Description/Importance of Business Strategy Class


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Description/Importance of Business Strategy Class

  1. 1. Working Paper Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition to Improve Undergraduates’ Information Literacy Skills Armand Gilinsky, Jr. Ph.D. Sonoma State University, School of Business and Economics 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, CA, 94928 (707) 664-2709/(707) 664-4009 (fax) Richard Robison, M.L.S. Sonoma State University, Schulz Information Center 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, CA, 94928. (707) 664-4196/(707) 664-2876 (fax) ABSTRACT This study used both qualitative and quantitative measures to examine the effectiveness of using a competition format for a “living” business case study analysis to teach Information Literacy (IL) skills and business strategy. The results from a pre- and posttest on IL skills related to business showed a significant increase in students’ knowledge and skill level. Similarly, an analysis of students’ reflection papers and final bibliographies showed that IL instruction improved their research skills and the competition format motivated them to conduct more thorough research. This study also reports on a successful collaboration with local business leaders to enhance student learning. Funding for this project was provided by a California State University (CSU) Information Competence Grant 2004-2005, Grant #31207 January 2005
  2. 2. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition INTRODUCTION As Michael Porter (1980) noted, “the essence of strategy formulation is coping with competition.” Although he was referring to organizations, this interrelationship of strategy and competition permeates our society and is evident in such popular “reality” TV shows as “The Apprentice” or “Survivor.” Recognizing this interrelationship and the allure of competition in our popular culture, it was the goal of this pilot study to incorporate and assess the use of competition as an instructional and motivational device to teach business strategy and information literacy skills to fifty-two undergraduate seniors in two sections of a “capstone” business class on strategy and management. This study examined the effectiveness of introducing a competition format for a “living” business case study analysis teach business strategy and improve undergraduates’ Information Literacy (IL) skills. Overall, students found that the IL instructional component along with the competition format helped motivate them to perform more and higher quality research and subsequently do better analysis. Other motivating factors reported were the participation of “real world” judges’ and traditional grades. The greatest negative reported towards a successful research and case study presentation was stated to be deleterious interpersonal group dynamics. How individuals respond to competition, though, especially within a group dynamic, creates many variables for success or failure. Whether competition motives or enhances performance is the subject of a long-term debate. One school of thought believes that “competition promotes efficiency and innovation because it stimulates individuals to outperform each other by working faster,” whereas others argue “that intrateam competition is destructive” due to individuals placing their own goals and rewards above the organizational or team structure. The school of thought against competition encourages the use of “cooperative reward structures” instead (Beersma, Hollenbeck, Humphrey, Moon, Conlon, & Ilgen, 2003). This study utilized both structures, a “cooperative reward structure” within each team but a “competitive reward structure” between the teams. In addition to analyzing the use of these structures, this business strategy class sought to create a practical, “real world” business scenario. According to Greiner, Bhambri, and Cummings (2003) the teaching of business strategy has come to rely primarily on theoretical and abstract approaches and moved away from practical and interdisciplinary approaches. By emphasizing IL skills to analyze a local case study this course aimed to counteract this trend by producing an innovative, practical and student-centered approach to teaching business strategy much in the same way as experiential learning projects have been developed to teach financial accounting (Dudley, Davis & McGrady, 2001), marketing skills (Anselmi & Frankel, 2004), and case study analysis (Theroux & Kilbane, 2004). TEACHING BUSINESS STRATEGY Nearly all business schools have an “exit” course for undergraduates, entitled “Strategic Management” or some variant thereof. Strategic management entails generating choices to be 2
  3. 3. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition made among competing alternatives to produce a competitive advantage and earn above-average returns. Why? Because most organizations have to find a way to bridge the increasing gap between reality and expectations. Rapid technological change, mergers and acquisitions, globalization, and changing expectations of that constitutes ethical and socially responsible business practices have heightened the urgency to ask the right questions about the future, such as: 1. Which distinctive competencies should we be developing for our businesses? 2. Where should we compete? 3. How do we communicate our strategy to our stakeholders? Learning objectives for this course included: ♦ Awareness of the interrelationships among the functional areas of an enterprise; ♦ Improving skills in decision-making and oral and written presentation; ♦ Understanding how organizations analyze, formulate and implement strategies, especially the role of top management teams in performing these activities. By the end of the course, students were expected to be able to research and analyze thoroughly a company, its industry and its competitors and to recommend a well-supported strategy to the Board of Directors. INFORMATION LITERACY DEFINED In addition to teaching students the various facets and importance of business strategy, a key component for students to compete in the business case competition was to teach them better information literacy skills so that they could better evaluate their company’s business environment and back-up their recommendations with reliable and relevant information. Information literacy (IL), broadly defined, is the ability “to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” (ALA, 1989). Strong IL skills are at the heart of all successful student-centered, inquiry-based learning. In order to better delineate what is meant by IL competencies, the Association of College and Research Libraries (2000) published Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. These standards established five primary IL standards and twenty-two performance indicators each with associated student learning outcomes. The five primary standards require an “information literate student” to be able to 1) determine the nature and extent of the information needed, 2) access needed information effectively and efficiently, 3) evaluate information and its sources critically, 4) individually or as a member of a group, use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose, and 5) understand many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and access and use information ethically and legally. 3
