Global Challenges for Business: A model introductory course

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In this post, Ludovic Maguire, a Business and Economics student, discusses how the breadth of the Global Challenges in Business course – from critical thinking to business to guest lecturers – makes for a valuable experience that emphasises development in the skills of students…

Global Challenges for Business is a new first semester course, which started in 2017, and has the unenviable task of introducing business school undergraduates to one of the most diverse and customisable degrees. Designed by Dr Sarah Ivory, the new course was a response to criticism that previous years’ introductory business courses, which essentially used each week to showcase a different field in the study of business, lacked structure and purpose. Instead, Global Challenges for Business attempts to give a broad, international context to business that can be applied across the subject, while giving the necessary tools to supplement students’ academic needs.

Critical thinking

The importance of critical thinking is one of the core elements of the programme. Emphasis on ‘quality of argument, strength of evidence and clarity of presentation’ were the core tenants of lectures for about a third of the course. This showed students’ common logical flaws and biases, how to construct effective arguments from premises and conclusions, and gave advice on effectively sourcing information. These lessons could be some of your most important university lectures if this aspect of academia was not emphasised in a student’s previous education. It also manages to remain interesting for those students that have already been taught these skills through testing you with quizzes and tough questions.

Group work and reflection

The emphasis on group work and reflection in assessment show a prioritisation for growth in students’ skills with long term benefits. A poster presentation made students work in groups of about four to create an argument that chimed with the mantra of the course: ’quality of argument, strength of evidence and clarity of presentation’. This fit nicely in with lectures on how to work effectively in groups through being inclusive but demanding: an obviously beneficial trait in business. Most interestingly, 10% of the grade went towards a reflective essay on the course. Teaching reflection is something that could easily be missed in introductory courses but is a vital aspect of self-improvement and memory retention that could be emphasised far more across university.

Variety of lecturers

The variety of lecturers was also an asset, in that it gives new students perspective into different ways they will be taught. However, it is also a liability in that the differences between the different lecturer’s approaches can be a little overwhelming. An effective lecturer should always strive to teach on the frontiers of the students’ knowledge, keeping them interested, but not moving so fast as to leave them in the dark. Different lecturers swung in opposite directions with respect to this. While one may have asked too many questions to the students on topics they should instead have been simply informed about, perhaps making the lectures ‘too easy’, another would cover vast amounts of academic literature in a single lecture, citing dozens of books and articles, and making some students feel a bit lost.

An introductory course is bound to cause this divide. Common foundations of knowledge for students have to be established in the first year to ensure students are on equal footing, and students will inevitably fall on either side of the ‘too easy’ or ‘too hard’ line. That said, maybe organisers should take feedback from students to make sure that those in the ‘goldilocks zone’ (those for whom the teaching is at the perfect level of difficulty) are the rule and not the exception.

Guest lecturers

Finally, having the occasional visit from a guest lecturer, such as the WHSmith CEO Stephen Clarke, was very welcome. Guest lecturers are an indisputably interesting addition to the course, always providing unique insights into management, career paths and what working in different fields is like. These first-person insights are an inexhaustible pool of experience that can be learned from, and perhaps, in the future, they could be made into a more frequent part of the course, as in The Business of Edinburgh semester 2 course.

Overall the course provided a broad and accessible introduction to the subject of business that ensures that all students have the basic knowledge and tools needed to make the most of the degree. While the course is not perfect – the lectures are sometimes a little awkward, and other times at such a high pace that you cannot keep notes – the new course is a step in the right direction. And with organisers that are all ears for feedback, it can only get better.

Ludovic Maguire

Ludovic is a second year Business and Economics student at the University of Edinburgh, with particular interests in behavioural and sustainable economics. As someone who has tutored and run revision classes in the past, he understands the importance of good teaching and the need for constructive conversation surrounding it. Ludovic spent much of his upbringing in Malmö, Sweden, preparing him for the hostile conditions of Scottish weather.

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