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Interdisciplinary
   
 
Project by:
Judee A. Timm, Ph.D.

The Integrative Approach:
A Model for Teaching and Learning for the Emerging Business Environment

It's a New, Exciting World!

As the use of technology grows and the world becomes increasingly smaller and interdependent, the opportunities, challenges, and possibilities have never been greater in business. Success in this volatile, unpredictable environment depends not only on providing a quality product but also on the effective use of technology to accomplish better efficiency, productivity, and service. Worldwide competition has become so keen that the very survival of a company increasingly will be contingent on the ability to take advantage of emerging technologies that will achieve these outcomes.

This is especially true in light of the emerging global Internet economy where many feel that we have only begun to see a glimpse of the economic impact expected in the future.  Currently, as noted in the Internet Economy Indicators Report, . . . the Internet economy directly supports more than 3.088 million workers. . . The Internet economy generated an estimated $830 billion in revenue in 2000, a 58 percent increase over 1999 and 156 percent over 1998." (E-Commerce Growth, 1/17/01, p. 2)  It is also noted that e-commerce is rapidly spreading beyond U.S. borders where ``. . .by yearend [1999] almost 60% of the world's online population will reside outside the U.S., and non-U.S. Internet commerce will explode from 26% of worldwide e-commerce spending in 1998 to 46% by 2003." (Non-U.S. Internet, 8/25/99, p. 1)

When business-to-business e-commerce enters the picture, economic projections for the year 2004 and beyond show further acceleration.   Many feel that business-to-business e-commerce will increasingly dwarf business-to-consumer transfers.  ``A study by the Boston Consulting Group forecasts that business-to-business e-commerce will quadruple from $1.2 trillion in transaction value this year to $8 trillion by 2004." (Miller, 1/1/01, p.3)

Broader gains will also be realized when the old brick-and-mortar economy increasingly incorporates the Net to increase its productivity.  As noted by IBM's Internet strategist, Wladawsky-Berger, ``traditional companies will increasingly use the Internet in supply chains, customer relationship management, in ways that integrate all the channels a company has, including the physical infrastructure and the phones." (Holstein, 2/26/01, p. 40)  It seems that given this aforementioned scenario, the real impact of the Internet is just beginning.   Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, projected that ``We've only realized about 20 percent of the productivity gains that are available just with existing knowledge and technology." (Holstein, 2/26/01, p. 40)

The Internet has made an amazing impact on the world economy and the way in which business is conducted.  This, however, seems to be just the beginning of a comprehensive transformation where jobs, practices, relationships, and thinking will need to respond in this new environment.  The challenges are great, but so too are the rewards.

The challenge for business educators lies in providing quality experiences that will adequately prepare students for the business world in the 21st century where change is the norm, traditional business rules and paradigms no longer exist, and adaptability is the key to success. Sharp (1995) noted that, 

The revolutionary changes in the world of work demand that our schools go far beyond the 3 R's to create a new, broader set of basics that enable them to cope with the complexity wrought by accelerating change-including the ability to engage in systems thinking, to utilize technology in learning, to work cooperatively in high-performance teams and to actively acquire new skills as needed. (p. 1)

It has become increasingly apparent that the book, blackboard, and lecture -- where rote learning, rote teaching, rote educating are still so prevalent -- are not meeting the preparation needs of today's workforce. The literature is replete with concerns regarding inadequate job preparation of students entering the workforce lacking basic, technical, interpersonal, problem solving, and critical thinking skills so crucial in this keenly competitive environment.   Cartwright and Skinner (1998) concur in noting that ``. . .the lack of preparation and readiness of graduates . . . is viewed as a sign of the misalignment between what colleges and universities teach, what students learn, and what the industry needs to be competitive in a fierce global economy.'' (p. 1)

