Professor finds success with swapping textbooks for graphic novels
Donterio Ligons, The Oklahoma Daily
Researchers at a Glance
Rath Chair in Strategic Management at the Price College of Business.
Transferred to OU from Texas Tech University two years ago.
Has published over 50 articles, chapters in graphic and traditional textbooks and “Atlas Black: The Complete Adventure”
A doctoral candidate in management in the Price College of Business.
Accompanied Short when he came to OU and has continued to work alongside Short conducting research on management and entreuprenship.
His research has been featured in the Family Business Review, Business Horizons, Journal of the Academy of Marketing and many more publications.
A pilgrim stands confidently holding a pizza, while next to him a clown looks down in utter confusion at the balloon animal in his hands. Three men dressed as a hot dog, a movie usher and a janitor complete the lineup of misfit men.
This is the scene on the cover of “Atlas Black: the Complete Adventure,” a graphic novel featured in a new OU study showing graphic novels help students retain information more effectively than traditional textbooks.
The study was led by Jeremy Short, strategic management chair of OU’s Price College of Business, and Aaron McKenny, a doctoral candidate for the Price College of Business.
The graphic novel, “Atlas Black: the Complete Adventure,” features a college student, Atlas Black, getting ready to graduate, planning postgraduate life and starting his own business. The novel weaves key management terms and a splash of humor into the relatable story.
In the first part of the study, the researchers asked business seniors who had read the graphic novel before for their general opinions on the format of the novel and how it compared with the standard textbook, Short said in an email.
Short said that to his surprise about 80 percent of the participants said they agreed or strongly agreed the graphic novel compared favorably to the usual management text.
“The graphic novel was fun and easy to read, allowing me to understand the concepts more efficiently,” said Stephanie Black, an OU alumna who participated in the graphic novel study.
It was during the second part of the study when things got even more interesting, Short said.
A controlled group of 139 business students were divided into two groups, Short said in an email. Both groups read passages on needs and reinforcement theories, but in different formats. One group read a passage in classic textbook format, and the other group read from the graphic novel.
“We found both formats were associated with the ability to recall and transfer material, but the graphic novel format was significantly better for verbatim recall of material,” Short said.
The findings of Short and McKenny’s study were accompanied by a discussion of why graphic novels are effective tools for learning.
“It wasn’t until after I’d finished my Ph.D. and was working when I started teaching class and I came to this realization — which I guess is not a wild realization — that textbooks are boring a lot of the time, so I was looking for a way to make the material into a more interesting format,” said Short, who credits the presence of random, antique knick-knacks dispersed throughout his office to his tendency to get bored easily.
McKenny said he recalls his undergraduate experience as being a series of half-read textbooks.
“I don’t know about you, but when I was an undergraduate, about halfway through the semester I stopped reading the textbook,” McKenny said.
The first graphic novel McKenny ever read was actually Short's graphic novel, McKenny said. As a self-professed “business nerd,” McKenny read the entire novel in one sitting.
Mckenny said since his first experience with the graphic novel, he has been alongside Short investigating the implications of this new format of improving learning.
The graphic novel also allows for students to see important management terms applied in story format, McKenny said.
“We believe our work is very important to be applied,” Short said. “I think a lot of people think that comics, or graphic novels, would be less applied, but I think it actually can be more applied because it’s showing how you would use the concepts in a real situation.”
That is where “Atlas Black” and many other graphic novels co-authored by Short are truly different from the often-limited examples of classic textbooks.
Starting June 10, Short’s graphic novel will reach much broader audiences as one of the textbooks for a historic new online course, Short said.
The Introduction to Management class will be free to anyone, anywhere in the world, Short said.
The class will be the first massive open online course, or MOOC, offered at OU, according to the Introduction to Management website.
OU students may choose to enroll in the class to receive three hours of credit, which will satisfy several business-related minors or be used as a lower-division free elective, Short said.
The course also will feature real-world examples specific to Oklahoma and OU in an effort to showcase the progress of festivals and small businesses of the state to the rest of the world, Short said.
Register for the online course at: http://management.ou.edu
Correction: In the original version of this story, Jeremy Short’s name was incorrectly referenced as Scott.