Synergic overlap: Matching strategy to method in a group assignment

Dr Mikko Laamanen & Dr Mikael Andéhn, School of Management

College Excellence Teaching Commendation 2019

The International Management (Marketing) M.Sc. Programme teaches advanced skill courses in the third term of the 1-year programme. In the final term, the students take the courses ‘Integrated Marketing Communications’ (MN5347) and ‘Marketing Research Skills’ (MN5348) simultaneously over the 7-week teaching period.

The short teaching period for these advanced courses creates particular challenges for both students and teaching staff. For the latter, the main issue is ensuring student learning and timely assessment while also attending to the highly international composition of the cohort and the practice-oriented needs of the students. In terms of student deliverables, these two courses are both assessed with a group essay (30%) and an exam (70%), but the students also need to tend to their final project preparations on course MN5349. To deal with these challenges of the time-stripped final term, starting with the Summer Term 2018, we–the newly assigned course coordinators–devised a joint assignment to limit the scope of work and build synergies in learning. We achieved this by merging the two course specific group essays into one course-overlapping assignment (that nevertheless fulfils the course specifications laid out in both).


The joint course assignment

In this assignment, the students were offered a selection of real-life business cases. The selection of the case studies was performed with the learning objectives of the courses in mind: for MN5347, the case would need to allow students to create awareness of the complementarity and interdependence of activities in strategic advertising planning, and second, for MN5348, to develop a suitable research proposal for a business research problem that had to be identified by the students themselves. They were asked to write a 6000-word report including an introduction to the case and their interpretation of the key managerial problem, treatise of the problem from both a strategic advertising planning and a marketing research perspective, as well as conclusions and learnings from the cases.

Accounting for diversity in the groups (e.g. on nationality and gender), the students were randomly assigned to groups and these groups were coordinated across the seminars of the two courses. All together 20 student groups shared the five cases across the four seminars: one group would work on a single case for both of the courses. In-depth seminar discussions on the cases promoted three specific benefits for student learning. Firstly, this novel way of integrating an assignment across modules generated deeper understanding into how the lecture materials (including the course readings) could be placed in a wider working life context. Secondly, after familiarising themselves with the case, the students would approach the case from the two conceptual perspectives, cultivating a more advanced ability of lateral transference of skills between subject areas. Thirdly, seminars also allowed for an immediacy in feedback and increased lecturer-group interaction with any (problematic) issues the students were facing. This was of particular benefit to some foreign students who struggled with language issues while it also tended to the more general weeding out conceptual confusion.


Evaluation and feedback

Overall, our approach aims to builds the students’ confidence in professional mastery of the complex subject matter as well as support their learning with a very close supervision and assistance in the process. This is evidenced by the groups’ overall performance: 90% of the assignment grades commensurate with 2:1 or a 1st with the distribution amongst these equally divided.

The students also enjoyed the exercise as evidenced by their feedback. While some feedback pointed to typical group issues in work division, largely the students appreciated the ability to apply the taught content creatively (applying reflexivity), practically (particularly when it comes to advertising campaign design), and having close tutoring and feedback in the process. The mixed groups and international cases further supported professional skills development towards the students’ aspired careers in global settings.

The student liking of the approach was positive to the degree that word-of-mouth was eventually carried over from the related general management postgraduate degree programme, questioning “why a similar approach had not been adopted there.” This suggest students’ general preference for an integrated learning situation and offers a reason to develop this approach further.




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