  4. 4. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition In addition to addressing ACRL’s Information Literacy Standards, a narrower framework was used in this project to address the information needs of business managers based on ideas expressed by Paul Drucker (1995). Drucker’s categories of information business managers need to know served to focus our IL instruction and the corresponding activities and assessments. (See Table 1.) <Insert Table 1 about here> By integrating the teaching of IL skills with strategic formulation this class focused on emphasizing what Seijts, Latham, Tasa & Latham (2004) describe as “learning goals” rather than strict “performance targets.” Success in this approach requires leaders (or in this case, students) to confront a situation and make “sense of a problem,” connect “with others to bring multiple experiences to bear on the problem,” and navigate “the way to correct solutions.” The value of this “making sense of a problem” approach is echoed by Information Scientist Carol Kuhlthau (1993) who stresses that due to the availability of vast amounts of information the teaching of IL skills needs to facilitate the “seeking of meaning” rather than just an “identification of sources.” By teaching students to ask appropriate questions, analyze situations and make recommendations based on appropriate information found through the research process, this course aimed to create a more holistic learning experience for the students and to produce students who were competent “knowledge workers,” the type of worker that Friga, Bettis and Sullivan (2003) see an increasing demand for in the business world and therefore admonish business schools to focus their curricula on developing. Skills and Student Motivation In his work, Models of Man, the economist Herbert Simon (1957) introduced the term “satisficing” to describe behavior that attempts to achieve a certain level of minimum accomplishment without attempting to achieve maximum results. In attempting to instill stronger research skills, this behavior for achieving “just good enough” results is a major obstacle. This is because beyond the teaching of information resources and research strategies many research skills and processes are heuristically-driven and learned via a “trial-and-error” process. In our information-laden world, it is easy for a student to engage in “satisficing” behavior thereby eliminating the opportunity to learn about better information resources or use creative research techniques. To counter this possibility a strategy needed to be employed that might obviate this type of behavior. In their work, The Attention Economy, Davenport and Beck (1995) assert that attention is the new “currency” of business and that understanding and managing attention is “the single most important determinant of business success.” Likewise, if attention is the key to a businesses success, one readily can see that engaging students’ attention has also become the key to the success of higher education. Finding ways to better engage and manipulate students’ attention is the only way to achieve stronger learning outcomes and this was the major goal in designing this case competition. Davenport and Beck continue by explaining that two of the primary forces shaping attention are the “Survival Principle” and the “It’s-All-About-Me Principle.” The “Survival Principle” plays 4
  5. 5. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition to our most primitive needs for safety and security, which shows up in the students reported “fear of embarrassment,” whereas the “It’s-All-About-Me Principle,” noted as an increasingly modern behavior, is focused on the fulfillment of individual needs, desires and sense of accomplishment, such as in the desire for high grades. We see these two principles dramatically played out in our popular culture through “hit” TV shows such as “The Apprentice” and “Survivor” wherein individuals must focus their attention on succeeding as individuals but within the context and confines of their groups. Recognizing these important attention managing principles and the models used by such popular “reality” TV shows, the case competition idea was developed. At the core was the belief that harnessing these two major motivators would better focus the students’ attention and that by using a local case and local judges the project would increase the relevancy for the students. It was felt that due to the popularity and familiarity with such “reality” TV shows, students would recognize and respond well to this model of evaluation. PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION A goal of this project, in addition to the learning outcomes, was to show that when the two issues of relevancy and attention are addressed properly, students will move beyond mere “satisficing” behavior into more motivated and effectual learning. The following discussion highlights the nature of the participants, the case study project information competency component, the judges roles, and the case competition itself. Profile of the Students in the Senior Seminar “Capstone Course” At our university, business students in majors such as Accounting, Financial Management, Finance, Management, Marketing, and Wine Business are required to take an integrative Senior Seminar in Management Policy and Strategy upon completion of the core course requirements of their major. This “capstone course” serves approximately 125 students each semester and is typically taught in sections of 25-30 students. Typical learning tools include lectures, readings on strategic management, business case studies, group discussions, team presentations, and computer simulations. For two sections of this course, 52 students in all, the students’ final project was a team-based competition; students were required to analyze a business case study and defend their strategy and recommendations. Participants fell into the traditional undergraduate senior age range of 21-22 or, as one might describe them in generational terms, Millenials or Generation Y’s. One of the major differences of this generation to others is their comfort with technology, in particular, the Internet. The Millenials depend upon the Internet for research (in 2001 report, 94% of teenagers reported using the Internet for schoolwork and 71% as a major source for a school project) (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2002), yet this facility with using the Internet does not always translate well to using many of the proprietary databases found on college campuses. In general, students lack an awareness of these resources, tend to create simple one-word searches, have difficulty using Boolean operators, and have difficulty defining their information need (Seamans, 2002). Another difference in this generation is their preferred learning style. It has been noted that 5
  6. 6. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition Millenials “tend toward teamwork, experiential activities, structure, and the use of technology” (Oblinger, 2003). The “Living” Case Study: Copperfield’s Books An added benefit of this project’s design was that it allowed an MBA student to research and write an extensive case study on a local business, Copperfield’s Books, as part of the requirement for the completion of his master’s thesis. The following is a summary of the case: Copperfield’s Books is a local chain of eight bookstores that has been in business since 1981. It has enjoyed a unique niche as a “local, intelligent, convenient bookseller.” The chain has sustained, on average, gross revenues of $10 million a year, with historical returns of 1-2% profits each year. The chain currently has about 120 employees. Its CEO has requested a strategic plan to improve the chain’s performance in future years, in light of increasing competition from “big-box” chain stores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble as well as from Internet-based retailers such as In particular, the CEO wants answers to the following questions: “Do we meet customers’ expectations? Do we miss the boat? What do local consumers want in a bookstore? What does our "Brand" of book selling mean? How can we assure our survival as an independent bookseller? What’s at stake for our local community and our employees if we cannot?” In the context of teaching information literacy