Business uses ‘Harry Potter’ universe to teach management to muggles

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props 2 streamAssociate Professor Barbara Wech, Ph.D., and Instructor Annetta DolowitzIn 2007, when the seventh book in the "Harry Potter" series was released, Associate Professor Barbara Wech, Ph.D., and Instructor Annetta Dolowitz stood in line at Barnes & Noble to pick up their pre-ordered copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” — on CD and in print.

The next day, on an hours-long drive to Michigan, they listened intently to the final installment in author J.K. Rowling’s beloved series about a young wizard’s struggle against evil. They hadn’t finished listening by the time they arrived at their campsite, and they went to extreme measures to complete the book.

“We had this teeny speaker that doesn’t work right, and we had both of our ears pressed to it, trying to listen to the end of it over the sound of this big RV generator,” Dolowitz said. “It’s been 10 years, and we’re huge fans.”

In the spring 2016 semester, Wech and Dolowitz took their fandom to another level and began co-teaching management course MG 309 — Hogwarts School of Leadership, an academic exploration of leadership theories and practice through the lens of “Harry Potter.” MG 309 requires no prerequisites — except, said Wech and Dolowitz, a knowledge of and love for the series and its characters.

The two even have their own costumes, sometimes teaching class in classic Hogwarts robes, or other times as much-disliked Professor Dolores Umbridge or beloved house-elf Dobby.

Houses divided

Dolowitz is a certified team-based learning consultant and trainer, and the duo applies that pedagogy within the course. Students are sorted into one of the four fictional Hogwarts houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Each team remains together for the duration of the semester.

hogwarts classWech and Dolowitz often teach class in costume.Before each class, Wech and Dolowitz assign reading on the week’s particular leadership theory, and students are given a pop quiz at the beginning of the course. After completing it independently, they then take it with their houses. After that, Dolowitz said, come the “duels.”

During the dueling portion of class, named for the wizard-on-wizard contests held in some Hogwarts classes for the practice of spells or charms, Wech and Dolowitz present an application exercise where the students must apply the theories they have studied to a question pertaining to the “Harry Potter” universe.

“Within each house, students look at, for example, which character best represents transformational leadership and why, and ask themselves what the theory looks like in real life — or, in this case, in the ‘Harry Potter’ world,’ Wech said. “The connection is immediate and totally awesome.”

After each house chooses their answer, they duel — presenting arguments for their choice to the other houses and debating which choice is best and why.

Wech, who has taught at UAB since 2001, said she has never seen connections made as well or as quickly as she has during the dueling sessions in MG 309.

“I’ve never seen anything like the combination of team-based learning and ‘Harry Potter.’” 

“I’m speechless,” she said. “That is how incredible it is. I’ve never seen anything like the combination of team-based learning and ‘Harry Potter.’ It’s something they can get into and enjoy. And to be able to use that in a class with theories… Who likes theories? Nobody.”

Students are also encouraged to wear “Harry Potter” gear to class. Allowing them to express their house identity in this way helps cultivate the team-based learning environment, which is one of the main goals of the course.

“They are actively learning how to work in a team and how to do management-type things like provide constructive feedback and point out what’s working and what’s not,” Dolowitz said. “They don’t realize that what we are training them on is critical reflection and teaching, but these are all byproducts of the pedagogy being applied.”

MG 309 is scheduled to return in spring 2018.