Michael J. Geringer, a Cesim business simulations expert, is previously a Professor of Strategy and International Business at the Orfalea College of Business at California Polytechnic State University at the time of conducting this interview, currently a Professor of International Strategy at College of Business of Ohio University. He has over 30 years of experience with research and consulting on strategic issues for private and public sector organizations worldwide. He has authored or edited 27 books and monographs (in English, French, Chinese and Indonesian) and published over 140 papers, including within Journal of International Business Studies, Academy of Management Journal, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic Management Journal, and Journal of Applied Psychology.
In this interview, Mike Geringer talks about:
- How California Polytech came to use Cesim business simulation games
- How he integrates Cesim Global Challenge into his courses
- His overall experience of the simulation integration process and the learning outcomes
Mike Geringer on California Polytech's Business Simulation Integration
1. What got you interested in business games and when have you first used them in your class?
I have been using simulations since the mid 1980s. One of the problems I found in the classroom was that lecturing was a rather uninspiring way to teach, the students got rather boring with it, it was not very good for retention materials. I started using case studies a bit, that helped, but one of the difficulties we have had was the inability to really follow decisions and see the implications, the outcomes. I finally found simulations which I could use and found them to be incredibly engaging for the students and a nice way to invite them to class and make it a better learning environment.
2. Tell me a little bit about your decision to integrate Cesim Global Challenge into your courses. What type of course it was (blended, online classroom), with what kind of topical focus, and in what ways did you intend the business simulator game to complement it?
I have been using the Global Challenge game for about a decade now, and I have used it in a range of different classes. I have used it as a standalone class for undergraduate students and executive audiences. I have used it for a supplemental material for a range of undergraduate, graduate and executive programs. So I have used it everywhere from courses that were strategy and finance that help me illustrate all of those key topics. I have used it in international business classes and I have used it just as a standalone integration of the business materials.
In terms of how I have been able to integrate it into classes, when it is not a standalone based, I have tended to use it as an effort to try to highlight the theory and application of theory within the classes. I have been able to use it with audiences involving people who have no business training at all, engineering students, freshmen in undergraduate programs. But I tend to use it with sophomores, juniors, seniors and undergraduate program, or with MBA students, and I do that because it does have a broad range of business concepts that it is able to illustrate. I tend to use it in conjunction with a limited amount of lecturing and some other case studies, where it ends up being the integrative tool to really bring the theories alive.
I have been able to use it as a tool to perceive the introduction of theory because sometimes I find that students find theory to be rather, like many of the students who do not have extensive business experience, sometimes do not understand how to actually apply things like, financial statement analysis, cash flow analysis, assessment of competitors, assessment of different markets, transfer pricing, all these other kinds of issues. So giving them a chance to apply it within the context of their own company makes it come alive and become much more personal, and at that point it also makes them much more receptive, as learners to be able to want to learn these concepts so they can keep up with their performance.
3. How did your students react to the business strategy game? What was the overall engagement level with Cesim Global Challenge and what struck you as the most exciting thing in your students' behavior during the course of the simulation game?
There is always a little bit of apprehension when students first begin a game, because they are not quite sure how it works, there are many different aspects that they have to become familiar with. Usually what I have students do is, have them take a look at the YouTube video, to practice with the game on an individual basis for half an hour to an hour. That takes away the resistance enormously, and then I find that they get really engaged. Before you know it, they are making decisions, they are talking amongst each other about the trade-offs between different decisions, it becomes very lively in a classroom environment. You hear the volume level going up very quickly, which is a sign that you are starting to engage them. They become quite serious about it, at same time they are having fun.
A real sign of how much they enjoy it is that, I normally have decision periods that are ending around 10 pm, say on a Tuesday and Friday night, as I do in this current teaching quarter. And I have been having students texting me at 10:15 or 10:30 at night on a Friday night about the results they have had. If you think about undergraduate students who would be spending their Friday evening waiting to find out the results on simulations, that tells you they are excited about it, they are engaged into learning. They are finding this to be something worthwhile.