skills, this case had added relevancy due to the changing nature of how people access and consume information. While students struggled with the importance of new technologies in the case study to booksellers, such as the shift of reading habits from print to Internet, eBooks and print-on-demand, students themselves experienced the varying formats of information available to them, whether proprietary or non-proprietary, in print or electronic formats, and through the University Library or the World Wide Web. Selection and Profile of the Judges Prior to the beginning of the semester, local business leaders were contacted regarding their interest in participating in this project as a judge. In addition to the case writer, who is also a manager of a successful grocery chain in Sonoma County, and the CEO of the business used in the case, Copperfield’s Books, judges were selected from a wide variety of local community business leaders. A profile of these judges may be seen in Table 2. <Insert Table 2 about here> Overview of Case Competition Project and Business Strategy On the first day of class an overview of business strategy was given, the ground rules of the competition were outlined, groups were selected, a pre-test on information competency skills was given and the additional assessment requirements, included in the students’ “Research Portfolios,” the research logs, reflection papers and final bibliographies, were explained. In selecting groups, we diverged from the common practice of letting students select their own groups instead matching groups of 4-5 students each based on their concentration of study (i.e. Finance, Marketing, etc.). It was felt that this project in strategy required reasoning on many 6
  7. 7. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition levels and on various facets of a business and diverse groups with differing knowledge and focus would facilitate this process. A multiple-choice, nine question pre-test was administered as a broad measure of the students’ information competency. The questions related to where to find financial data on public companies and what type of information is available on private companies, industry data, classification systems, types of government data, primary versus secondary types of information and an overall awareness of the university’s proprietary databases. See Appendix I. Finally, the Research Portfolios were explained. These portfolios required the students to submit completed research logs, a 2-page reflection paper and a final bibliography. The research logs were designed to assist the students in organizing and conducting their research as well as allowing the authors to examine how the students conducted their research. See Table 3 for a layout of the Research Log. <Insert Table 3 about here> In the reflection papers, students were asked to write specifically about what they learned from the IL component, working in teams/groups, the interaction with and feedback from the case competition judges’, and thoughts about the case competition format as a learning device and motivator. Information Literacy Component In addition to meeting with the students the first day of class, students were required to spend an entire class session (approximately three hours) with the university’s Business Librarian. Topics addressed were an introduction to competitive intelligence, an overview of the University Library’s proprietary resources (such as ABI/Inform, Mergent Online, Factiva, etc.), information resources for industry and company analysis, research strategies (i.e. Boolean operators, using subject headings, etc.), advise on conducting research on the World Wide Web (WWW), emphasis on evaluating WWW information, and hints and tips for private company research. Students were also given a 10-page handout listing recommended information resources through the University Library as well as WWW resources, instructions for using these resources, a list of potential sources for public information on private companies and a checklist for evaluating WWW information. Students had an additional Q&A session with the Business Librarian before embarking on their research and analysis for the final case competition, and throughout the semester the Business Librarian was available for the students to consult with in-person or via email. Practice Case Study Presentation: High Tech Burrito Throughout the semester, student participants had been taught how to analyze various cases and were required to present briefs on individual case studies from a leading strategic management text.1 In October 2004, a brand new case study, “High Tech Burrito,” co-authored by the course instructor, was presented at a national case writers’ annual conference, the North American Case Research Association (NACRA) in Sedona, Arizona. There, experienced business case writers 1 Thompson, A., Strickland, A.J., & Gamble, J. (2005). Strategic Management, 14/E, Irwin/McGraw-Hill. 7
  8. 8. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition and professors of strategic management critiqued the High Tech Burrito case at a round-table session. This served to improve the case and analysis (Instructor’s Manual) for an ensuing classroom test of the case in mid-November. As it turned out, the section leader of the roundtable session was one of the authors of the strategy text used in the course! In mid-November 2004, in order to provide “real-time” practice for the final case competition, students’ were required to analyze the competitive environment and present a strategy for High Tech Burrito, a case about a regional restaurant chain. The CEO of High Tech Burrito (Greg Maples), the three case writers (two of whom were professors of management and one, a former MBA student), and the course instructor served as judges of these “trial heat” presentations and provided students with feedback for improving their analyses and presentations. PROJECT ASSESSMENT OUTCOMES The final case competition was a single-elimination contest. Each team had 20 minutes to present its analysis and recommendations, followed by a 10-minute Q & A session with the judging panel. Judging panes consisted of six people, who worked off a scoring rubric that included four main categories, problem identification, analysis, recommendations and teamwork and presentation. In the problem identification category students were scored on their ability to identify a specific problem and solution, their depth of understanding of the issues involved, and whether or not they proposed a logical call to action. Students’ analyses were scored based on their internal assessment and financial analysis, external/competitive assessment and the factual support/relevance for each of those learning outcomes. In scoring their recommendations, judges examined the reasonable range of and appropriateness of alternatives proposed the identification of risks and contingencies, a clear implementation timeline and whether students understood the feasibility in terms of know-how, time, cost, etc. of their recommendations. Finally, students were scored on the clarity and flow of their presentation, their teamwork and their ability to respond during the judges Q&A. On the final day of class, students were given a post-test on information literacy competencies that mirrored the pre-test. They also submitted research portfolios comprising their research logs, final bibliographies and reflection papers. Final Case Competition The average score for all of the teams in the case competition was 14 out of a total possible 24 points with the highest scoring team register 20.8 and the lowest 8.5. In general, there seemed to be a large discrepancy between the top scoring half of the groups and the lower scoring half. According to one of the judges, a founder and president of a woman’s clothing manufacturer: …the most striking thing to me in listening to the student presentations on Copperfield's was the wide disparity between the one or two very good presentations and the rest. A few of the teams seemed to have done their homework; others appeared to have put their presentations together in the hour before it was due. Another judge, the Chief Financial Officer and Vice President responsible for strategic planning for an Internet software company, added: 8
