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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Business 101 & 102 A Review

Introduction  -- 1% Jargon, 99% Common Sense

The University of Auckland tries really hard to sell these paired courses to students. Meet new friends. Great introduction to uni studies. Develop Team and Communication skills. That sort of thing. Students, in contrast, are very negative in their assessments of all features of the courses... except, maybe, their teams if they like their groups. Honestly, it's not like what I was expecting from the uni's messages but it's not that bad. That said, our facilitators for Business 102 did say that the course is up for changes and depending on how extensive they are (or if they happen) my personal view may well be of interest only historically.

Follow-up Blogs: Exam Resource.

Aim

Business seeks to provide some core skills for business and introduce students to management (focus of 101) and marketing (focus of 102). These are both core courses for a BCom and have to be taken,

Model: What do these Courses Look Like?

The courses share the same model and location (a specially prepared room with octagonal tables, which strongly recalled my hexagonal primary school experience). All learning is done before each week's two hour, team-based workshop from prescribed textbooks, webcasts or digital readings. During the workshop facilitators will engage in mini-lectures to provide another, more personal explanation of the key concepts. Facilitators are accurately named and exist more or less to guide discussion and explain tasks. In the first workshop, students are grouped into teams that they will retain for the entire semester (this is a semi-randomised process that is intended to achieve maximum group diversity... a cynic would argue that it's really meant to spread the students with poor English skills around so they're not concentrated in a few groups). These teams will construct a paragraph response collectively once a workshop and will also present a three minute explanation of given concept towards the end of the semester. Other group assessment includes five multi-choice questions, which are identical to those done independently by group members immediately beforehand. There is quite a lot of downtime in each workshop. Piazza provides a forum for course-wide discussion (and the courses are huge, around a thousand each), split into 101 and 102 boards though. Team evaluations do occur.

This is, ultimately, a model that I can really get behind and support. That's in a theoretical sense of the idea but also an assessment of the experience that I had with it. The flipped classroom concept is one that does pop up at uni a lot, especially with respect to arts style tutorials which involve discussions of readings. Business does it well. The readings contain what is needed to be known and if the explanations don't make that much sense there is usually at least one of the two facilitators who can explain them. The textbook is crap though in that the Bovee and Thill one is very American and its examples are totally useless (unfit for purpose) because the vast majority don't relate to the NZ experience whatsoever. The smaller one is hardly used but is more relevant due to being Australian and drawing on NZ examples as well. Know your audience and tailor the message damn it! The course as a whole provides a lot of time to reflect on what is being done. Normally uni's a constant barrage of information with no room to breathe (i.e. the traditional lecture model) nor engage with what's being done. Business isn't like this with its downtime (thus replicating the tone of the college classroom far more easily than tutorials do*) and the application exercises that get students to engage with the material continually. Ultimately, the structure of these courses provides a welcome harbour in the wider storm of lecturing.

Assessment: A Testing Time

60% of the available marks for 102 were derived from the exam. Groupwork comprised 20%, the independent multi-choice 10% and the mid-semester test 10%. 101 was similar but the exam was worth less as pre-works existed back then. They were chucked out the window due to widespread unpopularity. The pre-works were sort of more practical "create your own example" sorts of things that had participation marks attached. If it weren't for the participation marks I'd have said they were a good idea, there was plenty of potential for feedback on writing and structure. In Business content is the most important feature but the way in which answers are written matters quite a bit as well. The pre-works could've been a valuable means of communicating strengths and weaknesses but they ultimately ended up just measuring who could read the fine print in the weekly guide properly. As a consequence, I think the course was improved by their demise between the end of semester one and start of semester two (note, here I am treating the courses as parts i and ii instead of course and sequel course).

