Examples of the Application of LHE to Academic Processes: Teaching and Curriculum

While the application of LHE to academic processes has been limited to date, there are some excellent examples to demonstrate how Lean principles and practices can improve teaching and curriculum processes. Paralleling Figure 7.1, this section presents (in chronological order) several examples of the application of LHE to course-level academic processes, program/ degree-level academic processes, and university-level academic processes.

Application of LHE to Course-Level Academic Processes

Graduate-Level Business Course: Phase I (Emiliani, 2004).16 The

Hartford, CT campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute offers graduate degrees and certificates in several disciplines including an MBA degree and an MSc Management degree through its Lally School of Management and Technology. These part-time, face-to-face academic programs target working professionals in the area, who typically return for an advanced degree with 10-15 years of work experience and holding supervisory, mid-level management, or executive positions in local organizations. The part-time working professionals in these Executive Master’s Programs (EMPs) face challenges, including professional demands such as business travel, work-related responsibilities and deadlines, and personal commitments such as family responsibilities and civic involvement. Numerous executive, evening, and weekend programs modified their full-time graduate programs in their sincere efforts to accommodate this student population (e.g., delivering instruction through extended class sessions on weekends and evenings).

However, educational providers intent on listening and responding to the expectations of the beneficiaries of these academic programs (i.e., students and their sponsoring employers) have made few, if any, more meaningful changes to student learning (e.g., course objectives and pedagogy). Emiliani, a faculty member in the EMP in management with an extensive background in applying Lean principles and practices in business organizations, took the initiative to apply Lean to improve his graduate course on leadership.

As a first step in applying Lean principles to course redesign, it was important to identify student/employer expectations for the course, which were gathered from several sources of information:

Student data. Published writings about the needs of working professional students; feedback from students enrolled in the program.

Alumni data. Published data from MBA alumni identified a number of topics and skills that were perceived as valuable (e.g., dealing with organizational politics, managing value conflicts, integrating social responsibility throughout the curriculum).

Employer data. Published data from employers of MBA students identified a number of topics and skills that were perceived as valuable (e.g., stronger writing, speaking, and team building skills, applying the scientific method to business and management problems, the integration of business concepts including finance, marketing, and strategy within a single course).

Accreditation standards. Recent accreditation standards proposed by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business identified a number of topics and skills perceived as valuable (e.g., focus on basic management skills, differentiation designed for relevance to the market niche it serves, diversity of participants and instructors).

Together, these sources provided expectations of the value that students and employers desired from their graduate courses and degree program. Reflecting on these expectations and the academic goals of the course, Emiliani applied Lean principles (i.e., respect for people and continuous improvement) and practices (e.g., create value for end-use client, eliminate waste, improve flow) and created a “current state” process map that documented the conventional course design and delivery system for this leadership course. For example, course assignments played an important role both in reinforcing course learning outcomes and assessing student mastery of key concepts and skills. However, in this traditionally designed course, there were few opportunities to communicate to students either the objective of each course assignment or how it relates to previous course material. As a second example, the conventional course design assigned a smaller number of lengthier assignments due every few weeks. However, balancing competing work and family responsibilities resulted in “satisficing” responses where students focused on surface issues (e.g., meeting minimum page length) rather than achieving the intended (but unspecified) critical learning outcomes the assignments hoped to develop.

Table 7.5 summarizes the application of Lean principles and practices in this graduate leadership course for the seven course elements identified in the first column of the table. The second column highlights potential limitations in the conventional (or “current state”) course design and delivery for each of the course elements. The third column describes improvements made to the design and delivery of the course (or “future state”) through the application of various Lean concepts (e.g., just in time, load smoothing, standardized work, error proofing, visual management systems). As shown in the table, Lean principles and tools were used to create a new “future state” for the course design and delivery. For example, potential limitations identified by students regarding course assignments led to a number of changes that maintained academic rigor and quality while meeting the educational expectations of the working professional students (and indirectly their sponsoring employers):

■ Shorter and more frequent assignments (i.e., load smoothing)

■ Simplified assignments to focus students on desired learning outcome (i.e., standard work)

■ Specified learning outcome, standard format, and grading criteria for all assignments (i.e., respect for people; standard work)

■ Returned graded assignments in time for discussion in next class (i.e., just in time).

