Student driven business projects: motivation, implementation, and consequences.
Our goal as an educational institution is to make students self-educating people. We aim to develop in students the ability to synthesize knowledge from various sources and help them learn practical business methodologies. Specifically, the chief objective in our courses is to provide students with a fundamental understanding of concepts in a fashion such that the knowledge and skills obtained from these courses is transferable to integrated "real world" applications (Smith & Van Doren, 2004), in line with the needs of the future marketplace (see for example, Ackerman, Gross & Perner, 2003; Walczak & Lantz, 1998). The importance and advantages of experiential learning exercises is well documented in other disciplines such as nursing, medicine, economics, computer science, journalism, and social work (see Batalden and Davidoff 2007, Waldeck 2007, Todd 2007, Steel et al 2007, for instance). This paper relates to our learning gleaned from over ten years of using student driven projects as experiential learning tools to ensure learning outcomes commensurate with learning objectives espoused in our courses.
We report on student driven projects that form an important and effective means of experiential, student learning centered education in our pedagogical palette. We use this pedagogical tool based on documented effectiveness of such experiential exercises in producing learning outcomes that are cherished by students, valued by employers, and encouraged in the mission of most institutions of higher education. It is our goal to ensure that our students engage themselves in active hands-on learning and will be able to apply their learning in business settings, in particular as team players.
We start with a brief description of literature that supports the conceptualization, implementation, and efficacy of such experiential learning. We then proceed to provide examples of some of the projects our students have participated in. In the subsequent narrative, we underscore the benefits of such endeavors for our students, our clients, and our employers. We then proceed to caution the reader about some of the stumbling blocks, pitfalls and traps that we have encountered in our pedagogical development. We conclude by providing some preliminary thoughts on further research that might enrich our scholarly approach to pedagogy.
CONCEPTUAL UNDERPINNINGS OF EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
Past research in student learning in higher education provides us with sufficient evidence to establish that learning is an active process in which students actively construct knowledge from their experiences in the world (Michael, 2006). Add to this the idea that people construct new knowledge with particular effectiveness when they are engaged in constructing personally meaningful artifacts (Todd 2007) and we find a conceptual foundation for the use of student driven business projects as a pedagogical tool.
Extant literature provides some guidance on organizing real-life, student driven projects (for example, Lopez & Lee, 2005). However, the larger research stream in the area of experiential learning better informs our application of student driven projects. Waldeck (2007) refers to such experiential learning as "personalized education." His research underscores the complimentary relationship between such personalized experiential learning and learning outcomes. Moving from individual learning to cooperative learning, meaningful group work has also been shown to be a particularly useful active learning tool (Whetten 2007, Livingstone & Lynch, 2000).
In the medical arena, Batalden and Davidoff (2007) view experiential learning to be critical in providing patient care. They make the distinction between knowledge of medicine ("knowing that") and delivery of care ("knowing how") and report that providing quality care is better taught through experiential learning than through age old established pedagogy of medicine, which is highly effective in transferring knowledge yet woefully inadequate in establishing quality of care delivery.
Houde (2007) propounds the idea of "Analogically Situated Experience," as the next frontier in pedagogical advance of experiential learning. This innovation entails analogical learning, situated learning, and experiential learning. The key is immersion of students in a context that is very close to the actual "real world" context of the ultimate skill set required to perform expected tasks. Houde successfully establishes the insights that this methodology delivers. A student driven project achieves all the aforementioned outcomes and also places the responsibility of learning upon the student--producing student motivation and accountability that transcends traditional boundaries of pedagogy. At Goldman Sachs University, Pledger (2007) reports unparalleled success upon embracing the experiential learning model in building critical thinking skills, improving team dynamics, and enhancing the overall effectiveness of their trainees. The program has found success at all levels of employees and has gained popularity within the company.
In a study that examines the impact of experiential learning upon workplace success, Yeo (2007) found that experiential learning led to a crystallization of informal learning patterns into a cohesive structure that could actually be applied with success in solving workplace problems. Critical thinking, reflection, curiosity, and team-building are often concepts that are too ephemeral to capture in traditional teaching-learning mode, while experiential learning can actually make these learning goals attainable and measurable.