  9. 9. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition The better presentations were full of facts, complete and well put together. They contained an analysis and assessment of Copperfield’s current situation, a well laid-out vision and plan of recommendations for the future, and financials to support the action plans. On the other hand, the least impressive presentations appeared to insufficiently prepared, and lacking in facts and financials. They were often sloppy and conveyed a lack of engagement and interest. A number of the judges echoed this assessment and the student scores on the competition supported this contention. The mean score of the upper 50% of the groups was 16.77 while the mean for the lower 50% was 11.97. A paired t-test on the scores of these two groups gave a two- tailed P value equal to 0.0312 with a 95% confidence interval, indicating that the difference between the upper scoring half and the lower scoring half was statistically significant. Why was there such a great discrepancy? In the minds of the judges, the reason for this seemed to be in the dynamics of the groups. As one judge noted, “you could see which groups worked well together and which were at each others throats.” The students’ responses in their reflection papers also echo this assessment. In groups that scored well, there seemed to be a level of support for one another and a meshing of skills. As one student noted on researching for the case, “the one area that I struggled in the most was probably researching for the cases. Working with my group really helped me in this area. I was fortunate enough to be placed in a group that worked very well together and possessed individuals with different talents and strengths. I think this was our biggest strength. Through working with these people my research techniques and abilities improved immensely.” This type of “peer encouragement” through social group interactions has been found to be important in students’ acceptance and use of information technologies (Martins & Kellermanns, 2004). Another student from a high-scoring group reflected, “I must say our group worked together very well. Each of us had our individual roles that we excelled at, and as a group we were a perfect unit . . . We learned how to cater toward different needs, and learning styles.” Contrastingly, students that performed in the lower half opined: The final result was a team member who failed to meet his/her assigned obligations and I earned my first B on a major project. This was quite frustrating. I have a difficult time with the outcome of my grade being dependent on other individuals who may or may not have the same standards of performance. Another student observed: Invariably you get teamed up with a slacker or a personality that doesn’t quite work cohesively with the group. This is a recipe for all the other group members to either take up the slack (which usually happens) or confront the person causing problems (which often doesn’t help the situation because some students are just lazy). I understand that in the real world these problems are likely to occur as well, but in the learning context I feel that it is a tool that is overworked. These reflections reiterate findings from studies on group interactions that have noted the “social loafing” phenomenon as well as varying levels of performance among team members who share the same reward. Although this study utilized a “competitive reward structure” between groups, 9
  10. 10. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition the groups themselves were working upon a “cooperative reward structure” wherein group members would share in the reward (i.e. their final grade). Within this “cooperative reward structure,” it has been found that groups whose members tend to be extroverts and “agreeable” perform better than groups without those traits. Likewise, this “cooperative reward structure” has been found to increase the amount of “social loafing” by low performers while having little affect on high performers (Beersma et al., 2003). The students’ reflection papers and the judges’ observations appeared to reinforce these findings and support Chen, Donahue and Klimoski’s (2004) assertion that “there is a pressing need for systematic development of teamwork skills in educational settings to create higher workforce readiness.” Information Literacy: Pre-test vs. Post-test scores Preliminary analysis of the data indicates that students appeared to perform markedly better on the IL post-test administered in mid-December 2004 than on the pre-test they had taken in August 2004. As shown in Table 4, the average score from the pre-test was 38% (mean: 18.8, SD: 7.75) and on the post-test 62% (Mean 31.0; SD: 10.4). In running a paired t-test of the scores, a two-tailed P value equal to 0.0004 with a confidence interval of 95% was produced. This indicates that the results are considered extremely statistically significant. <Insert Table 4 about here> Although the scores for the students’ final presentation varied widely, their introduction to IL skills and concepts, interactions with the university’s information resources and group support proved to significantly increase their level of IL competence over the course of the semester. Analysis of Final Bibliographies In addition to incorporating the vast amount of data included in the original case study, each student, on average, included 6 citations in their final bibliography. This meant that each group drew from an additional 24 to 30 sources of information. A further analysis of the students’ final bibliographies showed that they relied a great deal on the proprietary information resources available through the university. Overall, 58% of their citations were from proprietary sources (i.e. available only through the university) whereas 42% were from non-proprietary sources, including government sources. Many students also conducted personal interviews with staff and customers, primary research which was not always adequately documented. This tendency toward using proprietary sources seemed to reflect the students’ increased knowledge of these information resources due to the IL instructional component. As one student wrote, “Overall, I felt the biggest thing that I learned from the entire research process was the fact that I didn’t have any idea what I was really doing . . . even though I have gotten great grades in the past on just about everything . . . internet research is no longer seen as good enough and taking the extra step to deal with the library system is needed.” 10