The exam and mid-semester test function much like what I think of when I hear the word "exam": a couple of questions (five and ten for 101, five and eight for 102) with single paragraph responses. As I said above, the structure of the answers does matter. I forget what Business used but it's the TEER (topic sentence, explanation, example, relevance) or SEX (sentence, explanation, example) model that everyone's familiar with. Think of each paragraph as being a short essay. Examples are sometimes called for in the question but, as a rule, if it makes sense to use an example there should be one. The course also likes links to be drawn between content (this is something that the team presentation works on) but these should only be done when they make sense and are natural (i.e. there's some fluid relevance to mentioning, say, corporate social responsibility in your answer to a question about organisational culture; sometimes that's a natural link and sometimes it isn't). However, while good structure can help poor answers, to do well one needs to be right, concise and clear. Luckily, Business is one of those courses where you're given the space that's viewed as sufficient for someone with normally sized writing... and there is planning space provided (as with all exams). Ten minutes of reading time is too long but not a total waste of your time either.

The 3 minute Team Presentation is also important enough to get mentioned by itself. It's worth 20% of the team performance marks (the other 80% coming in 10% intervals split evenly between group multi-choice tests and the application exercises) and it is the final bit of groupwork. A few weeks before the presentations are made the topics are handed out to groups by lottery. Working independently, each team comes up with a slide to function as a background to their presentation that will usually summarise the content in an interesting fashion (personally, I think the more visual ones were good). The content consists of an explanation of the concept allocated, an example (ideally related to NZ), and a link with any other concept from the course (if the presentations are not designed to function as useful elements of the revision process they've been subjected to environment pressures that have forced them to become like that). As most teams are six or seven people in size, the averaged speaking time is quite low (which is important as all members must speak, albeit not necessarily for the same length of time). Teams are advised to consider clothing that presents a coherent team image (such as, everyone in business suits, dark colours, Hawaiin shirts) and I do feel that a jumble of colours or styles does hurt one's mark. It is confirmed that teams who do more than just speak, who add some extra element to their presentation do better... even if it involves nothing more complex than holding up signs at given points.

The Team

In Business you are in a team! You will be a team player! You will not have a designated leader! You will learn about teams! You will have to do stuff! You will not have to listen to someone yell like this! You will, however, have to deal with the thus described environment. You may have people who have limited English skills, are considerably older than most people, live far from uni, work a lot, etc. You will have to learn how to work with these people, even if you hate them. In short, Business does force you to have a professional outlook to working in your teams. As each week basically resets, however, you won't have to be nothing but the professional and the down-time means you are not always in "team work mode" during a workshop. The biggest challenge, really, is getting people to spread the writing around and remembering that when you don't do the readings, it's not just you that suffers. Luckily, Business does have team evaluations that are a bit complex to do but simple enough once you've done them once. They provide an opportunity to point out strengths and weaknesses of team-mates as team members. If you have someone who does all the writing, consider if they're an idea hog, carrying your lazy arse or they've been trying and failing to get other people to write stuff down. If you have someone who never talks, are they shy, deadweight or being shut-out of the conversation by loudmouths? These are the kind of issues the evaluations help to resolve. Warning: not all team members may take these as seriously as others.

A final thought is this: an awesome team doesn't necessarily translate to an effective team. My 101 team was great. Great people, even workload etc. I hope that, on the whole, that they consider me their friend as I do them. My 102 team did quite a bit better. However, I wouldn't really consider them my friends, at least not in the same way. In short, 101 = awesome team. 102 = effective team (despite having two members with more limited English, although definitely not not fluent). The facilitators do note down team scores throughout so you can get sort of competitive between teams. You may encounter "super groups" who almost always get an aggregate of 10/10 for a week's work.

Content: 1% Jargon, 99% Common Sense

This is the aspect of the course that creates my defining summary of it. I like it so much as a summary that I've now mentioned it twice, in full. It's pretty true. Business consists of quite a few things that you recognise instinctively but, perhaps, haven't thought about. A lot of the rest is self-explanatory but you just wouldn't encounter it from Business' perspective (i.e. the consumer versus business mindset): that's still common sense. Very little of the course is actually confusing and usually that's because of jargon. The jargon is also confusing in the sense that you don't quite remember what it is (for instance, angel investors). Across both courses, there was a small amount of material that was more complex and required more consideration (for instance, negative reinforcement; which I recall as being both passive reinforcement of a behaviour and also reinforcement through the removal of negatives). This is all very well and good but what is the content about?

