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ENGAGING AND INFORMING BUSINESS STUDENTS THROUGH GROUP WORK IN THE MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS COURSE.

INTRODUCTION

Teaching the required business core curriculum course in Management Information Systems (MIS) has been considered a difficult assignment (Akbulut-Bailey, 2013; Chen & Holsapple, 2014; Drake, 2012; Firth, Lawrence, & Looney, 2008; Frost & Pike, 2004; Frost, Pike, & Kenyo, 2008; Gudigantala, 2013; He & Guo, 2011; Holmes, 2003; McCoy, Everard, & Jones, 2013; Mukherjee, 2005; Wang, 2007). Kroenke (1988) famously characterized the course as the "widow maker" based on Peter Drucker's maxim that "whenever a job defeats two people in a row, who in their earlier assignments had performed well, a company has a widow maker on its hands" (Drucker, 1985).

Although, there has been much experience gained and shared about teaching the MIS course, it continues to remain a challenging teaching assignment for a variety of reasons. The course is required of all business majors including those majoring in MIS. It is typically taken during third or fourth year following a hands-on prerequisite course on office productivity tools. Many students expect it to be a hands-on computer class and are somewhat disappointed to learn that it is primarily a lecture course.

Students have difficulty with the survey nature of the course covering many topics without going into great depth in any. MIS majors, who are familiar with some topics because of other classes, highlight the diverse background of the students that the instructor faces. And, some of those students are only taking the course because it is required. Most importantly, the instructor is confronted with the challenges that the fast pace of change in, and the pervasiveness of, information technology (IT) present.

The MIS course's IT infrastructure (i.e., hardware and software) coverage has been the component that requires continual update and judicious pruning. As information technology advances have brought the ease with which an electrical appliance is plugged into the electric grid, to connecting computing devices to the Internet or to setting up an e-commerce website, learning outcomes of the MIS course have been updated to support what employers expect of the business majors they hire and to accommodate the learning experience of increasingly tech-savvy students who are growing up immersed in digital technology. Hardware coverage in the MIS course has moved from personal computers to mobile phones, computer communication coverage has shifted from local area network know-how to cloud computing, and software coverage has transitioned from computer programming how-to to self-service business intelligence tools. What remains constant in the MIS course is to prepare the graduating business student to understand:

[check] How successful organizations are using information technology to advance competitive strategy and support business processes?

[check] What information systems (IS) support is needed by managers to manage?

[check] Why is it important to participate in decisions involving information technology?

The typical MIS course learning outcomes reflect the charge and the teaching challenges of the course:

* Articulate what a Management Information System is

* Articulate why should organizations invest in building and sustaining their MIS

* Articulate how to ensure that IT investments do not fail to pay off

* Identify alignment/misalignment of identified information (IS strategy) with organizational goals/objectives (organizational strategy)

* Identify types of systems appropriate to the decision-making level within the organization

* Properly organize information for efficient storage and retrieval

* Identify the issues involved in creating information for decision making from data sources

* Identify the use of information systems to support decision making in functional areas

* Use tools for conceptual data modeling, database design and implementation in Access, and Structured Query Language (SQL) report generation

* Use Excel tools for building Decision Support Systems, scenario analysis, and optimization

To design and deliver a course that meets the above learning outcomes and encompasses the wide range of recommended IS topic areas: Globalization, IS Components, IS and the Organization, IS Valuation, Infrastructure, WWW and the Internet, System Security, Business Intelligence, Ethics, and IS Development (Topi et al., 2010), and that is both engaging and informing students more than superficially, active learning becomes necessary.

This study discusses teaching experience with a group project that has been used effectively in the MIS course for several years. The next section reviews design principles for group projects and collaborative learning. The specific group project, in fact, a family of projects, is described next. That is followed by a discussion of classroom teaching experience with the project both in on-line as well as in-class sections, and from the perspective of both the students as well as the instructor. Suggestions for extending the project for critical thinking skills and a summary of benefits and drawbacks of the project conclude the paper.

GROUP PROJECT AND COLLABORATIVE LEARNING

Davis (2009) writes "researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats." Traditional lectures and instructor-led discussions in the MIS course have both advantages and disadvantages. The instructor can efficiently cover a large amount of material in a given amount of time, can discuss new topics not available in the textbook, and can effectively convey information differently than other sources. However, research indicates that exclusive use of lecture limits student learning (Bonwell & Eison, 1991) and that after approximately 15 minutes of lecturing, the number of students paying attention decreases noticeably (Wankat, 2002). To remedy this problem, an increasing number of teachers are utilizing collaborative work in small groups both in and out of class to supplement lectures.