  11. 11. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition Analysis of Student Reflection Papers In general, student responses to the business strategy class and case competition were positive. Many echoed those of two students who wrote, “I have learned more in this than probably any class I have taken here” and “the competition was the closest hands-on assignment ever given in college to relate to an authentic business experience.” The reflection papers asked students to respond in particular to four main aspects of the course: 1) the effectiveness of the IL instructional component to help them prepare for the case, 2) their experience of working in teams/groups, 3) the participation and feedback from the competition’s judges, and 4) the efficacy of the case competition format as both a motivator and learning device. Student Feedback on IL and Research Many students commented on the importance and value of the Information Literacy component of the class; one student noted that, “the first and most valuable tool that I learned was how to do better research.” Several students remarked that the IL training session and interactions with the Business Librarian were particularly valuable but that full understanding required “follow-up work” with the librarian, support from group members and continued interaction with the many information resources. Overall, 85% of the students responded positively to the IL instructional component as improving their research abilities and as being necessary in allowing them to complete their final presentations. Only 15% replied in a neutral or negative way. These responses were primarily due to their dislike with having to complete the research log and final bibliography assignment. A number of students commented on the importance of understanding research to be a “process.” This realization becomes more important in our “Information Age” because students are inundated with information that may be only marginally relevant. The process of planning their research and then generating additional questions from information they found was stressed throughout the course. In commenting on the “process of doing research,” one student wrote: In order to find accurate and effective data you have to have a topic and a clear understanding of what you want to find out before conducting research. This will make it easier to narrow down the subjects that need to be researched. If you start by looking for any type of information that might or might not be relevant you are likely to not find what you want to know and it might take a long time. Another participant felt that: …the actual process of looking for information was much harder than I expected. You could never just type in a criteria of words and have it be found. I almost always had to conduct an advanced search with more limited information. Also, many times, sites like Factiva or Mergent would return info I did not want at all. I had to shuffle through lots of nonsense before getting to what I wanted. Helping students to understand this process was one of the main purposes for having the students complete a Research Log as they went along. The Research Logs were also aimed at helping the students stayed organized and to reflect back on the paths they followed and the resources used. The students’ reaction to this task was mixed with some, predictably, seeing it as “busy work” or “an extra step that was not useful” while others, such as one student who had difficulty in managing the amount of time spent researching, remarked, “the research logs helped tremendously in keeping my focus on the questions needing to be answered.” 11
  12. 12. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition The Research Logs proved to be a success in facilitating student learning. This was apparently the case for one student, who negatively remarked that, “I found the research log more of a hassle than help.” Nevertheless, she followed this statement by showing a good understanding of the research process: One aspect learned about the process of conducting research was the circular procedure formed. The research had to be planned first, such as what information needed to be gathered, then considering where or how to find it. Once this step was completed, more information was found to be necessary, and it eventually brought all the important components together. Through the IL component students also showed an understanding of and appreciation for the importance of evaluating information and the difficulty of finding “accurate and reliable” information. As one student commented: …the databases and articles from the (library’s) website give us information not found by doing normal searches on an engine like Yahoo or Google. They prove to be more accurate as well. I also learned that not all information found online is valid. It was hard to know what to use in the presentation because you didn’t want to have any inaccurate information. Another student remarked: It is truly amazing the amount of material there is in the world. It was not hard to come by information. Sifting through it though to find the reliable and relevant stuff was much more difficult. The students also noted a wide variety of information resources used, such as “going to the stores and talking to customers,” “comparing prices and websites,” “searching through library books,” “searching for information on the Internet” and, as one student realized, using the library’s databases “much more frequently than any other semester.” Student Comments on Working in Groups The most significant variable that determined whether or not a presentation would be successful appeared to be the extent to which the personalities in each group were able to work well together. Yet, even in groups that did not work well together, students were introspective about the experience and, in general, found it valuable. Overall, 67% of the students noted that group work was beneficial with only 33% responding in a neutral or negative manner. At the beginning of the semester teams were selected to comprise students from different business concentrations (i.e. accounting, marketing, etc.). These groups were then assigned cases and projects to work on throughout the semester to help then get use to working together. Although some groups never “gelled,” the diversity of backgrounds and experience proved to be a valuable learning device: Working with my group was a pleasure . . . my group was made up of people with all different skills and strengths. Working with these people improved my skills and I believe I helped improve theirs. Another student added, “It was really cool working with people from different concentrations because I’m so used to working with the same people from my concentration. One thing I learned was how to deal with the way people would go about the project. 12
  13. 13. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition One member from a winning team noted the diversity of his group as a strength and explained, “I loved working in teams. There is always diversity when doing this. You really get to know who is good at what and who isn’t. For example, in my group, it was apparent pretty quickly, that student A and Student B were definitely the number crunchers … whereas Student C and I were more marketing oriented. I also learned that when working in teams there will always be different opinions. Each time our group did a case it was always tough to all agree on what to say. I guess this was a good thing though, because everyone was throwing in their opinions. We never had a time when one of us just sat back and let the others do the work. I like working in teams mostly to hear other peoples’ views. That is what will make a case analysis broader and more informative.” Most of the students who were not on winning teams still found the experience helpful. As one student summed up: What I’ve learned from working with teams is that it takes multiple meeting sessions as well as multiple personal study/research periods to put together a successful, well thought out, and rather smooth class presentation. To say the least, not everyone in the group is on the same page as far as amount of work/effort put forth in preparing for the task at hand. Personally, I had a difficult time fully preparing for my portion of our class projects due to lack of preparedness of our group as a whole. This is not an attempt to complain, but rather show our group’s inability to fully come together and be as successful as we could have been. Each one of our group members is extremely talented in his or her own way, but we lacked being on the same page at the same time. Successful groups create game plans that work for everyone in the group. An additional