In the Classroom with Michael Smith
Michael Smith calls himself a “triple dipper” because he has three degrees from Georgia Tech.
First, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science. After working in the software industry in support of manufacturing for a couple of years, he found himself very successful but in a rut. So, he enrolled in Tech’s full-time Master of Science in Management program to get a broader base in business.
As his second graduation approached, he interviewed with consulting firms, but he was not interested in returning to the world of 80 percent travel. He wanted more control over his time, so he entered Georgia Tech’s Ph.D. Program.
After receiving the Ph.D. in Management from Tech, he taught at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and at High Point University for several years before returning to his alma mater to become a lecturer at the Scheller College of Business. That was three years ago.
“No one I know over the age of 50 is doing what they thought they would be doing when they were 20,” he said.
Smith now teaches several classes, including Spreadsheet Modeling 4803, which is taken primarily by juniors and seniors majoring in business. The class was developed in response to the needs of both students and employers.
“The students wanted this class because potential employers were asking them questions about Excel. I’ve met with many employers, and they say that business students overall don’t have sufficient spreadsheeting skills when they graduate. Employers expect them to know more,” Smith said.
The course was offered last fall, is being taught this spring, and will be available again this summer.
Planning what goes into a class comes down to thinking about what students should be able to do after completing the class, according to Smith.
“One of the things I’m constantly asking people in industry is, ‘What would be a differentiator? What knowledge and skills would set Tech students apart from all the other students who have studied the same subject?’” he said. Smith takes notes and keeps them in a stack to review when he is preparing for the next semester.
He also asks many of his students how to make the class better for the next group.
“At the end of the semester, I ask for three things that could be done differently that would help them learn more or learn better,” he said. “Then I ask them for three topics that we didn’t cover — topics that their work experience or life experience would suggest we need to cover.”
Smith makes it clear that his questions are not about what they liked or disliked about the class but are about ways to increase their learning.
Between semesters, Smith reviews the students’ responses, groups the responses into thematic categories, enters them into a spreadsheet, of course, ranks them, and uses this prioritized list of suggestions to consider what to incorporate into the next class.
“It takes teaching a course a couple of times before you shake out all of the problems,” said Smith, recipient of the 2015 CETL/BP Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award. “Things that you think will be easy [for students to understand] turn out to be hard. Things you think will be hard, they pick up right away. You don’t know these things until you actually get in there,” he said.