Further reading: 4 Ways Business Simulations Can Improve Student Engagement
We also have a user log on simulation and I am able to go on at night and see if people have logged on and sometimes I would have a third to half of my students log on between 10 pm and 1 am basically checking the results, finding out how their teams did. That does not tend to happen very often in a typical class, students would do just about anything besides focus on learning at that point. But students just get really excited about that and it has ended up becoming the highest-rated part of the program. Students just really get consumed by it to the point that I have actually had other faculty members complain that all they keep hearing about in their own classes is the simulation in Geringer's class and students talking about that how much they are enjoying it. To me, that is a real compliment for the game and for the ability to incorporate it into the classroom and make learning fun again and really make the students want to learn.
4. What do you think your own role was during the business management simulation game? How did you help your students get the most out of the simulation experience?
I believe very strongly in the notion of learning by doing, which is really letting students go out and try on their own, make some mistakes and try to see what works best. So from that standpoint, I do not get as actively involved as some instructors might with the use of simulation. I let students go in, walk around a little bit, make some errors, when they have questions, I am available. So I see my role more as a facilitator of learning, trying to help them initially to get familiar with the game, to use a range of practice rounds so that they are comfortable with the game.
And then what I do is, I tend to spend a bit of time after each round with reviewing some of the key outcomes, introducing some of the concepts which it is clear that students are starting to be challenged with. For example, at the beginning of the game, it is almost impossible to have students understanding issues such as transfer pricing. It is not something that is taught very often and in individual classes even within accounting programs. And so trying to lecture on the notion of transfer pricing, you might get the concept through but students do not get engaged to that. On the other hand, once you have been through one or two practice rounds, students are finally aware of how transfer prices are linked in with the returns within each geographic areas, how it affects the overall taxes for the company, or bottom line profitability and so forth.
Further reading on teaching with international taxation and the transfer pricing option in Cesim Global Challenge.
So from that standpoint, something that I may have spent half an hour on at the beginning of the game, and which would have gone totally over their head, and they would not pay attention. Suddenly, they are now totally giving me their attention, asking questions, making sense of it and applying it very effectively in the next round of the game. So I am finding that it is really an effective environment for making students want to learn concepts. And then my role would become put out the dessert if you will, to entice them and once they start enjoying that, then they ask for more and more. And so I am actually able to get them to want to learn things, like financial statement analysis or competitor analysis, how you analyze cash flow, things which many times are difficult to get students very interested in, but with the game they want to. And I literally have students that say, I hate finance, I hate quantitative classes, and halfway through the game, first thing they are doing is looking for financial statements, analyze them and see what is happening. And they do not even realize that they have become really good learners. Because now it is personalized, it is their competence, so it is not just a classroom environment, this is really something that is part of theirs.
5. What are some of the most important takeaways you have learned over the years about simulation based courses?
You know, learning has to be fun. You have to connect with the students in order for it to be effective, you cannot force someone to learn, that is one thing that has become increasingly obvious to me over the years. One of the things about having fun is that it opens up students' minds and makes them a much better learner. Simulations do that, they let people have fun, they let people joke around, talk, and debate, and other things, and it converts the learning process into something that is very personal.
From that standpoint, it just really changes my notion of what teaching is about, and the changes from the notion that is a passive learning process with a sage onstage telling students what is important and how to make sense of things. And it becomes a very individualized learning process going at the pace of the students, having students help to teach each other, because I tend to use teams of two or three students, and one may be more familiar with the concept than another is, so they work with each other to understand and argue through different types of decisions.
So what is really becoming clear to me is, we need to involve students in the learning process and to the extent that we can use simulations as a very active tool to engage them, have them have fun, and make them take learning as a part of themselves. We are going to find that not only are they learning more and retenting more, but they are enjoying the class more, they are open to the other concepts in the class, teaching evaluations go up, performance goes up. So it is to me a godsend to be able to have some of the developments like Cesim.
6. What tips or words of advice would you give to other educators who are planning to use business simulations in their course(s)?