Experiential learning provides the context for participants to apply their learning in the context of their jobs and experience improvement and success to further motivate learning. With traditional teaching, any integration across discrete subjects is left to the students, usually to achieve on their own. Instead of solving problems in a parsed out, static environment, what if students could solve actual business problems for a real organization? Such experiential learning could fundamentally change how students learn and apply their learning in our courses.
STUDENT DRIVEN BUSINESS PROJECTS
We have successfully conducted business research and consulting for over 25 business organizations. Our clients have included the Green Bay Packers, Hansen Foods, Agrilink Foods, NEW Zoo, Performa, Siena Basketball Program, Siena Center for Service and Advocacy, Fuvirese International, Adirondak Mountain Club, Rensselaer County Crime Victims Assistance Program to mention just a few. We have conducted a variety of projects ranging from market research, consumer research, competitive analysis, promotional strategies, e-commerce feasibility, conventional channel feasibility studies, new product launches, to integrated marketing communications campaigns to fund-raising campaigns for not-for-profit organizations.
Based on our experience with student driven business projects, student feedback received over several years, and client perceptions and comments, we have compiled a sample of benefits derived by various collaborators in this unique learning opportunity. This approach presents a unique combination of benefits to our students, our institution, and the business client.
Benefits to Our Students
* Enhanced project administration skills and self-confidence by working on a practical project.
* Brainstorming a real marketing problem using ideas and concepts studied in class to gain competitive advantage in real marketplace.
* This approach allowed the students to study concepts and develop critical thinking based on their particular experience with the project.
* Improved skills at working in group settings requiring necessary leadership, coordination and exchange of knowledge to meet client specifications and deadlines.
* A complex real-life project, presented to a real client, poses enough of a challenge and motivation for students to work in a truly collaborative fashion as opposed to simple delegation ("OK, you do part 1, I'll do part 2, he'll do part 3, and then we all send it to Julie and she makes the slides") that our resourceful students oftentimes resort to when faced with group projects. Thus, the opportunity to learn true teamwork is no longer bypassed, and a much better project results.
* Working under tight deadlines and producing professionally acceptable written and oral reports.
* Such reports and related components artwork, promo campaigns, research findings can become the first truly professional things that the student, who otherwise does not have much marketing experience or achievements, can then include into their portfolio. Many of our students reported using their project work during their interviews.
* Students reported that it became increasingly clear that the textbook learning did not merely intersect actual business problems but that they actually complemented one another in a mutually enriching symbiotic fashion.
* Students face the limitations and constraints of the real world ("No, you are not allowed to put that sign up in that place"; "No, the State Laws prohibit a raffle in a bar").
* Students face uncertainty inherent in real life situations. There really is not a solution manual somewhere on the Internet!
* The experience is a great resume builder and is helpful to students in career enhancements after graduation.
* Working on the projects provides students with networking opportunities among the business community.
* The added responsibility to the real client, as opposed to a purely academic exercise, increases the salience and importance of doing excellent work to the students who otherwise at times might be tempted to coast and miss learning opportunities.
Benefits to Our Institution
* These student driven business projects have been viewed as yielding tangible results in the realm of social responsibility of our educational institution in contributing to building businesses.
* In a related notion, projects completed pro bono, especially for non-for-profit organizations, instill the values of caring and social responsibility in the students, who thus learn professional service in addition to the volunteer work they are already familiar with.
* Such projects reaffirm Siena's commitment to act as a resource for companies and reinforce its links with local business.
* Such learning exercises lead to a shift in focus from teaching about business to teaching with business.
* Such a shift in focus facilitates a learning environment that supports and encourages higher level processing skills, problem solving, and critical thinking.
* Our role changes from an instructor to the role of a facilitator of learning and coordinator of learning environments.
* It is intellectually rewarding and pedagogically enriching experience to a teacher. (For one of the authors, this idea came on the verge of death by boredom during an excruciating series of student presentations of poorly regurgitated canned case solutions; it's always been stimulating ever since).
* Possibly generates revenue for Siena that can be plowed back into enhancing student learning.
