Today is the second day of classes. I’ve met the new students in my two co-teaching classes, ENT 300 yesterday and MKT 426 just now. The plan for 426, the “Export Odyssey” export promotions class, is different for this fall and may result in a decreased or increased work load for me. I don’t know which yet — I’ll write a post if the changes prove to be interesting.
Last week I finished the syllabus for my Coleman Fellow’s course as well as the required curriculum committee forms regarding the new class.
As I mentioned in June, Professor Welsh (our Entrepreneurship program head) and I decided that my Coleman class would be at the 500-level, allowing both graduate and advanced undergrads to sign up. The class must be interdisciplinary and cross-listed with academic departments outside the business school, since the Coleman Foundation focuses on encouraging “self-employment education” across campus. So Professor Welsh asked me to think about that other departments could be involved with such a class.
Recruiting cross-listing departments
Well, I work with GEO 533 Regional Economic Development each year, taught by Professor Walcott (conveniently the graduate studies coordinator for her department). Those students research emerging industries in North Carolina using industry and market data. Regional economic development is one of the tracks in the Geography graduate program. So I asked Professor Walcott, and she was interested in a cross-listing.
Library and Information Studies seemed a natural fit too. I taught LIS 613: Business Information Sources & Services a couple of times (fall 2006 and fall 2007). That class hasn’t been offered in a while, due to budget reductions (I think), so my proposed class could be a partial alternative class — partial since I won’t be covering topics like investments much at all and won’t have a focus on business librarianship as a concept. Professor Chu the LIS department head was interested, although I’m waiting for the final word from the LIS curriculum committee.
Faculty in both GEO and LIS provided helpful feedback on a first draft of the syllabus.
Justifying the class
In my curriculum committee forms, this was the rationale for the proposed class:
Many students do not have the opportunity to learn how to research business ideas beyond basic Google searches. In particular, students tend to have weak skills in finding and utilizing numeric data. This elective class would help develop information- and data-literate students who can effectively research self-employment opportunities as well as economic development opportunities using authoritative information sources. Those research skills would of course also be very beneficial for future coursework. In addition to being able to research self-employment opportunities, Geography students would be better prepared for the regional economic development curriculum, while Library & Information Studies students would gain a core foundation in business research sources and strategies (which LIS 613 covered in its time) and learn how to better measure and engage a library’s community.
The Geography department has signed off on their cross-listing and now I’m waiting for Library & Information Studies and Entrepreneurship to do the same. Then the paperwork goes to the graduate committee for approval, followed by the undergraduate one (chaired this school year by my library colleague Jenny Dale; yes, I should bribe her…)
Pondering the syllabus
Requirements for writing a syllabus are more rigorous than when I served on the undergraduate committee or taught LIS 613. We can blame SACS (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation standards for that. Or thank them, perhaps, if you agree that measurable learning outcomes are important to include, etc.
Since the class is open to graduate and undergraduate students, the syllabus must include additional student learning outcomes and evaluations for the graduate students. Adding those extra elements was new to me since LIS 613 was only open to graduate students. I thought my added graduate requirements were rather unimaginative. We’ll see what the curriculum committee says about them if anything.
In the 530 syllabus I tried to correct two mistakes I made with 613:
- Trying to cover too many topics;
- Not including some buffer class days, particularly near the end of the semester, to provide some flexibility in the schedule for whatever surprises come up or when I get behind schedule.
What I ended up with
The catalog description needed to be fewer than 30 words:
Students will learn how to conduct research necessary to make informed decisions for an entrepreneurial venture and measure and assess economic development opportunities. No business research experience necessary.
The concluding fragment will hopefully make the class more inviting to non-business majors. Professor Welsh reported that a couple of arts professors expressed interest in having their arts entrepreneurship students take the class, for example. The course description is:
Students will learn how to conduct the research necessary to make informed decisions for an entrepreneurial venture and to measure and assess economic development opportunities. These research skills will help you assess self-employment opportunities. Topics covered include how to benchmark the financials of private companies; identify and analyze competitors; evaluate the size and nature of industries, consumer markets, and business-to-business markets; and analyze trade data. We will examine secondary sources like government datasets, subscription databases, and authoritative free web content. Primary market research will be discussed periodically, but is not a focus of the class. Students will complete a research project based on an entrepreneurial or economic development idea of their choosing.
