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This research has been a requisite due to the fact that in 2011 students’ performance at Higher School Certificate level had a fail rate (Grade U) of 34.16% out of 161 examinable candidates in Business Studies at Advanced Subsidiary level (MES, 2012). Moreover, the key messages from the principal examiners report for teachers (2011) claimed that educators should show students how to – construct their answers by using the context and data provided; put emphasis on number of attempts of all questions in the data response paper; improve time management skills; read questions carefully and focus answers closely to question asked; provide guidelines for command words in questions such as ‘explain’, ‘analyse’ and ‘evaluate’ as evaluation remains a problem for candidates. In relevance to marketing, focusing on the elements of changes to the marketing mix; contextualising the market research; picking key evidences from daily marketing activities of businesses of were the most important aspects. On the other extreme, candidates should take care to – apply analysis and evaluation skills in the context in order to achieve higher marks; give a balanced argument in answers; show how concepts are useful to a business; comprehend the exact requirements of the questions.
In 2000, Raelin (p.107) sustained that
“We need to continue to experiment with ways to bring reflective practice to management education (Business Studies in this context). Management is truly a messy, interactive, and typically tacit activity. We tend to treat instruction at an absurdly low level of complexity . . .”
Consequently, the author believes that Action Learning as an Action Research may revolutionize the leaning process of Business Studies’ students at secondary level.
During the past years, teacher centred approaches have dominated the learning process leading to poor results in Business Studies. Students have very often complained that the teaching strategies being adopted by teachers are not motivating. Learners see the lesson as being bulky to complete at the two last periods after recess with conventional instruction. Throughout, interest level seems to be very low and the learners try to oppose the learning process. These are the main causes why the author proposes an alternative concept in Business Studies to minimise learning barriers.
This research adopts a purely humanistic conception toward the enhancement of personal development of students in Business Studies. The humanistic perspectives incorporate cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains to facilitate experiential learning. The researcher is convinced that learning difficulties encountered by the students can be identified through action leaning. Guided and just-in-time learning will take place within a safer environment in order to acquire additional skills (communication skills, social skills and interpersonal skills). Real problems may be challenging for learners though discussion and questioning. In the company of a facilitator, critical thinking, generalisation of ideas and reflection of set members are achieved.
An action research has been adopted for this study based on qualitative and quantitative research methodology. For the collection of data, qualitative assessment will be implemented on social skills through participant’s observation and quantitative assessment in the form Students’ Feedback Questionnaire. The sample size consists of 5 students studying Business Studies (Advance Subsidiary) at Lower Six. Materials will be mostly Case Studies where students will have to identify problems and discussions will be made in prior to obtain an outcome by using action learning.
This chapter outlines the history and evolution of Business Studies curriculum and syllabus in Mauritius at both Lower and Upper secondary level. It highlights the importance of choosing Cambridge International Examination (CIE) for Business Studies at SC level as basic ‘grassroots’. However, the author lays more emphasis on Higher School Certificate (HSC) at Advance Subsidiary level (AS) as it is the research focus area.
In 1948, management of business as a subject was introduce in the Mauritian curriculum during the British colonisation. The aim was to educate elite and students from aristocratic background to undertake family businesses. Later, Mauritian students got access to London Chamber of Commerce for distance learning in management studies. Some years later, in 1965 more precisely, the local government come to a decision to launch Business Education studies in both public and private schools. Business education was provided as core and elective module at the University of Mauritius after 1971.
Introduced in lower secondary level (Form 3) curriculum during 1986, Business Education encompassed of three major domains namely Commerce, Principles of Accounts and Economics. Few years later prescribed textbooks along with their syllabus of these subjects had to be used in all schools doing Business Education.
To be eligible for SC exams, students are offered a list of subject choices in Form 3 before promoting to Form 4. They are given the chance to select their study side. For instance, they can opt for Commercial studies, Business Studies, Economics, and Accounting. The syllabus code for Business Studies at ‘O’ level is 7115. The exam paper embraces two sections namely; short-answer questions, structured questions and data response questions and Paper 2 – questions derived from a given case study carrying equal weightage. Business activity, the organisation, changing business environment, economic environment, marketing and production are some underlining topics at Business Studies ‘O’ level for students to apply their understanding to a variety of simple business situation. Figure 1.1 illustrates the grade distribution of Business Studies in 2011 at SC level.