Business 101 is very broad. It covers the sorts of skills that are necessary in the modern business environment, management concepts and advertising concepts. However, for all this, it's also manageable content. At no stage did I ever feel overwhelmed by how much there was. I did get irritated by the almost stark divides evident in content but I represented all the concepts in a mind map and drew links between them. This made for a way of understanding the course. You could see that these aspects from marketing connected very well with these ones from management. For the most part, though, one will see links within management because that's the bulk of the course (maybe a half versus a third marketing and a sixth misc. skills). The most interesting stuff, for me, was the motivation topic that came right at the end. I'm interested in economics and history so, by implication, I am interested in people and that's something that the motivation stuff really tied into.

Business 102 is not so broad but there is so much more. I looked at the content that I needed to review prior to the exam and I hit "the Wall" before I even began. Ultimately, I took the triangle of learning concept and narrowed things down by looking at what came up in application exercises, objectives and aims, mini-lectures (which were mostly absent from 101), the multi-choice quizzes etc. I could've and wanted to look at a thing on CECIL (the university's knowledge management system) that narrowed down the really important topics but I looked in the wrong place so I didn't. However, with this done I did another mind-map and that prepared me to go through and use my "understand the concepts" approach to studying. The overall impression? A hell of a lot marketing stuff. Right now I cannot really recall anything that stood out at me as being about management but I just checked and how could I have forgotten ethics, diversity and the Three R's of human resources management? That I forgot probably shows that I'm one of those people who tends towards, "I knew it for my exam".

Success: What Makes It?
  • Notes. There is a lot of reading in 101 and a lot more again in 102... or at least there was in 2014... and notes are absolutely critical in doing well throughout the courses as well as in tests and exams. Notes from within the workshops are, to my mind, very good as well.

  • Concepts. This basically means understanding the core concepts in the course and also how they related to each other. I'm not normally a fan of mind maps (my brainstorms tend to be lists) but they are really rather useful when it comes to the exam.
  • Communication. Piazza exists as a tool to both answer and ask questions. I found it to be really useful towards the end of 101 and I should've used it more in 102 but I was generally busier (having five instead of four courses) so maybe that explains why. However, face time with facilitators and friends from other streams is also really useful. Other people exist: make contact with them. Also, talk with your team.
  • Writing. I don't think doing old exams helps but I do think practising the writing side of the course is just as important as the reading and understanding of the concepts. To this end, I suggest, get involved with the group and write at least one application exercise is good. I wrote almost all of them in 102, quite a few independently in 101 and some more again as Frankenstein-like ones. I really think the experience helped me.
Conclusion:

That was my experience of these courses. Due to scaling I ended up with an A in Business 101, having done terribly on the mid-semester test and something in the seventies (I believe) in the exam. I was surprised and pleased by this in the same way that I was shocked at how badly I did in the test (i..e barely over 50%). In Business 102 I got an A-. I was disappointed with this and I assume that I did roughly as well in the exam as I had in 101 despite getting 82% in the mid-semester test. I haven't got a copy of my script back yet so I'm not sure exactly what happened though. Maybe I did badly, maybe there was no scaling and I did roughly the same, maybe the increase from 50% to 60% from the exam affected me. I really wish they gave us actual marks for the exams...

Ultimately, I liked Business 101 and 102. I didn't like it a lot but there were a lot of features to it that I will defend theoretically and remember well from reality, and I certainly didn't dislike it. That being said, it's far from everyone's cup of tea and I don't think it lives up to the Business School's expectations of it. Hopefully I'll be able to find out just how much it will be changing, I like to stay in the loop in these sorts of things.



*There was one brilliant tutorial for Economics 101 right at the end. Most people didn't turn up because it was the last one and our already awesome tutor just got that little bit more epic. The course was worth it just for that, honest. No other tutorial (incl. two history and maths courses, and the Infosys tutorials) ever came close.

1 comment:

  1. As an update, I got 77/100 in the exam which means that while I improved a little (scaling got me to my A in 101), it was probably the greater weighting that meant I missed out. I mean, I could have had 10/10 for the preworks again plus 38.5 instead of plus 46.2. That would have been 85.5 and the A instead of the 83.2 and A- I actually got. No matter, it's done now.

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