Posted on by Clive Holtham

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The 15th Anniversary of the creation of the Cass Learning Laboratory is approaching. The original idea was developed from the Learning Laboratory developed at one of our close partners, the Copenhagen Business School. The Cass Lab is not a physical place, but rather since 2002 a location of research, development and dissemination about innovative management teaching and learning. Its particular concern is with medium term innovation (2 -5 years), which is less extensively covered in well-established school and university processes than short-term innovation. Of course, most new practices and methods have to be implementable in the current academic year, but the perspective is in part experimental with some risk-taking.

Innovation is most effective within communities of practice, and right from the launch event in 2002/3  the perspective has been international. That initial event brought together innovative teaching collaborators from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France among others, almost all of which we still engage with. At that time we were leading a major EU project on intangible knowledge, soon to be followed by leading a HEFCE funded project in teaching innovation in UK business schools. We have just completed another EU project, Casemaker, which has set out to develop a technology-supported platform for case studies. The largest project we were involved in was the £2.1m Big Lottery Funded knowhownonprofit.org, which pioneered informal online management learning for busy managers in the charity sector. On completion this was transferred to NCVO and now has over 50,000 registered users.

One of the innovations in knowhownonprofit was the development of an online management soap opera, and we have now, in conjunction with Health Sciences, evolved that into a Moodle-based high-engagement online simulation of professional practice which has been used at undergraduate, MSc, MBA and executive education levels.

The Lab has placed equal importance on digital and non-digital innovations. A new MBA elective in 2005 on the art of management was in part set up to experiment with distinctive new approaches. Out of that particular development emerged two signature pedagogies:

  • Learning by walking about, specifically the dérive, which has been evolved into one of the few methods through which large numbers of management students can confront the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world of the 21st century enterprise. This method has been adopted at other business schools and in consultancy practice.
  • Reflective Managerial practice, which has become embedded in core modules as well as a unique undergraduate first year elective “The Reflective Practitioner”. Our early work on reflective sketchbooks has extended into extensive deployment both using Moodle forums and specially formatted paper-based materials.

More recently, the Arts and Humanities Research Council nationally funded 4 large centres to enhance the connections between universities, artists and entreprises. The Lab was invited to be a member of the Creativeworks London consortium and two exciting projects were funded, The first in 2013 was with Motiroti Ltd on urban walking. The second in 2-15/16 involved a Creative Entrepreneur in Residence, artist Tine Bech, who produced a memorable installation in January 2016, turning Bunhill Row into a performance space. This was extensively documented and an iconic photograph of this event was the only Cass image selected for the City, University of London’s competition “Images of Research 2016” (see below).

Dissemination internally takes a variety of forms, not least the annual Cass Teaching and Learning showcase (last year’s programme) which is aimed at the whole university and other business schools. The Lab has been a pioneer in academic use of photobooks for dissemination, as explained in a blog post by Dionne Brissett.

Dissemination via academic conferences and journals has been a vital aspect of the work. Out of conversations with Copenhagen Business School an initiative was taken to develop an innovative format of academic conference, that removed the presentations altogether, and focussed instead on producing peer reviewed book chapters that would have a short time between conference and publication. A non-profit association “Learning in Higher Education” was created and became an independent entity, still running unique intensive events now worldwide.