Prof. Bruce McAdams wants to ensure group assignments give students a Grade A learning experience.

Prof. Bruce McAdams, Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM), knows a little something about group dynamics. He worked in the hospitality industry for close to 30 years before coming to Guelph in 2009. But the desire to fully understand how university students work together is the driving force behind a study that he’s conducting with a colleague from Toronto’s George Brown College.

“The literature is clear in stating that collaboration amongst students can provide rich learning opportunities for students,” says McAdams, “but initial interviewing of HTM students states this is not always the case when using the current model for group work and its evaluation.

“We’re looking at the decision-making process used by instructors for choosing to assign group work and trying to evaluate the instructors’ level of understanding in regards to the evidence-based research done in this field. I hope that our findings will lead to a more effective use of this learning strategy for our school in the future.”

Group work is a standard part of hands-on applied programs like those offered in HTM. Just a few months ago, some of McAdams’s students were working on real-time case studies involving Oliver & Bonicini Restaurants, which is in the midst of a major two-year expansion, and Aramark, which is catering this summer’s G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont. Other students were preparing marketing plans and analysis reports for the Borealis Grille and Bar in Guelph and Silver Springs Culinary Retreat in Flesherton, Ont.

Guelph students met with the owners and operators of these businesses ― some on campus and others during site visits ― and learned about the issues the groups were facing. The students were asked to analyze the information and develop strategies the owners might use. Some of their ideas and recommendations are now being used by these organizations, says McAdams, whose extensive industry experience allows him to serve as a conduit between students and the business world.

“The chance to see some of their work implemented by these businesses is a real motivator and makes the learning process more engaging,” he says.

McAdams is a two-time Guelph graduate; he earned an undergraduate degree in hotel and food administration in 1989 and a master’s degree in leadership studies in 2009. Before returning to teach at U of G, he was vice-president of operations with Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants. He is also founder and co-chair of the Ontario Hostelry Institute’s “Top 30 Under 30” recognition program and believes in mentoring and recognizing students who aspire to be industry leaders.

So where are the group dynamics more stressful, running a busy restaurant or teaching university students?

“Running a busy restaurant may be more stressful than teaching four classes a semester, in terms of time management, but the responsibility of delivering education far exceeds that of running a profit-driven organization,” he says.

“I used to lie awake at night hoping that the restaurant wouldn’t burn down, or that we’d be more profitable the next month, but now I’m concerned about giving students the most current curriculum options, the most relevant learning experiences and the best support and encouragement possible. It’s more taxing, but it’s more rewarding.”