College courses are not what they once were. They are not solely driven by lectures or presenting concepts. They are driven by engagement. They are driven by experiment, by doing. And the faculty at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics are at the forefront of this revolution, providing WVU business students with an innovative education and learning experiences they can apply in their careers.
Take, for example, Assistant Professor of Management Dr. Olga Bruyaka. Throughout the Fall 2017 semester, if you were to peek into her senior level Contemporary Business Strategy class, you would not have often seen students sitting at desks taking notes, looking at their smart phones or staring at the clock. In fact, you would have witnessed students participating in live auctions and negotiations, building prototypes and then testing those prototypes through an egg drop exercise.
“This a general strategy class, and it’s a high-level class where we talk about how to manage a company as a whole,” Bruyaka said. “Students are in different majors, and the different majors focus on functional strategy – marketing strategy, finance strategy, HR strategy and so on. They kind of work in silos and so in this course, we’ll say, ‘To make the elephant dance, you need to make all these functional areas work together, have a common purpose, common strategy – what we would call general strategy.”
Bruyaka said she has been teaching about resources and strategy for quite some time, but found that every time she was teaching the definition of resources, she was losing her students.
“What is tangible and intangible? What are the capabilities? It was boring, and they were falling asleep,” she said. “I then tried to teach using a case study. I was using a pretty good case – Formula One Racing – where real competitive advantage can be achieved based on the resources and capabilities, but here in the United States, no one knows Formula One. Students need to be interested in the context and know a little bit to have this discussion.”
After a while, Bruyaka thought to herself, “The case is good, but the students need something else to really understand what value is – what is a valuable resource. They need a hands-on experience.” And this is where the egg drop exercise came to life in her classroom.
The exercise, which spanned over multiple class sessions, was all about competition and using the best resources at the best price to build an egg catcher that would prevent an egg from breaking when dropped from 20 feet. Students were divided into teams of five or six. The first part of the exercise was an auction to bid for and purchase resources necessary to build the egg catcher.
Each student team received $125 of fake money – Monopoly money. On auction day, Matt Minard, a WVU Reed College of Media sports broadcasting student and B&E IT student worker, served as the auctioneer; Dr. Jennifer Sexton, assistant professor of management, served as the accountant; and Dr. Stephane Collignon, assistant professor of management information systems, priced and listed the items up for auction, and the teams started bidding. They were presented with 28 valuable items, including a brick, newspaper, tape, chopsticks, plastic bags and more.
“They needed to decide before the start of the auction what resources they would need and to kind of have an idea and agree on the design because they had limited resources. Some resources were more unique or more valuable than others. They essentially entered into a bidding war,” Bruyaka said.
With a ‘I hear five dollars here; do I hear $10’ and the resources dispersed, it came time to actually construct and submit their egg catchers. The next day in class, their ideas, knowledge of resources and construction skills were put to the test as each team had to drop an egg into their egg catcher.
“It was interesting to see how the students needed to coordinate between the person dropping the egg and the other team members trying to adjust the position of the egg catcher and give advice on how to drop the egg. They also chose the person who would drop the egg because it was a different skill,” Bruyaka said. “I gave most of the teams three attempts – a lot of raw eggs!”
From this exercise, students walked away from a fun day in the classroom, but also gained new knowledge of resources and strategy.
“I really liked that it was a chance to do something fun and different. It is a nice change of pace from the traditional classes where you listen to lectures and take notes,” said Mike Trotter, a senior management major. “The greatest takeaways from this exercise are really problem solving and efficiency. Having to design an egg catcher with the limited number of unique items was challenging and fun. The auction of the items with budget restraints was also challenging but allowed us to develop a strategy as a team and learn to change and adapt our strategy based on the items available and their price.”
“It was a good example of not only having valuable resources and then putting them together to make a good design, but also a skill to drop an egg. Something you can buy at the auction, and something you can’t,” Bruyaka said. “We talked about how different teams had different resources and they didn’t want to trade those resources, although they were given an opportunity to if they wanted. There were some resources that were useful, some that were not useful. We talked about what they couldn’t purchase at the auction – coordination, team management, ideas, design – the intangible parts.”
Overall, the egg drop exercise is used to illustrate how companies use resources to achieve a competitive advantage and build a product that is successful in the market and can deliver what the customer needs, while also looking at the costs.“When it comes to students using this in the workplace, it is a critical topic of resources because it is related to costs. In this exercise, they handle money and have a budget, so if you just talk about resources in general, students will say, ‘We need to invest in brand, we need to advertise, we need, we need, we need. Or let’s invest in our people, the talented engineers will create the best product ever,” Bruyaka said. “And then what about the bottom line? And so, it is nice to be creative, but at what costs? So, giving them this constraint with only having access to certain resources – this is the real world. It is what they will experience in their jobs.”