Education must change.  As noted by Terry (2000), ``. . . the principles of business should be applied to the business of education. Those models emphasize the social dimensions of learning: the teamwork that it involves; that it's participatory and experiential; and that education--if it is like business--must shed its manufacturing mind-set and begin to operate as a service." (p. 1) These changes will require educators to take on new perspectives in student capabilities, the level of control, and the teaching/learning process.  This paper aims to provide teachers with information and resources to make educating for business, whether online or face-to-face, an exciting, dynamic, and challenging experience that prepares students for productive, successful work.  The focus is on preparing the ``whole" student by integrating activities, information, and skills throughout the curriculum that are demanded of the knowledge worker in the 21st century.  This approach, where global concepts (http://www.unesco.org/webworld/infoethics_2/eng/papers/paper_23.htm), technology, SCANS competencies (www.tier.net/schools/tcenters/scans.htm) basic skills, and academics (http://matec.org/curriculum/development/CoreAbilities.htm) are integrated into every educational experience, will challenge business educators in their efforts to provide relevant learning experiences.   It is a new and exciting world and education must respond.

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Essential Skills for the Global, Technical Business Environment

As this new transformation emerges in the way we conduct business, companies increasingly will be challenged by keen competition, globalization, and rapid changes in information technology.  To keep a step ahead of the competition, companies will seek employees who possess a new bundle of skills and competencies that allow them to successfully function in an environment of uncertainty.  It is important that workers know how to obtain information, manage change, and develop effective strategies.  More and more businesses will require workers at all levels to possess a comprehensive skill set.  It was noted Ned Davis (1996), a business development consultant, that:

Workers at all levels need technical skills, the skills to adapt to rapid change, take on increasing responsibility, cooperate more closely with one another, and even demonstrate a strategic understanding of their industries, their jobs, job functions of related department and their corporate mission.  The skill set needed to perform today is broader and deeper -- broader involving technical skills and deeper involving problem solving, creative and people skills.  (p. 21)

Yet, at the very time when these skills seem to be so crucial, businesses are finding an increasing mismatch between available jobs and the competencies of potential employees.  The basic skill levels in reading, writing, and calculating are often inferior to what is needed to succeed in this dynamic environment. 

Success in the global, technical business environment will require employees to be computer literate and skilled in using information technology functions beginning with word processing, spreadsheets, data entry, electronic transfers, and the Internet.  More important than basic computer literacy, however, is possessing a comfort level with technology and the willingness to learn and adapt to new technological developments as they emerge.  Employees in this environment continually will be required to train and be trained to keep their competitive edge.  They will be responsible for their own learning and must have the ability to search for and access resources that will better enable them to effectively perform their duties.

In addition to technical skills, the global, technical business environment will require teams of experts from different disciplines and different cultures to tackle emerging challenges.  Employees must be able to work effectively in a multidisciplinary and multicultural environment.  This requires good interpersonal and communication skills.  As the world of business becomes increasingly complex, companies have realized that effective strategies and solutions are better achieved when individuals from diverse disciplines, viewpoints, and expertise collaborate toward a common objective. 

Creativity and critical thinking may be the most important skills for individuals working in an environment where possibilities and opportunities are limitless. As the technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, those who can harness these capabilities to better understand their customer, partner with an associate, or streamline a procedure will be ahead of the competition.   This requires a higher-order level of thinking and learning.  Employees that can see possibilities and carry them into realistic plans and methods will be invaluable contributors in this keenly competitive environment. 

Finally, in this highly technical business world, one must never forget that business―all business―involves people.  Building positive and binding relationships based on trust and respect is the key to success.  This is especially true in global electronic business dealings where one may never set eyes on the customer served.  Those who can demonstrate respect and appreciation of cultural differences and respond to diverse demands will be able to seize the vast opportunities that the world has to offer.

 

 Skills & Competencies For the Global, Technical Business Environment
 

Basic

Employers need employees who can read, write, calculate, and communicate effectively.  In a global, technical environment this must include an appreciation and awareness of different languages and cultures.

Technical 

[Employees]. . ."must be computer literate and skilled in using information technology, beginning with word processing, spreadsheets, data entry, and electronic information transfers." (Dudley, et. al., 1995) Effective use of technological tools in a global business environment will demand an increasing awareness of issues and responsibilities to maintain the integrity and trust involved in sending and receiving transactions worldwide.

Communication & Interpersonal 

Communication and interpersonal skills are especially critical because employees must be able to work and interact with global organizational stakeholders including customers, suppliers, investors, and governments.  The global business environment demands effective collaboration with co-workers from a variety of educational disciplines and cultures to accomplish organizational goals.