Table 7.5 The Application of Lean Principles and Practices to Key Elements in the Design and Delivery of a Graduate Course on Leadership (Emiliani, 2004)

Course Element

Potential Limitations in Conventional Course ("Current State" Design and Delivery)

Recommended Modifications for Improved Course ("Future State" Design and Delivery)

Course philosophy/ principles

Course philosophy/ principles are not explicit nor fully explicated through course materials

Course philosophy/principles are explicitly stated (e.g., world business community should play an important role in improving economic and social conditions)

Syllabus: Content and organization

Syllabus is long (5+ pages) and not always followed

Syllabus does not include clear expectations for students

Syllabus does not identify typical errors that result in poor grades

Syllabus is limited to critical information (3—4 pages) and closely followed and referenced throughout the course

Syllabus clearly and simply defines student expectations Syllabus includes information on how to avoid typical errors that result in poor grades identified

Required readings

Required readings, out of tradition, are extensive and lack clear learning objective Required readings emphasize case studies whose solutions lack transferability to other settings

Required readings are focused and thematically consistent and achieve planned learning outcome

Required readings emphasize root cause analysis and scientific method


Assignments are infrequent and lengthy Assignments do not include clear learning objectives and grading rubric

Assignments are shorter and assigned weekly Assignments follow a clear grading rubric that support well-defined learning objectives


Limited number of examinations (midterm+final)

Shorter bimonthly or weekly graded assignments


Table 7.5 (Continued) The Application of Lean Principles and Practices to Key Elements in the Design and Delivery of a Graduate Course on Leadership (Emiliani, 2004)

Course Element

Potential Limitations in Conventional Course ("Current-State" Design and Delivery)

Recommended Modifications for Improved Course ("Future-State" Design and Delivery)

Student feedback

Collected at the end of course with no or little impact on current or future course design and delivery

Collected at midterm and end of course with response to students on whether and how their suggestions will be used

Impact on degree program and career

Course notes, graded assignments, and readings may be collated and stored away

One-page narrative/graphic summary of course content and learning outcomes Simplified list of common errors made by senior managers in this course content area

Following implementation of the “future state” course design and delivery, feedback from students and experiences of the instructor further refined the course over five semesters (i.e., continuous improvement). Student course evaluations, using a nationally benchmarked assessment instrument, indicated a steady and positive trend in student ratings on the “Overall Excellence of the Course” and “Overall Excellence of the Teacher.” Over this same period, student evaluations of other courses at RPI were approximately 10% lower than this LHE-improved course. Written comments on the course evaluation survey (e.g., clear learning objectives, consistent and timely feedback, professor “walks the talk”) indicated that the Lean innovations introduced were recognized and appreciated by students who completed this course.

Graduate-Level MBA Class (Shevlin and Van Dongen, 2006).17 As part of a hybrid classroom and online executive (Career-Integrated)

MBA program at Lawrence Technological University (Southfield, MI), the authors, both adjunct (part-time) faculty members, team-taught a six-credit course on Operations Management. One course learning outcome focused on demonstrating the application of Lean beyond traditional manufacturing. In response to earlier evaluative comments by students (e.g., assignments, workload) and their own self-evaluations of performance, the co-instructors incorporated Lean concepts and used Lean tools into their course to improve the quality of the educational experience (i.e., applying

Lean to the administration, organization, and delivery of coursework) and to demonstrate the broader application of Lean beyond manufacturing (i.e., applying to education). Examples of Lean tools used to improve student learning included:

A3: One page report format. Syllabus redesigned to provide, on a single page, a clear schedule documenting for each class session the agenda and assignments due.

Genba: Go and See workplace. Introduced a Lean mass production simulation (“paper plane”) and plant tour to create common workplace experiences for all students that were incorporated into course lessons (e.g., value streams, error proofing, single piece flow).

Kaizen: Classroom activity. Student-led RIE to improve the one-page visual summary of course content provided students with first-hand experience introducing Lean in an organization.