The curriculum committees now recommend including a “For Whom Planned” section. After a few attempts I ended up with two general statements and then GEO- and LIS-specific statements. Those later two helpfully appealed to those two departments as I sought their approval for cross-listings.
- Students who want to be at a competitive advantage in the classroom and the business world over those whose research skills are limited to simple Google searches.
- Students who want to make decisions about business opportunity based on data and authoritative research, reducing the risk of failure.
- Library & Information Studies students who want to gain a core foundation in business research sources and strategies and learn how to better measure and engage a library’s community.
- Geography students who want to utilize industry and market data in economic development analysis.
Here is the topic outline (also a new syllabus item for me):
- Week 1: Introduction to research for self-employment opportunities and economic development
- Week 2: NAICS & industry segmentation; narrative industry reports
- Week 3: Industry data & mapping
- Week 4: Competitive analysis
- Week 5: Benchmarking financial data
- Week 6: Demographics
- Week 7: Consumer spending and psychographics; mapping market data
- Week 8: Case studies involving competition, markets, and industries
- Week 9: spring break
- Week 10: Trade literature searching; trade associations
- Week 11: Social networks and review sites as research tools
- Week 12: Trade data
- Week 13: Synthesizing your research
- Week 14: Final presentations
- Week 15: Final presentations
You could probably guess that weeks 8 and 13 serve as buffer weeks in case I get behind schedule.
My initial list of student outcomes was quite long originally, reflecting my old school understanding of syllabi writing. For example, there were bullet points for each major research topic, like learning how to identify and download needed demographics. After helpful feedback from faculty friends I ended up with these sets of outcomes:
Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:
- Analyze research needs in order to effectively and efficiently conduct business research.
- Evaluate self-employment opportunities.
- Employ a variety of business information sources and strategies.
- Demonstrate basic concepts of data literacy.
- Accurately evaluate business research.
Additional learning outcomes for graduate students:
- Employ a wide variety of business information sources and strategies.
- Demonstrate intermediate-level concepts of data literacy.
- Apply data from several government datasets.
So there’s the possibly lame upgrading of learning outcomes for graduate students.
The planned assignments are pretty routine:
- Six short research assignments focusing on specific types of research (ex. industry data). Grad students will have two additional assignments (trade data and detailed use of the Economic Census).
- A midterm exam, to test students on basic concepts and terminology, and the ability to search for market data efficiently (under a time limit).
- Short resource presentations. Each student will do one, graded pass/fail. I like to make the students do some of the teaching. I’m not sure yet which resources will be assigned. One might be “use of Yelp.com for competitive intelligence.”
- A capstone research presentation & report, based on research that would go into a business plan or economic development proposal. The grad students will be required to present longer and write more. The students will be able to re-use some of the research conducted for the short research assignments.
For the assignment details I will have to include measurable rubrics for assessing research skills at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
I’m still thinking about how I will utilize the required reading during class discussions. I didn’t do that very well for LIS 613. Readings from three books will be required for all students:
- Wenzel, A. (2012). Entrepreneur’s guide to market research. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
- Phelps, M. (2011). Research on Main Street: using the web to find local business and market information. Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books.
- Berkman, R. (2004). The skeptical business searcher: the information advisor’s guide to evaluating Web data, sites, and sources. Medford, NJ: Information Today.
I like the first two books for being current, practical in focus, and written for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
The Berkman book is dated, but has three chapters on evaluating business information that are still useful. I’ll encourage the students to read those chapters from the copy on Reserves rather than buy the book. In addition, the graduate students will be assigned the first three chapters of Jennifer Boettcher’s 2004 Industry research using the Economic Census: how to find it, how to use it (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press).
Books on business research and reference from Rita Moss and Celia Ross will be useful to me as the instructor, but are too librarian-centered to use for this class. Certainly if any LIS students take this class, I will recommend those books as excellent professional development sources.
I will also assign guides, methodology overviews, FAQs, and videos provided by the U.S. Population Census, Economic Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, and other core sources of market and industry data.
Sharing ideas on teaching projects
My colleague and friend Mary Scanlon at WFU’s ZSR Library is also working on an entrepreneurship research class. We will be meeting on a Friday morning in late September soon to share notes as we both prepare for these classes. I mentioned before on this blog regretting the limited opportunities business librarians seem to have to discuss teaching, as opposed to discussing resources and reference services. BLINC has held workshops on teaching and training strategies a few times, and maybe we’ll revisit this topic soon.