How to pick the courses for your next quarter?

June 16, 2013

After a whopping 4 months of holiday it is time to start the second year of my Sasin MBA. This year is a bit different from the previous year: where last year all courses were set at the beginning of the year with the second part of the third quarter as the only exception, this year we can pick our own courses during the year with only one course that we all have to follow.

Being lazy during the holiday. Eat and sleep... zzzz

Being lazy during the holiday. Eat and sleep… zzzz

The idea is of course to do enough courses during the year to get enough credits to graduate, but it does not matter how you spread those courses over your year. People who did an exchange have done a lot during the time that was my holiday so they can take it easy now by doing just one course per half quarter, take a break somewhere during the year, or be done early. In practice you can even do 3-4 courses per half quarter as long as you are able to attend enough classes to be eligible to sit for the exam. Of course the workload will increase proportionately, but that is your own responsibility.

The course schedule for 2013. You can pick whichever courses you want as long as the lecture times do not overlap.

The course schedule for 2013. You can pick whichever courses you want as long as the lecture times do not overlap.

To guide students a bit which courses to take Sasin offers several concentrations. Each concentration consists of 1 or 2 foundation courses which are required and 2 to 3 additional elective courses. A total of 6 concentrations are on offer at this moment: Finance, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, International Business, Strategic Management, and Sustainability and Social Innovation. Since the concentrations have much overlap I can imagine most students treating the choice of their concentration mostly as a marketing ploy to show interest in the business segments they hope to land their next job.

For people wanting to do the Finance concentration: two foundation courses are required and you can pick 2 of the electives. Btw, it is also possible to graduate without a concentration.

For people wanting to do the Finance concentration: two foundation courses are required and you can pick 2 of the electives. Btw, it is also possible to graduate without a concentration.

So now that the basic structure is clear every student still has to pick the exact (elective) courses they want to follow the coming quarter, and this is not easy. As you can see below the information that is being shared is limited, to say the least, and honestly it does not help much in making a decision. For example I would like to know how the class itself is structured; can we expect cases and discussions, which subjects will be highlighted during the course, how will the teaching be done, and what is expected of the students?

The course description of a randomly picked course.   This does not answer the questions most students will have.

The course description of a randomly picked course. This does not answer the questions most students will have.

There are two ways students can make a better decision which courses to pick: first of all you can try to get information from alumni by asking them which courses they followed and how they experienced it. Since it is unlikely you will ask each and every student of previous classes about their opinion you are left with a very small sample which can be totally off from how you would experience that course. And what if a certain course is being given for the first time at Sasin? In that case picking that course will be a pure gamble.

Another way to make a better decision is by attending the first lecture of a course. While you have to register and pay tuition fees well before the first lectures start, you will have the choice to get a refund in case you drop the course during the first week. Similarly you can also just sit in for courses you are not registered for and decide in the first week if you think the course would be worth it to add to your schedule at a price of 60,000 baht. The largest weakness here is that you have to make a decision based on one or a few lectures and these lectures don’t have to be representative at all for the rest of the course.

You have one week to decide if you want to add or drop courses. Withdrawal probably means something as that it will not be mentioned on your final grades list, but you won't get your money back either.

You have one week to decide if you want to add or drop courses. Withdrawal probably means something as that it will not be mentioned on your final grades list, but you won’t get your money back either.

So how could the risk of picking the wrong courses be mitigated? Many companies have resolved this issue by building a database of reviews. So in this case: whoever did the course is allowed to rate several dimensions of the course or write a review. It would be similar to how books and movies are rated online.

During the first year, near the end of a quarter, Sasin already inquires students how they experienced the followed courses by letting them rate certain aspects and asking open-ended questions. By sharing this information students would be helped a lot. So why is Sasin not doing this already? 

The Sasin teaching evaluation form: valuable information that is not being shared with students.

The Sasin teaching evaluation form: valuable information that is not being shared with students.

To be honest: I don’t know. I can imagine that some professors might get many negative reviews, or low ratings, making it not very flattering for that professor. Especially when you keep the concept of “saving face” in mind, it might be hard to give openness in these matters. But on the other hand, imagine how frustrating it can be for a professor to suck at their work but nobody telling them what they should improve. Or how much damage this can to do the reputation of Sasin: if somebody enquires about the MBA program and they hear negative stories about professors and courses the student didn’t like but could not avoid due to a lack of information about the course. In my view openness would still result in the best results, in the long term at least, for both Sasin and students.

So if Sasin is not willing to share information, it might be time for the class of 2012 to set up a database themselves and run it independently to help future second year Sasin MBA students make better informed decisions.

For questions/remarks you can contact me at: eric@stuckinthailand.com

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