Standardized Work: Grading. Standard grading rubrics and score sheets provided clear expectations (no surprises) of student work, improved consistency in grading, and reduced lead time for grading.

Value: Course assignments. Selection of case studies and assignments for the course was made to ensure the highest educational value-to-work ratio.

Continuous Improvement: Stopping to fix problems. Three-minute survey completed by students at the end of each class session provided feedback to quickly address issues. Results were shared, posted, and discussed.

JIT Course delivery. Aligned the delivery of Lean content with course assignments.

Leveling: Course workload. Order and cadence of assignments were designed to level out the weekly time commitments of students.

Visual Control: Presentation board. Administration items (e.g., student presentation schedules) are drafted on large screen for all to see and immediately posted following class session.

Following the implementation of Lean in the classroom, there was increased interaction with students. Assessment of student learning showed steady improvement based on the results of pre-and post-test evaluations; student satisfaction increased to near 100% (and this course was acknowledged as the “benchmark course” in the MBA program). Overall, applying Lean to the classroom improved learning, increased customer (student) satisfaction, and eased the time burden on instructors. Additionally, conducting the course in a manner consistent with Lean principles and practices eliminated inconsistencies between what is taught and how it is taught, supporting the argument for the importance of Lean thinking.

Improving Success for At-Risk Students (Flumerfelt and Green, 2013).18 Lean tools can be used to improve the academic success of at-risk students in a specific course through the implementation of improvements in instructional delivery (both instructional practices and instructional technology) as demonstrated in this high school setting. In an initial pilot program, a project team used value stream mapping to examine, for a gateway course on “Government,” how time spent in the 55-minute class periods contributed to the expectations of stakeholders. The mapping process identified poor performance on the metrics established (e.g., ratio of active to passive learning, % of time where new learning occurs). “Kaizen bursts” identified opportunities for improving performance on the performance metrics, which resulted in several recommendations to improve student success in the class, including:

■ The traditional lecture-based class was transformed to a “flipped classroom” model, where class time was used to provide active learning through in-class exercises and individualized support from the teacher.

■ Students reviewed new material outside of class (during their traditional “homework time”) on the school’s online learning management system (LMS). The teacher used screen capture technology to develop short videos with annotation and voice overs to guide students through the materials, which students could review repeatedly as needed for understanding and mastery. This also allowed each student to interact with the materials based on their interests, experiences, understanding, etc.

■ The teacher used the LMS to establish student work groups, monitor student engagement with the materials, and facilitate instruction online.

An evaluation of the pilot project following implementation of improvement recommendations from the Lean value stream mapping activity indicated improved performance on all of the established metrics for the teaching process: students were more actively involved in their learning, classroom time was spent learning new material, and greater teacher and peer support were available during class time. Students were 100% compliant with completing their out-of-class assignments prior to attending class. Importantly, student success increased 11% and no student failed the class. Overall, applying Lean concepts and tools to fix an underperforming teaching process (rather than fixing the at-risk student) resulted in significant benefits to the students, the teachers, and the school administration. Using the Lean practice of yokoten

(copy and put in place with adjustments to improve another part of the organization), the positive results from this initial Lean project in the government class led to the expansion of this new active learning teaching process to all courses taken by these students, resulting in a reduction in course failure rates of 19%—33% across courses.

Graduate-Level Business Course: Phase II (Emiliani, 2016).19

Building on his earlier work at RPI, Emiliani continued the application of LHE to a graduate-level leadership course when he joined the faculty at Central Connecticut State University. In particular, concepts put into practice in the 2015-2016 academic year were (1) integrating grading into the learning process and (2) making teaching a “pull’' system.

Grading inside the learning process. Traditionally, grading course assignments and tests are performed outside of the learning process, interrupting the flow of feedback to students while they waited for their instructor to review and grade (with feedback). In addition, the burden of grading may lead teachers to minimize the number of assessments, which frustrated students who abhorred high stake testing with limited options for overcoming a poor grade, a practice inconsistent with Lean concepts (i.e., leveling work). Leveraging the capabilities of the university’s learning management system (LMS), Emiliani adapted the Lean use of “go/no go gages” (i.e., a work product must comply within limits established by a measurement gage or else it is rejected) to build value into the grading/ learning process. Approximately 50% of student assessment and grading (including feedback) were completed using technology available through the LMS (e.g., correctly identifying the workplace factors that influence leadership behaviors). This provided students with immediate feedback and expanded opportunities for assessment and freed up faculty time to reinvest on higher-value assessment of student work that required the expertise and judgment of the teacher (e.g., multipage reflection papers).

