The title is a play off the course that I am hybridizing this spring for delivery in the fall. The course is BA 466 – Integrative Strategic Experience. This is the capstone course for undergraduates in the College of Business here at Oregon State University.
First, a little background about this “experience”. When I started at OSU eight years ago, this course was both the writing intensive and capstone course for the college. That was a lot of weight to carry — it was case-based and was taught using a strategic management textbook with a series of progressively complex cases about businesses and problems or opportunities they encountered. At the same time the college decided the WIC should happen earlier in a business student’s education, the course coordinator determined strategy is better taught using a simulation… hence, the word “experience” in the title.
The simulation (Micromatic) pits teams of three or four students against each other in an industry. Firms in the industry manufacture a fictitious product and sell it globally. Students make decisions related to marketing, operations, and finance using strategic management principles. Complications are introduced through the use of two currencies (dollars and euros) in three geographic regions. Companies must manage a workforce and a salesforce, position their product, manage inventory, decide where to locate plants.
The upside of this sophisticated simulation is its realism; markets can shrink or expand independently of each other, buyer loyalty is nonexistent, running out of cash is severely punished with expensive emergency loans. The downside is that it takes a lot of practice. I estimate 10-20 hours to learn the software (depending on the student) before they can apply strategic management theory to make and execute a business-level strategy. It is nearly impossible to fake a knowledge of strategy in this environment.
Going Online, Then Hybrid
In fall 2015, the college began offering a fully online course in Business Administration through Ecampus. BA 466 seemed a natural for online delivery given the computer simulation component. The course was QM certified in November 2016.
Still, after teaching this course in both domains (online and in-person) more times than I care to admit, something was still not right. Wishing I could offer the course both online and in-person, I was delighted when the college asked for volunteers to develop the course as a hybrid!
And, so far so good.
The Design Comes Together
A long time ago I stopped fighting students who didn’t believe it would take as much time as I thought to learn the software — of course, they are all quick learners. So, I am adding three progressively challenging practice sessions during class time. A fourth work session will allow students to study a previous class’s sample industry where they see the decisions made by a successful and an unsuccessful company. This helps them to understand what to do and avoid for their own company.
Fortunately, the textbook I use for the course contains eight chapters; it gets covered during this initial 4-week period. A fifth class period will act as an integration opportunity for students to apply what they have learned through the recorded lectures, textbook, and in-class exercises to create an action plan for the company competition.
The competition will run over three weeks and entirely in person. Students can use the week-long breaks between sessions to adjust their strategies and improve their position in the industry. The simulation creates a virtual pile of data in spreadsheet format. Student groups will be assigned a client company to evaluate during the final two-week case study portion of the course. Playing the role of an outside consultant, students apply strategic tools to understand their client’s performance. They identify two opportunities for improvement and create a set of actionable recommendations. They submit this client report in writing and record it as an oral presentation. Both assignments are uploaded into Canvas. Much of this case study activity takes place in the classroom, where consultants speak directly with clients. But, much takes place using collaborative technologies outside of the classroom as well.
Not Done Experimenting
Optionally, after completing the group effort, students have one more opportunity to complete the same client report process solo. A version of the simulation software in exam mode allows them to create a new data set. They write a client report with recommendations for the exam mode company where they are both client and consultant. (This addresses the issue of meeting your client!) Students can start during dead week if they choose this option. It is due in Canvas by the middle of finals week.
To make this optional exercise desirable for high achieving students, it is mandatory for any student wishing to receive an “A” or “A-” in the course. That is, even if they have an “A” after the group project, the best they can receive without finishing the optional final project is a “B+”. Students who want to finish early get what they have earned as of the end of the group project.