Three professors team-teach Introduction to Global Commerce
This past fall, thanks to a team-taught course, Centre students had the opportunity to take a new class and learn from three perspectives all at once.
Associate professor of international studies Lori Hartmann-Mahmud, assistant professor of economics Marie Petkus and assistant professor of biology Brian Storz collaborated to teach Introduction to Global Commerce, a class inaugurating the new global commerce minor. The course is sponsored by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“This class is about the non-business aspects of doing business. It looks at the politics and economics as well as the cultural and sustainability aspects of doing business in a global setting,” Petkus says. “The course was designed around five modules with cases studies in each module that examined firms interacting with suppliers, customers, governments and the environment in countries other than their home country.”
The case studies used in the modules included a look at Starbucks and how it sources coffee beans, a case on Royal Dutch Shell and human rights issues in Nigeria, and a study of Google and its willingness to censor results for the Chinese government.
“Within each module, Marie would talk about economics, Lori would talk about politics and I would discuss sustainability,” Storz says. “We learned from each other — for instance, I never knew that primary products were used to influence politics.”
Teaching as a three-professor team provided a unique classroom experience.
“Usually two professors team-teach, but we have three here,” says Hartmann-Mahmud. “The idea is for the class to be truly multi-disciplinary, to have all of us in the classroom every day, so we can come at the issues from different perspectives.”
“We are one example of the College’s increased focus on providing interdisciplinary experiences for students through team-taught classes and new minors,” Petkus adds.
The three professors were never hesitant to speak up if they disagreed or had a different perspective on a certain subject.
“If the subject matter has a gray area where you can say, ‘I don’t necessarily agree with that,’ that’s good for students to see coming from their instructors. We weren’t afraid to ask basic questions of each other like ‘I don’t understand — could you explain more?’” Petkus says. “I hope we provided a scholastic environment and a community of learning.”
“We tried to model some behavior for students: that we can disagree, but let’s figure out why we’re opposed rather than trying to fiercely defend our position,” says Hartmann-Mahmud.
Students in the class — drawn from a variety of majors — appreciated the opportunity to study a subject from three angles.
Shea Agnew ’12 was also enrolled in a team-taught class for the new Latin American studies minor, and found them both useful.
“It would be impossible for any single professor to be able to have limitless, in-depth knowledge and experience of any subject, especially in a topic as incredibly complex as the intertwined network of economic, biological and political aspects involved in global commerce,” he says. “I feel that a team-taught course has a similar approach to learning as a broader liberal arts education: the student is able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of a topic by examining separate — but undoubtedly related — contributors to a broader idea.”
John Dickens ’12 found this class to be much different than team-taught classes he’s taken previously.
“The fact that each professor knows so much about his or her field and is able to collaborate with the other two professors on the spot means I’m getting very detailed and accurate information about multiple aspects of every topic,” he says.
According to Hartmann-Mahmud, the dynamic among the three professors contributed to the overall success of the course.
“I had a great experience with Brian and Marie, who are real experts in their fields but are also willing to engage in these discussions,” says Hartmann-Mahmud. “All three of us have remarked that the class worked because we’re all committed to its interdisciplinary nature.”
Introduction to Global Commerce will be offered every other year, for now, and Hartmann-Mahmud, Petkus and Storz all hope students from every area of study will consider taking the course.
“This class is great because of the interactions between students and instructors of multiple disciplines,” says Petkus. “Our classroom is consistently a model of true learning.”