Cambridge ‘O’ level Business Studies is acknowledged by Universities and employers as “a proof of business concepts and techniques across a range of different types of business” (University of Cambridge, 2012). Successful students are exposed to lifelong business skills incorporating:
(Source: University of Cambridge, 2012)
Business Studies at HSC level is demarcated by offering “compulsory” subject combinations through which learners have to compete for. For example, E03 would mean the combination of Economics, Business Studies and Accounting and NS20 would stand for Mathematics, Business Studies and Accounting. The paper code was amended in 2001 as 9707 which was previously 9368 for Management of Business. The exams paper takes into account of Core topics (for Advance Subsidiary) and Extension topics for Advanced level students.
The composition of Advance Subsidiary (AS) exam session is of Papers 1 and 2 covering only core topics in Business Studies curriculum. Paper 2 lasts for 90 minutes through which students have to answer two data response questions in contrast to Paper 1 having two sections (A for short answer questions and B for essay on core curriculum) with duration of 75 minutes and weightage of 40 percent of the total marks. AS level syllabuses are designed to offer candidates with 180 guided learning hours with direct teaching per subject over the duration of the course and may vary with curricular practice and candidates’ prior knowledge on the subject. The main aims of the syllabus are to provide critical understanding of business activity, nature, and behavior and at the same time developing skills for decision making, problem solving, management of information and effective communication. Some topics covered by the syllabus are business and its environment, people in organizations, marketing, operations and project management, finance and accounting and finally strategic management which was recently introduce in the syllabus.
It is worthy to note that AS results are shown in grades of ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’ and ‘e’ whereby grade ‘a’ being the highest, ‘e’ the lowest marks scored and ‘U’ as ungraded (fail). A concrete example is illustrated in Figure 1.2 showing the performance in Business Studies at AS level for 2011.
There has been an evolution in Business Education since 1965. With a high level of failures among Business Studies students in 2011, this study has become a priority to identify the factors causing learning difficulties through the use of Action Learning. The next chapter present an overview of AL as a concept.
There is a number of reasons for the need for educational reform, including inappropriate methods of teaching and learning Mograby (1999), which have been “largely a combination of teacher-directed rote learning using state developed curriculum and test-driven assessment” (McNally, et al.,2002). Educational reform requires teachers with new knowledge and skills, teachers who are proactive and “capable of generating their own professional dynamics” (Wallace, 1996, p. 281). For those hoping to achieve learner agency, there are many powerful approaches aligned with the goals of active learning. One of these is Action Learning (AL) by Revan (1998).
Hence, in this literature the first part emphasise on a definition for action learning. Various models of AL are discussed and interpreted as experiential leaning process. Last but not least, the characteristics of AL are described bearing in mind its components such as the AL set and the facilitator or the advisor.
Revans (1998, p.83) asserted that “there can be no learning without action and no action without learning”. An “action” is a process of doing something to achieve a particular aim: student need to study to pass exams. Alternatively, “learning” is the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study or experience: different student experience different learning difficulties. Wrapping up “action” and “learning” would simply mean a course of action of performing a task differently through study and past experience to attain particular objectives. In a different way it is the “transfer of knowledge, skill, and behaviour… to something practical” (Weinstein, 1998) to acquire wisdom. Yet, numerous researchers have elucidated the concept of Action Learning further.
Action Learning formerly developed by Revans during the 1940s enable top management to “steer the coal mining industry through a period of tumultuous change” after world in Britain (O’Hara et al, 1996). The idea of Action Learning later became a reference for problem-solving for managers who believed that appropriate solutions may arise through discussions and changes in behaviours. Willmott (1997) elucidated how action learning can contribute to critical thinking by exploring how “comparative abstract ideas” can be mobilized in the process of “understanding and changing interpersonal practices”. Tom Bourner et al (1996) defined AL as “a process of reflection and action aimed at improving effectiveness of action where learning is an important outcome” while in 2002, Zuber-Skerrit came forward with a newer definition for Action Learning as learning inspiring from “concrete experience and critical reflection on that experience” which may occur in or by “group discussions, trial and error, discovery and learning from and with each other”. O’Neil (1996) believed that AL programmes are used to “help individuals to acquire new learning skills (social skills, communication skills and interpersonal skills)”, however, O’Hara et al (1996, p.16) put it as being “less straightforward and more demanding than a traditional taught program”. The latter argued that “participants develop the capacity to be life-time learners, enabling them to adapt to new situations and circumstances (p.21)” through AL.
