1 Page 1 of 9 ANZMAC 2009 The Marketplace as Classroom: Service-Learning in an MBA Marketing Course Jörg Finsterwalder, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Billy O Steen, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Sven Tuzovic, Pacific Lutheran University, USA, Abstract This paper outlines an approach for teaching Marketing Principles in an MBA course through service-learning. During the course, 40 students in groups of four to five were involved in eight, simultaneous client-sponsored marketing projects. The rationale, planning, and management of this utilised current research on service-learning, living cases and clientsponsored projects in marketing education. Findings from this experimental curriculum design are presented in a timeline of the preparation and management of the group projects and the considerations when initiating and facilitating the projects. Preliminary conclusions from this action research suggest the importance of: detailed information to students, student choice in projects, standardized forms, feedback loops, and the instructor s role. Keywords: service-learning, living cases, client-sponsored projects, active learning, experiential learning, problem-solving, MBA
2 ANZMAC 2009 Page 2 of 9 The Marketplace as Classroom: Service-Learning in an MBA Marketing Course Introduction: Bringing Marketing to Life Being involved in an independent project is a much greater learning experience than just memorizing for a test (student's comment, cited in Humphreys, 1981, p. 12). This seems to be particularly relevant for MBA students who usually have professional backgrounds and may be more likely to engage with a practically based approach. Their practical experiences often provide them with knowledge and interest in project work, planning, execution and other roles. Some students who have been out of the educational system for a while appear to find it difficult to connect with theories, models and abstract thinking in their coursework. Therefore, it is crucial to link marketing theory with applications so that MBA students can bridge the gap between theoretical marketing principles and real-world situations. One way of doing this is to involve students in living cases (LeClair and Stöttinger, 1999, p. 31) with companies. This pedagogy of bringing marketing to life through company projects has been shown to lead students toward relating classroom content to company context and ultimately to their own professional experiences (Bourner et al., 2001; De los Santos and Jensen, 1985; McEachern, 2001). Using this research-based rationale, eight company projects were sourced for an MBA Marketing Principles course to facilitate problem-based (Biggs, 2003; Boud, 1985) and deep learning (Prosser and Millar, 1989; Ramsden, 2003) through immediate application of marketing course content either already covered in the lectures or to be discovered by the students through self-initiated inquiry. Service Learning, Live Cases and Client-sponsored Projects in Marketing Education Three streams of literature relating to student learning with the integration of out-of-class experiences (Strauss and Terenzi, 2007, p. 967) by involving companies can be found: service-learning, live cases and client-sponsored projects. Extant literature on service-learning is summarised in the following table (see Table 1). Research Findings on Service-Learning Research Citations A type of experiential and active learning Hagenbuch, 2006; Klink & Athelaide, 2004 An effective educational approach Kuh, 2009; Petkus, 2000; Rama et al., 2000 Combines student participation in community Govekar & Rishi, 2007; Petkus, 2000; service projects with credit-bearing courses Steffes, 2004; Still & Clayton, 2004 A mutually beneficial approach for students, Jacoby, 1996 organizations, instructors, and the institution Equal focus on service and learning Furco, 1996 Community defines the need, which is Weigert, 1988 aligned with course objectives Enhances technical and cognitive capabilities Rama et al., 2000 and citizenship skills Positive impact on competency building, Arney, 2006; Boss, 1994; Eyler & Giles, sense of responsibility, self-efficacy, and 1999; Moore & Sandholtz, 1999; Shalaway, relationships among students, school, and 1991 community
3 Page 3 of 9 ANZMAC 2009 Provides link between real-world skills and classroom content Table 1: Literature on Service-Learning Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Hingorani et al., 1998; Kenworthy-U Ren, 2000 Living cases incorporate traditional components of case studies with the unique aspect of working in real-time with an organisation (Burns, 1990; LeClair and Stöttinger, 1999). Living cases can be designed to be executed independent of an organisation or with full collaboration. The key characteristics of a living case are the present nature of problems and opportunities (LeClair and Stöttinger, 1999) and an interaction among student groups, company personnel, and the instructor. Students are not working in a clean, tidy environment when dealing with a live case; rather, they are dealing with variable situations, uncertainty, and incomplete information. As we look at these critical components, it is clear that live cases have the potential to be an excellent experiential learning vehicle (Elam and Spotts, 2004, p. 52). This ambiguity is a vital element of dealing with any business, and developing this particular skill can help students learn to solve complex and unstructured problems (Kennedy et al., 2001). In addition, students usually find themselves in groups of learners to resolve the live case. This not only helps to develop interpersonal skills, increases motivation and involvement (Kennedy et al., 2001), but teamwork also promotes greater appreciation among students and facilitates higher levels of achievement (Johnson et al., 1998). Furthermore, connecting students with the business world is already educational in itself by learning more about the company culture and expectations of professionals (Kennedy et al., 2001). Live cases are sometimes also called client-sponsored projects (Humphreys, 1981, p. 7). They can be sponsored by companies by having a dedicated member of the company oversee the case and provide information or connect students with other areas of the company. In addition to the purely manpower- and time-based provision of resources, students can also be remunerated for their efforts financially. The three streams of research suggested the use of three complementary components for the MBA course: companies fully participated in the cases, students worked for the companies free of charge and the projects were facilitated by a dedicated company representative. The Context for this Service Learning Approach to Marketing Education The MBA course Marketing Principles is taught as a compulsory course in term two of their first year for all students enrolled in the programme. The course content focuses on the basics of marketing terminology and concepts with the aim of students being able to describe and apply the marketing strategies and tactics employed by organisations. In addition, the course tries to enhance their teamwork and creativity skills. For the 2009 course, 40 students were enrolled as either part- or full-time and came with various educational, national and professional backgrounds with a minimum of five years of practical experience. There were two major assessments in the course: a group project (worth 40 %) and an individual research report (worth 60 %) (for a comparison of individual and group projects, see Dommeyer, 1986). The focus of this research was on the group project, which had three parts; a re-briefing memo (worth 4 %), a project presentation (worth 10 %) and a final project report (worth 26 %). The re-briefing served as a quick check of students understanding of the company s project. It was also designed to be similar to the standard company practice of consultants or agencies verifying project challenges with their clients. The project presentation was a summary of the final report and provided teams with feedback that they
