In 2013 Eric Reiner received his highest-ever ratings from students and was invited to address both undergraduate and graduate student groups. The Business School recently sat down with Mr. Eric, as he is known from his radio talk-show-host days, to discuss his winning teaching style.
Q: Students speak very positively about the Mr. Eric Rock ‘n’ Roll Finance Show. What’s it all about?
Mr. Eric: The unabashed goal is to give students the best learning experience for their education dollar. That’s basically a riff on KISS’s goal back when they started, to put on the best show for your money. And so the question becomes, how do you do that when you’re a finance or accounting teacher?
Well, beyond presenting the material in a down-to-earth, explain-every-word fashion, I try to engage the students by giving the material a sense of applicability to real life, and by delivering it with an air of urgency.
It’s also critical to vary both the audio and visual experience for the students as well as the cognitive tasks you require of them – listening, speaking, reading, writing, answering, questioning.
Q: On your course evaluations, one graduate student writes, “Cool shirts.” Another one says, “The décor was fun.” How do these fit into the Show?
Mr. Eric: Fun is exactly right. Seasonal décor is Mr. Eric’s props. It’s basically decorating the classroom to enhance the visual experience and enliven the atmosphere, or maybe set a mood.
I try to achieve the same effect with classroom costumery. One of my girlfriends was in costume design and she made me a whole bunch of show-y shirts and vests to wear. And then for Mardi Gras and Hallowe’en I dig out some of my old clothes from the ‘70s. The students get a kick out of that!
I’d been doing props and costumes on a limited basis for a few years, but in 2013 I ramped it up considerably. Now the students complain if I don’t come to class with something.
And they frequently take pictures of Mr. Eric in costume -- and sometimes with Mr. Eric in costume, like this graduate student Peter from China a couple of weeks ago, who posed after class for a shot with Mr. Eric in his Professor Punk get up.
Q: It seems to be working. In 2013 the students gave you your highest evaluations on a consistent basis.
Mr. Eric: Yes, it’s getting better all the time.
Q: It’s interesting that students rate your classes highly but also say they aren’t easy. One graduate finance student writes, “While the course is difficult, I enjoy the lectures and feel I’ve learned a lot.” Another one says, “The cumulative exams are painful but I will retain more in the long run.” It sounds like they’re learning.
Mr. Eric: Make no mistake, while Mr. Eric’s classes are designed to be a good time, the exams are serious business.
A couple years back this one student Jim – he had taken Mr. Eric for accounting, then later when he was in finance he told all the other graduate students that to prepare for a Mr. Eric exam, you need to study hard, then study harder.
I would add that to prepare properly, it ought to feel like you’re tied to the whipping post.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say the exams are a lot like a classic-rock festival. They’re as foreboding as Black Sabbath. There’s plenty of superfluous data and confusing distractors – that’s the smoke and mirrors of a Blue Oyster Cult concert.
Like a Bruce Springsteen show, the exams are long. The questions just keep pounding a la AC/DC. And if you’re not properly prepared, it’ll feel like a date with Alice Cooper’s guillotine.
Q: Besides teaching here at the Business School, you write for some financial magazines. Does that influence how you teach?
Mr. Eric: Oh yeah, definitely. I try to write up the lectures with kind of a plot line and element of intrigue and suspense, which is what I try to do with my tax articles. That’s mostly what I write about these days, although I just [March 2014] did a piece on commodities.
But I also used to review concerts for The Denver Post. That’s really where I learned how important it is to vary the look, sound and feel of the classroom experience.
As a concert reviewer, you’re scrutinizing in detail everything that Rod Stewart says and does for a couple of hours, or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, or Shania Twain, Bette Midler, or Reba. When you observe big-name entertainers very closely, that’s when you begin to really understand what it takes to hold someone’s attention. They continually change things around visually, aurally and thematically. That makes the experience dynamic. It engages you.
That’s what I try to do with the Mr. Eric Show.
Q: You’re going to be teaching accounting at the new CU South Denver campus in the fall of 2014, isn’t that right?
Mr. Eric: Yes, taking it to the streets. I’m excited about doing the Show down there.
Q: What’s best? What do you like best about coming to work?
Mr. Eric: Work?! Look, putting on the Mr. Eric Rock ‘n Roll Finance Show, or the Rock ‘n Roll Accounting or Risk Management Show – that isn’t work. It’s fun. In fact, it’s a gas!