The city of Hamm was one of the COVID-19 hotspots in late summer, and a fast shift to online teaching formats was necessary at Hamm-Lippstadt University of Applied Sciences (HSHL). In this article we show how Prof. Dr. Johanna Moebus adapted her simulation-based seminar for non-business students to distance learning.
For several years Prof. Dr. Moebus has been using TOPSIM – Manufacturing Management in her teaching. Also this year students in the seventh semester of the Bachelor “Environmental Monitoring and Forensic Chemistry” took part in the simulation-based seminar. Normally they would play in a three-day block format, and this was also how the course was planned this year with all the necessary safety measures prepared. But due to the rapidly increasing infection numbers in Hamm a new online concept was needed as soon as possible.
The module “Business and Law” and the bachelor thesis are scheduled for the last semester, and business administration is only a minor subject in the engineering program. Since the students have almost no previous experience in this field, they attended an introductory course that covers all the basics of business administration with three hours per week. This course prepared the students for the business simulation and gave first insights into online seminars. The business simulation as a practical learning experience followed.
Several active markets
Three groups were playing with 17-25 students each. This resulted in five companies per market with a group size of three to five people. The online seminar was conducted live and followed the agenda of learning in the classroom format. Since the students were distributed throughout Germany, this solution was also the most practical.
Using Moodle and the Big Blue Button tool, Prof. Dr. Moebus and her research assistant Jan Spieckerhoff as seminar instructors were able to configure virtual team rooms and a plenary room. Each company had its own room with all rights to work independently. The seminar instructors then went from room to room – as in the classroom format – to visit the teams. The evaluations then took place in the plenum, where Prof. Dr. Moebus worked with PowerPoint as a digital whiteboard or the Compact View of the TOPSIM – Cloud.
Sticking to the classroom format
Similar to the time agenda, the additional tasks were also adopted from the classroom format. The groups were divided into expert groups using breakout rooms. They also created a marketing campaign for their company, including logo and promotional clip. Despite distance learning forced by COVID-19, students should be creative in the seminar: Advertising spots do not necessarily have to be shot in real life with people in front of the camera! Even animated PowerPoints work very well.
The groups also prepared strategic plans and a SWOT analysis for their companies. At the end of the seminar, an annual stakeholders’ meeting took place, during which teams had to present their strategies. While the virtual presentation was a bit bumpy at the beginning, it was smooth in the end. Should there ever be problems with tasks or decisions within the periods, the students used the communication center in the Cloud. So Prof. Dr. Moebus directly got a mail with all important information.
The students in the seventh semester have enough analytical skills so that TOPSIM – Manufacturing Management was a business simulation with an appropriate level of difficulty despite their limited knowledge of business administration. The bicycle market is easy for everyone to understand. Even though students found the online format more difficult and also sometimes exhausting, there was a steep learning curve for the participants. The business simulation was also fun! To further increase motivation, the seminar was evaluated. The teams received their grade as a group performance, which consisted to a small extent of the share price and to a large extent of the additional tasks submitted in writing.
Prof. Dr. Moebus is glad to have stuck to her previous structure. It is very important to give the teams their own rooms so that they can work really independently and undisturbed. Furthermore, preparation, both in terms of content and technology, is the most important thing. In this way, small difficulties can quickly be eliminated and distance learning can be carried out without major problems. Despite mastering the challenge, Prof. Dr. Moebus still missed the group dynamics and emotions of the students. Whereas in the classroom seminars “joy and suffering” were very much obvious during the evaluations, in the online format almost nobody dared to switch on their microphone and cheer.
Even though the concept of the seminar was rather spontaneously adapted to a remote environment, we are happy about this positive experience report and would like to thank Prof. Dr. Moebus for her insight.