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Responding to the needs of the contemporary marketplace: the use of the cross-pollination class projects in the undergraduate classroom.

Abstract

In light of the current emphasis on adequate preparation of college graduates for the 21st century marketplace, this action research study recounted and examined two experiential cross-pollination team-oriented projects, incorporated into the classroom at a small (1100 students), private university's marketing educational program. Tailoring traditional discipline-related classes [Marketing and Advertising], two inter-class team projects were devised and executed with the intent of fostering the improved development of the participating student's business skills. While the results are anecdotal, this report interpretively concluded that a cross-pollination class approach added a practical and engaging experience which improved student competencies demanded in the challenging contemporary job market.

Introduction

Top tier businesses are communicating to higher education industry that they are having issues hiring students who have the ability to work well in cross-functional groups, communicate effectively and deliver a final cooperative product. According to Wiseman (2013), the world's top employers are seeking candidates with soft skills related to adaptive thinking and working with teams. Logically, businesses would value students with the experience of working in teams, which requires communication, cooperation and competency. Koppenhavor and Schrader suggested educational institutions have embraced team projects as an effective educational method to promote these skills (as cited by Kinser, 2007). Arguably, the use of team projects in the college classroom is not a new pedagogy, however students' acquisition and improvement of team skills remains a high priority. Johnson (2011) provided that "More than half of employers said finding qualified applicants is difficult, and just under half thought students should receive specific workplace training rather than a more broad-based education..., while only 10% thought colleges did an excellent job of preparing students for work (p. 1)." Soft skills such as public speaking, time management and team work has been reported by recruiters and business leaders as reasons why new college graduates are not hired (White, 2013). Intuitively, it was envisioned that variation in the traditional team concept in the form of cross-pollination (cross-class) experiential learning would offer positive benefits to our student's learning process.

According to Fuchs (1980), research which is developed to address an interpretive issue within a classroom setting without the intention of "generalizing his results to other settings (pi 1)," was identified as action research. With that as an underpinning, the notion of incorporating two classes into the team project concept intuitively seemed to add the potential of new elements of learning by creating an enhanced environment requiring creativity, time management, cooperation and accountability. While it is possible that others have undertook this type of inter-class project, ample research showed a more traditional intra-class method or client-based approach. This cross-pollination class process included two related inter-departmental classes (Advertising and Marketing) taught by one professor in a single semester. The endeavor was accomplished by assigning one class an experiential client-based task, then requiring the cooperating class to provide an element of the project which was part of the final project. Succinctly, teams from an Advertising class were required to develop an Advertising Campaign for a cooperating business client, with the contribution of teams from a Marketing class; and teams from the Marketing class were required to deliver Marketing Plans to a local non-profit organization with the input of students from the Advertising class. The following action research report provides an overview of the process and the interpretive results.

Project Development

In an attempt to replicate the business environment which requires creativity, cooperation, time management, and accountability, the following two cross pollination class projects were developed. The first stage of the project was set over the course of approximately four weeks and the second project spanned another non- sequential four week period. Prior to the launch of each project, an instructor-led unveiling outlined the scope and sequence, as well as the crucial timelines and deadlines. In both cases, the classes were tasked with developing an assignment for the cooperating class teams to be satisfied within the deadline. Both projects gave all teams the prerogative of deciding which of the contributions to include in their final report. In Project One, each Marketing Team project supplied to the Advertising Team was evaluated from the student's and instructor's perspective in terms of Preparation, Execution, and Completeness on a 20 point scale. Following the final presentation, each Advertising Plan was evaluated by the Advertising class on a nine item 45 point scale. In Project Two, the Advertising student's contribution to the Marketing Plans was similarly evaluated, as well as the final presentation of the Marketing Plan to the Marketing Class. The only significant differences in the overall class project process and evaluations were: the Marketing teams were invited to attend the presentation of the Advertising teams contribution prior to developing their final Marketing Plan; individuals of the Advertising class, rather than teams were assigned to the Marketing teams; and the 360 degree evaluations developed were representative of the uniqueness of the Advertising Campaign and Marketing Plans, respectively.

