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Monday, July 25, 2011

Jet-Lagged Thoughts About Investments in, and the Amortization of, Course Preparation

We completed the two week session in our U.S. and Global Business Law LL.M. program in Budapest IMG_0325 on Friday.  I'm back in the USA figuring out how to take melatonin effectively when traveling six time zones west (I have it down for eastbound travel).  I will spare you additional travelogue, and instead reflect on investments in new class preparation, particularly when it is likely that the class is to be a one-time event, as in a summer program.

I have taught U.S. Securities Regulation in Budapest twice now, once in 2009 and this year.  Including the regular offerings of the course in Boston, I've taught the course seven times.  The course is three credits in Boston, meaning thirty-five hours of instruction, versus the twenty hours of instruction in Budapest.  So the big chunk of work the first time around was paring the course down to fit the hours (and yet remain coherent), as well as to include something I don't teach in Boston, which is the exemption regulation for offshore offerings (far more relevant to the students here).   The question that arose Friday, in the throes of saying farewell to some very bright and committed students (half of whom would be returning next year), was whether I would teach in the program again next year.  The problem is that, because of structure of the three entering classes, we cannot offer the same course two years in a row.  So if I return it would have to be a new course entirely.  I do not have something akin to Securities Regulation in my current repertoire - a class that fits the program and which can simply be condensed for a twenty hour instruction period. 

The reality is that, after seven iterations of Securities Regulation, I've honed some pretty good pedagogical devices.  And although the subject matter is not quite like constitutional law in terms of the gift that keeps giving, I have a segment now in which we walk through the mechanics of the securitization of residential mortgages (including the role of the rating agencies and AIG's credit default swaps), and another in which we use the SEC's recent complaint against Goldman Sachs regarding synthetic CDOs to explore the question of materiality.  For dealing with the conceptual difficulties of things like control person resales, I've figured out some nice visuals and narratives.  Even the condensed version contributed to the full version - I learned how to do some parts of the course much more crisply without losing much of the content.  In other words, I've managed to fight off staleness and manage to freshen the investment in the course every time I've taught it.  It's simply a much better package now than the first (and even the third or fourth) time around.

Would you ever invest in the preparation of an entirely new course for a one-off teaching commitment?   And assuming "no," what is the minimum and maximum useful life of a new course prep?   I taught a two-credit business planning course on tech startups and venture capital at IU-Indianapolis in 2005.  It would be a natural for this program.  But looking back at my notes from the perspective of somebody starting his seventh year of teaching, they don't measure up to my own standards.  Notwithstanding the appearance now of a nice text on the subject from Therese Maynard and Dana Warren, and the materials available through the Kauffman Foundation and elsewhere, preparation of a twenty hour class from the get-go is still likely to be a 100 to 200 hour project.  But it's not just the time.  It's the fact that it takes at least three or four iterations finally to make it really good! 

To prep or not to prep: that is the question.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on July 25, 2011 at 11:32 AM | Permalink


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