4 ANZMAC 2009 Page 4 of 9 could integrate into their reports, which were due soon afterwards. As with the re-brief memo, the final report was designed to be similar to reports written by a consultancy or agency, however, it also required a connection to the marketing theories from lectures, textbooks and other sources. Findings I: Suggestions for Facilitating these Service-Learning Projects Instructors planning a marketing principles course can find general suggestions (Tomkovick, 2004) and more specific ones about: integrating service-learning through living clientsponsored cases (e.g. Humphreys, 1981; Lopez and Lee, 2005), choice criteria for selecting clients (McCain and Lincoln, 1982), examples (e.g. LeClair and Stöttinger, 1999) and comparisons of costs versus benefits of real-world projects (e.g. De los Santos and Jensen, 1985; McCain and Lincoln, 1982; Parsons and Lepkowska-White, 2009). In addition, Humphreys (1981) offers insights into the selection of clients, the screening of projects, the organisation of student teams and the assignment of projects, the integration of the project into the course, the instructor s role during the project with regard to project control and student evaluation while Lopez and Lee (2005) illustrate five principles for workable clientbased projects. They outline the selection of clients, the design of the projects, the advance planning process, the management and setting of expectations and the provision of periodic and productive feedback. From that range of suggestions, the following adaptation from Humphreys (1981) and Lopez and Lee (2005) seemed the most appropriate considerations for preparing and managing the eight living case group projects in this course. Selecting Project Companies. Recruiting and selecting suitable clients is a crucial step to having successful student projects. It is essential that only companies eager to collaborate with the university are selected and they might be identified by an external relations officer. Screening and Selection of Suitable Projects and Integration into the Course. It is important to acquire projects which are a current challenge to the company to ensure their ongoing involvement. Companies should be asked to submit brief project proposals (one to two pages) to the instructor which can be checked for suitability of marketing applications, workload, and relevance to course content. Firms are often looking to cover a lot of ground in these projects so it is crucial for the lecturer to limit the scope. In order to assist companies, it is helpful to provide a proposal template requesting: the project title, company name and background, key challenges, project scope and objectives and contact details of the sponsor. Planning and Management Process of Multiple Company Projects. When planning and managing projects, it is important to keep the perspectives of students, companies and instructor in mind. For students, there must be clarity about the sequence of events and output expectations in the course outline. It is also helpful to provide them with feedback opportunities (see subsequent section on feedback). For companies, an early start to planning and reminders assist in getting proposals to the instructor. Similar to students, the company representatives also need feedback opportunities throughout. Some companies may desire non-disclosure agreements in order to feel more comfortable about these kinds of projects. And, for instructors, some kind of previous experience with this type of teaching through a workshop or as a student would be helpful as would taking on no more than six to eight simultaneous projects.
5 Page 5 of 9 ANZMAC 2009 Forming Student Teams and Assigning Projects. If groups have not been pre-formulated in the programme, forming teams and assigning projects can be a highly sensitive topic, so including students in the selection process by inviting their preferences for projects (through a form) increases their buy-in and motivation and assists with finding good matches. Students in a competitive situation or currently being employed by one of the project companies should not be assigned to that particular company. Similarly, inviting students to form their own teams leads to further biases. To assist with communication, teams should nominate a leader who is the liaison to the instructor. Built-in Feedback Mechanisms, Safety Nets and Project Controls. Feedback mechanisms and safety nets are important elements of setting up the projects. Each step in the project should allow for feedback from the instructor. The project re-briefing is an early safety net in order to potentially re-direct the students. In addition to face-to-face feedback processes, technological opportunities (via Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) can be set up. Companies are also asked to provide feedback to the instructor in the middle and at the end of the project. Findings II: Implementing the Suggestions through a Project Timeline Table 2 depicts the service learning project timeline in the marketing course. It differentiates activities required by the instructor, the companies and the students prior to and during class. Dotted lines around fields in lighter colour indicate no activity by the respective party. Bullets highlight the party the activity is directed towards, supported by arrows. Preliminary Conclusions Preliminary conclusions have been drawn from a comparison of the planning and outcomes of the projects in this course in 2008 and The key changes in the courses that seemed to positively impact student motivation and the project outcomes were: 1) the introduction of a detailed syllabus and Q&A session on it in week two with an emphasis on managing students expectations, 2) the opportunity for students to choose their preferred projects, 3) the introduction of new forms (e.g. project preference form) and documents (e.g. non-disclosure agreements), and 4) systematic feedback processes and safety nets. Summary Service-learning through living client-sponsored cases has been highlighted as a highly effective and student engaging teaching technique. This paper has outlined an approach to the planning and management of concurrent client-sponsored group projects. It seems obvious that the benefits for the students to work on marketing cases applying marketing course knowledge increases the workload of the instructor organising this teaching and learning approach and therefore may have to be considered in a workload model. The extra effort seems to be worthwhile as universities are not solely educating students to become marketing scholars but rather should be trying to enable students to understand marketing also from a practical perspective. Living cases are the ideal tool to do so.
6 ANZMAC 2009 Page 6 of 9 Table 2: Timeline for the MBA Marketing Principles Course Service Learning Projects
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