Adapting Curriculum to the Digital Classroom
New digital learning studio reshapes teaching and learning
There was no slipping into the back of the room—everyone in Lecturer Greg Collier’s class on a recent afternoon was on the hot seat.
“Each of you will do a piece of the consulting project for The Body Shop, dealing with broad and narrow markets and core competencies,” Collier told his Strategy and Innovation SI 422 class in the new digital learning studio Room 326.
Collier had to change his lesson plan completely from the regular lecture he used just that morning in another classroom. First they all watched a video interview with The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick holding forth on her legendary environmental and feminist activism on the 84-inch screen in the front of the room as well as on the 40-inch LCD screens on the wall over each of the six long tables where the students sat.
After that, Collier sent different slides from his PowerPoint presentation to the LCD screen over each table, requiring the team to flesh out factors in the Body Shop’s marketing strategy. That’s when the decibel level in the room shot up as the students brainstormed and debated the answers, which one team member typed up using the keyboard on each table.
Collier made the rounds, urging one team to consider that “natural products weren’t around in 1980 like they are today,” and another to think about the expenditures that other cosmetic companies were making on packaging and advertising that The Body Shop eschewed.
After 15 minutes, the class came back together. Margaret Costello (BSBA’12), a senior accounting concentrator, was the student-tech supporter for the class, and she guided each team in the use of Tidebreak software to push their slide onto the big screen. The entire class was then able to see each team’s work when its representative gave a presentation describing The Body Shop’s resources, core competencies, capabilities, and industry positioning.
Collier highlighted points in each group’s answers and reinforced the lessons learned. The Body Shop is failing in the United States, he said, because it didn’t have the core competencies to continue to grow, particularly after the death of Roddick in 2007. L’Oreal has since bought the company.
Then Collier had another surprise that kept the class sizzling: “OK, save your file, close out of PowerPoint, and go to tests and quizzes. What did we learn?” Collier asked. For the first team to finish the quiz with all the right answers he offered a gift card for the Belgian-style pommes frites shop Saus, near Faneuil Hall.
Again, the students were abuzz, racing to finish. A table in the back was first—finishing within 18 seconds. The other teams followed quickly on their heels. Then a teaching assistant went around the room with a laptop checking everyone’s work. Alas, no one aced the quiz—so no free pommes frites.
But the class was a success, several students said. “It was very different,” said Ken He (BSBA’12). “I liked that everyone was involved. It’s much more interactive.” Shawn Zhu (BSBA’12), said, “I liked it, but it can be distracting when you face more than one screen. And I don’t like that some chairs face the back of the room.” Greg DeFronzo, SMG’s information technology services director, was on hand to hear the critique, which helps the design and support team determine the tweaks that need to be made.
Costello said she still got more out of it than when she took the class a previous semester. “When we had our team project we hadn’t seen an entire consulting project from beginning to end like they did here in one class. Now they’ll know how to approach their class project.”
Collier said that in a regular lecture it’s difficult to get everyone to contribute no matter how much cold-calling he does, and even then the students can’t all get immediate feedback on their work.
With the interactive exercises, he said, “We make much swifter progress getting to the ‘aha’ moment.’’
“This class has been notorious for not engaging, but today the energy really got flowing,” Collier said.
By Judy Rakowsky