OST in the Classroom of Management Students

I teach a 2- semester Course in Organization Behavior at a Management Institute in Mumbai. The class, consisting of 50 students, includes classroom lectures and Group Projects that involve a study of practices in business Organizations.

The professor is expected to form the Groups and assign topics for the Project.

In the past, this ‘professor centered’ practice has evoked a veiled resistance from students, leading to conflicts in the groups and a scramble to meet deadlines. The quality of work has often reflected a superficial level of involvement.

This year, when I suggested to the students that we use OST to decide on Groups and Projects, I met with immense resistance. They were afraid that this would lead to ‘forming cliques’ and ‘marginalizing’ the less popular students. Others feared that the learning goals would be compromised as students, given the ‘freedom of choice’ would find a path of least effort.

Were the students saying it was idealistic to expect ‘responsible’ behavior from them in an environment of Open Space? My heart told me that the students needed an opportunity to discover their truer selves. I persisted in my persuasion until they agreed to give OST a ‘try’.

The method was explained and posters on the OST Principles and Law were displayed. The theme chosen was : ‘Organizational Behavior : Enriching theory with the excitement of live Practice"

Ten students came forward and each presented his/her topic to the class. What surprised me, even at this early stage, was the passion with which each one spoke, convinced that the subject they had chosen was full of exciting merit. The other students then made their choice and enrolled in different groups. When the students discover that there were only two members on tow of the groups they conferred amongst themselves and merged topics. Soon the class was in the throes animated discussions, within self-organized groups.

Butterflies and Bumble Bees were seen buzzing around. Some used the Law of Two Feet and returned. The Group Sessions were allotted 2 hours.

After a short break the groups were ready to present their outcomes to the Class: Project Topics and Strategies. What came though, besides an amazing clarity of thought, was deep team commitment. The students themselves were amazed at their own creativity. Kabir said, “Before we did this exercise, I couldn’t have imagined we could come up with so many possibilities”.

The Projects were executed over the following 2 months. Without any prodding and with immense enthusiasm, the students shared their weekly progress. There was a palpable sense that the students ‘owned’ the Projects and this made ‘over-seeing’ virtually redundant.

The final presentations were an eloquent testimony to the method and spirit of Open Space Technology. Each Project report was a masterpiece of intelligent research and analysis.

In their ‘end of semester’ feedback the students singled out the method of Open Space as their single most powerful experience. They said they felt honored by the trust that OST implied and were inspired to challenge their own limits. For the first time their Projects, they said, were a joyful experience of real learning. They wished that the Open Space method could be used more widely in the Institute. The comments of Priya and Mukul echo these sentiments:

“The method of Open Space Technology brought new freedom, creativity and commitment to our Project work. We are deeply grateful to Ms. Pinto for believing in our integrity and giving us the freedom of choice in our Project work”. “We felt a new sense of responsibility and commitment and were inspired to give of our best. This has been the most enjoyable and fruitful learning experience of the semester. The spirit of Open Space must be created in every situation of higher learning.”

My learning, as a teacher, was just as profound. JanetPinto