Music and Technology Give Business Courses an Edge

Teaching Innovation: Using smartphones in the classroom


At Guelph presents this story as part of a series that highlight University of Guelph leadership in teaching excellence and the scholarship of learning.

Prof. Trent Tucker

Prof. Trent Tucker has an unusual way of starting each class: he plays reggae music, which might make his students think they’re learning music theory instead of introductory business. “It kind of puts me in the mood to teach,” says Tucker, explaining his choice of music.

Tucker joined the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in August as a professor in transformational learning in management. He’s teaching a new course called MGMT 1000: Introduction to Business, covering such topics as accounting, human resources and marketing.

The position appealed to him for its focus on teaching, a skill that earned him awards at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he lectured at the school of business and economics and was named “faculty member of the year” for 2010-2011 by the students’ society. He also completed a certificate in university teaching at the University of Waterloo, achieving the highest proficiency in the program.

“It’s a green-field opportunity,” Tucker says of the course he’s teaching at U of G. “This is an exciting opportunity because Management 1000 has never been taught before.”

The course was made possible by a $500,000 gift from Anne Lockie, B.A.Sc. ’73, and her husband, Fred Promoli, BA ’70. It has almost 800 first-year bachelor of commerce students, split into two sections of 400. Eleven senior-level students serve as teaching assistants for smaller seminar groups.

Is Tucker intimidated by large classes? Not a bit. “If you go beyond 60 students in a classroom, scale doesn’t matter,” he says, adding that he has taught 200 students in a computer science class.

Tucker describes transformational learning as a non-traditional approach to academia. The course consists of a 50-minute lecture and a two-hour seminar. “In order to cover the content, I have to get creative as to how I’m going to do that,” he says. “There will be a lot of self-study and a lot of things students do on their own,” such as writing their own business cases.

Each lecture will be delivered in a different format. Tucker says the variety of presentation techniques he uses in class is intended to inspire students to pick one for their own presentation at the end of the course.

He also uses a program called Top Hat Monocle, which allows students to respond to classroom questions or surveys using their smartphones, tablets or netbooks. The technology also allows students to ask questions if they’re too shy to raise their hand in class. The course has its own Twitter feed and YouTube channel where Tucker will post videos for his students to view.

He hopes to inspire his students in the same way his professors inspired him. “I had some teachers in my life that made a difference for me,” he says.

As an undergraduate student in engineering at the University of Alberta, he realized that the program wasn’t right for him. When a math professor taught him abstract algebra, he was hooked. “I thought, ‘This is great. I want to do a degree in mathematics.’” Not only did Tucker complete a bachelor’s degree in math, he went on to do an MBA at the University of Toronto and a PhD in management sciences at the University of Waterloo.

Tucker lives in Waterloo with his wife, 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. He says his kids think he’s a “big geek” because of his obsession with technology. He even designed a computer program that randomly selects students in his class. If they’re present when he calls their name, they’re rewarded for their attendance with a box of Smarties.

“Smarties make you smarter,” he says. “The only way they can get them is if they show up. If you don’t come to class, you don’t have the chance to win Smarties. It’ll be really embarrassing if I call your name and you’re not there.”