Mukherjee (2005) describes a class exercise that appears to be quite effective in stimulating students' higher level of interest in the study of information systems. Active learning techniques encompassing a semester-long group project with multiple milestones, along with in-class student activities, for each class session, ranging from short presentations, formative quizzes, visual demonstrations, instant feedback, and case studies are reported by Gudigantala (2013) with resultant increased levels of subject matter understanding by the students in the introductory MIS course.

A series of group projects utilizing the systems development lifecycle approach to produce information systems are used by Frost and Pike (2004) to reinforce the connections between business majors (accounting, finance, management, and marketing) and information systems. Drake (2012) compares traditional lecture, active learning, and case study approaches to teaching a decision support system (DSS) module in the introductory MIS class.

To coordinate teaching in multiple sections of the MIS course and to improve the overall learning outcomes, Wang (2007) describes a comprehensive pedagogical design and methodical assessment to engage students in active learning. Chen and Holsapple (2014) suggest an approach to teaching the MIS course utilizing systematic items or activities for each dimension of the approach. A strategic framework for teaching the introductory course based on project-based learning research enabling "students to actively participate in the building of their own knowledge" is advocated by Frost, Pike, and Kenyo (2008).

Project-based learning requires careful planning by the instructor and has its own share of difficulties for the student team. But, when carefully designed and implemented, "the benefits can be substantial, including increased participation by students in all components of the course, better understanding and retention of material, mastery of skills essential to success in the course or in a career, and increased enthusiasm for self-directed learning--the kind of enthusiasm that can spur students on to independent research or honors projects" (Stanford University CTL, 1999). To be effective, group projects must not merely be an add-on to an existing course syllabus, but instead should help shape the course delivery and target specific learning objectives. As indicated above, the introductory MIS course offers a variety of opportunities for incorporating group work and collaborative learning. The next section describes in detail an approach that has been successfully used for several years to that end.

THE IT TOPIC AND QUESTION GROUP PROJECT IN THE MIS COURSE

The introductory MIS course at the author's business school fits the typical characterization in the introduction section of the paper. The course is taken by all business majors in their junior or senior year and its learning outcomes are as stated. Typical sections meet once a week for three hours requiring frequent use of in-class exercises (and activities) to break the monotony of a primarily instructor-led course.

Required on-line quizzes on chapter material prior to coverage in class, select on-line discussion forums on new MIS topics that were, for the most part, not anticipated by the syllabus, and a few individual take-home assignments to reinforce hands-on learning on Database Management System (DBMS) and Decision Support System (DSS) coverage from class are the individual activities assigned outside class. Two semester-long group projects support collaborative learning of specific course objectives:

* IT Topic/Question Group Project

** Articulate what a specific (IT Topic/Question) is

** Articulate why should organizations address it

* Database or DSS Hands-On Case Study Group Project

** Use tools for conceptual data modeling, database design and implementation in Access, and SQL-based report generation

** Use Excel tools for building Decision Support Systems, scenario analysis, and optimization

Student teams of 3-4 students are randomly assigned to about 10 distinct IT topic/question (i.e., groups) at the outset of the class with the final deliverables for the first group project due at the 1/3 mark of the semester while the second group project is due towards the end of the semester.

In addition to providing the opportunity for active, deep learning of the assigned IT topic/question, this group project is intended to speed up effective team building and group cohesiveness that can benefit not only the second group project but also all other in-class activities. This is accomplished by the following design heuristics:

[check] Provide quick start, low-hanging fruits to fulfill individual accountability

[check] Provide structured group decision making to discuss, interact, and arrive at consensus

[check] Provide face-to-face. unambiguous, meaningful feedback to ensure correct project results

The following sample IT Topic/Question assignment helps to clarify:

Project Title: The Biggest Concerns About Using Social Networking Sites in the Workplace

Question: What are your biggest concerns about the use of social networking sites in the workplace?

Answers in alphabetical order:

* Bandwidth usage

* Corporate reputation

* Data leakage

* Identity theft

* Productivity

* Security risks

* Other (explain)

As it can be seen, the correct answers to the question are provided in alphabetical order with the provision for the group to add an answer other than those given if desired. However, what each answer means in the context of the question needs to be unambiguously determined. More importantly, perhaps, why each answer is an "answer" and relevant to the question must be articulated.

