Dr. Charles Knight

Dr. Charles Knight

Below Dr. Charles Knight discusses a recent exercise involving social media that he ran with some of his third year management students.  

At the start of the new teaching year like many academics I am thinking of new ways to engage students by reflecting on what worked previously, what was less successful and what new things I could try. This year as I had been writing about social media, I wondered if was possible to work its usage in some of my teaching in an active rather than passive way.

One of the courses I teach is a third-year management module called Strategy and Decision making which starts with a discussion of the process of individual decision making and builds from there to look at organisational strategy. I had looked at various case-studies and other activities that would introduce the idea of group decision making but it suddenly occurred to me that the use of social media in a structured way would allow me to do a real-time exercise that would bring in various facets of the information seeking and decision making process.

The scenario itself was relatively straightforward – I had been replaced by my evil counterpoint Dr. Night and he was planning to take over the world in the next 30 minutes.

A picture of Charles Knight

Dr. Knight meets Dr. Night

The students were told in advance that we would be undertaking a real-time decision making scenario but were given no further information at that point to better simulate an emerging problem which did not match to previous exercises they had undertaken. To take the students further out of their comfort zone, I started the scenario by giving a power-point based presentation which on the face of it was completely normal – however a few students were puzzled that on the opening slide that I had misspelt my own name! The level of puzzlement increased when they saw that the learning objectives for the session including ‘how not to displease my robot minions’ and so on.

The learning objectives of Dr. Night

The learning objectives of Dr. Night

After revealing my evil plans and the timescale for the exercise, I then left the room with no further instructions about how to proceed. After five minutes, a student helper then provide a handout which explained the rules and boundaries of the scenario. Students had 30 minutes in small teams to locate me using social media and the clues that I would provide via the use of photos – the scenario would end if a student touched me on the arm and stated ‘I arrest you in the name of intergalactic peace and harmony’. 

Dr. Night's twitter feed

@charlesnite – the twitter feed of Dr. Night

To further complicate the exercise (and to demonstrate to the students that decision-making may be based on erroneous information or heuristics that are misleading)  as soon as I had left the room, I changed out of my blazer, jeans and shoes into an entirely different outfit.

Dr. Night's causal wear

Dr. Night’s causal wear

I then proceeded to tweet on a random basis with ‘clues’ about my possible location – and also when I recruited new minions.

Dr. Night’s excellent new minions

I ran the exercise twice with one group finding me in 25 minutes and another in 18 minutes. A number of interesting points arose in the discussion afterwards about both how decisions are made and also the scenario itself:

  • No students intentionally worked out that I had changed outfit but a number of teams started to suspect it due to the fact that they should have been able to see me when I was taking some photos in public spaces;
  • Many students walked straight pass me even if they looked directly at me (Inattentional blindness);
  • One team took the decision to not to wait for instructions and left the room almost as soon as I did – they left one member to relate instructions;
  • Smarter group thought carefully about their resources and left a ‘controller’ in the classroom who directed other members to travel to other buildings to track me;
  • Part of my evasion technique was to join random groups of students all of whom were happy to play along.

The actual discussion itself got quite technical as we discussed why nobody could see me in plain sight and thought of other (strategy related) scenarios in which it might occur and also discussed questions about resource allocation, how search teams could incorporate their previous experience into future search strategies. Overall I would say that as a way to get students thinking about a quite technical and often very dry area it was very successful – in addition, the real-time nature of the event provided an extra impetus to the learning experience. On that basis, I would hazard a guess that Dr. Night might reappear at some future date…