* Projects have the potential to bring additional PR/media attention to the College. As a matter of fact, the latest project by one of the authors is being undertaken with explicit participation of Siena's PR person.
* A real life, unique project cannot just be mindlessly copied from "some web site" thus reducing the need for policing of the academic integrity.
Benefits to Client Businesses
* Provides an opportunity for local businesses to contribute to the enhancement of learning in local communities, a socially responsible service.
* Most of our students are also customers of client businesses. Such projects are excellent public relations tools to reach out to students and their families, and the local community at large--students tend to get very interested in business they're working with and talk about it with others. As a matter of fact, this promotional aspect alone might justify participation for many a business. The number of people thus reached can become rather large--for example, one of the authors routinely gives the same project in two classes with about 60-70 students total; factoring in just the roommates of those living on campus, we might be talking about 200 students seriously involved with the client's business.
* On a related note, our students are going to graduate, become managers, and become useful business clients, partners, or donors. For example, a student who persuaded his group to center the promotional program for a business client around collaboration with the bar he was working at. At the conclusion of this joint promotion, the student was actually invited to become a partner in the tavern and is successfully leading this small business post-graduation.
* Student Driven Business Projects provide a cost efficient means of obtaining useful strategic plans and recommendations for small and not-for-profit businesses that may not be in a position to hire high priced consultants.
* For larger businesses that can afford outside consultants at exorbitant prices, results obtained might in no way be superior to results provided by our students. In fact, several client businesses in the past have rated their experience with student driven projects to be as good (if not superior) to results obtained from independent consultants.
* Unlike professional consultants our students have no temptation to "massage" or "mine" results to ensure continued funding. Intellectual honesty is part of our students' learning experience that is stressed (and closely monitored) at Siena.
* Finally, most of our clients reported working with students to be a personally stimulating, rewarding experience.
A CASE STUDY IN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS
What follows is a summary of the implementation of one such project in an undergraduate upper level elective course in International Marketing. This case study is divided into three distinct sections: the genesis and informing principles of the project, the implementation of the experiential learning project, and student feedback and evaluation of this learning opportunity.
Siena College is a Franciscan institution of higher learning founded on the liberal arts tradition. The Franciscan mission of the College is reflected in all its activities and draws its fervor from the humanitarian guiding philosophy of Francis--diversity, optimism, respect and service. Service to the diversity of all humans, poor and marginalized is the basic tenet of all Franciscan endeavors. One of our goals in support of our Mission is to create professional programs and classes that support the Franciscan principles espoused by Siena. All such courses develop a learning plan that has three components: one, the study of a particular academic discipline; two, an emphasis on Franciscan values and history within the context of the discipline in question; and three, a service component that would translate the academic knowledge into direct social action. The service component was arranged by each professor with cooperating agencies that offered opportunities for service to the poor and marginalized in the tradition of Franciscanism.
In International Marketing, students devised marketing strategies and plans to expand a local retail cooperative business' market to include underprivileged inner city market segments and ethnic minorities. Students were informed that one of the course objectives was to draw upon our Franciscan roots and commit classroom learning to building an awareness for social anomies, educating ourselves about the issues and concerns of the poor and marginalized, and more importantly--utilizing our learning, knowledge, and skills in improving the life of a fellow human.
With this goal in mind, we undertook projects and assignments that underscored the usefulness of such high ideals in all our social endeavors, including business interactions. The instructor provided students with projects and assignments that allowed them to apply their learning, knowledge, and skills from this course to "real-life" problems and solutions that addressed the needs of the poor and the marginalized.
The term project undertaken related to a local organic food retailer--Honest Weight Food Coop, located in downtown Albany. Their mission statement on http://www.honestweight.coop/index.html reads:
"Honest Weight is a member-owned and-operated consumer cooperative that is committed to providing the community with affordable, high quality natural foods and products for healthy living. Our mission is to promote more equitable, participatory and ecologically sustainable ways of living. We welcome all who choose to participate in a community which embraces cooperative principles, shares resources, and creates economic fairness in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect for humanity and the earth."
The HWCoop faced a strategic problem in being perceived as elitist and catering only to the affluent segments in the market. The challenge presented to our class was to change this perception and provide marketing strategies and ideas that made the business more accessible to the inner city marginalized and poor market segments as well as ethnic minorities which include the often ignored immigrant market segments.
