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Managing Complexity: Beginnings of a research model for business educators to update simulation pedagogy for 21st-century business environments
Cori Jo Myers, Rick Van Dyke

Last modified: 2011-09-07


At the 2010 NABET conference, the presenters argued that the call by Taylor (2001) to use complexity theory as a foundation for 21st-century pedagogy is “uniquely compatible with both the goals of entrepreneurship and with current scholarship regarding best practices in teaching.”  If our radically hyperlinked environments lead to changes in business conditions at the speed of wireless communications, then, as Taylor suggests, students must be prepared to respond to conditions that are continuously in re-formation.  As a result, a traditional, closed pedagogical system that seeks pre-determined answers could never, by itself, be sufficient to handle the complexities of 21st-century business environments. 

In response, the presenters continue to see an opportunity to link complexity theory to current scholarship involving best practices in teaching.  We reason that if complexity is rooted in the speed of digital communications among shifting networks of interdependent orgnizations, then greater student adaptability to changing conditions would have to emerge out of simulations that feature use of the following best practices in teaching:

  • Connection (Whetten, 2007; Kolb, 2005; Proserpio & Gioia, 2007; Bell, Kanar, & Kozlowski; Boyce, 2008);
  • Communication (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Green);
  • Interaction (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Xu &Yang, 2010);
  • Reflection (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Wills & Clerkin, 2009; Lainema & Lainema, 2007; Whetten & Clark; 1996, 2005).


Through connection, communication, interaction, and reflection, students can be guided through complex simulations, discover new interdependencies, and reflect on their decision-making processes in order to raise awareness and improve competency with finding innovative solutions at the point that is “just short of chaos.”

To emulate workplace complexity and follow the four-point framework for effective teaching, an online, group-based simulation was implemented in a capstone business course.  The simulation included such reflective activities as five journal entries and a larger case study.  While group members’ discussion and decision-making created excellent opportunities for enhanced communication and interaction, the written component offered specific points for students to connect with and reflect upon the material individually and uniquely. 


At the end of the course, students (n=45) completed a brief survey about the effectiveness of the simulation and related course activities for learning about the complexities of decision-making.  Initial descriptive statistics suggest that students perceive they gained a deeper understanding of the complexities of decision making from the simulation itself.  On a scale of 1 to 5, students gave the simulation the highest average rating (4.51) for helping to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of decision making.  When asked how much they learned from the simulation as compared to other learning activities during their undergraduate education, students’ average rating (4.22) indicates that they perceive the simulation to promote learning more effectively.


Students also were asked about the effectiveness of writing assignments, group work, and instructor’s communication with them for understanding complexities of decision-making and course material in general.   Average ratings (3.69 to 4.11) indicated that students’ perceive all activities and interaction useful; however, they gave the highest ratings to instructor’s communication (e.g., describing expectations, giving feedback, answering questions) (4.11) and to the larger case study (3.96).  While the descriptive statistics provide simplistic indicators of the effectiveness of the simulation coupled with writing, group work, and instructor communication, this paper will more fully examine how the student perceptions align with simulation rankings and rubric scores on course assignments.


Encouraged by the initial survey results, presenters will conclude with a reflection upon next steps to measure the effectiveness of the use of complexity in business pedagogy, particularly in courses involving entrepreneurship and business management.

Workshop Facilitators:

Dr. Cori J. Myers

Since 2005, Dr. Cori Myers has taught business administration at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania (LHUP).  She primarily teaches undergraduate students in such courses as human resource management, international business, management concepts and strategies, and strategic management.   Previously, Dr. Myers worked in private industry (hotel management) and held positions at LHUP in the areas of human resources, continuous improvement, strategic planning, and assessment.  Her research interests include student learning styles, experiential learning, assessment and student learning outcomes, accountability, and organizational governance.

Dr. Richard Van Dyke

Since his arrival at Lock Haven University in 2005, Dr. Van Dyke has directed the writing center, coordinated campus writing assessment, and taught the full range of writing classes, including business writing.  Previously, Dr. Van Dyke taught literature and writing at Massasoit Community College, where he coordinated the writing across the curriculum program, and at Quincy College, where he founded and directed the writing center.  Specializing in critical and rhetorical theory, Dr. Van Dyke’s current research interests include the development of online and offline writing ecologies and the relationship of writing to the circulations of global capital.  


pedagogy, simulations, complexity theory