Teaching as a pull system. Traditionally, teaching is a “push” system where faculty determined what content the students were expected to know, and information was disseminated weekly through class meetings, assignments, etc.20 One shortcoming of this model includes overwhelming students before they are ready to invest the intellectual time needed to master the material, resulting in stress (and the decision to drop the class), superficial learning of the material to simply keep up, or reduced motivation to keep trying (what psychologists refer to as “learned helplessness”). Similarly, high-performing students may feel frustrated by the slow pace of the course as they waited for materials to arrive on a preordained schedule or the limited challenge the “one-size-fits-all” course provided. In addition, nontraditional students are unable to adjust their course materials to help accommodate work or family issues nor are they able to help shape the course to support their professional needs.

In response, Emiliani implemented a pull system of teaching which allowed students to initiate when they were ready for new teaching materials matched to their individual needs (which the student may adjust over time) or obtain additional information or experiences personalized to their needs and interests. The university’s LMS allowed the instructor to create a broad supermarket of information resources (books, journal articles, videos, PowerPoint slides, and video segments of the teacher) which these graduate students used to find answers to critical questions that addressed the individualized learning outcomes agreed to by the teacher and student. This pull system of teaching aligned better with how people learn by seeking answers to questions that interested them (and their employers) at their own pace and according to their level of preparedness and understanding. Classroom time could then focus on hands-on activities designed to demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for the course. In addition, “white space” was created on the syllabus, providing the opportunity for students to add topics of personal or group interest, thereby “adding value” through a more personalized course to meet the expectations of each of the students.

Preliminary findings available at the time of this writing provide qualified support for the application of these LHE-aligned practices (grading inside the learning process and teaching as a pull system) to improve the core academic process of learning. Ongoing feedback will be used to support continuous improvement efforts to meet the expectations of students and employers. Overall, these Lean-inspired initiatives offer benefits to students (e.g., a customized learning experience that they help design), faculty members (e.g., a greater role in engaging and facilitating the growth of student intellectual and creative abilities), and the university (e.g., uniquely fulfilling student learning outcomes and the expectations of sponsoring employers).

Using Lean to Teach Lean (Olsen, 2017).21 A growing number of universities offer degrees, certificates, and courses on Lean. Many Lean instructors use Lean practices and tools to continuously improve their courses (i.e., using Lean to teach Lean). Lean principles and tools have been applied to continuously improve the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt course in the Industrial and Packing Technology Program at the California Polytechnic

State University (San Luis Obispo, CA). Their approach, “using Lean to teach Lean,” incorporates various Lean practices and tools to demonstrate the use of Lean. Examples include:

Rapid Improvement Events. A course assignment requires students to participate in a “quickie kaizen” to provide improvement ideas to the online training and software used in the online learning component of the course.

Establish Metrics. A “critical to quality” characteristic survey is used to capture student background for comparison to how they perform on various aspects of the course. These survey data are used to help validate and improve course advising and for determining appropriate course prerequisites.

Visual Management. A weekly “balanced scorecard” provides visual feedback on overall quiz average and on-time delivery (OTD), in-class and online attendance, and project and exams against previous quarter.

“Analyze and Improve” Continuous Improvement. Students in the class participate in a “post mortem” DMAIC simulation that captures feedback on how the class might be improved.

Kanban Performance Board. The faculty member (Olsen) holds weekly team meetings with teaching assistants for the course in his office.

A white board and sticky notes track action items, work load, and progress on team and class activities (e.g., course start-up, developing rubrics, grading, and course wrap-up).

The output from the student’s application of these Lean practices and tools is then used to implement ongoing continuous improvement solutions in the course going forward.

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