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Business and Open-space Learning Case Study

Project Leader: Grier Palmer, Assistant Dean for Teaching and Learning, Warwick Business School

Lead Learner: Rachel King, postgraduate, School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies

(PDF Document) The project proposal

Context

Critical Issues in Law and Management, Warwick Business School

This a third year module for students doing the Law and Business degree which developed an OSL component in 2007-8 with the CAPITAL Centre and continued to evolve it thereafter in partnership with the OSL project team. It has provided a distinctive opportunity for the OSL project in two ways: integrating OSL into a syllabus alongside critical reading and reflective writing projects and involving the OSL method in the process of final assessment.

This is the most ambitious case study in the OSL project due to the breadth of the syllabus –the module covers a full two terms of work– and the extent of OSL’s academic integration. There are three major components to the module, ‘Case Study Presentations’, ‘Book Review Workshops’ and 'Written Reflections', as well as two Introductory Sessions, one introducing issues of critical thinking and reflection, the other introducing the experimental aspects of the module, especially issues of embodiment and self-presentation.

(Rachel King and Grier Palmer in conversation)

 

Method

Introductory Sessions

The first of these sessions was designed to outline the module objectives, emphasizing the need for critical thinking on issues in Law and Management, and creativity in response to unstructured and complex real world problems. This was a discursive and reflective session in which the students had the opportunity to ask questions and articulate any initial concerns they had about the module. One recurring and expected concern was with the variety of teaching and learning approaches proposed: students who were well used to the lecture-seminar-essay format expressed reservations about creative presentations and reflective written work. This kind of preparatory discussion was productive as it enabled the module leaders to frame the value of the module’s student-centred approach in real world terms and at the same time introduce the OSL perspective.

The second introductory session took place in the studio space as a major OSL intervention designed to familiarise students with issues of physical presence and body language and prepare them generally for their case study presentations. Although the link between OSL and presentation skills was clear to most of the students there was still some initial resistance to the workshop on the grounds that the OSL approach wasn’t intellectually ‘serious’ or academically targeted. In order to combat this resistance a new reflective aspect was incorporated in the second year of the OSL project. The original aim of introducing the students to the broad ethos of OSL and its applications was complemented in the reconfigured workshop by an attempt to interrogate seriously and specifically the values which underwrite the module: asking questions such as what do we mean by creativity; what is critical reflection; how does creativity apply to Law or Business? This development was led by the project’s lead learner, Rachel King.

Defining 'Creativity' and 'Critical thinking', Rachel King

Introductory session: tableaux

Case Study Presentations

Each student group or syndicate (comprising approximately six students) was expected to perform 3 case study presentations throughout the year, two in the first term, one in the second. Only the final presentation was assessed, meaning that the whole of the first term was given over to experimentation and rehearsal.

A case study took the form of a controversial real world issue which has legal and/or commercial consequences; for example, work-related suicide or sexual harassment. The identical case study was distributed to all student groups but each group was assigned a different interest in the case; so it may be that they had to act the part of a trade union representative, the family of the bereaved, the company solicitor etc.. This meant that the module was divided into two classes comprising four student groups, where each group presented a different perspective on the case.

The students had two weeks to research the case from their given perspective and prepare their presentation. They were actively encouraged to avoid powerpoint or static presentation styles. In this two week period they were also given time in an open studio space where they were to develop their work with Rachel King, who was available, as both the lead learner on the project and theatre-in-education specialist, to encourage them to think creatively and dramatically about their presentations.

 

Book Review Workshops

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The Book Review workshops followed a similar timetable to the case study presentations: two sessions in the first term and a final session (leading to assessment) in the second term. Here the OSL dimension was less obvious since the focus of each session was upon a themed series of articles, reviews and films. This year themes included ‘Leadership’ and ‘Groupthink’. Each individual student was responsible for introducing a single work from the series to the other members of his student group, providing a critical perspective and responding to questions.

Although the emphasis here was on students researching the material (finding out about its sources) and critically challenging its ideological perspective, there was also a demand that students present their readings coherently and robustly to one another in real time. In order that this forum model could flourish the book review workshops were convened in flexible teaching spaces and guided by ‘facilitutors’.