Marketing Class ",hiring" out to the Advertising Class:

The Advertising class (10 students) was divided into four teams, which were tasked with securing a cooperative tourist based business "client" in the local geographic area for whom to provide elements of an Advertising Campaign. These Advertising Campaigns were to be developed as part of their initial overall analysis of the needs of the company. Students were given two weeks to secure a client and develop a Marketing Research Request (MRR) specific to their business "client". While somewhat varied, each team's unique MRR generally sought information pertaining to their respective company client's industry, the company itself and analysis of the current marketing approach. The Marketing class (21 students) was divided into nine teams, of which at least two teams were assigned to each of the Advertising teams. The final deliverable of the marketing teams was a formal Marketing Research Report which endeavored to deliver the required elements requested by the Advertising teams within the deadline established. The collection of data by the Marketing teams and delivery of the Marketing Research Report was required within one week to allow the Advertising teams to incorporate the information into their Advertising Campaigns.

Each Advertising team was provided with at least two Marketing Research Reports and given complete discretion to incorporate the research or not. Each Advertising team was required to provide an evaluation of each of the Marketing Research Request reports. These evaluations (as were all project evaluations) were factored into the Marketing teams' final project grade. The Advertising teams completed a final Advertising Campaign which was formally presented to their fellow classmates and were instructed to provide a copy to their respective business "client". In addition, every team member, was required to complete a 360 degree team evaluation, as well as an audience evaluation, which were included as part of the individual student's final grade.

The summative results (reported from the perspective of the students) from the first class project were as follows. The Advertising Teams evaluation of the contribution of the Marketing teams ranged from 0/20 (no presentation) to 20/20 with an overall average of 15.97/20 and an average of 17.74/20 for the Marketing teams which presented. The instructor's evaluation of the Marketing Research teams ranged from a low of 0/20 to a 19/20 with a class average of 16/20. The individual Advertising student evaluation of each Advertising team's incorporation of the Marketing Research Report into the final Advertising Campaign ranged from strongly agree (4/4) to disagree (1/4) with an overall Advertising team range from 1.6/4 to 2.9/4 with a team average of 2.4/4. The instructor's evaluation also ranged from a high of 4/4strongly agree and a low of 1/4 - disagree, but with a slightly higher team average of 2.5/4. The Advertising teams were also evaluated by their classmates as to whether the teams presented a logical and executable Advertising Plan for their client. The range of team evaluations from the class were from 2.5/4somewhat agree to 3.22- mostly agree with an average of 2.9/4. The instructor's evaluations were slightly lower with regard to presenting a logical and executable Advertising Plan with a range of 2/4 to a 4/4, but with an overall average evaluation of 2.75/4.

Advertising Class "hiring" out to the Marketing Class:

The Marketing class was divided into seven teams which were tasked with enlisting a local area non-profit organization for whom to develop a Marketing Plan. This Marketing Plan was to include advertising elements which were assigned to the Advertising class. Because of class size, the Advertising class was individually assigned to one or more Marketing class teams. The Marketing class was required to provide a schedule of specific advertising elements to be developed by the counterparts in the Advertising class. The Advertising students were required to perform initial research about the company's current advertising elements (e.g. signage, logos, and websites) and communicate with their "Marketing clients" in order to supply the requested deliverables to the Marketing teams. The Advertising teams were required to present the deliverables in a formal class presentation to which the Marketing teams were invited. Among the elements created were newsletters, event planning recommendations, business cards, artwork for signage, slogans, trademark designs and donation collection containers. Six marketing teams had representatives attend the Advertising class to view the presentations. Each Marketing team was subsequently required to present a formal class presentation of their Marketing Plan and instructed to provide the plan to the participating non-profit organization. Every team, in both classes, was required to complete a 360 degree team evaluation and audience evaluation which was included in the individual Marketing student's final project grade.

