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Canucks dominate finalist list for B-school prof of the year

A professor at the front of the classroom.

Marcin Balcerzak/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

Much to their surprise, three of the four finalists vying for an international award for "business professor of the year" are from Canada.

"It's strange," says Kevin Kaiser, a Canadian professor of management practice at INSEAD, based near Paris, who made the short list for the global contest that recognizes business teaching and is sponsored by The Economist Intelligence Unit, a subsidiary of The Economist magazine. Speaking from Paris, with tongue firmly in cheek, Prof. Kaiser adds, "All I can figure is that someone on the selection committee is extremely pro-Canadian or they didn't have the diversity filter running properly."

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The other Canadians in the running for the $100,000 (U.S.) prize, to be presented to the winner of a live "teach-off" in London next month, are Johanne Brunet, a former accountant turned professor of international marketing, creativity and innovation at HEC Montreal, and Darren Dahl, a professor of applied marketing research at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. The fourth finalist is Vijay Sethi, who teaches electronic commerce, information technology entrepreneurship and other courses at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

The finalists were selected from 222 professors, nominated by student and alumni for the quality of their teaching, from 31 universities worldwide.

The Canadian professors are experts in different fields, but appear to share a similar passion for connecting with students.

"You have to appreciate the students in front of you," says Prof. Brunet, director of the marketing department at HEC and also co-director of a leadership module in a joint executive MBA program run by HEC and McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management. "You have to bring meaning and added value for them and you have to really care about your students in terms of knowledge," says Prof. Brunet, who first practised as an accountant before switching to academia a decade ago.

In the classroom, she says she likes to impart her experience "not in a way where you know it all but in a spirit of mutual sharing."

Prof. Kaiser first joined INSEAD in 1992, left to work as an international consultant and later started a successful dot-com company with two others before rejoining the prestigious business school in 2004. In the period to 2010, when he taught in the MBA program, he won top teaching honours eight years in a row.

He rates INSEAD as the "toughest place" to teach because of the high academic quality of students and their diverse international profile. "There are always people in the classroom who can prove you wrong when you misstep," he observes.

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Like Prof. Brunet, he says his role is to find ways to engage his students, whom he prefers to call "participants."

He argues that professors need to understand the challenges faced by "participants" in and outside of the classroom and to shape course material accordingly.

"Make sure what you are explaining is relevant, and how and why what you are teaching is relevant to help them with their challenges," he urges. "Don't be academic. Being right is really overrated. Go in there ready to be wrong, but helpful."

That imperative to engage students is a philosophy shared by UBC's Prof. Dahl, who this month was named a 3M National Teaching Fellow, one of 10 in Canada, by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

A professor who teaches undergraduate, graduate and executive education courses, Prof. Dahl say the level of experience varies among students but they share a common desire to participate in the learning. The old model of the professor as the "sage on the stage" talking at those who take notes and listen is gone, he argues. "So how do you connect with the students to get them excited to be there and so they feel like they are part of the process, instead of a one-way communication?"

His answer is to bring students into the classroom conversation and make it safe for them to participate. On one occasion, when a student sent him an e-mail expressing his fear of speaking in class, Prof. Dahl encouraged him to prepare his remarks ahead of time. At a signal from the student, Prof. Dahl called on him to speak. By the end of the course, the student jumped into class discussions without prompting.

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"That gets me excited when you can actually help people," says Prof. Dahl, also senior associate dean of faculty and research at Sauder. "That is what engagement is all about."

New centre

Calgary philanthropists Doug and Diane Hunter have donated $5-million over 10 years for a new centre for entrepreneurship and innovation at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.

Other donors, including Wayne Henuset, Charlie Locke and David Robson, have pledge an additional $2.5-million for the centre, according to the university.

The centre will focus on academic research, promote on-campus links with the business community and expand experiential learning opportunities for students. A proposed course for this fall will require all second-year students to participate in a business plan competition.

An engineer, Mr. Hunter is an oil patch veteran who founded his own junior oil and gas company and later invested in other companies. His wife is a former Calgary city alderman.

"The Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will showcase an inclusive, action-biased and practical methodology for applying entrepreneurial thinking in small and large organizations," stated Jim Dewald, interim dean of Haskayne, in a press release. "Through this generous donation, we will inspire students to develop skills in opportunity recognition and extend Calgary's famous can-do spirit."

Next 36

Simon Fraser University has signed on as an academic partner of the Next 36, a national entrepreneurship development program for promising undergraduates keen to start their own businesses. Under the program, established in 2011, 36 students are selected to receive mentoring from top business leaders, access to venture capital funding and academic instruction from business experts.

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