Reciprocal teaching is an approach in which learners immerse themselves in the role of lecturers to learn more intensively and to convey content authentically to other learners at the same time. Following this idea, Prof. Dr. Torsten Forberg has initiated the “Reciprocal-Teaching-Project” at the Berufsakademie Sachsen – University of Cooperative Education Saxony for many years. The idea is that students in the third semester of the course BWL-Dienstleistungsmanagement (“Business Administration-Services Management”) teach first-semester students the basics of business administration, thereby also deepening their own knowledge. The framework for this – the concrete business situation – is provided by our beginner-friendly simulation Management Essentials.
25 first-semester students and 35 third-semester students participate in the Reciprocal-Teaching-Project, which is embedded in the Grundlagen BWL (“Fundamentals of Business Administration”) course at the Berufsakademie Sachsen. Prof. Dr. Forberg is supervising the project for the twelfth time. The first-semester students take over the management within the business game, which simulates the business environment of a production company for innovative on-ear headphones. The third-semester students supervise them as coaches, thereby introducing them to both business administration and the world of business simulations.
They also assist the seminar leader in planning the course and create a brochure of basic business knowledge, which they divide into eleven topic blocks. They give lectures on these topics, introduce the simulation to the newcomers, help them with decision-making and share their own business simulation experiences with them. A total of seven teams with three to four students per team compete in two markets.
Goals of the Reciprocal-Teaching-Project
The Reciprocal-Teaching-Project teaches students technical, methodological and social skills. Prof. Dr. Forberg focuses primarily on teaching the fundamentals of business administration. “Management Essentials” ensures the transfer between theory and practice. Among other things, the students recognize how a company functions based on the value chain, finance and accounting, and the interaction of the various corporate divisions. They do not simply learn the business fundamentals by heart, but actively apply them in the business simulation. They also train their teamwork skills through joint decision-making within the groups.
Prof. Dr. Forberg sees the core benefit of the Reciprocal-Teaching-Project mainly in the fact that the students from the higher semesters must deal intensively with management theories, the contents of the business simulation and possible strategies to advise the first-semester students competently. In this way, they not only pass on their expertise, but also delve deeper into the subject matter themselves and consolidate their existing knowledge. Prof. Dr. Forberg recognized this synergy during his own studies, in which he already carried out training and teaching assignments.
During my time as a dual student, I was tasked with teaching the trainees during my practical training phase at a bank. That’s when I realized that it’s fun to impart knowledge and that you learn a lot yourself in the process. I took on further teaching assignments and it became increasingly clear that teaching had a positive effect on my own skills. After graduation, I carried this idea into my teaching, came up with the Reciprocal-Teaching-Project and, after a few rounds, introduced the business simulation idea as a setting.
Grading and Additional Tasks
Prof. Dr. Forberg deliberately dispenses with winning criteria for the business simulation. The decisive factor for him is the expertise with which the participants deal with the company – regardless of their economic success. Even in the event of problems or in the case of insolvency, they should draw positive impulses and sustainable learning successes from their business simulation experience. Accordingly, the students can also try out daring strategies without having to fear bad grades. Finally, they present their corporate planning and the goals they have achieved, which they substantiate with the figures from the reporting system.
The final presentations serve primarily to reflect on the students’ actions – they are not included in the grading. At the end of the course, the students demonstrate their learning successes in a written exam related to the business simulation, in which they apply their knowledge of business administration. They receive 4 ECTS points for successful participation. The students’ responses to the question “What three words would you use to describe the Reciprocal-Teaching-Project?” were graphically recorded in a tag cloud. The six most frequently mentioned responses include the following terms: informative (informativ), interesting (interessant), challenging/ambitious (anspruchsvoll), exhausting (anstrengend), fun (lustig) and helpful (hilfreich):
During the simulation, Prof. Dr. Forberg uses additional tasks depending on the situation, responding individually to the needs of the participants. For example, he puts himself in the role of the supervisory board and points out grievances to the management of a company that they need to address. In the role of the bank, he grants loans or draws the teams’ attention to the fact that their company has overdrawn its account and needs to act. Sometimes there are even hostile takeovers when one team does particularly well while another must file for insolvency. Online, Prof. Dr. Forberg uses virtual backgrounds, while at face-to-face events he puts on various caps showing the respective role. Some of the roles he puts himself and others into to make business a tangible experience for the participants are presented in our picture gallery:
Presence, Online or Blended Learning?
The Reciprocal-Teaching-Project is suitable for seminars in presence, as a pure online event, or even as a blended learning concept. During the pandemic situation of the past years, participants played the first three simulation periods as part of an online kick-off. During this first phase, as well as for the meetings between the simulation periods, they used the Zoom video conferencing software. The remaining three periods they played in presence on two consecutive days. Regardless of the operational concept, they have about 15 to 30 minutes to enter their decisions in the TOPSIM – Cloud. In this way, the students learn to focus on the essential key figures when managing the company.
In August 2023, together with Berufsakademie Sachsen, we received two silver awards from the Brandon Hall Group in the categories “Best Use of Games or Simulations for Learning” and “Best Use of Blended Learning“.
Prof. Dr. Forberg will continue to use TOPSIM business simulations in his courses in the coming years to provide students and (junior) executives with hands-on learning experiences, to create a deeper understanding of business administration, and to promote their collaboration and communication. We would like to thank him for the exciting insights into his Reciprocal-Teaching-Project and are already looking forward to the future use of our business simulations at the Berufsakademie Sachsen. We wish the students continued fun and rewarding educational experiences with our simulations!