Students studying in the heart of Alpine Europe while exploring countries and capitals with classmates are usually the focus of praise for the Summer Innsbruck Program.
Which is as it should be. The School of Business Administration created the program in 1997 for students to gain a more global perspective, not only of business, but culture and history, too.
However, there’s a little publicized secret about the Summer Innsbruck Program – it’s not just for students. It’s also an outstanding experience for faculty on many levels, from economic insight and teaching perspectives to a stronger learning relationship with students.
In short, it helps make better teachers.
But there’s another incomparable aspect to the teaching job. “I get to do it in Europe and travel the Continent in my spare time,” says Dr. Chris Tobler, who teaches a statistics course.
It’s undeniable that one attraction is getting to spend a working summer in the cool Alpine climate where air conditioning isn’t needed and jackets are sometimes needed, says Dr. Jim Mallett, program director and finance professor. But he knows the experience also improves faculty, too.
Other professors say the same thing.
“We believe that any time you can have a unique teaching experience, it makes you a better professor,” said Dr. John Tichenor, speaking for himself and his wife, Mercedes, who co-teach a leadership course in the program. “The Innsbruck program allows us to fully concentrate on our course and the students without being distracted by the ‘busyness’ of the regular school year.”
“I have much more time in Innsbruck to focus on learning and teaching,” said Tom Smith, “because the routine distractions of everyday life have been put on hold.” Smith is a retired business executive who has taught in DeLand and is a regular visiting faculty member in Innsbruck.
Other faculty members agree. Being able to focus without distraction can result in a more satisfying teaching experience.
Peggy Stahl, a marketing lecturer, sees another advantage, one that makes her a better teacher.
“Teaching is 24/7 in this rich environment,” she said, and because she “travels, eats and hangs out” with students outside class, she gains better understanding of their perspectives and insights into her courses which builds stronger learning relationships. “With fewer classes and fewer students, I can dedicate lots of one-on-one time with them sightseeing, taking in the mountain air, talking about their lives and dreams or just having fun.”
Her personal travel experiences during the summer help make her a more effective teacher in Stetson classrooms the rest of the year: “I can speak to those travel experiences when discussing global issues in management and strategy.”
“Faculty get the opportunity to talk to students at cafes and on organized trips and hikes,” said Mallett, and those discussions often center on studies. Discussions also encompass daily European experiences, which often bear on classroom lessons.
“It is easier to talk to the students about foreign currency when they are spending that currency daily,” said Mallett. “Students relate more easily to Italian debt problems and financial markets when they have recently traveled to that country.”
On one level, management and marketing lessons are easier to teach in Innsbruck, said Stahl. Students’ awareness is heightened in the new environment; “all their synapses are fired up and the learning mode is turned on.
“The context of global marketing theories and concepts have more meaning to them because they observe different practices, ads and business norms in their travels,” she said. “It’s the best of experiential education.”
The Innsbruck learning experience is “very holistic,” said Dr. Mercedes Tichenor, and professors use it to their advantage. Instruction and assignments are just as rigorous as those at Stetson, she said, but learning is intensified outside class with experiences of language, culture, customs, public transportation, food and social relations all of which are often used in class discussions.
Faculty members work hard partly because the week is compressed with a lot of material to cover in a short time. Classes meet only four days a week for six weeks. But, as Tobler says, the hard work is worthwhile when there’s a long weekend ahead for travel to Venice, Paris or Prague.
Given technologies available in and out of the classrooms at the University of Innsbruck, it’s not a lot different from teaching in Lynn Business Center classrooms, faculty members say.
But there are minor challenges.
Computers have instructions in German and keyboards have slight variations to account for German symbols “which can make typing interesting,” said Mercedes Tichenor. Stahl said she misses the “incredibly valuable” staff support in the Lynn Business Center.
There is another pleasantly distracting challenge.
“The hardest challenge of teaching here,” said Tobler, a first-year Innsbruck faculty member, “is keeping focused as I glance out the 11th floor window at the spectacular view of the town, the river cutting through it and the Alps surrounding it.”
Mallet says that’s one challenge all Innsbruck faculty find overwhelming at times and never fully become accustomed to it.