To help the students with a quick start on individual accountability, the first deliverable due on the second week of the course is made easiest to achieve. Specifically, they are asked to consider the question and bring their individual ranking of the answers to class. This allows the groups to come together towards the end of the second class and for the instructor to spend five minutes face-to-face with each group to answer any initial ambiguities.

Following that, the group can embark on assigning tasks and responsibilities along the work breakdown structure shared with the class that is indicated in Figures 1-6. The checkpoint at the end of Task #2 is when the instructor collects the group's effort on articulating the definition and relevance of each answer to the IT Topic/Question and provides the instructor's "solution" for the group to continue with.

Providing the correct definitions/relevance is important as the group's efforts are shared with the rest of the class when group reports are posted (Task #5) and in-class presentations are made (Task #6). The simple spreadsheet scoring approach to arrive at the consensus ranking of the group (Task #5) allows more attention to be paid to breaking ties and/or adjusting individual rank orders by clarifying assumptions and articulating justifications in a productive group decision making setting.
Figure 1 Group Project Task #1

Croup Project Task#1
Define each answer in the context of the question and state why it is a
relevant answer

Answer                Meaning?  Relevance?

Bandwidth usage
Corporate reputation
Data leakage
Identity theft
Productivity
Security risks
Other (...)

Question: What are your biggest concerns about the use of social
networking sites in the workplace?

Figure 2 Group Project Task #2

Group Project Task #2
Submit group consensus definitions

Answer                Meaning?  Relevance?

Bandwidth usage
Corporate reputation
Data leakage
Identity theft
Productivity
Security risks
Other (...)

Checkpoint: Instructor's Approval Agreement/Clarifications

Figure 3 Group Project Task #3

Group Project Task #3
Individually rank each answer

My Rankings  Answer                Why?

1            Productivity
2            Data leakage
3            Corporate reputation
4            Security risks
5            Identity theft
6            Bandwidth usage

Question: What are your biggest concerns about the use of social
networking sites in the workplace?


CLASSROOM TEACHING EXPERIENCE

The IT Topic/Question group project described was first used in Winter 2010 in the introductory MIS course. The project has since been regularly used in the author's MIS course teaching assignments both in the undergraduate as well as the MBA programs. The topics/questions change frequently to match the evolving IT landscape and course syllabus coverage priorities. Appendix A provides a current technical topic while Appendix B presents a more managerial example.

The group project has consistently provided benefits that can be characterized as follows:

* Instructor Benefits

** Meeting with each group individually, reviewing progress, answering questions, in a couple of 5-10 minute time slots devoted in class

** Establishing rapport with students early in the semester

* Learning Benefits

** Active, deep learning focused on understanding the relevance of the IT Topic/Question

* Group Benefits

** Quick start, low-hanging fruits, for effective team building & team member participation

** Very helpful to subsequent project and other activities in the course

* Class Benefits

** Exposure to IT Topic/Questions researched and presented by other groups

** Considering/questioning rankings presented vis-a-vis their own impression

The instructional benefits obtained include effective team building for course projects and class activities, assigning a different IT Topic/Question to each group to enhance exposure, the ability to introduce up-to-date/emerging IT topics to class each new semester, and utilizing current IT industry surveys, trends, issue white papers for creating new topic assignments.

The student feedback on course evaluations, as currently the only student-based evidence of effectiveness of the project, has also been consistent. The structured nature of the project has been most positively commented upon: the clear work breakdown structure; the easy to contribute initial individual ranking; the relatively easy to research definitions for the given answer items associated with the topic/question; the structured scoring approach to arrive at consensus ranking; and overall the not burdensome in-class presentation and required 2-page report justifying the top and bottom rankings.

The most difficult aspect of the project is also agreed upon: establishing the relevance of each answer item to the IT Topic/Question assigned. And, the most important element for achieving the needed insight for writing effective individual as well as group ranking justifications is the checkpoint when instructor's approval/agreement and clarifications on group's definitions are discussed. The value of the checkpoint is also reflected in the student comments in course evaluation that group project class presentations were especially useful for learning, knowing that the answer item definitions and relevance to the topic/question were verified by the instructor even if group's justifications were not--leading to a thoughtful exercise of comparing one's top ranking with that of the group.