Revans (1998) derived a model for action learning through conventional education system (“traditional and formal methods of instruction”) and penetrating questions (questioning skills used “to get to the unknown”). He expressed it by an equation:
Whereby, L represents “totality of individual’s learning”; P which is “programmed knowledge” and Q as the “questioning insight”. Though “questioning insight” boosts up effective learning (questions set from lower levels to higher levels) and facilitates the exploration of nature, action learning is not about acquiring only knowledge. That is why, Weinstein (1998) put forward that action learning is about “practical learning” and thinking differently through the use of “new set of values and beliefs”. Besides, based on a UK conference experience, Krystyna Weinstein devised a model of AL by focusing on a combination of “three Ps” comprising of a philosophy; specific procedures and two-end products.
Weinstein (1997) argued that if any of the three Ps is missing, action learning will not crop up due to the fact that the “philosophy underpins the procedures and show how the two end-products are reached”.
In her model, Ruebling (2007) stated that awareness (goals to achieve), inquiry (structured questioning through factual, feeling, possibility and decisional questions), insight and possibilities (suggestions), planning, commitment of future team meeting, accountability, execution, reflection, experiential learning and recalibration (take any particular to the next level whilst providing additional solutions) are the critical success factors for AL.
Numerous types of AL were thought-out into four different schools (Tacit, Scientific, Experiential and Critical Reflection schools) by O’Neil in 1999 whereby the centre of attention were real problems, scientific research, experiential learning, and reflections consecutively.
O’Hara (1996) proposed a model to show how AL has been integrated in higher education whereby it involved processes which motivate participants to learn in a safety environment; set members share commitment and competences which eventually lead to personal or group challenges; the facilitator brings in trust, support and intellectual or emotional energy. Furthermore, the learner achieves a more fulfilling and successful experience when the action leaning approach is merged with stock of knowledge, research techniques and outcomes are assessed to gain academic qualification, learning skills and ability to deals with new circumstances.
Zuber-Skerritt (2002), Miller (2003) and Hicks (1996) advocated that action learning is identical to experiential learning that is, it is more than just a different form of expressing how to learn from experience (Mumford, 1995). However, Smith (2001, p.36) implied that:
“It is well known that experience itself is a very slippery teacher; most of the time we have experiences from which we never learn . . . action learning seeks to throw a net around slippery experiences and capture them as learning, i.e. replicable behaviour in similar and, indeed, differing contexts”.
A framework is provided to AL participants through which an individual, having had a concrete experience and having made observations about and reflected upon that experience, is in a position to form or develop abstract concepts or generalization based upon their observations and reflections. These concepts can then be tested in a new situation or a changed environment, which will, in turn, lead to new concrete experiences (Raelin, 1997; Smith, 2001).
Figure 2.3 shows the Experiential learning cycle design by Kolb (1984)
Experiential learning (Figure 2.3) also occurs through the action learning set (Mumford, 1991) as set members learn through their experiences of their actions, their observations, reflections, and conceptualizations are developed. They are encouraged and challenged explicitly through the set, which provides support to test the new understanding for discussions to develop and learn from experience in order to change, rather than simply repeating previous patterns (McGill and Beaty, 1992).
Many researchers debated that effective Action Learning can only take place if the four elements below are linked to one another:
Following the same dimensions, Smith and O’Neil (2003) grouped some common characteristics of AL whereby “problems are tackled in real time with no right answer; participants meet several times in small sets; problems are relevant; participants ask questions, reflect, extract lessons; they support each other; and take actions to resolve problems between set meetings. Problem solving provides the learner with an opportunity to act, be creative and to show that there is a significant change in behaviour, not simple increased awareness than rumination on unbounded ideas (MacVaugh and Norton, 2011). Although problems involved in learning may be “familiar or unfamiliar to a group, internal or external”, AL problems must, be real, significant, clearly defined, challenging, involve implementation (action) and capable of being learned from (Revans, 1980, 1982; Edmonstone, 2002).
