How about a bicycle ride?

As a management and leadership professor, I am constantly looking for ways to improve student learning.  Lecturing, showing videos, analyzing case studies, role playing, conducting simulations, assigning group assignments, making presentations, and performing service projects are methods that I typically used to connect with students and make the material meaningful.  Those are the techniques ordinarily used by professionals in my field.

Teaching management and leadership is peculiar.  Rather than many academic fields that only stress content knowledge (e.g., history, economics, sociology, psychology, etc.), management and leadership education also stresses skill development.  In many ways, teaching leadership and management is more like teaching music or sports.  Not only must the body of theories and principles be learned to master the subject matter, but also a set of skills must be learned and developed.

I remember the day that I first presented the idea of students organizing and executing a long-distance bicycle ride to my university students.  It was in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.  We were getting ready to fly to Vienna for summer school.  The idea had come to my mind while walking in my neighborhood in the weeks leading up to our departure to Vienna.  I needed to be in shape to walk around Vienna for a month and the daily routine of trotting around the neighborhood helped get me ready.

While walking one morning, the idea of a student-organized walk across America came to mind.  After quickly doing the math in my head, I realized that it would take too long for a short summer term or break between semesters.  How about a walk across Texas?  Again the math didn’t work out.  How about a bicycle ride across Texas?  The math behind that idea would work.  It would be a tremendously complex project with enough responsibilities and work to keep everyone busy and engaged throughout the whole experience.  It seemed like an idea that should be explored.

I posed the idea of a bike ride across Texas to my students in the DFW Airport on June 25, 2009 while we watched reports of the death of Michael Jackson.  Most of the nine students thought that the idea was ridiculous–but a couple of them thought that it would be fantastic.  It was an idea that took root and wouldn’t go away.

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