difficulty many students noted with group work was scheduling time for to work together. Since many of the participants maintained part-time or even full-time jobs this was understandable. Nonetheless, ample class time was given for groups to work together more efficient use. To overcome this in the future, it may be beneficial to encourage and create more “virtual” environments, such as a WebCT chat room, for students to communicate and interact with each other. Student Comments on Judges’ Participation and Q&A Session The students were extremely positive (79%) about the participation of judges from the local business community and, in particular, the judges’ feedback during the Q&A session for their final presentations during the case competition. Although the students responded positively, a number of students noted the extra anxiety and stress created by the presence of these judges. Many students responded that “saving face” in front of the “real world” judges was a particularly motivating factor for them. One student remarked, “I was more stressed out about that part (the judges’ Q&A session) than the actual presentation. I have a huge fear of looking stupid in front of the judges and the class and I really don’t want to say something dumb.” Another student candidly remarked, “Overall I was not more motivated by the competitive grading scale for the presentations as I was trying to not be made a fool of.” Due to this, many students’ remarked on the importance of being prepared. 13
  14. 14. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition As noted earlier in Davenport and Beck’s (1995) emphasis on the “Survival Principle” in managing attention, subsequent research has shown that fear can be an important issue and motivator. According to Hwang, Kessler, and Francesco (2004): …educational researchers have already raised "fear of embarrassment" as an important issue, even for students seeking information in a learning environment… fear of embarrassment was also found in the management research literature where "personal considerations," such as impression management and political issues, have been shown to negatively influence the pure feedback-seeking process to achieve performance goals. Nonetheless, regardless of their stress or possible “fear of embarrassment,” most students found the judges’ participation to be especially valuable. As one student explained: I thought that it was helpful to meet these people who are in the field of business. It was a beneficial to our class because they all have the experience and knowledge that many of us in our class lack. The advice and questions that they asked us offered us new things that we needed to think about regarding the case that we were researching. Another student wrote: In comparison to other traditional projects and presentations I enjoyed the judges. Having the judges take the time out of their busy schedule to listen to our presentation gave me more motivation to do my best. My research and readings became more relevant with the Copperfield’s competition case. The experience I gained from the competition and the analyzing of the cases provided me experience and how important strategy is important in order to survive in the business world. Noting the stressfulness of the situation, one student commented: Given the questions, you could tell that the judges were actually listening and responding to our presentations. It was also both stressful and rewarding to have key people from the company’s we were presenting on as judges. That aspect gave it a dash of realism. Case Competition In regards to the effectiveness of the case competition format, 66% of the students found it to be an important motivating factor and useful learning device whereas 34% responded to the format with neutral or negative comments. Many students noted that the competition created a framework that provided an extra element of realism. As one student commented: The case competition was the best way to take what I learned in the classroom and compare it to situations outside of the classroom. Finding marketing techniques or discovering a SWOT analysis is not something you can learn from a book, you have to go outside and discover it on your own. Another student remarked that this competitive format help him to be more motivated to participate in making his group successful. This student wrote: I loved the form of the last presentation as a competition, it made me much more determined to win. The group I was in had a hard time finding a direction from the start but I knew someone had to take charge so I did and I definitely wasn’t always nice but we got the job done and we got first place. I am usually a sit back and let my group screw itself kind of a person. Basically all I care about is my part and just getting it done. With this class I wanted to win so I was much more determined to do a great job as a group not individuals. This last project really brought everything together too. What I mean by this is that all the 14
  15. 15. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition pieces of information seem to fit into a clear and concise picture that showed relevant information and conclusions. Overall I would say that I learned more about business and myself in this class than I have in any other class in my lifetime. A key insight many students expressed in their reflection papers concerning the case competition was the realization that in developing strategy there is “no one right answer” and that their beliefs, assertions and recommendations need to be backed up by quality research: The case competition was a good learning device for devising a strategy and future goals because the company had not yet done the next step. There was no correct answer for what to do next just a better solution. I’m sure everyone worked hard and dissected this case further than any other case since we were giving suggestions to an actual CEO of a local company. I’m glad we did many case analyses in class because it did help with the final case. I have never done a project like this in all of my schooling and I am glad to have participated in this year’s competition. For some students who did not necessarily feel they benefited from the case competition format they remarked it was due to their personalities: The case presentation as a whole seems like a valuable learning tool. The fact that it was a competition did not drive me particularly. There are some people who rise to that challenge and I’m not one of them. In fact, it was almost disheartening because I know that I am not the top performer nor do I wish to be. Another student remarked, I also think the competition structure of the final was not useful to us. Again, coming from a group who stayed at the bottom, I don’t feel it motivated us to do better. Especially for me, I’m not a competitive person. In addition to one’s personality, some students who had a neutral to negative response felt that “the judging criterion wasn’t fair” or that their final grade should not be dependent on other group members. On a preliminary basis, the competitive format of the class appeared to motivate students to do more research, create better presentations and to be more engaged in the class. As one student summed up, “The pressure of presenting in class and competing with classmates intensifies my personal desire to have the best research, be well prepared, and increase my confidence to communicate our ideas successfully.” CONCLUSIONS The added focus on improving students’ IL skills proved to be important in helping the students perform better research and become more prepared for their analysis and presentations. As one of the judges pointed out: This was the second time that I have observed the presentation of a case study in a competition-style format. (I previously judged six presentations of a completely different case last spring.) This time around the teams seemed, on the whole, to be more confident and better prepared. 15
