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Business Students Continue to Receive Real-World Experience Outside of the Traditional Classroom

vallen-utter competitive effectiveness
Beth Vallen and Ward Utter, co-coordinators of the VSB course, Competitive Effectiveness.

In a course required for all Villanova School of Business (VSB) majors, students gain real-world experience working with marketing clients. The course, called Competitive Effectiveness, averages approximately five sections of 50 students each semester and requires extensive group work, something that created challenges during the pandemic. The VSB faculty were up to the challenge, coming together to adjust and deliver the course three different ways this fall: two sections have a faculty member teaching in-person with the other on Zoom; two sections are using a simulcast model, where half the class is in-person, while the other half is attending live on Zoom; and one section of the course is hybrid.

“We had to find creative ways to deliver the same experience as if everyone was in the classroom, in-person together,” said Beth Vallen, PhD, associate professor of Marketing and co-coordinator of the course. “It was important to offer the flexibility to the faculty we have teaching this class. The core content is the same across the board, but how they deliver it is totally up to them.”

The Competitive Effectiveness course is centered around a marketing case involving a major national brand. The class has worked with clients such as Johnson & Johnson, 3M, Clinique and others. Throughout the semester, students work in groups to develop a plan to execute a marketing prompt given by the client. Students leave the course with concepts important to marketing and management.

In a normal year, the client meets with the students five times during the semester: the case kickoff, two coaching sessions, final presentations and feedback session. This semester, all of the meetings are taking place via Zoom.

The biggest goal for the faculty was maintaining the level of student engagement. Overall, they have seen positive results with student interactions both in-person and online.

Ward Utter, a professor of practice in the Management and Operations department, co-coordinator of the course and who co-teaches the hybrid section with Vallen, says that they decided that a lot of the lecture material could be delivered through asynchronous methods. These are things that students would normally have been taking notes on in class. Now when they meet in-person, Utter and Vallen focus on applying the concepts students studied outside of class to real situations.

In the simulcast class, Rishtee Batra, PhD, assistant teaching professor of Marketing, says a camera feed, which shows the faculty walking around the classroom and interacting with students while teaching, helps them to be more engaged.

“I think this helps simulate a feeling of ’being there‘ for them and speaks to the importance of non-verbal communication,” said Batra. “They like that they can see our reactions and their classmate’s reactions, for example, when one of us makes a joke or when someone is confused.”

Since the course is geared towards group work, Batra’s co-teacher, Mike Bray, visiting instructor of Management, encouraged students to schedule informal group “hangouts” and opportunities to socialize. “Some teams have told us that they’ve set up virtual dinner dates and hangout sessions together and when those teams come into class, they tend to be much more positive and more eager to participate because they are more comfortable with each other,” Batra says.

But no matter how the students are receiving the content or attending class, what is clear is that they’re still getting the practical experience out of it—preparing them for their full-time jobs after graduation. And COVID-19 may end up being a silver lining for them.

“The business world has taken a step back from the way they normally interact,” Utter says. “Whenever the pandemic lifts, I think it’s certain there won’t be a 100 percent return to normal. There will always be a remote component to our work, with far less business travel and more video conferencing. Students are learning to interact and effectively communicate with their clients over Zoom and preparing to deliver effective presentations at the end of the semester. These are invaluable skills that will help them for years to come.”