Innovative Teaching Method Links Classroom to Real World
Dr. Gus Gordon Wins i2i Challenge
When Dr. Gus Gordon stands in front of the classroom to instruct students in business management and accounting, he's not just teaching out of a textbook. He is talking from personal experience.
The University of Texas at Tyler associate professor of accounting has owned the Mexico-based wardrobe manufacturing company Operadora Ganso Azul (The Blue Goose) for 13 years.
This fall he brings that relevant, hands-on experience into the classroom through an innovative new teaching tool – a virtual manufacturing environment using video feeds from his own factory in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.
"The ultimate goal is to help students be better prepared for the 'cold, cruel world,'" Gordon said. "Many students have never been exposed to something like an actual factory environment. So the idea of videoing what goes on in a factory and linking that to text or lecture material will, hopefully, help them better understand the nuances of actually doing business."
The project is funded by a grant Gordon received in the Ideas to Innovation (i2i) Challenge conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, an organization of graduate business and management schools and owner of the Graduate Management Admissions Test. Gordon was one of 12 award recipients worldwide, chosen from 25 finalists representing seven countries.
The i2i Challenge invited business schools and organizations to answer the question, "What one idea would improve graduate management education?''
Gordon was awarded based on his proposal, "Enhancing Relevance in the Graduate Business Curriculum Through Factory Videos."
"I thank GMAC and UT Tyler for this great opportunity,'' Gordon said. "Because this new teaching tool is innovative, I believe it brings attention to the university and puts UT Tyler on the cutting edge.''
How It Works
Over the summer, Gordon videotaped real life scenarios as they played out in his factory. These video feeds are now used in UT Tyler graduate managerial accounting and undergraduate cost accounting courses to immerse students in factory operations, introduce them to staff and illustrate concepts.
"We'll upload the videos and give students access,'' said Gordon. "At the end of each video, there are questions and problems for the students to solve based on the concepts they are learning. It is interactive."
Videos are presented to illustrate concepts such as activity-based costing and lean manufacturing.
Activity-based costing is a method for identifying activities in an organization and assigning the cost of each activity to estimate the cost elements of entire products and services. Lean manufacturing is the practice of maximizing customer value while minimizing wasteful expenditures in the production process.
"It is difficult to describe the implications certain activities have on costing of products without showing a video with an actual illustration of those implications,'' Dr. Gordon said.
"It also can be difficult for students who have never seen the inside of a factory to imagine how lean thinking in a manufacturing facility is applied. By illustrating through video a production line that is not organized along lean manufacturing concepts with one that is, the student is able to visualize what 'lean' really means beyond merely reading descriptions in the text."
This type of learning is critical to preparing students for success, said Dr. Roger Lirely, UT Tyler chair and professor of accounting.
"Very few of our students have real-world experience with manufacturing,'' he said. "Reading or hearing about concepts can be very different from seeing them in practice. This provides the instructor an opportunity to bridge the gap between an imagined manufacturing environment and a real one."
From Tyler to Merida . . . and Back
A Tyler native, Gordon earned a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, a master of science in economics from Baylor University and a doctorate of business administration in accounting from Louisiana Tech University.
"After college, I got a job in public accounting. From there, I tried teaching and liked it. So, I went back to school to earn my doctorate and taught at UT Tyler," said Gordon, who first joined the UT Tyler faculty in the 1980s. "I then moved around a little to other states to teach."
While directing graduate programs at the University of Southern Mississippi, Gordon chaperoned a group of students traveling to Merida. "I spoke Spanish, so I was asked to go on the trip," he said. "I fell in love with Merida. The next year I got a grant and worked in Merida for the summer."
An article Gordon wrote about the job market in the Yucatan sparked interest from a company, which contacted him about starting a business relationship there.
"I've always had an interest in Mexico, generally," he explained. "I had written a couple of research articles about doing business in Mexico and the advantages it has. My future customer wanted some help with prospects in a niche market, creating attire for security agencies. He asked me if I could set up something on a small scale. I agreed, and Operadora Ganso Azul was born."
Gordon is chief executive officer and majority stockholder in the company, which manufactures law enforcement uniforms for federal, state and local agencies, primarily in the United States.
"The company started with four administrative employees and 12 sewing machine operators, and just kept growing and growing from there," Gordon said. "Today, we have 620 employees and are trying to open new markets in Mexico and Central and South America ... It's been a really fun adventure."
But why call the business Operadora Ganso Azul or The Blue Goose?
"My name, Gus, can't be pronounced by most Mexicans, because the 'uh' sound in Gus is not in the Spanish language," Gordon explained. "So they pronounce my name more like the word 'goose.' And I have a Mexican partner whose nickname is 'Blue.' "
After seeing his business grow drastically, Gordon returned to the classroom at UT Tyler almost four years ago. He maintains daily oversight of the management team in Mexico with the help of telecommunication technology.
"Now I live part of the year in Tyler and part in the Yucatan," he said. "The course I teach at UT Tyler is a hybrid delivery with 50 percent in person and 50 percent over the Internet. The experiences I have in Merida, I apply to theoretical concepts in the lecture."
Investing in Students
Gordon said his goal is to give students a different business view.
"I learned a lot about accounting and business and even about myself in the process of starting and operating this business," he said. "Mexico is a neighbor – so close and yet so far away. A lot of their business and social culture is quite different from ours. I hope to bring students to a better understanding of both dimensions and apply that to our classroom discussions."
In addition to providing real-world knowledge for the classroom, the factory impacts students by offering on-site tours. Several university groups from across the south have traveled to Merida and toured the facility. Local students in Mexico regularly visit the factory. And the factory has offered internships to students in the United States.
Gordon also shares his knowledge and experience in book form.
In addition to more than 40 articles and presentations, he has authored two books including "Doing Business in Mexico: A Practical Guide,'' which gives both students and entrepreneurs critical expertise and tips for new business ventures in the country.
He hopes to continue using the factory to invest in students and business education for the future.
Meeting the Challenge
It is appropriate that Gordon's new idea for teaching met the i2i Challenge. The event seeks to identify instructional innovations with the greatest potential for reshaping and revitalizing management education.
"Dr. Gordon's idea of incorporating real-world scenarios into class curriculum through video of his actual factory in Mexico is exciting, innovative and brings textbook concepts to life,'' said Lirely.
"A successful hybrid experience means that we can offer this kind of class at times and locations that increase a student's educational opportunities,'' Lirely added. "We'll no longer be shackled to set times and dates for every educational interaction.''
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