Practitioners in the Classroom

Article Icon Article
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
By Shirley Maxey
Photo by iStock/FatCamera
AACSB’s Bridge Program trains executives and working professionals who want to transition to careers as business teachers.
  • There is a shortage of PhD-qualified business faculty and a need for real-world experience in the classroom. Both problems can be solved when more practitioners become teachers.
  • In AACSB’s Bridge Program, participants learn critical skills such as how to structure courses, design effective assignments, integrate experiential activities, and use technology to create content and manage courses.
  • Successful alumni of the program have won teaching awards, earned full-time teaching positions, and become program administrators.

When business schools bring working professionals into the classroom, students gain valuable knowledge about how theoretical concepts play out in the real world. But in most cases, practitioners make only short appearances in front of students, as either guest speakers or executives-in-residence.

That’s why, given the value they have to offer, practitioners who discover they have an aptitude for teaching need avenues to pursue academia as a career, whether part-time or full-time. But how can they be certain that they understand and are ready for the realities of teaching?

I always recommend that these individuals complete the AACSB Bridge Program for Instructional Practitioners. Since 2006, I have been the lead facilitator for this four-day active learning experience that prepares participants to be successful in the business classroom no matter the subject matter or the level.

Origins of the Program

AACSB created the Bridge Program more than 16 years ago for two main reasons: to respond to the shortage of PhD-qualified faculty in business schools, and to bring more real-world knowledge and experience into our schools.

Both reasons are still valid today. The faculty shortage has been exacerbated of late by the growing trend of PhD students accepting positions in industry rather than academia, helping to drive the starting salaries of assistant professors to new heights. At the same time, there is increased societal pressure to make business education more applied, relevant, practical, and career-based. AACSB accreditation requirements have reflected this shift toward real-world knowledge.

Professionals not only bring practical experiences into the classroom, but also keep the curriculum relevant. For instance, they know which business processes are current and which ones are moving toward obsolescence. (Think of Lotus 1-2-3 giving way to Excel and now leaning in to Tableau.)

Beyond serving in traditional teaching roles, practitioners add can add value by:

  • Helping students find internship opportunities.
  • Serving as mentors and identifying colleagues who are interested being mentors.
  • Generating ideas for new electives that will be popular with students.
  • Using their contacts to arrange student field trips to business sites.
  • Introducing research faculty to data sets used by industry.
  • Suggesting guest speakers for specific topics.
  • Becoming faculty advisors for student business clubs.

Combined, these reasons provide a strong argument for schools to welcome practitioners as instructors—provided these practitioners are qualified to teach.

A Range of Candidates

While practitioners are the most likely individuals to enroll in AACSB’s Bridge Program, there are really three types of good candidates:

Seasoned business professionals. Many of these participants already have MBA or law degrees, or they have earned CPA or Certified Financial Planner certifications. Other participants have bachelor’s degrees and extensive experience that makes them specialists in fields such as data analytics, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, leadership, taxation, artificial intelligence, supply chain management, sustainability, and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) issues.
There are three types of good candidates for the Bridge Program: seasoned business professionals, current faculty, and PhD students.

Once these individuals become teachers, most of them will be categorized as instructional practitioners for the purposes of AACSB accreditation and continuous improvement reviews. AACSB defines instructional practitioners as “faculty who have normally attained a master’s degree related to their field of teaching; have professional experience substantial in duration and responsibility at the time of hire; and who sustain currency and relevancy through continued professional experience and engagement related to their professional background and experience in their field of teaching.”

Current faculty. At times, current faculty are interested in updating their teaching to better align with today’s student expectations of learning in interactive environments.

PhD students. These individuals may have limited teaching experience as they earn their degrees and begin to pursue academic careers. Attending the Bridge Program could boost their confidence as they approach the market in their rookie years.

One common question is whether Bridge Program participants should attend before teaching their first course or after gaining some experience in the classroom.

I find that individuals with little exposure to academia might want to attend the program before they step in front of a classroom. While their interest in teaching might have been piqued after they delivered a few guest lectures, they should know that telling war stories is not equivalent to being responsible for a whole course.

However, participants who already have some classroom experience might find it easier to relate to program content, and they might have more to contribute to discussions. The program is a confidence-builder regardless of how much or how little an individual has taught.

Training—And More

The Bridge Program consists of about 30 hours of hands-on training. During that time, participants go through the life cycle of planning and delivering a business course, while also practicing the following typical responsibilities that fall to teachers:

  • Structuring a course and developing a week-by-week delivery plan.
  • Creating, analyzing, or improving a course syllabus, including writing or revising learning goals.
  • Building active and experiential learning into every course.
  • Designing, administering, and grading effective assignments.
  • Using rubrics to clarify assignment goals and simplify grading.
  • Teaching with cases and team projects.
  • Handling classroom challenges by establishing and following clear, fair policies.
  • Implementing first-day strategies that motivate students and last-day strategies that reinforce term and course objectives.

Both the content and the delivery of the Bridge Program have been updated since the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into in-person professional development. While we continue to emphasize that experiential and active learning are critical for successful teaching, we now provide more content that revolves around technology.