The summative results from the second class project were as follows. The Marketing teams evaluations of the Advertising students "contributions of elements" were rated on a 4 point scale in areas which covered usability and creativity, with 4 being the best and 1 being the low mark. The Marketing teams evaluation scores ranged from 1.5/4 to 4/4 with an average of 3.2/4. Instructor scores were similar with a range of 1/4 to 4/4 with an overall average of 3.3/4. The Marketing plans were presented in-class and rated on a 24 point scale which covered the following characteristics, Organization, Development, Appearance and Presentation. The audience evaluations score ranged from 18/24 to 22/24 with a team average of 20.14/24. The range of instructor evaluations was from 19.92 /24 to 21.84/24 with a team average of 20.6/24.

Conclusions and Limitations

From personal experience, team projects are generally unpopular with the students and require a tremendous amount of planning. In addition, Pitt (2000) identified several challenges with the efficacy of team evaluations, as well as the challenge of a fair assessment (as cited by Kinser, 2007) which logically relates to the problem of loafers and skaters (low participation). That being said, the 360 degree team evaluations, as well as the audience evaluations, which were calculated into the final grade, seemingly provided an equitable assessment of the team performances. Circumspectly, the two class projects presented several challenges, however set the foundation for future endeavors into the area of cross-pollination class. Not the least of which was that the proper allowance of time became increasingly important as students were required to submit work within timelines established and communicate with each other. Class schedules, as well as general time constraints created several issues with the cooperating teams' ability to communicate or be present during the formal presentations. Some of the groups delivered more than required --choosing to interpretively assess what was needed. The contributions of the cooperating classes varied significantly as one might expect. The extreme examples ranged from: a Marketing team going well beyond the requested research of an advertising class, receiving this feedback, "Everything was great and this beyond my expectations" ..., to a Marketing student walking out after observing the Advertising team's presentation saying audibly, "This does not help me at all. I will have to do it myself." The voluminous number of evaluations was demanding, however, many lessons have been learned about simply constructing evaluations which can be contained on a single piece of paper have been devised. Some contributing teams contacted the Business client which created confusion. In a few cases, contributing teams failed to deliver by the deadlines causing angst for the instructor and the teams involved. More requirements needed to be incorporated in the delivery of the final product. The means of providing the work from the advertising class was an issue because of artwork software. Some of the teams provided their final report to the client while others did not. There needs to be an effective way of encouraging this process with the obvious solution to include the client to attend the final presentation or a Client Evaluation. Limitations to this type of project would certainly include having manageable class sizes, but only to the extent that the numbers are not too large or too small. It would not appear that a single professor is requisite, but would require a determined degree of cooperation. Finally, it would not seem that cross-pollination class would need to be limited to inter-disciplinary classes, but would pose additional demands on communication and coordination.

Interpretively both class projects provided an experiential experience to the students which incorporated client-based projects with simulated classroom learning, thus provided the opportunity for a learning experience which required creativity, communication, time management, cooperation and accountability. The following student quote provided a measure of encouragement when asked to summarize his thoughts: "This past semester, students were given the challenge of working with another class to accomplish two different projects. The fact that our groups had to rely on each other left a bit of anxiety, yet the end results were really impressive ... I feel that relying on others who were not in the same class makes for a more "real world" experience and is definitely competitive with on-the-job experiences. .. My personal experience with this type of challenge is more of what (this university) needs."

References

Fuchs, G. (1980). Evaluating educational research. Lanham, MD: University Press of America

Johnson, L. (2011, December 5). Employers say college students lack job skills. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Employers-Say-College/130013/

Kinser, A. S. (2007). Using Contracts to Determine Individual Grades in Team Projects. Decision Sciences Journal Of Innovative Education, 5(1), 207-221. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4609.2007,00137.x

White, M. (2013 Nov 10). The real reason new college grads can't get hired. Retrieved from http://busincss.time.com/2013/ 11/10/ the-real-reason-new-college-grads-cant-get-hired/

Wiseman, P. (2013, Jun 24). Firms seek grads who can think fast work in teams. Retrieved from http://bigstory.ap.org/ article/ firms-seek-grads-who-can-think-fast-work-teams

Daniel R. Coleman

Schreiner University
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Author:Coleman, Daniel R.
Publication:College Student Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2015
Words:2472
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