A Narrative about Teaching Narrative

With the semester concluded, I am getting back to my co-authored book about political narrative (Public Representations). One of the chapters is about the management narrative course I have been teaching at the University of Toronto Scarborough for the last 30 years. Here is a precis.

The course was originally  titled “Management and Organization in Fiction,” and it included the presentation of a variety of management concepts I thought would be relevant to the texts (movies, novels, television series, plays) I selected. I then used the Harvard Business School case method to discuss the texts. At the outset, student evaluations of the course and instructor were mediocre (3s on a 5-point scale).

Gradually, I rethought the course and rebuilt it from the ground up. And, in the last decade, I have enjoyed student ratings that were consistently near the top of the scale for a course that is oversubscribed and that almost all students enthusiastically attend right to the end of the semester. The new title, “Narrative and Management” hints at the change in focus.

The following changes, taken together, explain this improvement.

  1. The course shifted from treating texts only as illustrations of management concepts to emphasizing the narrative analysis of texts, drawing on my research on management narrative.
  2. The course shifted from an instructor-centred business case teaching methodology to “table work,” in which student groups discuss questions posed by the instructor and present their answers for further discussion by the entire class.
  3. The course replaced a traditional mid-term with two written and oral assignments involving personal narratives (with the instructor providing his own personal narratives as exemplars).
  4. The course shifted from only texts in which all roles are played by men (Twelve Angry Men) to texts with significant female roles (Hidden Figures, Zero Dark Thirty)
  5. The course incorporated showing and discussing narrative-based business and political advertisements, in effect mini-narratives of under a minute written to persuade the audience.

I believe that the long-term value this course creates for students lies in learning to tell their own stories and analyze stories told by others.

With my retirement, it is uncertain whether this course will continue. It involves in-person learning that will be difficult to adapt to the Covidian world of online learning. After the pandemic passes and we can return to classrooms without physical distancing, I don’t know whether other instructors, at the University of Toronto or elsewhere, would be interested in teaching such a course. The book chapter is an attempt to create that interest.

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