Critical Thinking

Workers will be asked to use judgment and make decisions.  ``Critical thinking involves the elements of reasoning:  purpose of the thinking, key issue or question being considered, assumption, point of view, evidence, concepts and ideas, inferences or interpretations, and implications of consequences."  (Celuch, et. al., 1999, p. 35)  Sound decisions will increasingly demand the awareness and sensitivity of the complexities found in the global business environment.

Self-Direction &
Active Learning

``The most important skill in a knowledge economy is an advanced ability to think and learn."  (Davis, 1996, p. 10)
Employees in a global business environment must be able adapt to the need for constant retraining influenced by emerging technologies, systems, and world events.
 

Creativity

Employers will need creative thinkers who are able to see the possibilities in an emerging global business environment and to embrace the challenges in meeting organizational goals. 

Cultural Awareness

Effectiveness in the global business environment requires employees to have an understanding and appreciation of the diverse ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds of their customers, suppliers, competitors and partners.

 

Learning for Global, Technical Business

The challenge for business educators in their effort to prepare students for work in the global, technical business environment has never been greater.  What experiences can be offered that will allow our students to embrace this environment of uncertainty, excitement, and endless opportunity?  This is especially difficult when no one really knows where the business revolution is going.  The only thing known for sure is that conducting business in the 21st century will be unlike anything known in the past.  It will require individuals who have business and technical knowledge, but more importantly, have the initiative and ability to learn independently.

For this reason the best preparation for students entering these dynamic business occupations may be in the integration of experiences that allow them to learn by reading, doing, collaborating, researching, and developing. A student who learns to learn" will be given the greatest tool for success.

Learning by Reading.  The basic skill of reading, comprehending, and synthesizing information is crucial in the emerging global, technical business environment.    Students must be made aware of social, political, economic, and environmental issues of countries around the world in order to understand the opportunities and risks involved in conducting business.  They must also be constantly aware of technological breakthroughs that may give businesses a competitive advantage.  Developing the habit of consistent reading, scanning, and searching for information is a must in this business environment.  There are many good resources online and many excellent journals available for this purpose (e.g. Economist www.economist.com, Wall Street Journal www.wsj.com, etc.).  Students can keep a reading journal, develop a bibliography of readings, or follow a current event through reading of newspapers in a market area of interest.  Students may also find it interesting to compare and contrast current events as they are reported in different countries, synthesize information identifying major themes, or analyze trends in business practices throughout the world. 

Consistent reading is the foundation upon which all other learning is based.  It is imperative that this exercise be incorporated throughout the business curriculum.

Learning by Doing.  Hands-on experiences give students opportunities to put learned theories and practices into action.  Experiences working with various software packages and the Internet are a must to develop a level of comfort with technology as well as the realization that new functions will always emerge.

Simulations provide supervised opportunities for students to experience how technologies or software programs work together to solve a business problem or meet an organizational objective.  Internships, job shadowing, and cooperative work experiences give students first-hand exposure to how the convergence of technologies and disciplines work together in a business environment.  When students are actually able to experience the interconnectedness of business processes and procedures, they will develop an appreciation for the challenges they will face in the future.

Learning by Collaborating.  Using teams to solve complex problems is the norm in the global business environment.  It must be realized that not everyone can be an expert in all areas.  However, in this emerging environment, specialization and expertise in a variety of disciplines is a must.  Learning to productively work in a team of specialists by being able to communicate, collaborate, and appreciate the value of the process, will only enhance a student's ability to succeed. 

Teamwork should be an integral part of any business program where students are given a chance to work with others from different disciplines and cultures to solve problems or create projects. It is important, however, that students are given instruction in effective team approaches (See: http://www.eas.asu.edu/~asufc/teaminginfo/teamwkbk.pdf) in order to succeed.  Virtual teams can also be established which give students exposure to working and communicating through electronic medium.  Team members through this approach can be virtually from any part of the world! Again, preplanning and prior instruction on team processes and management is a must.

