Welcome to Case Matters, the e-Bulletin of the International Journal of Instructional Cases

 

In this issue, we celebrate the effectiveness of concise teaching cases in engaging a classroom in critical thinking and analysis. One of our new authors, Ralf Mehnert-Meland of Minnesota State University, reflects on how he keeps his teaching real and edgy, and the vital role that cases have to play in his classroom. 

In our first article, IJIC Editor-in-Chief Gina Vega calls for a reevaluation of how business schools assess research impact and perceived quality, and argues for cases to be properly recognised for their huge contribution to pedagogical enquiry. 

 

We are also pleased to introduce our newest concise cases. Take a look at our growing number of cases and please do let us know how you find them in the classroom!

Rob Edwards

Publisher, IJIC

rob@ijicases.com

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The Tyranny of the Journal Ranking System

Gina Vega, Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief, IJIC

I read a thought-provoking article the other day about measuring the impact of our research in a more relevant and updated manner. The author, Tricia Bisoux, (“Can B-Schools Rethink Research?” Biz Ed, Sept/Oct 2018: 21-31) reports a changing focus of research impact and the forces that have created the current method of quantifying our scholarly productivity. 

Accrediting agencies such as AACSB have provided guidelines for acceptable publications, depending on the mission of the institution. If a school declares itself a “research institution,” the publication requirements will differ significantly from those of “teaching institutions.” Yes, faculty at all schools perform varying amounts of teaching and research/scholarly output. However, the weighting of that output in terms of promotion/tenure and accreditation standards differs, as does the value to our own individual professional development.


Quantification: Research v. Impact
Academic administrators have traditionally used a variety of algorithms based on journal quality, distribution and accessibility, acceptance/rejection rates, and citation enumeration to measure the value of academic research. This system creates a series of challenges for authors, editors, and institutions alike based primarily on the definition of quality. As teachers, we try to avoid such vague words as “quality” – words that, like beauty, are often in the eye of the beholder. Quality reflects the specific desires of the user, not the provider.

 

Personally, I strongly prefer to read papers that contain current research, deal with the problems we are facing today rather than five years ago, and that avoid a great deal of academic-speak. The papers must be suitable for their purpose while meeting my expectations. You may feel differently, but I believe that this perspective is a fairly commonly held, though rarely articulated one.


The result is an outpouring of current research that often languishes in the “To Be Reviewed” folders at journals and on reviewers’ desk tops.

Top ranked journals receive so many papers that the editors and reviewers (academics all, and busy with the rest of their lives as well) can scarcely handle them and often feel they must desk-reject rather than offer the time and assistance necessary to help the authors improve their work.


The challenge for journal editors and publishers is to balance carefully their acceptance/rejection rates because if a journal accepts too many of the submitted papers, an assumption is made that the journal is “too easy” to bother with. It will never get an A rating or a Tier 1 ranking if it accepts more than 20% of its submissions. There’s something appealing about the Pareto distribution that suggests that the most value appears in the 20% range. But this is just silly – the Pareto distribution was designed originally for use in financial projections and should not be applied to all situations. It is certainly possible to imagine a scenario in which, for example, your entire class has clearly understood the material and everyone has earned an A. Why should it be any different for our scholarly work? That is the very purpose of the “revise and resubmit” editorial letter. The goal is to be formative, not evaluative, at the first read.


Authors must identify the most acceptable journal in which to publish, and then gear a paper to the needs of that journal in the slim hope of its acceptance. The challenge for authors couples the dependence on institutional goals for professional advancement with the overload of papers submitted to the highest ranked journals. What this means is that if your employer requires that you publish primarily in Tier 1/A level journals, you are limited in the outlets available to you. If you publish your work in a Tier 2/B level journal, it will not count as much in your P&T file, and you will have to publish several papers to equal the point value you would gain from publishing in the first tier journal. If you choose to publish in a C level journal, it may earn no professional value from your institution, despite the potentially wider audience for papers in unranked or lower-ranked outlets.


If you are fortunate enough to work in a “teaching” school, the publication demands tend to be more flexible. Your research can be pedagogical in nature, rather than purely theoretical or conceptual in your discipline. You can publish in teaching and learning journals or in journals like the International Journal of Instructional Cases (or others of the same ilk) that provide teaching materials such as cases to other faculty for use in the classroom. These directly-applicable materials offer collegial assistance and are valued as highly by most teaching schools as is basic research for their impact; that is, their applicability in the classroom and their focus on social needs.


What Gets Measured Gets Rewarded
In 1975, Steve Kerr taught us that we will do the things that are measured and for which we rewarded (On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B, American Management Journal, Dec. 1975: 769-783). If our goal is to perform basic research that results in new theoretical models or large quantities of data for statistical analysis, our institutions need to reward this. If we are interested in supporting social change or development, again our employers need to support this. If we are teachers and want to be certain that our students have the materials necessary to help them learn, our institutions must develop a system for rewarding our efforts in creating such materials.
Bisoux’ article suggests the use of “alternative metrics,” an unfortunate turn of phrase in 2018 but one that does reflect clearly the need to measure that which we wish to reward.

