C. THOMAS HOWARD, Feature Editor, MBA Roundtable Co-Director, Director of MBA Programs, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver
Approaches to Integrating the MBA Core Curriculum
C. Thomas Howard, Feature Editor
One of the important trends in MBA education today is the movement towards integrated core classes. This movement is driven by the perceived need to make the MBA more relevant with respect to actual business situations, which almost always present challenges that are integrated in nature. That is, rarely does a business situation fit neatly within one of the academic business disciplines. To some extent, the trend towards integration is a response to the widely held belief that the 30 year movement towards the research-only departmentalization of business schools has gone too far and as a result the primary product of many business schools, the MBA degree, is too narrow and often irrelevant.
As schools have attempted to integrate their core curriculum to better meet the needs of their students, three basic models of integration have evolved: teaching material integration, block integration, and thematic integration. While not all efforts fit neatly into one of these three categories, my own experience is that these three do a good job of describing many integration efforts under way around the world. The models I have identified above can be thought of as ranging from less to more integrated, as well as ranging from little to considerable impact on the faculty and the school.
Teaching Material Integration
This is the least intrusive and the least effective way to integrate core classes. In this model, the traditional classes continue to exist, but are modified by including integrated cases and exercises in the latter part of each course. The same result can be obtained by adding an integrated capstone course which might be built around cases and exercises. Another way to accomplish this type of integration is to have cases or exercises that appear in several of the core classes. A significant problem with maintaining this type of integration is ensuring continued faculty support in using the integrative material inside their traditional, discipline based core courses.
In this model the traditional core classes are broken into smaller blocks and then scheduled to create a more integrated core. For example, the finance core course might be broken into six blocks, each offered at different points in the core as dictated by the need for integration. This provides much greater opportunity to deliver material on a JIT basis and allow students to handle integrated business problems much earlier in their MBA program.
The downside is that teaching schedules are much more complicated, with the faculty having to teach when required by the curriculum, not as a stand alone course. In addition, the faculty spend more time in meetings with colleagues from throughout the business school, as this type of integrated curriculum is often delivered by a faculty team. An attractive feature to many faculty is that each instructor still has considerable control over the content and delivery of material in a specific block.
This is the most ambitious form of integration, requiring the complete revamping of every core course, the school's department structure, and many other aspects of the school's administrative support structure. The core is reorganized along business themes, such as High Performance Management, Positioning in the Competitive Environment, Operating the Small Business and so forth.
All traditional courses disappear and are replaced with a series of thematically integrated courses. Obviously this has a number of dramatic implications: courses are no longer associated with departments but with the teaching teams; not all material from the old, traditional courses is included in the new courses; new material not currently being taught is added to the new, integrated courses; existing faculty may not be able to deliver this new material; and the procedures associated with course delivery (e.g. teaching load determination, grading, teaching evaluations, administrative support, course materials, and so forth) have to be revised.
Thematic integration provides the greatest level of business concept integration. But it entails significant changes within the school that may require five years or longer to complete.