Dr Ali Amrollahi is a Lecturer in Actuarial Studies and Business Analytics at Macquarie Business School. Here, he reflects on meeting the challenges of teaching emerging technologies through focusing on how to think about the technology, rather than just its application.
On one hand, I was excited to be in charge of teaching a contemporary topic, and on the other hand, I was already feeling the challenge of teaching a technology that is rapidly evolving, with new developments and innovations constantly emerging. To address this issue (and other challenges of teaching emerging technologies), I referred to the theoretical concepts of meta-cognition and tried to focus on teaching how to think about the technology, rather than concepts that may soon be obsolete.
The importance of teaching emerging technologies to business students
The business world is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, and knowledge of emerging technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, has become necessary for business graduates. Beyond its obvious applications in the daily operation of business, this knowledge can foster innovation and creativity, allowing for new solutions and ideas to emerge. For this reason, employers are seeking candidates who are familiar with the latest technology trends and their applications. As a result of these changes, teaching technology to business students is essential for preparing future business leaders to navigate the rapidly changing landscape of the business world and to stay competitive in their respective fields.
First, technology is often associated with technical background knowledge and jargon, which can be overwhelming for students with little to no computer science background. Also, business students may struggle with implementing technology solutions in real-world scenarios, as the application of technology is often complex and requires a deep understanding of the underlying principles. Finally, and most importantly, the technology landscape constantly evolves, making it challenging to keep up with the latest trends and updates. The speed at which some technologies like blockchain are developing, is so rapid that by the time students graduate, the unit material that only covers the basic concepts and applications of the technology may already be outdated.
I am an early career information systems lecturer passionate about exploring the intersection of technology and business. Since joining MQBS in 2020, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in teaching units focusing on understanding the impact of technology on businesses and the applications of technology in enhancing organisational performance. I have further designed the content and delivery of the “Blockchain for Business” unit. While knowledge of the above technologies is considered essential and is therefore, prescribed by professional bodies1, teaching them to business students can be challenging for several reasons.
To ensure that I could meet the challenges, I had to design and deliver the unit material carefully. The majority of students enrolled in these units are pursuing degrees in the Bachelor of Commerce or Bachelor of Professional Accounting. Considering this background, and given the unit objectives, I needed to focus on the practical applications of the technology. However, it was impossible to do so without providing adequate contextual and basic knowledge about the technology. Additionally, the rapid change of pace in both fields posed a significant challenge.
While pursuing a graduate certificate in higher education at the time, I attempted to refer to the scholarship of learning and teaching to find an approach that can be helpful in situations like this. Among various theories and pedagogical principles, I found metacognition – or the process of thinking about one’s thinking and learning2 very relevant to this situation.
A metacognitive learning approach involves actively engaging in metacognitive strategies to optimise learning outcomes and become a more effective and independent learner3. It involves actively reflecting on one’s own thinking processes, identifying areas of strength and weakness, continuous search for learning, and active judgement about the learning material.
Using a metacognitive learning approach can help learners become more independent and self-directed learners, as well as improve their critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. In particular, the approach is well-suited to teaching technology to business students as it encourages learners to think about their own learning processes and the technology they are assessing, leading to a deeper understanding and better problem-solving skills.
Moreover, a metacognitive approach can help learners become more independent and self-directed in their learning, which is particularly important in the context of rapidly changing technology. Business students will likely encounter a variety of technology tools and systems in their future careers. By developing metacognitive skills, learners will be better equipped to adapt to new technologies and problem-solve more effectively in a professional setting. As a result, those who have applied a metacognitive approach to learning about technology are expected to possess the knowledge and skills to use the fundamental principles they have learned and stay updated with modern technology applications.
I attempted to implement the metacognitive approach differently in my lectures, tutorials and student assessments.
The lecture content was devoted to basic technical concepts at a level sufficient for students to understand and conceptualise the applications of the technology. The second component of the lecture was investigating some “model applications” of the technology to help students familiarise themselves with the way technology can potentially be used in practice. A third component was devoted to the governance of technology or policies, procedures, and standards that organisations put in place to manage their use of technology.
Really interesting unit! I loved it. Weekly tutorials, weekly quizzes and assignments really helped improve my understanding.Student feedback Learner Evaluation of Unit (LEU)
In tutorials, students were encouraged to set clear learning goals, such as identifying key concepts or connections between different topics covered in the previous lecture and regularly assessing their understanding of the lecture material through self-reflection or peer review in small teams.
I went in not knowing anything about blockchain and now I have a decent understanding of it. The subject was taught in a very straight forward manner, with the complicated subject matter being delivered incredibly well by the lecturers, and particular by the tutor, who helped greatly in my understanding of blockchains.Student feedback, LEU
Assessments were also used as an essential learning tool in the units, where students were asked to:
- Assess the use of technology in a particular case to practice researching a range of materials to see how the technology was implemented and assess its impact.
- Design an application for the technology in which the principal characteristics of the technology are used to create and present a solution to a real-world problem or challenge.
- Create a presentation in which they practice pitching their idea and solution to a real business.
Students were encouraged to plan their assignments by breaking them down into smaller tasks to reduce the risk of procrastination. Beyond that, they were provided with regular feedback on their progress and were encouraged to monitor their own learning before submission. This helped them identify areas they needed to improve and gain insights into different ways of approaching the assignment.
Really interesting and contemporary subject! I particularly enjoyed the case study nature of the assignments.Student feedback, LEU
The impact of this approach was reflected in students’ immediate feedback on the unit (through LEUs) and, in the long run, in their correspondences with me. The overall immediate feedback received through LEU was used to improve the unit. Beyond the feedback received through LEU, I also received emails from students who did the unit, and mentioned the positive impact of their learning experience in their current job.
As the teaching team, our next step is to integrate the more recent technological advancements into the blockchain unit and reflect on the feedback provided by the students. Moreover, we plan to gather long-term feedback from our alumni, who have completed this unit and are currently working in various industries. This will enable us to refine our approach and make improvements where necessary. Finally, we intend to explore the possibility of implementing this approach in new units that aim to teach other forms of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things, to business students.
1. Davern, M., M. Weisner, and N. Fraser, Technology and the Future of the Profession. CPA Australia, 2019.
2. Norman, E., et al., Metacognition in psychology. Review of General Psychology, 2019. 23(4): p. 403-424.
3. Pratama, M., et al., Metacognitive learning approach for online tool condition monitoring. Journal of Intelligent Manufacturing, 2019. 30: p. 1717-1737.