Dr. Matt Offord, Lecturer in Technology-Enhanced Learning and Teaching at the University of Glasgow, Adam Smith Business School, discusses the use of the latest addition to Cesim's simulation portfolio, Cesim Global Challenge ESG, which incorporates environmental, social, and governance decisions as part of the core business strategy.
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Cesim Global Challenge ESG
How is Cesim Global Challenge currently used at the University of Glasgow?
We've been using Cesim for quite a while, we've been using Global Challenge, and we've been using that on a postgraduate course. It's quite a large course actually, we have 200, 300 students at times, so it's a very large course. And it's part of an MSC that they're doing in management, and by the time they get to this particular sort of event, if you like, they've already done a lot of theory building, and a lot of study in the area of management. The idea of using Global Challenge is to get them to practice what they've learned. Probably for the first time in quite a practical sense, they're making real decisions which affect their virtual companies. They're feeling that for the first time, this is not theoretical now, this is real, they're learning through doing. So that's the first time they've got a chance to do that. And as I say, it's a very, very large cohort. So thankfully the game can handle those sorts of numbers and we break them down into universes and teams. So we're able to actually bring them down into quite small groups, but it's still very complex and there's still a lot of complexity for them to understand.
Glasgow has been under the entire world's attention in November due to COP26. Has this had any impact on your teaching at Adam Smith Business School?
I don't think we could've failed to have recognized and acknowledged that something big was happening in Glasgow. Of course we're all mindful of climate change anyway, it's the big debate of our time of course. but this really focused us specifically. Adam Smith Business School kind of really, I think, took that by the horns. I think we were doing a lot of things concerning sustainability development goals, and other initiatives as well. But this really did kind of focus us on that, and there were quite a lot of initiatives that followed.
How does Adam Smith Business School integrate sustainable development goals in the curriculum?
Emerging from 2020 into early 2021, we saw a lot of different initiatives run by the school. We've been running something called The Sustainability Development Goals Challenge, the Adam Smith SDG Challenge. And what we did there was, we challenged academics who are running courses to include the UN SDG Goals in their teaching. They could then display a badge which had the SDG Goals on it, so that students would be able to see this particular course focuses on the goals. There was also a COP26 hackathon as well, where we invited students to come up with various solutions, either education about climate change, or climate change itself. And for some time now we've also been participating in PRME, which is Principles for Responsible Management Education. It's another UN initiative, and very much ties in with many of, perhaps not necessarily climate change goals, but the sort of equity and sort of diversity, and equality of opportunities, those kinds of things. There's a lot of the SDGs are actually concerned on that, as well as just the climate.
You recently adopted the ESG version of Cesim Global Challenge in a core MSc module. Can you share with us some background and objectives for doing so?
It was very much about awareness, I would say. When I first started thinking about using the ESG module, I think that was where my thinking was. It's like bringing the focus of the students to these environmental issues, climate change. It is an ongoing agenda in this business school, but business schools around the world, but other ways of basically gauging organizational performance, other than just shareholder value, for example. So my initial thought was, if we can get the students thinking about climate change, thinking about the SDGs, then we're moving forward, that's a big step forward. But I would say beyond that, the business challenge is very complex anyway. And the complexity is a part of the design of the simulation obviously. And those decisions that they have to make about the environment and the impact on the SDGs, they are embedded in that complexity. So there's a really interesting dynamic here as to whether the students notice those particular decisions. Although you'd have an ESG module, it is possible to proceed, at least for a few rounds, without really being aware that there's an environmental element to it, and of course the game will penalize you for that ultimately. Climate change in reality is somewhat disguised amongst all those other decisions and other pressures that business leaders have to make. So I think it reflected reality in that way. So there's awareness, but also that kind of, without kind of stepping out and kind of advertising itself, which I think is very realistic. I think there might be a tendency for students, as happens in the real world, to kind of start ticking boxes on the climate change agenda, and perhaps doing a little bit of greenwashing. But because the decisions are all so deeply embedded in the simulation, it's quite hard to do that. I mean, there are real consequences for, let's say, reducing your water usage or your power usage, or something like that. There are genuine consequences, so it's not really possible to just tick a box, you know? And again, a lot of students who, particularly students who feel quite passionate about climate change, will probably just go full on. You know, sort of, "reduce the CO2, reduce the water". But that has real consequences for their business. So they have to learn what those trade offs are, and that's really good, because we also then get to understand what position a lot of businesses are in. And while there's probably no doubt that a lot of businesses can do more, it's good to know that there are limitations to what can be done as well. Particularly for future generations of managers and business leaders. To understand that at this early stage, I think is really useful.
What were the most important learning outcomes? And how did your students react to the experience in general, and particularly from an SDG perspective?
There's a lot more to it than it just being a climate awareness kind of feature. Which I think I probably knew, but you know, in the same manner and nature and spirit of the simulation, you don't really know these things until you actually go and do it. So I think I was aware of that intellectually perhaps, but actually having had the experience now, I can honestly say that we can extend those learning objectives beyond awareness, to actually decision-making abilities. Global Challenge is promoting those decision-making skills and abilities anyway, but now we're extending that to climate change. And I think it's, or the SDGs generally, because there's more than just climate change. And we're talking about, as I said before, equity and training our workforce and paying them a decent wage and all of that kind of thing. All of these things have consequences. And there's something that, on other courses that I run, I've tried to get to using case studies for example. But I think this goes a little bit further, in that case studies extract certain elements of how you'd run a business, but in a simulation you can't do that. You've got to live with the consequences wherever they fall, and it's quite hard to predict where they'll fall, certainly at the beginning of the game. So I think that confusion and that uncertainty precedes learning. And I think that's a very important aspect of it. I think it will be easier for a lot of people if it was just a case of doing the right thing, but the truth is that there're all these consequences of those decisions, and the game brings that to life. So I would say that that is something that I would try to bring out of the game the next time that we do it. Or try to bring out the game a little bit more than we did last time. So we'll be continuing to do that, but it's also allowing, so it's sort of highlighting the ESG module to some extent, but not too much, because you do still want that noise that is around it, of all the other decisions they have to make. The PR decision, their marketing decisions, their R&D, they still have to make all of those decisions. And that's a good thing and we should leave it, it should be easy to identify, but not sort of singing out all of the time. Because if we do that, then all we'll ever do is train those students to make the right environmental decisions, which actually could end up with making disastrous decisions for a business. We talk a lot about strategic purpose on this course, and we do try, because what we find is that, from round to round, sometimes the students can change their strategies and their tactics quite wildly, which may be okay, like maybe they're just a very responsive company. But on the other hand, it could indicate that they've got no real strategic purpose. So we do talk about that a lot anyway, but I think that we need to incorporate those ESG Goals, so sustainability goals, into that strategic purpose. So it may be that in order to be an environmentally friendly company, if I can use that phrase, or that sort of cliché, there might be other sacrifices that have to be made. So your goal might not be necessarily to have the highest shareholder value in that sort of game universe that you're in, you might be happy to be in second or third place, but you've achieved your mission, which is to be much more responsible in the way that you do it.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering to use a simulation for embedding sustainable development goals in their course?
I would say to anybody taking on the module, it is complex, it is difficult to understand, and that is intentional and that is part of your antecedents with learning really. Then I think it's just, as I was saying before, how do you simply signpost that there are environmental goals in here and that you're interested in them learning about the environment and about the SDGs. I read somewhere that the best learning is where students are challenged, but supported. And I think this goes for the ESG Modules as much as anything else, I'd say.