EXTENDING THE PROJECT FOR CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

Once a consensus ranking of the answer items to the IT Topic/Question has been achieved, there is an organizational need, and an active learning opportunity for the group, to consider what management actions can be taken in relation to the top ranked items. For example, given our sample IT Topic/Question of "What are your biggest concerns about the use of social networking sites in the workplace?" and a group's top ranking of the answer item "lost productivity," the important question to consider is "What management actions do we need to take to mitigate the concern for lost productivity in using social networking sites in the workplace?"

This opportunity to extend the IT Topic/Question group project is present both in the undergraduate introductory MIS course as well in the MBA's version. However, the author's experience in extending the project has been more successful in the MBA program. Students are provided with a structured approach to arrive at their recommendations. Specifically, Aberdeen Group's PACE framework "to highlight the key strategies and capabilities employed by firms that attain Best-in-Class status through their excellence in meeting and overcoming internal or market pressures" (Dutta, 2009) is adapted for use. The PACE framework considers:

P--represents Pressures the organization needs to respond to

A--would be the strategies/Actions management needs to take in responding to those Pressures

C--identifies the Capabilities required to be in place to bring about those Actions

E--explores the Enabling Technologies that can materialize/advance those Capabilities

For example, the pressure from "lost productivity" concern in relation to "the use of social networking sites in the workplace" can be mitigated by management action of "monitoring impact on employee productivity," which will require the capability for "monitoring usage time on visits to social networking sites and informing employees of their usage level," which, in turn, can benefit from an enabling IT technology to self-correct by "developing reporting applications so that employees can see the tracked information about their time spent on social networking sites during work." The PACE framework not only helps with critical thinking that is needed to define the expectations for management strategies/actions to be formulated and how to meet them, but also offers a way to think about the needed components, that are often IT-based or IT-supported, for a viable solution.

CONCLUSION

Engagement, defined as "student-faculty interaction, peer-to-peer collaboration and active learning" (Chen, Gonyea, & Kuh, 2008) has been positively related to the quality of the learning experience. Learner-centered, project-based approaches to education "are most effective in engagement, motivation, and, through their problem-driven format, in providing a solid conceptual understanding" (Norman & Spohrer, 1996).

Primarily lecture-oriented, survey courses such as the required business core curriculum course in Management Information Systems can be shaped to include collaborative assignments that complement lectures with additional research that will resolve some of the conflict between coverage and depth inherent in a survey course.

This study presented a modest group project for the MIS course that has been class-tested since 2010. It engages business students in a structured group project almost immediately. Students with structured help are guided towards greater autonomy for active, deep learning of an assigned IT topic/question. The project's initial individual deliverable structured as an easy to achieve goal emphasizes team building and participation with group cohesiveness as an implicit reward that carries to subsequent group project and class activities.

By dividing the project into two phases and ensuring that the second phase uses a correct, instructor-approved phase one deliverable, class presentation of each group's findings inform other students about up-to-date/emerging IT topics/questions assigned and explored at greater depth. An additional advantage of the group project described is a clear path to extending it for building critical thinking skills.

Finally, the instructor can regularly update the group project's portfolio of IT questions and associated answers used in the course by employing topics and questions addressed in current IT industry surveys, trends, and white papers. As a result, the MIS course can be kept fresh, its learning value up-to-date and quite tangible for the students, and its teaching value increasing for the instructor.

REFERENCES

Akbulut-Bailey, A. (2013). Students' Stereotypes of IS Professionals and the Influence of the Introductory IS Course. In Proceedings of the 19th Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS 2013), Chicago, IL: AIS.

Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active Learning; Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, DC: The George Washington University.

Chen, P., Gonyea, R., & Kuh, G. (2008). Learning at a Distance: Engaged or Not? Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 4(3). Retrieved 07/14/2017 Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/innovate/vol4/iss3/3

Chen, L., & Holsapple, C. (2014). Teaching the Introductory MIS Course: An MIs Approach. In Proceedings of the 20th Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS 2014), Savannah, GA: AIS.

Davis, B. (2009). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Drake, J. (2012). A Critical Analysis of Active Learning and an Alternative Pedagogical Framework for Introductory Information Systems Courses. Journal of Information Technology Education, 11, 39-52.

Drucker, P. (1985). How to Make People Decisions. Harvard Business Review, 63(4), 22-25.

