February 2007 Site of the Month


Author: Louise Klusek
Institution: Baruch College, The City University of New York

Interviewer: Britt Fagerheim

Description: A Beginner's Guide to Business Research is an e-learning module designed specifically for students doing company research for the first time. This module is a required information literacy component of Introduction to Business, a 1000-level course required of all students intending to major in business at Baruch College. The Guide covers two major sources of information: company websites (including annual reports, 10-K filings, webcasts and press releases) and business databases for news, company profiles, histories and up-to-date stock information.

Q. What was the motivation for creating A Beginner's Guide to Business Research?

A. A Beginner’s Guide to Business Research is an e-learning module designed specifically for students doing company research for the first time. It was designed for Business 1000 (BUS1000), the introductory business course at Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY). This course is required of all students intending to major in business, and is taken by an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 students each year. BUS1000 is a Communication Intensive Course (CIC), part of a selection of courses at Baruch that focus on teaching oral and written communication skills in the disciplines. The course is structured so that students meet weekly in large groups for lectures and then in small recitation units that focus on a variety of communication projects, including debates, research papers, and oral presentations.

The research project for BUS1000, called “Shadow a Biz,” requires students to work in teams to monitor (“shadow”) a Fortune 500 company throughout the semester. Students gather background information on the company and review business news and corporate events to keep track of the company’s performance. As the semester moves along, students do research regarding the industry in which the company operates. They also research the company’s competitors. At the end of the semester students present their findings orally. They also submit a binder of logically ordered and annotated research materials, including articles, graphs, and press releases. Recitation leaders grade the term project on several criteria including value of information.

The role of the business librarian in BUS1000 is to introduce, in a class lecture, strategies for researching companies, including how to select appropriate resources and evaluate the information found in those resources. The information literacy tutorial was developed as a supplemental, online resource students could use at any time for a self-paced, hands-on review.

Q. The tutorial states “Project Management, Instructional Design, and Course Engine Provided By: Kognito Solutions.” What contributed to your decision to hire a private company to design the tutorial, versus designing it in-house?

A. The library faculty recognized at the outset of this project that our contribution would be based on our professional expertise in business research, information literacy, and classroom instruction. We also knew that to create an effective tutorial, we would have to find a professional partner with expertise in instructional design and Web technology. Kognito Solutions had already successfully collaborated with Baruch’s Department of Accountancy, and with the Baruch Computing and Technology Center, to produce an interactive tutorial called a “Guide to Financial Statements,” which won five-star recognition from Merlot ( http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm), a higher education consortium that sponsors a collection of peer reviewed online learning materials. Since Kognito had a proven track record at Baruch, we felt they could bring valuable expertise in design and learning technologies to our project. In addition, the company was founded by recent Baruch alumni as the result of a college entrepreneurship competition. As former Baruch College students who had taken BUS1000, they had special insight into the requirements for the tutorial.

Q. How did the two groups (librarians and developers at Kognito) work together? Did you work remotely, or meet in-person? Did the developers at Kognito choose the software?

A. I worked together with Kognito’s instructional designer/project manager throughout the entire project from conception through to planning, needs analysis, product development, and final user testing. As the subject-matter expert, I was responsible for reviewing and approving the instructional design document that detailed the project objectives, learner analysis, and content requirements. The needs analysis was conducted by Kognito’s instructional designers who held focus groups with students in BUS1000, interviewed professors, recitation leaders and librarians, and attended the librarian’s classroom presentation. Then over the next six weeks, I worked intensively with the instructional designer on the content, meeting several times a week and e-mailing frequently. We developed storyboards, wrote the text, and planned the interactive components. I signed off on the content and the instructional approach. Kognito’s design team took it from there and built the technology for the tutorial.

Q. How did you go about getting funding for the tutorial?

A. Newman Library has a long-established information literacy program, the Freshman Research Experience (FRE), developed in collaboration with the Department of English and integrated into Writing I (ENG2100). FRE has been generously funded since its inception in 2000 by the College’s Coordinated Undergraduate Education (CUE) program. When the library decided to expand the FRE program by targeting “gateway” courses in the subject disciplines, and chose BUS1000 as one of the pilot programs, we applied for an additional CUE grant to develop the tutorial.

Q. How is A Beginner's Guide to Business Research currently used? Is it tied to any particular class as a requirement, or how do students and faculty learn about it?

A. The tutorial is currently a required component of BUS1000. Students are typically assigned the tutorial in their recitation sections during the first weeks of the semester. Business librarians meet with the classes at this time too. In addition, the business librarians meet each year with new recitation leaders from Baruch’s Schwartz Communication Institute to discuss information literacy and introduce them to the tutorial.

