Outlining & Portfolios

The business of outlining and portfolios introduced here is designed to help you learn how to learn more deeply and think more deeply about business application systems or whatever other subject you are studying with me.

If you compare the kinds of thinking evident in your recent term papers or presentations to the Steps for Better Thinking Skills Needed to Adequately Analyze Financial Statement Ratios prepared by Susan K. Wolkott, I think you will find that most of what you have done is described on the left-hand, “less complex” side of the table, particularly as in the first semesters we are frequently told that we need to learn the basics of “content knowledge” before we can move on to more complex things. When we look at reports, term papers, and the BA Thesis, many of us feel that this more advanced level never arrives.

Over a lifetime I have read many studies about why this might be, including the view that this is hard-wired into the basic structure of much undergraduate education, beginning with chairs in rows bolted to the floor and an examination system based on merely one or two summative (where you get grades) presentations and examinations instead of the 12-14 weekly exercises you will find supported here, including formative evaluation — feedback — and a chance to try again and be rewarded for improvement and assuming responsibility for your education.

If you look at the feedback you may have gotten from professors along with your grade, I would suspect that it, too, lies on the left, “less complex performance patterns” you will find in Wolcott’s Steps for Better Thinking Performance Patterns, when you want to be advancing as quickly as possible to the more complex ones on the right.

This is why in the design of my assignments featuring comparisons of two or more texts on SQL and the way you learn from them, for example, I am following Walcott’s Templates for Designing Assignment Questions and similar sources so that, after you first list relevant data, you then move to step two, to “describe the pros and cons (or advantages and disadvantages) of …”, and then Step 3, “prioritize …,” “consider (multiple factors) in reaching a conclusion, and Step 4, “describe limitations to …” and “consider contingencies and future developments related to …”

This is not simply a school master’s admonition to “aim high”, though I think this worth considering, but to prepare you for modern business life where managers must consider often equally bad options, to do that must analyze and prioritize alternatives, and to do that must make sure that each alternative is understood well, controlled for bias, assumptions, and competing interpretations, and to do that, alternatives must be researched, defined, reasoned, and presented clearly.

I am for the moment leaving out discussion of Team Work, but I would draw your attention to the complex modeling of courses in business information systems by the Association for Computing Machinery to see how they recommend in the first semesters a balance and integration of team skills and analytical thinking along with business fundamental and technology.

The outlining and portfolio system described here is designed to support this integration by helping you transform your study habits, note-taking and authoring system from simple lists and thick blocks of text cobbled together at the last minute into a strategically organized outlining method that is governed by a self-consciousness of the kinds of questions you are asking, identified in sub-heads with supporting discussion and details set under, at lower outlining levels, and for the next week reflection and reframing of your work to the end of improving, and eventually achieving, the higher levels of complexity and sophistication required by business and competitive professional life more generally.