I designed and launched Brands & Branding in Autumn 2015 to 130 students. This course is an elective for 3rd year undergraduate students in the School of Management that has now run twice. In designing the module, I combined the requirement to support different learning styles with attempts to link topics to activities, organisations and events that are of interest to the students at this stage in their degree whilst still driving them towards achieving the module, programme and benchmarking objectives. These learning outcomes are necessarily assessed using a range of assessments, including a group presentation (worth 10%) to allow for formative (as well as summative) feedback before submitting a group report (30%) and also a final individual essay (50%) at the end of the course. These assessments are examined in further detail separately.
1. Group presentation and report:
The group assignment is designed to engage students through the use of the fictional character, James Bond. As my research is in arts (including film) marketing, this was an opportunity to incorporate my research interests into my teaching. A number of scholars have written about the use of visual media, and particularly films, in the business and management classroom, as a means, for example, to teach concepts such as risk taking, leadership, influencing and communication (e.g. Champoux, 2001; McCambridge, 2003). Bilsberry and Gilbert (2008) argue that there are particular advantages in using such films, as they give “permission” for the audience to “play” with ideas, and live long in the memory. They suggest that the use of relatively unconventional material may therefore facilitate a deeper level of processing, help to develop a critical awareness, and retain the lessons in students’ memory. For this assessment, students are asked to choose a brand and come up with a brand placement strategy for the next James Bond film. As Bond is a character the students are familiar with, the assignment allows them to be creative and think practically whilst still relying on branding strategy to make a strong case, thus reflecting ‘real-world’ concerns and enhancing student learning. Students were highly engaged and some groups went above and beyond in responding creatively to the brief for example by dressing up as Bond for the presentation and creating elaborate visual aids (e.g. slides and visual advertisements). The structure of the assessment acknowledges student diversity by allowing learners to use their individual strengths, dividing the work amongst group members (i.e. students who are not very comfortable presenting in front of class could contribute more on the visuals or the writing). A few groups went so far as to film the ‘scene’ as I encouraged experiential learning through technology.
The assignment is broken into two parts, firstly a 5 minute presentation allowing students to present their projects and receive formative feedback for the written report (the presentation is still, however, given a summative weighting of 10% to ensure students take it seriously). This is in line with the College Priority to “give students regular formative feedback.” Reflecting students' concerns from the previous year (2015), this year the presentations were pushed forward so that students had two weeks (rather than only 1) in which to consider and incorporate the feedback before submission of the report. This exercise allowed students to critically reflect on their projects and served as formative feedback. Students seemed to appreciate this opportunity and pointed out several times that they plan to include this feedback in their written reports. Furthermore, the presentation allows students to develop their transferable skills (e.g. presentation and communication skills, teamwork, organisation skills, creativity) which will be applicable to workplace situations (Bridgstock, 2009). The written report allows students to further engage with academic theory and go into further depth of analysis following from their short presentations. As such there are 4 key learning phases here:
- Presentation preparations (outside the class, student-led)
- Presentations (in the class, student-led)
- Feedback (in the class, 5 mins of questions and discussion, teacher-led, followed by written feedback)
- Feedback integration in final written report (outside class, student-led)
2. Individual essay:
Since the expansion of higher education, increasing numbers of employers require that applicants should have a degree, yet economic conditions have also led to increasing competition for jobs. This emphasis is reflected within the education sector in an increasingly strong focus on employability and transferable skills. For their individual assignments, students are asked to apply and critically consider the growing industry of personal branding whereby career and marketing professionals help job seekers create personal brands and apply marketing tactics to their personal identities. This is set keeping in mind that the course is for final year students who are in the process or about to apply for jobs or further postgraduate education. The assignment is therefore set with dual purposes in mind:
- Practical knowledge, transferable skills and employability:
For students to apply branding theories and strategies discussed throughout the course to themselves. This shows their engagement with the theoretical literature whilst also preventing a simply copy-paste approach to the material as students have to provide some discussion of personal experiences and aspirations. For example, students created personal strategic maps and some went so far as doing primary research to discover how their ‘brand’ was currently perceived. This enables students to consider their future objectives and prepare to enter the marketplace. It also highlights how their brand is perceived online and could be enhanced through digital tools such as social media.
A student from last year emailed me recently saying:
“One of the most significant essays I have ever written was for the Brands & Branding course at Royal Holloway. Before writing this essay, I had not thought much about my future career, nor much about my personal attributes and experience, and how they are useful. This essay helped me identify my future career goals, and was the starting point in helping me develop a strategy to achieve them. I was able to reflect on myself using marketing theories and concepts, and I also was able to recognise my strengths and weaknesses. It was particularly useful when it came time to writing my personal statement to apply for my masters degree, as I was able to write comfortably about myself, and what I have to offer. Overall, this essay was crucial in helping me not only establish my future career goals but also better understanding my own self.”
- Critical reflection:
A key educational debate has centred on the role of critical thinking, which has historically been considered a central purpose of higher education, alongside the acquisition of subject specific skills. For example, in a report published by the Oxford University Institute for Advancement of University Learning, the purpose of higher education is claimed as the ‘the pursuit of higher order cognitive capabilities in the context of disciplinary knowledge.’
Business and management is a subject which tends to be selected by students with a strong interest in the commercial world and a desire to take a vocational course leading directly into the job market, in part as a result of applied rather than theoretical knowledge and the development of skills directly related to employability. As a result, for this assignment I wanted students to consider some of the wider limitations of the marketisation of everything (including the self) through (personal) branding. This requires deep learning as well as reflexivity. This critical dimension serves to provide students with tools to deal with the increased competition (and therefore chance of rejection) in the marketplace as it emphasises the difficulties and dangers in managing a coherent personal brand online and offline whereby values, critical life stories, weaknesses, strengths, etc. are all fodder for strategic brand management and marketing. This is particularly the case online where the personal brand is available for others to retweet, report, comment on and quote. In my feedback to students when marking the assignment, I sought to specifically highlight that while personal branding tools can be useful, as human beings we are not just ‘products’ developed to sell products and services in line with corporate strategies. Whilst this assignment is challenging for students, many submitted creative and well thought out reports. I believe a mixed approach including both practical and theoretical knowledge can challenge students to engage more fully with relevant literature with confidence and consider their own personal trajectories in relation to their studies.
This range of assessments provides the students with both formative and summative assessment in line with College priorities. It also supports student self-actualisation (Maslow, 1954) by allowing for student individuality through a variety of possible approaches, encouraging creativity and increasing student engagement through these innovative approaches to assessment.
Billsberry, J., and Gilbert, L. H. (2008). Using Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to teach different recruitment and selection paradigms. Journal of Management Education, 32(2), 228-247.
Bridgstock, R. (2009). The graduate attributes we’ve overlooked: Enhancing graduate employability through career management skills. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(1), 31-44.
Champoux, J. E. (2001). Animated films as a teaching resource. Journal of Management Education, 25(1), 79-100.
Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation & Personality, Harper & Brothers, New York.
McCambridge, J. (2003). “12 Angry Men: a study in dialogue”, Journal of Management Education, 27(3), 384-401.