Furthermore, Marquardt (1999, 2004) identified six components of Action Learning which encloses a challenge is important to the group; diverse background for groups of four to eight; a process of questions and reflections; power to take action for strategies developed; commitment to learning at team and individual level; and lastly an AL coach who promotes learning and improve skills for personal development of team members. Personal development requires a person who is encouraged to develop his or her own reflective practices with a view to making things happen or change. According to Revans (1980, p. 43) this personal development works best when it is a natural outcome of a manager’s reflection on their daily practice; “by tackling today’s problems more thoughtfully, he automatically learns how better to tackle tomorrow’s”. Ruebling (2007) discussed that “bottlenecks” can be eliminated from beginning to end by “peer accountability” and a distinctive “peer-questioning” to classify biases and assumptions driving “thinking processes and behaviors”.
“Set” is a group of participant or colleagues working with “real problems with the intention of getting things done” and “take active stance toward life and helps to overcome…pressures of life and work” (McGill and Beaty, 1992). Set members comprises of four to six learners as there are “no hard or fast rules about the constitution” (Johnson, 1998). Set as a group process; “it uses peers to generate learning from reflection on practice” (Beaty et al., 1997, p. 185) and “brings people together to exchange, support and challenge each other in seeking to learning” (Pedler, 1996, p. 15). It is not an official meeting as there is no headperson or minutes of meeting to be taken which is “absolutely essential to effective action learning” (Mercer, 1990; Mumford, 1995). On the contrary, Craig Johnson (1998) stated that sets meeting “support individuals in reflecting on past actions…and construct future action based on actual problems” but Lee (1996) maintained that “set requires equality of voice, shared trust and confidence, open discussion and a supportive environment, and works best when of an interdisciplinary nature”. It is through discussion and questioning that set individuals develop their understanding and outcomes of a scrupulous problem.
In action learning the facilitator creates a conducive learning environment by enabling participants to be more active and self-directed towards taking more responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it, and for assessing whether they have learned it. He or she is mainly the teacher in a classroom context with the expectation of developing the skills of learning for the students. Skills as such may be for instance, encouraging critical thinking, theories development and real world reflections. Also known as the advisor, the exact moment is resolved to perform role plays in a particular milieu. Facilitators rely on the group to offer suggestions to members engaged in project quandaries (Raelin, 1997) and are “dissimilar from that of the university lecturer; they do not teach, but help participants to learn from exposure to problems and one another” (Mumford, 1995). The role of the facilitator is to ensure the set is focused on and effective in its discussions, but ultimately the facilitator wants the set to work independently. However, it was observed that external pressures influencing the learning advisor were encountered “within the organisational setting” (sitting arrangements for this research) and low frequency of “regular meeting over an extended period of time” of group members (McGill and Beaty, 1992; Pedler, 1991). Other researchers such as O’Neil and Marsick (1994) noted that programme design that is “questioning insight” in action learning provided “just-in-time learning”. However, the “background of the advisor/facilitator”, “workload assigned”, “need and attitudes of participants” (O’Neil, 1996) might have a harsh impact on the learning process.
The literature review chapter clearly depicts that very few educational institutions (Tacit, Scientific, Experiential and Critical Reflection schools) are said to have applied active learning using a unified model (Maudsley, 1999) such as action learning (Revans, 1998). AL programmes help students to acquire new learning skills O’Neil (1996) and learn from concrete experience and critical reflection through group discussions. In a way, it is a “transfer of knowledge, skill, and behaviour… to something practical” (Weinstein, 1998) by set members whereby “problems are tackled in real time with no right answer (Smith and O’Neil, 2003). The facilitator or the teacher creates a favourable learning environment by enabling participants to be more active and self-directed towards taking more responsibility. That is why the author believes that there is a need to change from the traditional “transmission model,” (transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student, (McNally, et al., 2002)) to a learner centred approach by implementing AL.