The student teams were successful in generating a variety of creative marketing ideas and strategies that were presented to the HWCoop executives during the last week of classes. The feedback from business managers in the HWCoop indicates that the strategies were very well received by the board and several ideas and plans generated by our student teams are being considered for implementation. The managers were impressed by student insights and concerns with the needs and wants of the underprivileged and the underserved market segment. Student teams spent considerable time and effort in conducting primary research to establish and support their position that these target segments were viable markets that could be profitable--not to be treated as charity. The ability of a business to serve marginalized segments, while ensuring reasonable and just profits, makes the marketing strategies and materials developed by our student teams to be very attractive to a board interested in the long-term survival and viability of the Coop.
While the response form the HWCoop managers was gratifying, it was also evident that students took pride in being able to use the marketing skills and tools they acquired in this course to solve a meaningful, relevant, and practical problem while enriching their learning through Franciscan insights.
Student Feedback and Assessment of Learning
There were a variety of measures used to register student responses to these service-learning experiences. These included formal student evaluations, in-class student assignments that had an evaluative component, ad hoc comments between students and faculty, and a dinner for students enrolled in the course, where the students from the different sections and teams compared notes and stories about their experiences.
A sample of student comments and reactions excerpted verbatim follow:
"From the HW Coop project, I learned that each segment has its own distinct features, and it is the job of the marketer to use these features.
"I learned that there are many segments of the bottom of the pyramid market that are being ignored but that these markets are very large. I learned that if the right research is done these markets can be targeted effectively and companies can make a profit from them. I also learned that self reference criterion plays a big role in market research of different cultural groups.
"With HW Coop, the importance of marketing was illustrated through an example in our own back yard. There are a large number of bottom of the pyramid consumers here in Albany and they want and need products just like everyone else. Targeting bottom of the pyramid is not exploiting them but instead giving them the opportunities that they deserve. International marketing directly relates to any group of people with cultural, ..., experiences, rituals and beliefs different from our own.
"I found that even though a marketer may not be "racist" or an ethnocentric, he or she will still have preconceived biases about those other than her or herself. It is truly difficult to put those aside and to focus on facts of the market segment to create a marketing mix that fits with that particular segment. I also found that I enjoy the humanitarian aspect of marking management.
"I now have a basic understanding on why it is important not to forget about this large segment when coming up with a marketing plan and how exactly one can adjust their plans geared towards a bottom of the pyramid segment.
"We targeted African Americans. When targeting this group, there is a lot to take into consideration when coming up with a marketing kit. The strategic recommendations for one group will not be the same for another group. This was very important.
"While working with Honest Weight and focusing particularly on the low income groups, we learned to market to B-O-P (Bottom of Pyramid) groups you must exercise new and innovative marketing techniques. Educating the consumer is the most important aspect.
"I learned to think outside the box because the project required me to sell a product to people, who as of right now, see NO relative advantage in the product. This is challenging but very interesting. The presentations all portrayed excellent ways to diffuse the already established products into untapped segments.
"Marketing B.O.P. consumers is not a walk in the park. Creativity is crucial. Many considerations have to be made to be successful. Profit is not the desired end goal. The desire to help a fellow human being should be a driving factor.
"I can honestly say that I learned a lot by participating in the HW Coop project. I learned new concepts and was able to apply them on a daily basis. This made a lot of concepts more clear and gained a lot of experience in the process of doing so.
"I also learned from this project that it is not an easy task to serve this market segment, and that it takes a focused, well-researched effort to do so. It was refreshing to see a local business that is concerned about serving this market segment that can sometimes be unfairly viewed as unprofitable.
"The Honest Weight project taught me a lot about marketing and applying concepts learned in class. I gained first hand experience rather than studying and reviewing text.
"From this project I learned that BOP markets can sometimes be the most profitable, and also most helpful to individual members. People in these markets have less spending power, but collectively have a lot of buying power. They are also in need of high quality products.