During the 30 hours of hands-on training, participants go through the life cycle of planning and delivering a business course, while also practicing a teacher’s typical responsibilities.

For instance, we talk more about online learning issues, discuss how AI is affecting students and faculty, have participants use ChatGPT to create exam questions, and ask them to experiment with the online resources provided by textbook publishers. We also show participants how to enhance the learning process with interactive tech such as Kahoot and Poll Everywhere.

In addition to supplying hands-on training, we give participants advance reading materials that include a book on the science of learning and a workbook of program materials. We also provide candidates with daily breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and group dinners; exposure to program alumni via in-person or virtual happy hours; support from the AACSB Senior Manager of Learning and Development; and opportunities to network with instructors and other participants.

Instructors for each program include two primary discussion leaders, as well as representatives from the host school or exceptional teachers who have taught previous sessions. Because all instructors have their own teaching methods, participants are exposed to a range of different styles.

Since the Bridge Program was launched, more than 500 business professionals, current adjuncts, and full-time clinical or non-tenure-track faculty from around the world have attended. The program has been presented more than 20 times at 15 member schools, including New York University, Georgetown University, The Ohio State University, Babson College, the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University, the University of Miami, the University of California–Irvine, and the University of California–Los Angeles.

The cost for each participant is 4,500 USD, though that might vary depending on location. Business professionals who want to become adjuncts usually pay the fees themselves. Current faculty often can use supplemental teaching funds to pay all or part of the costs. Schools that have hired adjuncts and sent them to the program might provide financial support—sometimes by splitting the costs or by increasing participants’ salaries once they’ve completed the program. Discounts are available to schools that are AACSB members or who enroll multiple candidates in the program.

After the Course

To date, the Bridge Program has produced many successful alumni who have stayed in touch with administrators to share their experiences and accomplishments. Many have won teaching awards, earned full-time positions, and become program administrators. They also consistently have given the program high ratings for overall satisfaction.

One alum of the program, entrepreneur Michael S. Peterson, published a book called From Boardroom to Classroom—How Business Leaders Can Become Great Professors Without a PhD. It contains a chapter on AACSB and the Bridge Program.

Another alum, Jeff Baum, explains in a video why he enrolled in the program and the five benefits he gained by completing it.

Many other Bridge Program participants have gone on to succeed in the field of academia. Here are four examples:

Participant A taught tax courses as an adjunct before and after completing the program. Six years later, this alum sold his tax firm and became a full-time assistant clinical professor—and, more recently, academic director of the school’s tax program.

Many alumni of the Bridge Program have won teaching awards, earned full-time positions, and become program administrators.

Participant B was skeptical of the need to attend the Bridge Program after so many years as a CEO of a company. But after one day of the program, the retired financial professional became an enthusiastic supporter, and later even attended AACSB events to speak about the program’s benefits. Today, this alum continues as an adjunct, teaching undergraduate and graduate students and earning exceptional ratings and two teaching awards.

Participant C, a full-time instructor with an interest in sustainability, wanted to attend the Bridge Program as a route to professional and personal development. After completing the program, the instructor adopted a new teaching approach and gained the confidence to launch a program that took international teams to sustainability competitions.

Participant D completed the program more than a decade ago and still ranks it high among corporate and academic training opportunities. “I continue to apply the techniques and teaching philosophies acquired from this training to my classroom, consulting practice, and corporate activities,” this participant adds.

Even so, some folks who have completed the Bridge Program have decided that business school teaching is not for them, because it requires more work than they are prepared to undertake. As someone who has hired many adjunct faculty, I am convinced this realization is also a successful outcome for the program.

Calling All Practitioners

We believe that individuals who want to become teachers can benefit greatly from the Bridge Program—and so can schools that want to add practitioners to their rosters. All types of schools have sent or referred candidates to the program, including those that are public, private, large, small, faith-based, accredited by AACSB, or accredited by other organizations.

While the Bridge Program can be a valuable resource for institutions that want to integrate more practitioners into their faculty, these schools can take additional steps to attract qualified applicants:

  • Advertise tenure-track and non-tenure-track positions separately.
  • Specify “PhD preferred” instead of “PhD required” in ads.
  • Include “open to AACSB Bridge Program alumni” in position announcements.
  • Let the advisory board know they are open to engaging seasoned business professionals with solid experience in management or executive positions.

By taking these actions, business schools can bring more experienced professionals into their classrooms, provide their students with valuable real-world insights—and ensure that their own curricula remain vital and relevant.

The next Bridge Program will be held June 24–27 on the campus of the University of Southern California at the USC Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles. Visit the AACSB website or send an email for more information.

Shirley Maxey
Professor Emeritus of Clinical Accounting, Leventhal School of Accounting and Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.
Sign up for AACSB's LINK email newsletter.
Our members and subscribers receive Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge in global business education.
Thank you for subscribing to AACSB LINK! We look forward to keeping you up to date on global business education.
Weekly, no spam ever, unsubscribe when you want.