A Summer of Learning by Doing: An AGILE Experience

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


Aubrey Benoit, Michael O’Reilly, and Jacqueline Sampson

Business in Practice instructor, Michael O’Reilly, is practicing what BiP preaches by delivering his PAUL 680: Agile Product Management summer course in an in-person, active, non-screen reliant way. His intention? To raise student engagement and learning retention. In the spirit of Agility, O’Reilly wanted to incorporate features that the customers, in this case, students, want through incremental and iterative development.

His approach resulted in students who attended the August evening classes that were highly engaged, active, attentive, and motivated to learn and participate. Students who showed up early and left each class with positive feedback and exciting about the next class.

O’Reilly realized that teaching a summer course in the summer evenings was going to be a challenge for the students. So he focused on three key areas to make this course memorable, excitable, and engaging:

  • Discussions over Desktops/Laptops
  • Flip Charts over Power Point
  • Interaction over Inaction

Discussions over Desktops/Laptops
Class enrollment was limited and the flexibility of the BiP Forge learning environment allowed for students to sit in a semi-circle instead of sitting at desks. This allowed students to have engaging conversations speaking to each other instead of being directed to an instructor at the front of the class room. Additionally, students were encouraged to write down their notes on paper instead of typing on a computer. This meant that students were prevented from being tempted to be distracted away from the subject matter being explored.

Flip Charts over Power Point
All key elements of Agile presented on flip charts instead of on digital PowerPoint slides to drive home the hands-on learning approach. Not only would he discard slide decks, O’Reilly also refrained from the use of any technology to keep the class connected and engaged.

“I enjoyed the idea of having minimal slides to work off when learning the new material. I think that having constant slide presentations can be very boring and I tend to zone out, but this class I was able to pay attention…”. – Student feedback

He presented new hand-drawn flip chart sheets for each class, while simultaneously keeping previous charts from prior classes on the walls of the Forge for the entirety of his course. This way, students were able to continuously reference back to the information they’d learned, while absorbing additional key concepts and facts in a more efficient and meaningful way. “I must admit, having The Forge as a dedicated space for this course was a unique opportunity. I took advantage of this by ensuring all course materials were contained on flip charts and hung all around the classroom,” O’Reilly said.

Interaction over Inaction
Keeping students highly engaged was paramount in O’Reilly’s mind since the course was running at the hottest and most humid part of the day in August evenings. Students arriving after working their intern jobs or finishing their athletic workouts possibly not having anything or not much to eat meant that extra effort had to be applied to help students from getting bored or drifting away from the topic at hand.

With that in mind the course was designed to have 2-3 interactive group exercises each class. Students were given breaks every hour. When students opted to skip breaks because it was close the time when class would end, O’Reilly would ask the students to walk out of the class room and come back, just to keep their blood flowing and minds refreshed. (free candy snacks were also made available)

Physical Walkthrough of Course Summary Results in Strong Final Project Responses
As the course concluded, O’Reilly wanted summarize the entire course interactively with the students and tie all learned material together. During the class before the final project, all students had to walk around the classroom to recall prior modules that had been covered throughout the entirety of the course. Each module covered specific elements of Agile and the students then had to physically point to each specific chart and verbally summarize which charts covered what elements.

“It helped me immensely to be able to be reminded of all we covered just by looking around the room. It helped to connect the relationships between all aspects of agile.” – Student Feedback

The final project featured a comprehensive question which required students to have retained important information taught in the prior six classes. The interactive walk though resulted in students demonstrated a strong mastery of agility as demonstrated by the responses to the final project since, enhanced by their reference of material on the flip charts in the Forge.

Mike O’Reilly’s Agile Product Management course will be taught again this Summer on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (5:10pm-8:00pm) from August 2nd-August 23rd in the Forge. Course registration is open to all UNH and external students. Please find course registration here.