By Dan LeClair, Chief Operating Officer, AACSB International
Most of the conversation about the disruption in higher education has centered on degree programs, especially the MBA. Yet, research is at the heart of quality business education—it is a major source of our perspiration, inspiration, and value creation in business schools. And it is changing in important ways.
One of the most popular sessions at this year’s ICAM addressed the topic. The expert panelists were Gregory J. Gordon, president and CEO of Social Science Research Network (SSRN); Michael Buschman, cofounder of Plum Analytics; and Eric Bradlow, K.P. Chao Professor, professor of marketing, statistics and education, vice dean and director of Wharton doctoral programs, and codirector of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI).
The conversation revealed an environment that will enable business schools and their faculties to create even more value from research. They will be able to improve on ideas and bring them to users—and to markets—faster, as well as engage and influence a broader group of professionals across both academe and practice. New technologies are “democratizing” research and shifting the concept of peer review from closed, anonymous, pre-publication processes toward more open, transparent, post-publication systems. One panelist described the set of changes provocatively as the “YouTubing” of research.
As research outputs take on new forms, including pure-online journals, recorded virtual conferences, and software code, and as people begin to use research in different ways, technology has been enabling us to measure usage, influence, and impact accordingly. With help from new companies, we are finding ways, for example, to track book utilization by chapter, document when a piece of software is used or built on, and register each time an article appears in a doctoral seminar reading list. These alternative metrics will help business schools to demonstrate that their research makes a difference by providing a richer set of tools beyond citation analysis, and to look beyond the current view that refereed journal publications are the ultimate “end game.”
But the changes are not just affecting how research is shared and measured; business schools are finding innovative ways to create new knowledge. The WCAI, which engages companies to identify problems and to acquire and prepare complex data sets, provides research opportunities for scholars at any business school, not just the Wharton School. International partnerships, such as Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), are enabling business schools to test ideas and develop new ones across borders. Then there is Professor Clay Christensen, who recently put new ideas out to his vast network of alumni to “crowd-source” further development and revisions.
Based on the exciting high-level conversation, it is easy to exaggerate the changes happening in the research environment. But inside business schools, the changes are colliding with traditional structures and cultures. So the experts caution business school leaders and faculties against stepping too far ahead of the changes. Top-rated peer-review journals and citation analyses are still the most important factor in internal tenure and promotion decisions, as well as external faculty markets. Regardless, it is clear that research is moving from a closed “do not redistribute” system to a broader, more open “click to share” environment. Business schools that understand, and adapt to, these changes will have a competitive edge in the changing higher education landscape.