Managing in a volatile world: Student preparation for the real world


I was asked to re design MGT501 in 2018 and 2019 to address continuing feedback from students entering the University’s postgraduate business programs that this foundation management subject was ‘too academic’, insufficiently applied and expected too much of students returning to study. The subject was redesigned in 2019 and has been refined in subsequent sessions.

My role was to develop the learning strategy, the assessment strategy, the topic content and learning activities, and the assessments. Although I did not teach the subject, I worked very closely with the staff who were convening and teaching the subject at CSU main campus and in the Study Centres in Sydney and Melbourne.

What did it look like?

In re designing the subject I was conscious of the importance to blend very current knowledge with skills development that managers need to be successful in contemporary situations and organisations.

One of the skills sets that the subject aims to foster is critical reflection and collaboration. I used David Rock’s model of collaboration and reflection, called SCARF to inform the design of case-based and elevator pitch activities, where students worked individually and in groups to tackle complex challenges that often involve conflicting values. In other words, there are few formulae and no pat answers.

Rock’s SCARF model is anchored in several barriers that get in the way of genuine collaboration and engagement with stakeholders. These barriers include the fear of failure and the risk of negative rewards, as well as losing power and control, and the lack of facility in dealing with negative feedback. These ideas informed my approach to designing both the learning activities and some of the assessment tasks, where students work together to solve quite complex problems in management.

What needs to happen next?

As I have observed the delivery of the subject over the last 12 months, and, more recently, led the teaching of this subject at the Charles Sturt Study Centre, Sydney, I have learned that some additional scaffolding of skills is needed, especially for students who lack deep professional experience.

I have observed the strengths and the limitations of collaborative work and case-based work, as well as the joy of seeing some of the students gain a much better (than in the past) appreciation of the task of managing in volatile environments.

The re design has improved the classroom environment and experience, and it has also made it a great deal more challenging. The real world feel and intensity of the subject has given students a deeper sense of valuing the role of the manager. However, not all students can cope with the depth and complexity. So, it has been necessary to find ways to reach students through life lessons, games, and chunking content. For sure, some students may not appreciate fully the scope of the subject. But, that is perhaps not new.

How you can make it happen?

If you want to find out more, here are two key resources that you may find helpful: a library of publications on Rock’s SCARF model, and the SCARF paper can be downloaded here.

Happy learning and teaching travels….