The purpose of this chapter is to describe the methodological implementation of Action Leaning concept as an Action Research in Business Studies to achieve research objectives. One of the main objectives is to point out whether Action Learning offers contribution to the development of student’s social, communication, interpersonal and problem solving skills. Furthermore, it provides the opportunity to see whether a profound learning relationship is built between the teacher and the student through participation, discussions, past experiences and transferring of skills. The first section discusses about the AR process and its implementation throughout the study context. Details about the data collection methods are elaborated further at a later stage along with the sampling design process.
This study has been carried out in a Secondary State School in lower Plaines Wilhems district (Zone 3) in Mauritius. Students in Lower Six Economics One (LVIE1) studying Business Studies at Advance Subsidiary with subject’s combination of Sociology, Accounting, Economics and Mathematic were the main participants for this research. Respondents were informed beforehand about this research and were willing to try something new as a teaching and learning strategy in Business Studies.
AR is a new methodology that ’emerged after the First World War from the intellectual climate and ethos of an era that focus on empowerment and change, gathering momentum across contexts and cultures’ (Zuber-Skerritt and Fletcher, 2007). Some key features of Action Research outlined by Koshy (2005) are the involvement in research for teacher’s own practice (analysis, reflection and evaluation), facilitation of changes through enquiry and its usefulness in term real problem solving as it deals within actual situations. The main advantages gain from using Action Research are: – research is focused only to a specific context which provides the efficient use of time and cost; researchers can be participants and always close to the situation; open-ended outcomes can emerged; through AR the researcher can bring about modification in projects and at times theoretical development may occur. O’Leary (2004) depicted AR as a cyclical process comprising of observations to gather data, reflect on these research data and finally design a plan for implementation to generate further knowledge. She further argues that ‘cycles converge towards better situation understanding and improved action implementation; and are based in evaluative practice that alters between action and critical reflection’ (2004: 140).
The implementation of Action Learning in ‘Marketing’ as topic in Business Studies took place from 29th August to 13th September 2012 wrapping up three weeks during the third school term. The consecutive weeks were split into three cycles as stated below:
Cycle 0: 27th August – 31th August (3rd Week)
Cycle 1: 3rd September – 7th September (4th Week)
Cycle 2: 10th September – 14th September (5th Week)
The sample to undertake AL has been students from Lower Six Form at a State Secondary School. These participants also known as the ‘set’ members are mixed ability students having different socio-economic and ethnic background. All of them lives in the nearby villages and will take part in the Cambridge International Examination next year. The set comprises of five boys, all studying Business Studies at Subsidiary Level in respect of their other subjects chosen at Advanced Level. For AL to take place, set members are to be grouped to achieve learning objectives.
In this context, the researcher will act as the facilitator to smooth the progress of discussions through effective questioning methods. The advisor encourages participation to develop positive attitudes along with social skills among students.
Innovative forms of assessment will be carried out to gather data instead of the traditional test assessment in the forms of:
Observation is performed by the facilitator whereby attitudes and behaviours are noted down. The important criteria considered to bring drastic changes in personal development in the student will be as follows; students’ level of response, involvement, participation, behaviours toward peers and ability to discuss and ask questions.
The facilitator’s assessment checklist is constructed from beginning to end based on variables (criteria) discussed in Chapter Two (Literature Review) on Action Learning. Criteria are selected by the researcher for the contribution of personal development as well as improving social, problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills. Each criteria is rated from 1 (Very Poor) to 5 (Very Good) including 3 as Satisfactory as illustrated below in Table 3.1.
Students’ Feedback Questionnaires (See Appendix 1) were distributed and collected to targeted respondents on 19th of September after the AR had been completed. After a small consultation about confidentiality, students were convinced about reliability of this research and agreed to fill in the data with all honesty. Some students had a kind of fear as it was the first time they were participated in a survey. However, the response rate was 100% as they cooperated and participated fully in the exercise.
Ethical requirements in research should not only aim to only benefits but to avoid any harm. In this context, the principles of the research ethics were considered as:
More than one method of data collection tools has been used for this Action Research. Triangulation methodology is a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research techniques to generate reliable data and at the same time support the validity of the research. In this study data triangulation was
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