  16. 16. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition However, due to the disparate performance of the upper half of the class compared to the lower, there are still many areas in which the students can improve upon and instruction can target. The CEO of Copperfield's Books evaluated the students’ work as: …on the whole impressive, informative and thought provoking. While some of the groups dwelled on relatively minor issues such as upgrading our web site, most did address the need to develop our information systems. Not all of the teams were able to defend their choices when it came to the costs and time involved in implementation. Further consideration ought to be given to help students to not focus on “minor issues” and to improve their research in regards to developing practical recommendations. Another area for improvement and possible future research is to better understand the group dynamics involved in student learning and performance. As noted, all the judges observed a lack of cohesion in many of the groups, especially the under-performing groups. As one judge remarked “it was obvious [to me] which teams “gelled” and which never got along.” Considering the importance of a functional group dynamics, it may be necessary to better monitor the progress of each group and their interpersonal cohesiveness to assure that an appropriate collaborative learning environment is in place. Likewise, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on teaching students how to perform in groups throughout their university careers. Nonetheless, the greater emphasis on IL skills training, competition, teamwork and “real-world” judges proved to create a valuable learning experience for the students. It also served as a positive model for collaboration with local business leaders and as one judge concluded, “Overall, I think the project is very beneficial and exciting and offers undergraduate a wonderful hands-on opportunity to dig deeply into and research an existing business, something that they will need to do in their job searches and on the job.” 16
  17. 17. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition Table 1 A schema of the types of information each student needed to incorporate into their case analysis/presentation and associated assessment activities. Diagnostic Examples Activity/Assessment Foundational Diagnostic Tools such as ratios, cash-flow Information and liquidity, inventories, earnings, etc. Information such as economic value-added information. Products, services, operation Productivity Students will keep a portfolio of or activity with high productivity. Information their research. The portfolio must Benchmarking versus industry and key include a record of what questions competitors. were asked; what information Identification of unexpected successes or resources were initially considered failures of a business to identify areas of for use, the answers for each Competence innovation. Identification of innovation research question, what Information occurring in entire field/industry. Research information resource(s) they used spending., new products, new methods, to find their answer(s) and what etc. search technique or strategy used. Capital: return on investment, payback Resource – period, cash flow or discounted present Allocation value; Human Resources: performing Information people, skills sets needed, wage scales. Strategic Examples Activity/Assessment In their research portfolio, students identify broad opportunities or Markets, demographics, customer and non- concerns that may affect their customer information, competition, Environmental case. Each factor identified is technology in one’s own industry and Scan properly noted as to what resource outside, worldwide financial information, it was derived from and what state of national or world economy search technique or strategy was used. 17
  18. 18. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition Table 2 Profile of Judges Judge Profile 1 MBA student case writer; manager of a successful chain of grocery stores. 2 CEO of Copperfield’s Books 3 Recent alumna from program; senior manager of regional accounting firm 4 Founder and President of herbal products company 5 Dean of the School of Business 6 CFO and VP Strategic Planning of Internet software provider 7 Founder and President of women’s clothing company 8 Course instructor 9 Founder of and consultant to regional small businesses 10 Senior regional VP of nationally-known bank Table 3 Research Log Layout Question/Information Need: Where might I find this type of information? SEARCH STRATEGIES to try (circle Note any useful words, successful strategies): concepts, organizations, etc. that you may want to use later. Where and/or how did you find your answer? Briefly note the answer found: 18
  19. 19. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition Table 4 Information Literacy (IL) Pre- and Posttest Results IL QUESTIONS PRETEST POSTTEST Company Financial Data 1. Which of the following resource(s) will allow you to create a report showing 39% 86% the last five years of income statements for Barnes & Noble? Pretest 2. What would be the fastest way to review the annual reports for Barnes & Noble over the last five to seven years? 42% 61% Posttest 2. Which two resources give you the fastest way to read the actual annual reports for Barnes & Noble over the last two to three years? Business Information Classification Pretest 3. In order to research competitors in your industry, what is the most exact method to use? 26% 62% Posttest 3. What classification system is the most precise for identifying industries or a specific industry sector? Private Company Data Pretest 4. When researching a private company like Trader Joe’s, what information are you likely to find in either print or electronic format? 48% 78% Posttest 4. When researching a private company like Trader Joe’s, what information are you NOT likely to find published and easily accessible? Identification of Primary vs. Secondary Data/Information 5. Identify each as either primary (mark ‘P’) or secondary (mark ‘S’) sources of 60% 70% information: Government Data/Statistics Pretest 6. You have decided that your company should create a public relations position. Where can you find free, reliable salary data for a Public Relations Manager position in Sonoma County, CA? 44% 69% Posttest 6. You need to find U.S. Census demographic data for Rohnert Park and Cotati, CA, of the resources listed below, what would be the best information resource to use? 7. You are worried that the rising cost of energy may affect your company’s long- term growth. Where can you find statistics gauging the rate of inflation for energy 40% 57% costs? Awareness of Proprietary Database Resources 8. You are a financially strapped college student who can’t afford a subscription to The Wall Street Journal but you’d still like to keep current by reading it 4% 12% everyday. What resource(s) can help you accomplish this? Industry Information Resources 9. You are a consultant for XOMA, a small biopharmaceutical company in Berkeley, CA. What two information resources are the best to get you up-to-date 36% 64% on all the current issues affecting your industry? TEST TOTALS 38% 62% 19