"I learned that in order to serve the marginalized and poor market segments, your marketing mix must be changed to give buying power to those segments. You cannot use the same promotional, packaging and pricing strategies for the bottom of the pyramid consumers as you would for the upper tier shoppers--it is useless.
"HW Coop was useful in my understanding of serving the marginalized and poor segments because as a team, we were able to learn and research about these segments and come up with marketing kits that we thought would appeal to them. It also bettered my view of Franciscan values.
"The HW Coop project, through research and first-hand experience gave us a greater understanding of the needs of the B.O.P. segment. It gave us a greater sense of service, and our mission as students of a Franciscan school.
"The HW Coop project was useful in my understanding of serving the marginalized and poor market segments because it showed me ways to offer products to a commonly ignored segment. I better understood the needs of the poor markets and how to effectively demonstrate and provide the organic foods benefits to them.
"The HW Coop Project was very useful in understanding the poor market segments. It makes you be more creative when developing marketing strategies and a marketing kit. I've always felt targeting the bottom of the pyramid segment is somewhat unethical, but after doing this project (and the article we just read) I feel differently. I feel there is an opportunity there and the poor market segments want attention, just as much as the rich market segments do.
"... The fact that it was a real life and business and situation that was brought to us, gave more of a challenge to do better. You had to think outside of the box, whether it was the textbook or the concept of selling only products to people who could afford the surplus product ...
"... I believe businesses have a responsibility to be humanitarians. Regardless of income, businesses should strive to make their products available to every potential customer by any means possible. By doing this, the business gains profit and an increased customer base which leads to increased market share, among other rewards ...
"... I think the humanitarian challenge gave the HW Coop project a different feel and was an interesting spin on any business program I have participated in. it forced me to think critically about the persons I was marketing towards, and the reality of their lives. The sky was not the limit on this project because there were realities that had to be addressed ...
"... Because of this project, I have been honestly thinking about using my skills in the no-for-profit sector. As a Siena student, and a member of this Franciscan institution I value helping others very highly. This project has shown me that I can effectively use my marketing skills in a way that will not only bring company revenue, but also make a positive impact on someone else's life because I am participating in the purest form of marketing: educating ...
"... The HW Coop project had a significant impact on my learning and thinking. It challenged me to think with a broader prospective; to be able to focus on people who do not seem to hold any profitable benefit for a company but somehow come up with a way to disprove that. I enjoyed working on this project because it made me think outside the box ...
"... As an individual, I can definitely classify myself as a "humanitarian" in that for the most part I think about others more than I do about myself. Looking back at the HW Coop project I can honestly say that I was excited to an extent by the humanitarian challenges that I faced. In the beginning of the HW Coop project I questioned the rational behind the objective or rather purpose of the whole deal. I constantly asked myself: Why are we targeting customers that can barely afford our products? It was definitely a challenge to come up with strategies to market to these individuals. As the project persisted and now has been completed, I can say it has definitely affected the way in which I look at the "bottom of the pyramid" segment. I believe there is a lot of opportunity within the untouched "bottom of the pyramid" segment/market ...
"... The ways in which the bottom of the pyramid aspects of Honest Weight Co-op project had an impact on my learning and thinking are endless. I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and skills needed in preparing a strategic marketing plan. I am now comfortable with having to complete any other project like this, with minimal questions or confusion. This project forced me to think much deeper and creatively to get the results I desired ...
"... This project made me, and I'm sure others, realize that it takes more than good intentions to help solve a problem. Really understanding a person and their background, current situation and different attributes of their lives is needed to actually find productive ways in which problems can be corrected ...
"... I was indeed excited about the humanitarian challenges posed by the HW Coop project. Being half Hispanic myself and growing up in an urban area, I see the b-o-p segments very commonly ignored. Organic food creates a better way of eating for people. Why should this only be made available to those who are wealthy? I do not believe that any company would ever go forth with a project of this sort for the sole purpose of being humanitarianly correct, but if marketers and managers can look outside the box and realize that these markets can possibly hold a profit then the needs of the poor and the needs of the company executives can both be met ...
"... I am the type of person that would rather give than receive. More managers should be excited by business challenges that have a humanitarian dimension because they are then giving back to their community and playing a huge role in the happiness of another human being ...