Here the endeavour to inspire the students to live discussion utilized OSL principles. The ‘facilitutors’ were PhD students from a variety of academic disciplines. Importantly they were not ‘experts’ in the field. They were there to pose open questions and help bring the student presentations into dialogue with one another. This challenge of this role proved to be one of managing the students’ expectation that an expert lead the group. The learning space proved vital in trying to meet this challenge of encouraging the students to take responsibility for their own group dynamic. Various seating arrangements were tried (this year without desks), including sitting in a ‘democratic’ circle or allowing the student presenter to take the privileged position at the front of the group. Encouraging students to stand also had a noticeable effect on presentation styles, seeming to encourage some students to be more expressive. In keeping with this progressive experimentation with the learning space the ‘facilitutors’ have been encouraged to observe some of the dramatic case study sessions in order to further consider the lessons of embodiment and effective presentation.

 

Written Reflection

There were three major written assignments for this module: a reflective piece at the end of the first term; a written Book review, along with a second reflective piece; and a long case essay.

The reflective pieces are not typical academic essays. Rather than asking them to represent what they know in writing students are invited to reflect on their own process of learning: how have they approached the module, how have they found working with the other students, how have they engaged with the topics covered? This process, ideally, is more than an academic assessment. It also helps the students to think about their learning style –what works for them- and ultimately encourages them to take more responsibility for their own learning. In this respect this kind of reflective essay is central to the ambitions of OSL.

Although the book review and long case essay take more conventional academic forms, by inviting students to respond critically to subject specific material in writing, the majority of the module’s preparation time had been given over to practical work and presentations, raising the question: can embodied OSL work prepare students for academic essays?

Students' reflection on the links between performance and writing

 

Findings

Central to the ambitions of this module was that the students hoping to begin careers in Law or Business would develop their professional skills and learn to be both creative and critical when confronting unstructured real world problems. The students were very positive about this outcome, highlighting several different facets to their learning through a student-centred process.

 

Group work

I actually think the group aspect, in comparison to any other group work I’ve ever done, the module seemed to force you to be mature about it. I don’t know if it was just our group or every other group, but I just felt like in our group we felt like we were in a position where we had to be mature and act maturely, take into account other group members’ views and things. I think the module itself put you in that position, to work well within a group and get the most out of it rather than just be like ‘Oh it’s group work and you’re not going to learn anything’ – so it’s a learning experience actually."

It does improve on the way you present yourself particularly in interviews. Because you’re working in a group and you have to present your side of the idea a lot of the time, you see ways other people present their ideas as well. You almost learn from them, you see different ways – ‘the way they presented it was really convincing’ or ‘maybe I can incorporate a bit of that into the way I do things next time’ so for that, it’s really good for letting you know what kind of image you want to give to other people as well.”

Independence

I think the module made it quite clear from the beginning that it’s the sort of module where the more effort you put in, the more you’re going to get out of it. There’s a lot of modules where you just have to hit the opinion of the lecturer, whereas this one really most of the time I felt that the results were very proportionate to the effort you put in. I think that’s generally a good motivator even for group work.”

Risk

I think that the structural elements, how to structure, how to creatively structure something, that’s something you can definitely use in essays as well. Of course it always depends on your audience, depends on whether you have an open-minded market. But … there’s a lot of risk involved in that. But at the same time I think especially later on when we work for companies or agencies or whatever, I think there you might have audiences that do appreciate, maybe not something extremely creative, but maybe just a refreshing approach to structuring something.”

 

Confident presentation

That’s what we did. I don’t want to go on about techniques we used or anything… things we did in the second session in that big studio, still images and things, it’s those kind of things that are quite potent. We thought in our group how do we actually convey this criticism, or this issue, but as you go along you try and explore and get new ideas, play around with the issue itself, the drama does come out of presenting it well. It seems easier to present it rather than stand and say it – you feel more comfortable with the point you’re making, because people are going to understand it because you have two ways of showing it, but also it’s really clear and expressive, it really gets the point home. The drama flows from the issues itself – that was something people worried about at the start of the module, how was drama going to be… how can you reflect this with drama. But it just happens by itself.”

I think the drama makes you more aware of body language as well. When you present, body language is very important. I learned that drama in this sense is not just about acting, but you can just stand and be saying something and it can be drama because your body language says a lot. And that’s taught me when I’m presenting on my own, that body language is really important because you don’t really think about it that much when you’re focusing on the sole presentation, on your own.”