 

One of the challenges of authors of case studies (N of 1 studies designed for attaining specific learning outcomes in the classroom) has been to quantify their achievements in such a manner as to receive the same professional rewards as the more quantitatively-based basic research of their academic peers.


Clearly, exposure is one important metric. When we publish in academic journals, our readership is limited to other academics who are interested in our specific area of research. We’d like to have a major impact on our field, but often our scholarly papers are read by fewer than 100 people. Sad, after all the effort we have put in to share our research with others.


When we publish in case journals, especially online journals such as the International Journal of Instructional Cases, our exposure is increased dramatically as our work is shared with students, not solely other academics.

 

It is not unusual for a case to be used by many hundreds of students in one university alone. International usage can expand readership numbers radically. The impact of our scholarly efforts is easily measurable via downloads, online “hits,” queries on databases and social media, accession through distributors, and other simple quantifying methods.


If an institution wishes to be known or recognized as one that has a focus on social responsibility, for example, it can encourage (reward) its faculty for publishing cases that have a theme or sub-text of social responsibility issues. If an institution wishes to develop a reputation for ethical financial management, it can encourage faculty, again, to publish cases in this realm.


Institutions of higher learning do need to remember that a significant part of their organization mission is “learning.” Learning encompasses both research and teaching – the theoretical and the practical.

 

As faculty, our efforts need to reflect our professional responsibility both to scholarly research and to the practical implications of that research.

 

We need to help our students learn and develop the skills necessary to continue learning when they leave our sphere of influence. This is accomplished less by competing with one another for access to publication outlets and more by making sure our work appears before the eyes of those who can benefit by it.


Cases and Quality
Cases have traditionally been overlooked when scholarly accomplishments are being measured because case journals and journals that publish other kinds of instructional materials have not appeared in the journal rankings. This oversight is the result of the definition-in-use of quality – citations in other scholarly papers – a perfectly legitimate method of identifying one type of quality via peer evaluation and applicability to further research.

 

However, cases are not designed to encourage further research. Instead, their purpose is to encourage critical thinking and analysis on the part of the reader.

 

Case studies are not candidates for potential citation, except possibly in the situation of an author using case studies in a paper about case studies. This is a very limited usage and unlikely to make a numerical impact on the field.


Because of the non-ranked status of case journals, many academics are reluctant to put in the effort needed to develop the teaching cases that help students develop analytical strength and evaluative skills. There are many respected outlets for teaching cases, and these need to be recognized and valued for their impact as well. However, they do not need to be “ranked” in the same way that we have accepted for basic research journals.


We can evaluate these journals based on other criteria. I would suggest among others: global reach, quality of peer review, editorial assistance, commitment to current issues and the needs of the educational community, use of timely methodologies in the teaching notes, depth of pedagogical assistance provided to fellow instructors, readability in terms of language and appropriateness for the desired audience, ease of purchase and accessibility, speedy review, clear expression of submission requirements, and lack of a fee for publication.


These measures may help institutions develop the kind of professional activity that will add to the body of knowledge as well generating high quality learning and teaching opportunities.


Your thoughts? Please write us at editorial@ijicases.com to continue the conversation.

 

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Just published!

 

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Army's Search for a Better Camouflage Uniform

Author: Robert F. Mortlock, Ph.D. 

 

This combat uniform camouflage case study encourages critical analysis of a U.S. Army project at a decision point. The case focuses on the procurement strategy of combat camouflage uniforms and equipment for U.S. Army soldiers. 


The combat uniform case study reinforces critical thinking in uncertain environments, documents lessons learned for project management for future application, and provides wide private-sector exposure to the complexities of public-sector acquisition and camouflage uniform strategy and test planning in particular.

Keywords


Decision-making, critical thinking, stakeholder management, project management, defense acquisition

Target Audience and Usage

The case is suited for students concentrating in PM fundamentals or for functional experts in the PM-related fields of systems engineering, testing and evaluation, business and financial management, operations management, and logistics or supply chain management. The case is written at the graduate or executive education level—ideal for MBA courses. The case can be incorporated into the later stages of graduate or executive-level course curriculum, used in courses specializing in project/program management, test and evaluation management, operations management, or strategic management—or in an MBA capstone course. The case is applicable to PM professionals in both the public and private sectors.

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Instructional Cases and the 10-Minute Attention Span

Ralf Mehnert-Meland, Juris Doctor

Minnesota State University

(Editor note: We are delighted to welcome Ralf as a new IJIC author with his new concise case, 'When in Rome (or Manila …): Where Business, Law and Ethics Meet' - find out more below).