"... What made this project so interesting was the fact that it was not an out-of-the text-book assignment. People from HW-Coop actually came to the store asking for help pertaining to their business. This added a more personal touch to the assignment. Not only did I want to do well for my grade, but I was also excited to create a marketing plan that could actually be used in the real world and help out a company whose mission statement included a section that had a promise to give back to the community ..."
As seen above, the learning outcomes were achieved and based on this direct assessment of outcomes one might argue that a deep level of learning and critical thought was achieved, both in terms of international marketing concepts and the humanitarian Franciscan Values that this course set forth to achieve.
The culmination of the student response assessment occurred at a dinner arranged by Dr. Richardson and Academic Affairs for any student enrolled in these Franciscan Insight courses. The dinner took place on May 1 in Serra Hall 122, and included students from all three classes. About thirty students attended the dinner and shared their diverse experiences with each other. Also present were the three supervising faculty members along with Father Brian Belanger, who had team-taught with Dr. Richardson. The students gave specific examples of what occurred in their courses, along with making suggestions about how to improve the courses. The dialogue was fruitful, and provided a capstone experience to those present.
SOME INSIGHTS GLEANED FROM OUR EXPERIENCES
Lessons for the instructor
* Learning exercises that involve real-world applications are not a free-for-all labor source. Both of us realize the need to protect our students. There are different ways of handling this issue. One of the authors ensures that businesses make financial contributions (however modest) to Siena in light of the time and effort expended by our students. The other author aims at dealing primarily with non-for-profit businesses or others that seem worthy of pro bono service, albeit determined informally; however, at least nominal prizes (oftentimes, promotional items such as t-shirts and such) to the winning team are usually asked for.
* When students know that the businesses will be "paying" for the services, they fully realize that the clients thus expect to be treated with the professional respect due a client. Such respect should also be paid to the pro bono client.
* We have different approaches regarding providing project choices. One of the authors provides a wide variety of choices of projects to students. Students pick and choose the projects and the group members. The instructor sets the upper limit to an acceptable group size based on size of the class, size of the project, and other logistical considerations. The other instructor gives one project to all the teams, making them all compete (as judged by the client), imitating to a degree the project bidding process.
* If a variety of choices is provided:
a) Our experience has shown that providing choices not only increases student interest but also allows them to practice decision making right from the start of the project. It also results in increased ownership and resultant commitment to the learning exercise.
b). To encourage competition among the teams as well as a diversity of ideas, more than one team is encouraged to pursue each business project.
c) We do run the risk of no student group expressing an interest in a certain project. In our experience, a task "assigned" to groups doesn't always yield the best outcomes. If time permits, we might decide to undertake the project in another class during another semester.
* If everybody works on the same project, some care needs to be taken to not expose the better ideas to the rest of the class, as well as to not create unfair competitive advantages to some of the groups through selective advising.
* Open lines of communication among faculty, student groups, and client businesses are of paramount importance. Lack of proper coordination between collaborators is inexcusable and will invariably result in student groups misrepresenting the truth in order to explain missed deadlines and unacceptable outcomes. Students do have a strong tendency to neglect communicating with the client, and we are still looking for a reliable way to induce them to act otherwise. It becomes even more of an issue when the client fails to respond to some of the students' communication attempts. Such occurrences may be used as an excuse (albeit real) by the students, and in any case do not send a positive message.
* Team member firing instructions may become a necessity. One of the approaches is to require the teams to provide a "paper trail" of attempts to deal with the problems internally, making a bona fide effort to resolve the issues. This can become sufficient motivation for freeloaders, and eradicate possible communication problems ("I did not know they were meeting because nobody told me"), as well as prevent negligence on behalf of the leaders of the group.
* The instructor needs to keep the balance between coaching and imposing their own vision on students. It is so very easy for the instructor to get excited and throw out tons of ideas that students could just take instead of developing their own. Such actions can easily become crutches for the teams. Worse yet, it seems that there is a potential for actually impeding their creativity.
* Setting up intermediate due dates. Follow throughs and follow ups are extremely important in keeping the project on track. Perhaps, the most labor-intensive yet conducive to student growth is making the students set their own timelines--and then holding each team responsible for staying on their own timeline. The logistics of such approach need to be worked out better before this instructor attempts it again.