The tutorial is also used as a supplementary resource for students enrolled in several other courses in the Zicklin School of Business, including sections of Business Policy (BPL5100) and Marketing Foundations (MKT3000).

The tutorial has been marketed every semester since it was introduced. It is often linked in a banner on the “Feature” spot of the Newman Library web site. Each year, the business faculty receives an e-mail with instructions for linking to the tutorial from their class Blackboard accounts. The tutorial is also included in Baruch’s Digital Media Library ( http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/dml/engine.php) where it can be accessed by the Baruch community and the public.

Q. Can you give a ballpark cost of hiring an outside company to design the tutorial, or an indication if this was a significant expense (however that might be defined)?

A. We outsourced the technical requirements for an hourly rate that was less than what we pay our own web development staff. We are fortunate that the vendor is owned and managed by Baruch College alumni whose loyalty to their alma mater kept down the price.

Q. Will you be updating the modules in the future? If so, will you most likely do this within the library, or through Kognito Solutions?

A. We would make content modifications on our own. A large-scale re-design of the tutorial would probably be outsourced due to the time commitments of our in-house developers.

Q. What kind of feedback, either formal or informal, have you received from students or faculty? Do you collect any data from the assessment quizzes? If so, how do you use this data?

A. During usability testing, which included several meetings with focus groups, we gathered feedback from students, faculty and librarians. All groups gave us positive feedback. Students particularly liked the modular approach, the opportunity for online practice with the business databases (ABI Inform and Hoovers), and the “Looking for Specific Information” module of the tutorial. Faculty and librarians especially liked the focus on critical thinking and evaluation skills in the “Using Company Websites” module which guided students through the contents of five annual reports.

After two semesters of use as a supplemental online resource, the tutorial was adopted as a required component of BUS1000. That was the most positive feedback we could have received. The recitation leaders actively promote the use of the tutorial. They are committed to information literacy and continue to invite the business librarians to visit their classes to reinforce the skills introduced in the tutorial.

Although many recitation leaders require their students to turn in a copy of their score from the final page of the quiz, we have never collected data from the quiz. In fact the quiz was not designed as an assessment tool but rather to simulate a research assignment and reinforce the material in the tutorial by leading students through a model research project. Students answer questions along the way and get customized feedback.

Q. How is the data from the online survey used?

A. Data from the survey has been used internally to evaluate the tutorial and as feedback in our annual reports to the Coordinated Undergraduate Education (CUE) committee that funded the project. In the survey students are asked to rate their self-perceived knowledge of business research before and after taking the tutorial. Results of the survey show that over 90% of the respondents reported some improvement. We also ask respondents to assess the likelihood that they would use various research sources introduced in the tutorial. Data from this question shows that students learn the value of company reports. Over 70% of the respondents reported that they would use the information found in the SEC’s 10-K filings.

Data from the survey has been used to market the tutorial. The author along with the lead developer made a presentation, “The Process of Developing an E-Learning Resource: A Case Study,” at Baruch’s annual Teaching and Technology Conference (April 2006), attended by faculty from Baruch, CUNY, and other local colleges. The data has also been included in a case study of the tutorial written by Kognito.

Q. What were some of the challenges (technological or other) that you faced?

A. One of our biggest challenges was designing a tutorial that students would want to use. The focus groups told us students would not sit through a long tutorial or use it in a linear way. Although we had always planned a modular design, we paid particular attention to insuring that each part was able to “stand alone.” We also decided to add a unit, “Looking for Specific Information,” devoted to the team project. This unit was designed as a just-in-time learning resource to help students research specific questions for the “Shadow a Biz” team project– for example, how to use a 10-K filing or how to find information on a company’s management team. It links students directly to relevant parts of the tutorial that answer their specific information needs.

Q. What are your future plans for A Beginner's Guide to Business Research?

A. We are very pleased with the acceptance the tutorial has found at Baruch and the fact that it is a required component of BUS1000 and is being used in many classes in the Zicklin School of Business. We intend to keep promoting it as a key resource in our information literacy program for the disciplines. We have also discussed plans for a formal assessment program using pre- and post- testing and have begun talks with the Schwartz Communication Institute about how this could be done.

Q. You have a copyright notice on the tutorial, but are other libraries free to use and adapt the tutorial, with credit given to the William & Anita Newman Library?

A. Yes, we welcome use of the tutorial by other libraries. Non-profit educational institutions are free to adapt the tutorial provided that the proper credit is given.