  20. 20. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition REFERENCES American Library Association, Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. (Chicago: American Library Association, 1989.) Retrieved December 22, 2004, from Anselmi, K., & Frankel, R. (2004) Modular Experiential Learning for Business-to-Business Marketing Courses. Journal of Education for Business, 79(3), 169-176. Association of College and Research Libraries. (2000). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Chicago, IL: Author. Beersma, B.; Hollenbeck, J.; Humphrey, S.; Moon, H., Conlon, D., Ilgen, D. (2003). Cooperation, competition, and team performance: toward a contingency approach. Academy of Management Journal, 46(5), 572-590. Chen, G., Donahue, L., and Klimoski, R. (2004). Training Undergraduates to Work in Organizational Teams. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 3(1), 27-51. Davenport, T., & Beck, J. (2001). The attention economy: understanding the new currency of business. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. Drucker, P. (1995) The Information Executives Truly Need. InformationWeek. 525, 89-94. Dudley, L., Davis, D., McGrady, D. (2001). Using an Investment Project to Develop Professional Competencies in Introduction to Financial Accounting. Journal of Education for Business, 76(3), 125-131. Friga, P.N.; Bettis, R.A.; Sullivan, R.S. (2003). Changes in graduate management education and new business school strategies for the 21st century. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2(3), 233-249. Hwang, A., Kessler, E.H., Francesco, A.M. (2004). Student networking behavior, culture, and grade performance: an empirical study and pedagogical recommendations. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 3(2), 139-150. Kuhlthau, C. (1993). Seeking meaning: a process approach to library and information services (1st. ed.). Norwood, NJ: Ablex. Levin, D., & Arafeh S. (2002, August 14). The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet- savvy students and their schools, Washington D.C.: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved December 22, 2004, from Martins, L.L. and Kellermanns, F.W. (2004). A model of business school students' acceptance of a web- based course management system. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 3(1), 7-26. Oblinger, D. (2003). Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millenials: Understanding the new students. EDUCAUSE Review, 38(4) 37-47. 20
  21. 21. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition Porter, Michael E. (1979). How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy. Harvard Business Review, 57(2); 137-146. Seijts, G.H.; Latham, G.P.; Tasa, K.; Latham, B.W. (2004). Goal setting and goal orientation: an integration of two different yet related literatures, Academy of Management Journal, 47(2), 227-240. Theroux, J., & Kilbane, C. (2004). The Real-Time Case Method: A New Approach to an Old Tradition. Journal of Education for Business, 79(3), 163-167. Wilson, H. (1975). Models of man: social and rational; mathematical essays on rational human behavior in a social setting. New York: Wiley. 21
  22. 22. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition Appendix I – Information Competency Pre-Test Seminar in Management Strategy & Policy Name: __________________________________ Information Competency Assessment Date: __________________________________ Fall 2004 Concentration: __________________________ 1. Which of the following resource(s) will allow you to create a report showing the last five years of income statements for Barnes & Noble? (Check all that apply) ____ The company’s website ____ Factiva ____ EDGAR online ____ Yahoo! Finance ____ SmartMoney online ____ All of the above ____ Mergent Online ____ None of the above 2. What would be the fastest way to review the annual reports for Barnes & Noble over the last five to seven years? (Check all that apply) ____ The company’s website ____ Yahoo! Finance ____ EDGAR online ____ Call and order from company ____ Mergent Online ____ All of the above ____ Factiva ____ None of the above 3. In order to research competitors in your industry, what is the most exact method to use? ____ Search by NAICS ____ Yahoo! Finance ____ Search by industry name/category ____ All of the above ____ Search by US economic indicators ____ None of the above ____ Search by CIK number 4. When researching a private company like Trader Joe’s, what information are you likely to find in either print or electronic format? (Check all that apply) ____ Number of employees ____ Long Term Debt ____ Financial ratios ____ Gross sales/revenues ____ Contact information ____ SEC filings ____ Income Statements ____ List of products and services 5. Identify each as either primary (mark ‘P’) or secondary (mark ‘S’) sources of information. Customer surveys ____ Scholarly journals ____ U.S. Census data ____ Company-published materials ____ Newspaper article ____ Trade association data ____ Consumer Price Index ____ Industry Surveys/Reports ____ 6. You have decided that your company should create a public relations position. Where can you find free, reliable salary data for a Public Relations Manager position in Sonoma County, CA? 22
  23. 23. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition (Check all that apply) ____ Public Relations Society of America ____ Local Chamber of Commerce website ____ San Francisco Business Journal ____ From State of California website ____ All of the above ____ RAND California ____ None of the above 7. You are worried that the rising cost of energy may affect your company’s long-term growth. Where can you find statistics gauging the rate of inflation for energy costs? (Check all that apply) ____ Bureau of Labor Statistics website ____ Wall Street Journal ____ RAND California ____ All of the above ____ Mergent Online ____ None of the above ____ Statistical Abstracts of America 8. You are a financially strapped college student who can’t afford a subscription to The Wall Street Journal but you’d still like to keep current by reading it everyday. What resource(s) can help you accomplish this? (Check all that apply) ____ Wall Street Journal website ____ Investors Business Daily website ____ Factiva ____ All of the above ____ Academic Search Elite database ____ None of the above ____ Yahoo! Finance 9. You are a consultant for XOMA, a small biopharmaceutical company in Berkeley, CA. What information resource is most likely to help get you up-to-date on all the current issues affecting your industry? (Check only one) ____ North Bay Business Journal ____ An Internet search engine ____ S & P’s Industry Surveys ____ Journal of Commercial ____ Pharmaceutical Research and Biotechnology Manufacturers Association website ____ All of the above ____ EconLit database 10. Where would you go to find information regarding the following business scenario? (Please list below) You are a consultant to a local chain of eight bookstores that has been in business since 1981. It has enjoyed a unique niche as a “local, intelligent, convenient bookseller.” The chain has sustained, on average, gross revenues of $10 million a year, with historical returns of 1-2% profits each year. The chain currently has about 120 employees. Its CEO has requested a strategic plan to improve the chain’s performance in future years, in light of increasing competition from “big-box” chain stores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble as well as from Internet-based retailers such as In particular, the CEO wants answers to the following questions: “Do we meet customers’ expectations? Do we miss the boat? What do local consumers want in a bookstore? What does our "Brand" of book selling mean? How can we assure our survival as an independent bookseller? What’s at stake for our local community and our employees if we cannot?” Please list: 1.____________________________________________________________________________________ 2.____________________________________________________________________________________ 3.____________________________________________________________________________________ 23
  24. 24. Modeling “The Apprentice”: Pilot-Testing a Living Case Study Competition 4.____________________________________________________________________________________ 5.____________________________________________________________________________________ 24