* Possible coordination of projects within the school may become a necessity, as more and more instructors adopt this method. On one hand, students may become overwhelmed. On the other hand, having a bank of projects available to the whole school so that optimal instructor/class/ client match could be achieved may be an attractive option.
* Encouraging student networking. Students rarely fully utilize the potential for them to get to know "people who know people" in the process of their project work, even though some more mature ones do so. This needs to be carefully coached.
* The students that will soon be graduating and taking on responsibilities in various industries, are expected to work with a variety of products and markets. However, traditional undergraduate students have problems understanding/relating to market segments other than their own, and product/service categories that are irrelevant to them. This creates somewhat of a dilemma--should we push them outside of their comfort zone or not. Certainly, students design new brands of beer with much greater enthusiasm than they do a direct marketing campaign for a Child Care Referral Services but not everybody gets a job with a beer/videogame/other exciting manufacturer, and we want them to be ready.
* Students sometimes tend to have a problem with openness of a choice--when it is up to them to position/reposition the client and make choices accordingly, or when they are allowed to exceed the budget in their projections, provided they find a potential funding source. Making choices is hard. Interestingly, some students tend to limit their own choices in such situations and then complain that they didn't have enough! This has happened in at least a couple of teams every semester.
* Since clients' budgets are usually rather restricted, additional projects or exercises might be needed to apply a larger array of tools from the marketing toolbox. For an advertising class, there are engaging new opportunities stemming from customer-driven advertising attempted by many high-budget companies. Since related contests usually involve compact submissions, they can be worked into the course schedule rather nicely.
Lessons for the client business
* Expect to have a contact person committed to working with students in a timely manner. It really is very important.
* Prepare to give thought to what your business really is about. We would not be able to help much if you do not really know.
* Expect a product/service that teaches the students a full scope of marketable skills. To give an example, do not just come to an advertising class and ask for a brochure--ask for a promotional campaign.
* Keep the instructors posted. The best client we once worked with actually brought a copy of all communication with students with him, which helped quite a bit
* Our students do best when the product/service is relevant to them. If your business is not inherently relevant to students, give some prior thought on how to frame it so it would become relevant to a traditional undergraduate.
Several interesting directions of research arise in conjunction with our student work. The first direction is, ultimately, in validation of the recommendations. Such work would include a careful examination of the best practices augmented by project management and pedagogical theories followed by empirical research of the impact of various recommendations on student learning, satisfaction, as well as employer's evaluation of the quality of graduates. Before such work is commenced, it would be interesting to explore how employers, students, instructors and alumni perceive this type of project and what the different factors impacting the differences in such perceptions (if any) are.
Secondly, it would be interesting to match up various types of projects and ways of implementing them with various student and instructor personalities, backgrounds, student learning styles and instructor teaching styles.
Administratively speaking, it is also of interest to examine the coordination of such projects across departmental and school level. Once a significant number of instructors adopt this approach, it is highly desirable to establish a synergistic pattern to maximize student learning across the classes and in line with the curricular objectives. It would be interesting to investigate organizational learning with respect to coordination and optimizing the projects, creating a project bank, establishing a culture where students and instructors are excited about real life project work.
Finally, the "live cases" could serve well in multifunctional experiences such as the traditional capstone courses offered in most institutions. In addition to traditional case analysis (and perhaps in lieu of these), students could benefit from several professors examining a live case from different disciplinary perspectives and providing an opportunity to students to view the project as a comprehensive business problem in decision-making, rather than the silo of a particular functional discipline (marketing vs. accounting). If the learning objective and intended outcome of capstone courses is to provide an integrative framework of business decision-making to our students, it stands to reason that such student-driven project would fulfill such lofty objectives. Empirical studies that establish the veracity of such intuitive conclusions would help improve the outcomes of such learning experience for our students.
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Raj Devasagayam, Siena College
Zinaida Taran, Siena College
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|Author:||Devasagayam, Raj; Taran, Zinaida|
|Publication:||Academy of Educational Leadership Journal|
|Date:||May 1, 2009|
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