamwork, where students work face-to-face on group projects, reported the National Post Feb. 9. Wireless technology means students can work on a laptop from almost anywhere, and many new business school buildings have created public spaces and coffee shops where students can meet and discuss their projects. Siamak Hariri, the architect behind the Schulich School of Business‘s new building at York, designed spaces that would allow students to work easily in groups, with areas allocated for quiet study.

Some believe that while technology enhances teaching methods, it does not fundamentally change them, said the Post. Before the construction of the new building, James McKellar, director of the school’s Real Property Development Program, visited other schools to see how they used technology. “It was clear that technology wasn’t going to do very much for them that was new but it was going to assist them in what they do best,” he said. “So we substantially tempered our view of technology.” He believes shaping the spaces in which students work has had the most influence on management education and its trend toward more, rather than less, human interaction. “Our biggest breakthrough in hardware has been the chairs and tables that we’ve flooded the building with,” McKellar said. “In the old days, you had classrooms and corridors and washrooms. But now the place is full of people working and that’s not because of computers.”

Mind over gray matter

The first humans had large well-developed brains that catapulted them to the top of the evolutionary food chain 150,000 years ago. But, says a York University philosopher, it took thousands more years until primitive man – and woman – learned to use them the way we do today, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 8. “If we were thrown back to the era of the ancient Greeks, about 3,000 years ago, we’d be with people who thought exactly like us,” said David Martel Johnson. “But earlier, even in ancient Egyptian times, that really wouldn’t be true.” Johnson’s newly published book, How History Made the Mind, goes to the heart of a scientific controversy between those who believe the physical brain is the most important factor in development of the mind, and those who believe culture is the determining factor. But Johnson’s approach gives tantalizing clues to a new way of looking at human thought. “This sounds complex, but it has a simple message,” said the professor, a former master of York’s Vanier College. “The idea that the mind is identical with the brain leaves out something crucially important – the influence of culture.”

Students ‘couldn’t care less’ about YFS upheaval

In a Feb. 9 news story hinged on the newly elected student council’s proposal to prolong its current term, the Toronto Star recapped the recent struggle for control of the York Federation of Students and concluded that, if the November elections are any indication, most students couldn’t care less. Fewer than 10 per cent – 2,900 of 41,000 undergraduates – bothered to cast a vote on Nov. 27, the newspaper said. While the election didn’t attract much attention, however, the aftermath did, spilling into newspapers and radio reports around the city. The old federation council refused to cede power to the new slate of council representatives, and there were charges of political bias on both sides. “What you really have here is a case of dysfunctional student government,” said York Vice-President Students Bonnie Neuman, who announced a resolution last month that allowed the winning council slate to take over immediately .

What makes York different is the way the student council is structured, said the Star. The federation was originally set up as a corporation, rather than as a purely parliamentary body. Its leadership is expected to act more like a board of directors than an elected assembly. As corporate directors, those leaders have the power to veto any changes to the board, on the grounds it could harm the corporation. “In effect, they could say ‘no’ to a slate of people that were overwhelmingly elected by the student body,” said Nancy White, York’s director of media relations. “And that’s what they did. Can you imagine the government of Canada running like that?”

“If you were to randomly talk to 10 students on campus, seven would likely say they didn’t know what was happening with the YFS,” said Sean Palter, editor of York’s student newspaper Excalibur, “and a couple more wouldn’t know what the YFS was.” The Star did just that. The survey showed only five knew what the federation was, and of those, only two knew anything about its current upheavals.

Good corporate citizens build lasting shareholder value

A study co-authored by a York University professor was cited in a National Post feature Feb. 9, about how building long-term relationships with stakeholders positively affects the corporate bottom line. The study, Stakeholder Relationships, Social Capital and Business Value Creation, released last fall by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA), was produced by Professor David Wheeler of the Business & Sustainability Program, York’s Schulich School of Business; Ann Svendsen, executive director of the Centre for Innovation in Management at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University; and Robert Boutilier, the Centre for Innovation in Management’s research director. The study identified three stages for building positive relationships: create a network of important stakeholders; use that network to build understanding of both the company’s and stakeholders’ needs and expectations; and, use that new shared understanding to find innovative solutions across the entire network.

Learning about black history at York

In a Toronto Sun opinion piece Feb. 9 about Black History Month, Nicholas Davis recalled that “the first time I heard anything about black history in a school setting that wasn’t about slavery or the underdevelopment of Africa, was when I took some black studies courses at York University.” Davis graduated from York with a BA in English in 1988.

The case for RRIFs

Investors turning 69 this year should start thinking about what to do with their registered retirement savings plans – buy RRIFs or buy annuities, suggested the National Post in a special RRSP report Feb. 9. “If you have absolutely no pension or other income sources, then maybe you would buy annuities with part of your money,” said Moshe Milevsky, professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business. “Normally, you would get a RRIF so you can manage your assets, then think about getting an annuity at 75 or 80, to get that lifetime guarantee. You don’t want to annuitize too early, because the return on annuities is so much lower than what you can earn in a RRIF,” Milevsky said. “You can do better with a government bond than the 5.25 per cent to 5.3 per cent you’d get with an annuity.”

On air

  • The South Asian edition of OMNI.2 in Toronto featured highlights Feb. 6 from York University‘s second annual Multicultural Festival.