Learning by Researching.  Information overload is the key dilemma in this era. The Internet provides a limitless source of information that students can use.  However, they must learn how to manage the information to use it effectively.  Green and Gilbert (1995) noted that,

To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. . . Ultimately, information-literate people are those who have learned how to learn.  They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. (p. 8)

There are many web sites that can support the research process in the area of global, technical business disciplines.  Country and market information for most countries are readily available through the Internet.   Web sites offer virtual tours of countries and their culture, virtual marketplaces, and company information highlighting and describing foreign operations. Foreign video clips can often give students an added insight to a culture and a country's people. Students often in their search process can contact via email expatriates or natives in another country to acquire first-hand information.

Using the Internet as a research tool is invaluable; however, students should also be aware of hard-copy journals, indices, and papers as well as trade associations and commerce agencies that provide research assistance and access to data banks that are not available on the Web. Whatever the source, information must be managed.  It is critical that students understand the research process, from problem definition to reporting, to assure focus in an environment of innumerable options.

Learning by Developing.  Give students a chance to be creative, and you may be surprised. Whether it's developing a marketing plan, a new product or service, a graphics presentation, or a new process or procedure, students need to be given an opportunity to think and act out of the box." It is often an opportunity for business students to bring their many diverse skills and interests into focus including art, history, science, and language. There are many ways that instructors can encourage creative thinking and development activities.   Posing a problem with many alternative solutions, bringing forward a current international event that has a variety of implications in business, or evaluating electronic tools to increase effectiveness and efficiency can be starting points for students to bring our creative ideas and solutions.

Encourage students to propose projects of their choice within the parameters of the class―something that they are interested in pursuing. Once the project proposal is accepted, instructors can work with the student or students to develop expected outcomes for grading purposes.  Students should be encouraged to use the Internet and multimedia in their development and presentation efforts.  Whether the project involves developing a marketing plan, creating an advertisement, constructing a board game in e-commerce, or identifying a new product given future trends, students who initiate the idea often enthusiastically follow through.  It is very exciting and rewarding for them to be able to create, develop, and conclude a project that they can call their own from start to finish.

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Teaching Methods for Success

The Lecture.  From this aforementioned discussion one can conclude that the business, information technology classroom must be one that encourages active rather than passive learning. The lecture, which is still most commonly used today, requires student to passively listen rather than being engaged. This formal, teacher-centered technique is often used for several reasons; namely:

It is familiar.  Many teachers teach in the fashion they have been taught.  It is traditional and a comfortable mode of delivery.

  • It provides teachers with a sense of control.   The teacher is the center of the learning process and can easily dictate what will be presented.
  • It is the easiest method to present facts and concepts.  Teachers using this method feel that it is the only way specialized content can be delivered.

Proponents of the lecture method focus on relaying specific content, yet real business world dictates that education must prepare students with a broader set of skills.  The challenge is how to include this preparation as an enhancement to specialized content, not at its expense.  These expectations, to many, may seem formidable.

The Integrative Approach.  Integrating experiences in the instructional setting that will prepare students for the work world in the 21st century will required teachers to establish a different perspective about their role as teacher and how students learn.  In using this method, the student must be the focus and must be required to be actively engaged in the learning process. To some instructors it may feel as if they are teaching less; however, in reality they are better preparing students to meet the challenges of work.

Integration focuses on fostering an instructional environment that encourages students to use their basic skills, understand relationships between academic disciplines, appreciate diversity, and productively work together toward a common goal.
 

Where the lecture method requires students to listen and memorize, the integrative  approach demands students to think, synthesize, and react.
 

Basic Principles of Integration

In summary, from this discuss on the needs of business and the review of educational literature the following principles on integration have emerged that focus on educating the whole student for the world of work.  It is clear that business education must adopt the following integrative principles that will give students better preparation for the challenges ahead.  These principles include:

A student-centered focus.  A student-centered focus requires that teachers be willing to give up control.  The teacher must empower students to carry out a task or project and encourage relationship building.  The teacher must be approachable in order to consult and guide students.  (Grasha, 1994)

Active learning.  . . . active learning techniques encourage students to become involved with the materials they are attempting to learn by encouraging student to apply theory to real-life situation in a dynamic manner." (Hamer, 2000, p. 3) This technique focuses on student involvement with the emphasis on skill development rather than information transmission.

