SOM students solve real world cases

Students at the School of Management will be able to participate in small network online courses.
Students at the School of Management will be able to participate in small network online courses. Photo by Blair Seideman .

The Yale School of Management launched its first online courses last semester, but the school’s online innovation is far from over.

SOM’s small network online courses (SNOCs) are taught by SOM faculty members and are open to students throughout the Global Network, an international network of business schools founded by SOM Dean Edward Snyder in 2012.

Following last semester’s success with courses on mobile banking and antitrust laws, SOM is now offering a class on natural capital — “the Economy of Natural Resources” — taught by SOM professor Brad Gentry.

According to SOM administrators, the course is breaking new ground by asking students to examine and solve real problems that international companies are facing. The heads of some of these companies — including the CEO of Alcoa, a company that produces aluminum — have made guest appearances, and more are planning to participate.

SOM Associate Dean David Bach said the pedagogically innovative course will help SOM assess the potential of the online course model and strengthen the Global Network.

“I do think that a couple of years from now we will look at the course and say, ‘That was a really important moment for the Global Network,’” Bach said.

Jain added that the environmental and business themes of the course reflect SOM’s mission to educate leaders for business and society.

Though SNOCs are non-traditional by nature, Bach said the natural capital class stands out among the courses offered so far. The class is much larger than previous SNOCs, and it allows students from around the world to tackle internationally relevant problems about natural capital, he said.

Gentry, who designed the course in collaboration with nine students from SOM and from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said the use of real-world case studies will give students a sense of what it will be like to work in the world of business.

In most business school courses, the case studies refer to problems that have already been solved, but resource systems are constantly changing Gentry said. By using cases that are dynamic, Gentry said he hopes to help students realize that the world will often change under their feet as they try to walk.

In designing the course, Gentry said he wanted to work with students in order to have a variety of perspectives on the complex issues at hand.

“MBA students are [being] exposed to some of the science underlying what is going on, as well as topics like market organization and branding,” he said of his course.

Laura Franceschini FES ’14, one of the students who helped develop the curriculum and is now a teaching assistant for the course, said that the online format gives the course great potential.

Teaching assistants can upload different kinds of material, from case documents to video lectures. The students, on their part, have the freedom to sift through the material and understand how they learn best, she said.

The online format also allows the course to sustain more students, spanning across different time zones, than a traditional course would, she said.

Associate Director at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment Jennifer Oldham Rogan, who helped plan the course, said that although there are currently 65 active students in the course, she estimates roughly 150 people will be involved by the end of the semester, including staff members, faculty from the different schools and experts in the field of natural capital.

The course lends itself to collaboration, she said.

Conal Campbell, a student taking the course from University College Dublin Smurfit, said he has found the class both challenging and valuable for his future.

“I had previous experience of working in international settings, but collaborating with people you have never met in real life was a new challenge, and one that I’m sure I’ll use time and again throughout my career,” Campbell said.

Global Network Week, during which students in the Global Network travel to each other’s schools, will take place March 3–7.

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