Every day we are bombarded with more and shorter sound and video bites. We spend less time on any single issue before being diverted to the next. As a result, the attention span of student Generation Z is probably somewhere between field mice and red squirrels. And those of older generations do not seem to be much longer. 

So, how can we teach complex topics when our collective attention span is too short and continually decreasing?

Teaching the thrilling intricacies of U.S. business law, I employ methods such as humor, daily news, an edgy and physical approach, and instructional cases, to engage the students and re-charge their attention. The goal is to keep instructional segments short, edgy and relevant.

Humor, for example, seems to be best received when it involves a current issue important to the students. A joke about the Reagan presidency likely will be lost on them. One about whatever whichever Kardashian sister tweeted yesterday will not.

Using daily news items is more effective when the students recognize the news item from their Social Media feed. Trademark news involving Kate Perry’s Left Shark is just more interesting than Cargill Corporation.

It is important to speak our students’ language and use their terms. I also purposefully present information in class on their popular Social Media channels. The recognition of YouTube® as a source alone increases interest.

An edgy approach is helpful. My illustrations of a specific legal issue may involve controversial and uncomfortable topics such as clergy abuse, illegal drugs and domestic violence. It pushes my students into areas they either ignore or of which they are unaware.

In class, I use a somewhat physical approach and “roam about”. Physical props are a must. George the Rubber Chicken is an essential participant in our discussion of sales contracts under the Uniform Commercial Code.

And lastly, I use instructional cases. They are an extremely effective way to introduce real-life “stories” and raise the students’ interest. When the topic is fresh and within their general area of concern, students tend to be much more creative in discussing, understanding and resolving the underlying issues. Stories with a more edgy or controversial theme or those involving a proponent in an extreme situation tend to increase interest and attention - as do those that use the students’ language and expressions. Relevancy to their lives is crucial – and instructional cases provide that relevancy.

Shortening (collective) attention spans are a reality in today’s instructional environment. We can, however, continually re-start our students’ attention spans by employing somewhat unorthodox methods, using relevant cases and speaking their language.

Keep instructing real and edgy, My Fellow Instructors! And let me know what works for you.

 

Ralf Mehnert-Meland, Juris Doctor

Assistant Professor – Business Law

Minnesota State University – Moorhead, Minnesota, USA

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News from IJIC partner, PMI Project Management Institute

We are very pleased to welcome PMI as our partner for a second year. Their support is invaluable to us as we continue to develop the journal.

Virtual Student Event

PMI are offering a free Virtual Student Event for students and emerging professionals in project management and related fields on October 30: https://pmiteach.org/registration-open-free-pmi-student-virtual-event-30-october-2018/


PMI Thesis Research Grants awarded

PMI recently awarded two Thesis Research Grants to doctoral students to support their thesis research: https://pmiteach.org/pmi-awards-two-thesis-research-grants-for-2019/


Call for PMI 2019 Academic Awards

Nominations are now open for the PMI 2019 Academic Awards. The nomination window runs Nov. 1-March 1: https://www.pmi.org/about/awards/research-academic

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New concise case published!

 

When in Rome (or Manila …): Where Business, Law and Ethics Meet


Author: Ralf Mehnert-Meland, J.D.

 

On a business trip to the Philippines, Ben was invited by his Asian business associates to an evening of entertainment, including something “typically Asian”. After dinner, the men ended up in a brothel.

 

Unbeknownst to Ben, the purpose of the visit was an evening of karaoke singing. It was also clear that “other services” were included at each participant’s own discretion. The students should assess Ben’s situation and decisions from legal, ethical and business perspectives.

Keywords

Business; Law; Ethics; International Business; International Etiquette

Target Audience and Usage

This teaching note is suitable for students at the undergraduate level. It focuses on adult audiences in business law, international law and ethics courses. The case is best introduced in the middle of a teaching term after general legal and ethical concepts have been discussed.

 

As the case deals with potentially unfamiliar issues, such as prostitution and cultural differences, that may be considered somewhat uncomfortable especially to audiences in the United States, it can set the stage for a relevant and more eye-opening discussion.

This is a good example of introducing a real-world business event and legal and ethical issues with which students may find themselves confronted during their lives and business careers.

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Share your news

 

Want to see your name in print and share your thoughts on all things case with a growing community of other professionals?

 

We are currently inviting contributions for our next issue of Case Matters, due to be published in January 2019.
 

Tell us about how you use cases. What has worked? Where do you struggle? 
 

If you are writing a case (hopefully for review in IJIC!), tell us all about it. 
 

As a starting point, get in touch with our Publisher, Rob Edwards!

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Join us as an IJIC sponsor!

To join our existing partners, Concordia College and PMI, why not learn about the benefits to your organization of becoming an IJIC sponsor?

 

Please take a look at our website. We would be pleased to welcome you!

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