A teacher who can facilitate and delegate.  This technique requires the teacher to design activities where students learn from each other and engage in self-initiated, self-directed learning experiences.  Using this technique hones critical thinking skills, teamwork, and the individual exploration.

The incorporation of basic skills.  Students should be held accountable to read, write, and apply mathematical solutions throughout the business curriculum. Opportunities must be made available to reinforce these basic skills that are so critical in the business world.

Opportunities to work in teams.  The importance of teamwork cannot be underestimated.  Students must be given the opportunity to learn how to productively work in teams by appreciating diversity and achieving a common objective. Instruction on effective team strategies is a must before students begin their team experience. 

The use of technology to efficiently and effectively meet objectives.  Students should be given the opportunity to explore the best way of completing any task or project.  Opportunities to investigate various technological advances and effective Internet strategies should be the core of any business, information technology program.

Application of academic disciplines in business activities.  It is critical that students recognize the importance of understanding the world in which they live and how it relates to business.  Aspects of various disciplines (i.e. history, psychology, language, culture, art, etc.) can all be applied to making good, sound business decisions. 

The integrative approach in business education is one that can no longer be ignored.  Incorporating these principles will give students a better foundation to work, grow, and prosper in this dynamic and increasingly competitive arena.

 

References

Bellamy, L.; Evans, D.; Linder, D.; McNeill, B.; and Raupp, G. Team Training Workbook. http://www.eas.asu.edu/~asufc/teaminginfo/teamwkbk.pdf

Celuch, K. and Slama, M.  (Jan./Feb. 1999).  Teaching critical thinking skills for the 21st  century: An advertising principles case study. Journal of Education for Business,74, 134-140.

Charp, Sylvia.  (1995, March 1).  Editorial: Education reform in the information age. THE Journal.  [Online].
http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=205047681x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

Cogburn, D. L.  (2001, August 21).  Globalization, knowledge, education and training in the information age. [Online] http://www.unesco.org/webworld/infoethics_2/eng/papers/paper_23.htm

Core abilities and applied academics. (2000, May 20)  [Online] http://matec.org/curriculum/development/CoreAbilities.htm

Davis, E. L.  (1996). The future of education.  Education and Technology. [Online] http://www.wco.com/%7Emktentry/edfutur.html

Dudley, S. C. and Dudley, L. W.  (May/June, 1995).  New directions in the business curriculum.  Journal of Education for Business, 70, 305-311.

E-commerce growth prospects remain strong. (2001, January 17).   Corporate EFT Report.  [Online] http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=185871107x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

Grasha, A.  (1994, Sept. 01).  A matter of style:  The teacher as expert, formal authority, personal model, facilitator, and. . .   College of Teaching.  [Online] http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=205047681x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

Green, K. C. and Gilbert, S.  (1995, March 13). Great expectations:  content, communications, productivity, and the role of information technology in higher education. [Online] http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=205047681x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

Hamer, Lawrence O.  (2000, April)  The additive effects of semistructured classroom activities on student learning.  Journal of Marketing Education, 25-35.

Holstein, W. J.  (2001, February 26).   Old dogs, new tricks using the Internet. . . and, yes, getting their groove back. U.S. News & World Report, 38-40.

Miller, P. (2001, January 01).  Eye on b-to-b:  Using web-customer data.  Catalog Age. [Online] http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=185871107x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

Non-U.S. Internet commerce to account for almost half of worldwide spending by 2003, IDC Reports. (1999, August 25).   PR Newswire.  [Online] http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=185871107x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

Secretary's commission on achieving necessary skills (SCANS) competencies. (2000, Feb. 14). [Online] www.tier.net/schools/tcenters/scans.htm

Skinner, R. A.and Cartwright, G. (1998, May 05).  Higher education and the technology workforce shortage.  Change.  [Online] http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=205047681x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

Terry, S.  (2000, January 01).  Schools that think.  Fast Company. [Online] http://elibrary.com/s/edumark/getdoc.cgi?id=205047681x:US;EL&dtype=0~0&dinst=

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