Dutta, S. (2009). Delivering Customer Service via the Contact Center and the Web. Waltham, MA: Aberdeen Group.

Firth, D., Lawrence, C., & Looney, C. (2008). Addressing the IS Enrollment Crisis: A 12-step Program to Bring About Change through the Introductory IS Course. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 23, 17-36.

Frost, R.D., and Pike, J.C. (2004). A Revolutionary Approach to Introductory MIS: Professional, Project Based, Decision Focused, Visual and Engaging. Issues in Information Systems, 5(2), 454-460.

Frost, R., Pike, J., & Kenyo, L. (2008). Generating Student Interest in the Information Systems Major: A Strategic Framework for the Introductory Course. Issues in Information Systems, 9(1), 188-195.

Gudigantala, N. (2013). An Active Learning Approach to Teaching Undergraduate Introduction to MIS Course. In Proceedings of the 19th Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS 2013), Chicago, IL: AIS.

He, J., & Guo, Y. (2011). Should I Take MISXXX? Implications from Interviews with Business Recruiters. In Proceedings of the 17th Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS 2011), Detroit, MI: AIS.

Holmes, J. (2003). The Introductory MIS Course: Using TQM to Tame the Widow-Maker. Journal of Information Systems Education, 14(3), 225-228.

Kroenke, D. (1988). The MIS Course: Remaking the Widow Maker. Interface: The Computer Education Quarterly, 19(3), 2-12.

McCoy, S., Everard, A., & Jones, B. (2013). Investigating the Introduction to IS Course Content: Do Faculty, Recruiters, and Students Equally Value Topical Areas? In Proceedings of the 19th Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS 2013), Chicago, IL: AIS.

Mukherjee, A. (2005). Use of a Class Exercise to Maximize Student Interest in an Introductory MIS Course. Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, 2, 481-491.

Norman, D., & Spohre, J. (1996). Learner-centered education. Communications of the ACM, 39(4), 24-27.

Stanford University CTL. (1999). Cooperative Learning: Students Working in Small Groups. Stanford University Newsletter On Teaching, 10(2), 1-4.

Topi, H., Valacich, J., Wright, R., Kaiser, K., Nunamaker, J., Sipior, J., & de Vreede, G. (2010). IS 2010 Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree programs in Information Systems. Retrieved 07/14/2017 from http://www.acm.org/education/curricula/IS%202010%20ACM%20final.pdf

Wang, S. (2007). An Examination of the Introductory MIS Course. Journal of Information Technology Education, 6, 135-152.

Wankat, P. (2002). The Effective Efficient Professor: Teaching, Scholarship and Service. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Mohammad Dadashzadeh

Oakland University

About the Author:

Mohammad Dadashzadeh serves as a professor in the department of Decision and Information Sciences (DIS) at Oakland University. He has authored more than 50 articles on decision sciences and has served as the editor-in-chief of Journal of Database Management.

Appendix A

Sample IT Topic/Question - Technical Topic

Project Title: Top Mobile Security Concerns

Question: Company data on personal devices is a done deal. So is risk. It is no surprise that most companies are involved with mobile device management (MDM) and developing/deploying bring your own device (BYOD) policies. What are companies' top mobile security concerns?

Answers in alphabetical order:

[check] Devices jailbroken or rooted by end users

[check] Interception of over-the-air transmissions

[check] Lost/stolen devices

[check] Malware exploiting vulnerabilities on internally developed mobile apps

[check] Mobile malware on applications from public app stores

[check] Penetration of our corporate Wi-Fi networks

[check] Penetration of users' home Wi-Fi networks

[check] Security at public hotspots

[check] Users' forwarding corporate information to cloud-based storage services (e.g., Dropbox)

[check] Users' forwarding email to personal accounts

[check] Other (explain)

Appendix B

Sample IT Topic/Question - Managerial Topic

Project Title: Strategies for Capturing Tacit Knowledge

Question: Which of the following strategies for capturing tacit knowledge (i.e., knowledge that cannot easily be documented and codified) is most promising?

Answers in alphabetical order:

[check] After action review

[check] Best practice session

[check] Blog

[check] Community of practice

[check] Narrative - An oral history or commentary, often presented as a video interview

[check] Shadowing

[check] Team workspaces

[check] Wiki

[check] Other (explain)
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Author:Dadashzadeh, Mohammad
Publication:International Journal of Education Research (IJER)
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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