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www.expresshospitality.com FORTNIGHTLY INSIGHT FOR THE HOSPITALITY TRADE
16-31 October 2009  
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Home - Hospitality Life - Article

A totally different ball game

Srikanth Beldona


Srikanth Beldona

As a young professional of the hospitality domain in the late 80s and 90s, I was always conscious about how different hospitality education was compared to fields such as engineering, medicine, arts, sciences etc. However, I must admit that being just conscious wasn't enough. It required realisation through an out-of-the-box educational experience, which I believe is worth evangelising about.

This happened while working on my PhD at Purdue University. I had then served as a teaching assistant for the Advanced Food Service Management course taught to fourth years in the undergraduate hospitality program. Titled the 'International Dinner Series', students in the course worked in groups of three-four wherein they designed, developed and implemented a fine-dining meal experience from A to Z. This required menu design, production planning, costing and eventually production at the kitchen end. On the service end, group managers designed the servicescape, service delivery mechanisms, marketed the experience for real paying customers, and eventually engaged in final service delivery. In the end, students were assessed based on their skills and techniques involved in the planning, organising, directing and controlling of a full-service theme-oriented dining operation. An important parameter was also if they could turn in a profit. Working in rotations, some students served as managers for their meal experiences while others were managed as employees. There was also a 360 degree evaluation component as well, where students graded one another.

The course was a competitive pressure cooker and was indisputably their most grueling academic experience. Almost always, triumphs, troubles and tempers played up to unimaginable levels. However, there was a serious pursuit of excellence and the course brought out the best amongst students. At the end of each semester, there was near unanimity amongst students over the rich educational experience that they walked away with.

What impressed me was not as much the content and design of the course. It was the nature of assessment that was captured in a real world setting. Student performance depended on a wide range of performance parameters that included intellectual and emotional competencies. The grade rosters typically had both traditional toppers and not so meritorious students (in the traditional sense) in the high ranks. In some cases, traditional toppers earned lower grades. The course levelled the playing field because the merit system seemed to accommodate a diverse range of domains when it came to intelligence and competencies. It has been seven years since I last taught this course. I am yet to see another course in hospitality curricula that is anywhere comparable with this. Of course, this is just my personal opinion and limited to the scope of information that I have scoured. Nonetheless, as I reflect over this experience, several questions have emerged over the years. For instance, what does academic merit really mean in hospitality education? Is the hospitality education system as it exists today extremely narrow in the way it evaluates academic merit? Does the hospitality academic curriculum capture all variants of intelligence and competencies that are true to the domain?

All these questions are interrelated and I hope to address them together as a symptomatic phenomenon. For starters, we all know that although intellectual ability is an imperative, it is not the mainstay of academic performance in hospitality education. The hospitality operational setting also requires strong regulation of emotions and feelings (also called emotional intelligence) across a diverse range of situations. This, in turn, manifests itself through effective interpersonal interactions and superior decision making.

There is an interesting paradox when it comes to the research pertaining to IQ and EQ. While IQ has served as a strong predictor of academic performance, it's efficacy in predicting professional success is reportedly weak. EQ on the other hand is known to better predict professional success, but not academic performance as much. The field of emotional intelligence has gained significant attention since the mid 90s. Although some academics are still skeptical about its conceptual measurement to date, its importance as a dimension of competence is not disputed.

For the most part, today's hospitality curricula are set in more in the traditional format of assessment largely based on intellectual ability. However, since the scope for exploiting intellectual abilities is limited, faculty often feel that only this much can be done. In other words, faculty resorts to alternative approaches such as adding more meat to the material, without evaluating its substantive strengths.

Worse is when faculty negates intellectual ability but does not accommodate for assessment of emotional competencies. Over time, this leads to the dilution of academic standards and also the relative positioning of the discipline from a 'rigor' standpoint.The time to incorporate a hybrid model of academic assessment based on both intellectual and emotional competencies is past due in hospitality education. Such a vision should be articulated at the strategic level by hospitality educational administrators and has to be implemented program-wide. Outcomes assessments for each course (subject) should be inventoried and summarised at the program level to see how students are measured along both these domains of intelligence. Note that not every course can have an emotional competence element. Also, some courses are relatively higher on intellectual ability and are knowledge-intensive. A well crafted and balanced approach will not only improve the employability of students, it will enhance the efficacy of the discipline. Lastly, it will better inform prospective students about the pre-requisites for excellence in the domain, which in turn will result in lower levels of attrition at least from a job-fit standpoint.

Until this happens, if there are instructors who are engaging in models of instruction similar to the one outlined above, go and make a song out of it. It's a tune that has to play more often for change to happen.

The author is an associate professor in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware, USA. These are his personal views.

 


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