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Immersive challenges for students earn Eric Janssen the HBA teaching award

Oct 5, 2021

Eric Janssen

Whether he’s using sound effects and props or creating novel challenges for his students, Eric Janssen, HBA ’09, MBA ’21, is always searching for ways to make his mark in the Ivey classroom.

A faculty member in the Entrepreneurship group, Janssen was awarded this year’s David G. Burgoyne Teaching Award for outstanding impact as an HBA2 instructor.

“In my role as an educator, I have to be part entertainer,” said Janssen. “I think it’s my obligation to keep the attention of the students. Part of that is packaging up the content in a way that makes students want to lean in.”

After completing his Ivey HBA in 2009, Janssen taught Business 1220 for a short period and then went on to entrepreneurial pursuits and roles at high-growth companies. He returned to teach at Ivey in 2018 when an opportunity arose.

“I loved teaching and thought that I’d teach again when I was a bit older, but an opportunity came up earlier than anticipated and it was 100 per cent the right decision for me,” he said.

Lessons from inspirational entrepreneurs

Sharing his experiences, those of other successful entrepreneurs, and augmenting them with research is a mainstay of his teaching strategy. He recalls how storytelling engaged him while he was a student at Ivey.

“As a student, I was always attracted to the practical side – what we’re known for – case-based learning. The ability to teach through story – either my stories or those of other people that we get to delve into through cases – is my preferred method to teach,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine lecturing or assigning standard tests because that wasn’t my favourite method of learning as a student.”

When the pandemic hit, Janssen put a lot of thought into how to make his virtual classes engaging, and incorporated elements from his background in the live entertainment business, such as high-quality video and audio, sound drops, and interactive video.

“I looked at things that I personally found entertaining, like podcasts, conferences and virtual festivals and concerts, and thought about what they had done to get me interested,” he said. “I thought a lot about what things I could try to borrow from those industries and other mediums to bring into the virtual classroom.”

Innovation in the virtual classroom

To encourage student contribution in online classes, Janssen created class channels in Slack, a business communication platform, and posted questions for students to answer so all could participate.

Known for his atypical assignments, Janssen created a new student challenge for his virtual Sales Foundation course. The students had to trade a $5 Amazon gift card for something of higher value and continue to trade up during a two-week period. One student traded up to a used car.

“I never expected the students to do that much in two weeks, but they surpassed my expectations,” said Janssen. “It was a totally out there assignment that and it went over really well.”

Real-world challenges

For his Hustle and Grit course, Janssen puts students through an exercise he calls the “Rejection Olympics.” The students are given bingo cards and must complete challenges in order to tick off boxes and complete a “bingo.” The challenges put them in situations where they will experience rejection, such as trying to order pizza at a doughnut shop.

“These assignments are meant to be immersive. The only way you can get a true experience of getting over rejection is through experiencing it on your own in the real world,” said Janssen.

He lays out expectations from day one so that his students can decide if they’re up for the challenge.

“I teach electives so students are in my class because they want to be there, not because they need to be. I let them know at the beginning that this class is not going to be for everybody, and I give them insight into what I’m all about so they can decide,” said Janssen. “My only rule is, if you’re going to be here, you have to be here 100 per cent.”

Props and games engage students

And he practices what he preaches. Behind his desk in the office where he teaches virtually is a small cage that he calls his “cell phone jail.” Before every class, he locks his cell phone in the cage and makes sure the students also put their phones away so they can fully focus. Other props in his office include a bowling pin, rocks from his cottage, and Lego pieces from his children.  All are there so he can share stories so the students can get to know him. He starts every class with activities so that students get to know each other as well.

Janssen said he gets energy from his students and is inspired by them. He encourages anyone who has ever considered teaching to try giving a guest lecture or teaching part time. He’s certainly glad that he did.

“I would encourage people who are really good at a thing to try teaching in some capacity,” he said. “I think it’s incredibly fulfilling and the world needs more great teachers.”

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