One of the biggest problems for a fact that I have seen is, they have not used simulations before, and therefore it is something new, something different, it is something that they feel they cannot control, they fear possible outcomes. So the biggest barrier is really an internal barrier as a matter of fact, the students love it. Uniformly, I have taught students from more than 16 nations with Cesim and uniformly they love this game, it is fun. But the instructors, until they have had a chance to play a game themselves, until they have had a chance to become familiar with it, they often are fearful and hesitant about changing how they approach education.
So my advice first, instructor, contact Cesim, play a practice game, see how easy it is to use, how much fun it is to use. It is a robust game, it works, you are not putting your courses at risk. In fact, what you doing is bringing in an invaluable teaching assistant that is going to help that course work better than before. So one of the key things is, do not be fearful of a new technology or a new teaching tool. Bring in active learning into the classroom, you will find very quickly it is one of the most effective ways to improve the effectiveness of your class and teaching evaluation.
And from the standpoint of retention of concepts and assessment of learning outcomes, you are going to find that it is an incredibly valuable tool for promoting that. From the standpoint of course design, I have used the business game everywhere from a two- to three-day intensive class with graduate students and executives to a course of a 15-week semester. There are many different ways of using the tool. You can use it from the beginning of class as a way of breaking the ice and getting students to come together as very effective learning community. You can use it as an end-of-course type of concluding event. There are many different ways to incorporate, so the key thing is, what kind of learning do you want out of the class? Think about that how you can put together the number of practice rounds, which I strongly encourage you to use two to three practice rounds, the number of regular rounds you want to have, and think about the ways that you might be assessing learning.
One of the things that I have found very useful with students to get them involved: first, three practice rounds as usual, it is what I use if I have got the time, otherwise I use two. Just because the students take some time to become familiar with the game, and those that pick it up faster should not have an advantage over the others, just because of technical aspects.
The second thing I do is, for every round, I put together a PowerPoint slide of projected return on capital employed and internal equity. And then I compare that to the actual chief ones at the end of the round. So what I do is, I put this either on the Blackboard for the class, or I project it in class if it is an in class environment. And then the students can see how well they are forecasting, in other words from my standpoint, are you making sense of your competitors? And so what I encourage them to do is, be accurate on forecasting. It is an extremely valuable tool in the business sector, it also helps you achieve performance goals.
After round fourth or fifth year of the game, what I do is, I add on an extra variable to this, and that is going to be cumulative total shareholder return (CTSR). I do not put that on earlier because I encourage students to think about making investments that have long term impacts. And so companies that invest very heavily early in new technologies and building new plants, in building their brand or other kinds of competitive options, they will probably have lower returns for the shareholders in initial years. I do not want them to focus too much on short-term outcomes because that is one of the very things strategically we do not want students to be doing. So I try to emphasize to them: short term, think about your strategy, what you want to put in, how you are going to sequence that. And then as you get into the medium and longer term, start looking at: are we giving the returns to the shareholders, to investors, to justify these kinds of decisions we are making and long term giving all kinds of outcomes.
And then finally, a third thing I look at is, at the end of the game, sometimes students try to make the last round of results look good, and so they may cut back the R&D or advertising expenses, or not invest in new plants, things like that. So while it may make the results look very good at the last year, they are not leaving a sustainable business for the next management team. So the third thing besides accuracy predictions on the forecast of the first actual and shareholder returns, the third performance variable that I look at very strongly is leaving the company with a sustainable basis so the next management team comes in.
I find in doing that those three variables are very good for students to be able to understand, keep them focused on the important aspects of the game, and keep them focused on key learning outcomes that I have. And from an instructor's standpoint, if there are additional things you really are looking for people to understand, whether it is going to be management, or working capital, or being able to develop a strategy that fit very well with different markets of the world. Those are the things that you can decide in your own performance assessments as well as the feedback you give the students.
Further readings on how to use business simulations:
Find out about other educators' simulation experience in our collection of expert interviews.