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"18 Years of Learning" - Senior Lecturer Elota Patton


When you retire after going pedal to the metal for 18 years, people say things like, “What will you do?” with a skeptical look that seems to say, “You’ll never be happy doing nothing.”  Well, of course, I don’t plan on “doing nothing.”  I plan to return to the world that I left to answer Eleanor Jordan’s “just-teach-one-class” siren song that turned into half my working life.  So here are a few reflections on what I have learned in my 18 years of teaching in the McCombs MIS BBA Program.

Learning-Grades matrix


 I taught in graduate school, and I taught professional classes for many years, but neither experience prepared me for the intensity with which business students approach grades: like a pack of wolverines fighting over a carcass. Prabhudev Konana developed a great model (left) for illuminating the inherent tension between caring about learning versus caring about grades. Using this model to talk openly about these different perspectives was a good way to embrace conflicting goals: students want to make a good grade; teachers want students to learn. And by learning, I mean retain information and concepts into the future when those ideas will actually, astonishingly, deliver value to the student. For many students, Konana’s model helps them shift their priorities from getting a grade to being here to learn. For teachers, it helps us remember to focus on the collaborative pleasure of learning with the future leaders and good students and to not let the others get us down.


Elota Patton teaching I have also learned about the generosity of colleagues. People become teachers because they have an undeniable urge to learn and to share what they learn. One of the happy side effects of this compulsion is the generosity with which other professors share case studies, assignments, lecture notes, research and ideas. As director of the IM Program, Prabhudev Konana initiated the move to transform MIS 301 (Introduction to Information Technology Management for all McCombs freshmen and sophomores) based on the Strategic IT Management course that he had developed for the MBA Program. MIS 301 was first taught to BBAs by Sharon Dunn, and then Sharon mentored me when I began teaching it, as did Reuben McDaniel when I sat in on his MBA Managing Complexity class. Katie Gray sat in on my MIS 301 class, and then we began team teaching (a joy!).  Prabhudev started teaching MIS 301, and we ALL sat in on his class. Prabhudev raised the bar by adding thought leadership, more complex assignments and case studies, and generously sharing his intellectual property. Then Clint Tuttle and Joshua Rock – not to mention many wonderful PhD assistant instructors – added their ideas into the mix. And the class keeps growing and changing and morphing with the times. What fun it has been to get paid to learn and, incidentally, to teach. And for someone with an MFA in Theatre and MEd in Counseling, how challenging and satisfying to stretch and learn to teach in the MIS BBA Program!


Another thing I have gained from this experience is an insight into the myth of the ivory tower. People outside a university often say things like, “College professors have it so easy.  All they have to do is teach a few classes a week and take home a paycheck.” Two fallacies here.  First, hours in the classroom are just the tip of the iceberg. (This brings up my favorite corollary question from students absent from class: “Did I miss anything important?”) And second, working around professional researchers has been eye-opening. You don’t get tenure at a major research university unless you have a deep, intrinsic desire to explore the edge of learning in a field. Researchers spend unbelievable amounts of time reading, thinking, writing, rewriting, reading more, thinking more, rewriting, and then doing it all over again. I’m convinced this drive is genetic; how else could people survive the double gauntlet of getting a PhD and earning tenure? But it sure is fun to work with people who light up when you ask them to talk about what they are working on right now. You never know what you will learn from someone while waiting for the elevator or getting coffee.


But one of the biggest things I learned in working for 18 years in the MIS BBA Program is what an amazing community it is.  Eleanor Jordan, who hired me, gave me a ticket to work with a group of people that I like, respect, and enjoy – and some of them are truly friends that I will value forever. How many people can say that about the place where they work? And the alums and volunteers!  What an amazing group. People like Steve Sweeney, Mary Beth Kelley and Stu Penny (oh, the BizIt Case Competition partnership!), Mike and Tina Beamer, Bill Wade, Michael Herring, Cary Peele, Scott Hemsell, Dan Hickox, Rob Borrego, Ronnie Romman, Kris Torres, Kim Brushaber, Lee Falkenhagen, Erik McMillan, Abby Meade, Cindy Lo, Tommy Wald, Kit Webster - there are just too many to name. It’s an amazing group of people, and I have so bonded with them. And my TAs! Dan and Troy Ellis, Brian Howell, Rose Martin, Tiff Ting, Alex Ting, Lisa Neigut, Ben Pham, Rory Richardson, Shane and Austin McNamee, Narmeen Kapadia; I feel so blessed to have worked with so many energetic and creative people who gave so much to the program. And our capable and intelligent staff over the years: Effie Gilder, Caroline Walls, Kristi Brown, Amanda No, Hillary Patterson, and now, Kim Barnett. And last but not least, I am so grateful to have worked with the wonderful faculty here. Eleanor and Rick, Sharon and John, Katie, Prabhudev, Sirkka, Reuben, and now Clint and Joshua – what a dedicated and fun group. As with any family-like system, sometimes there are challenges, but the commitment to work through them is a legacy of Eleanor Jordan’s founding commitment to staying with the process and working through whatever happens. Amazing.

I got to work in the MIS Program in astonishing times. Through the boom and the bust, and all the unimaginable technological innovations that have arisen in the last two decades. How rich it has been. I am choosing to go back to my right-brain roots of counseling and the arts, but I will always feel that I have been part of something truly special – the University of Texas MIS BBA Program.  Thank you for having me.

- Article by Senior Lecturer Elota Patton