An innovative new business course for sophomores at Lamar University is gaining attention. BUSI 2300 “Introduction to Critical Thinking for Business Decision Making” was recently tapped the 2016 Bobby G. Bizzell Innovative Achievement Award runner-up by the Southwest Business Deans’ Association.

To encourage innovation and continuous improvement in business education the association seeks nominations of business programs that demonstrate innovative excellence. Henry Venta, dean of the College of Business, will accept the award on behalf of the college at the association’s summer meeting in Colorado.

Several of the professors who developed the course submitted a multi-page application for the award describing what it is like to take the course, the assessments that took a close look at where students were struggling and learning, the interdisciplinary work needed to develop the course, and the collegial atmosphere that resulted.

The idea for the course originated after student assessments showed room for improvement in critical thinking. LU’s business faculty came together as a team of seven from the departments of management, accounting, business law, marketing, entrepreneurship and information systems and analysis to start what would become a year-and-a-half course development project.

“Bringing together different disciplines into a single course adds a certain richness,” said Toni Mulvaney, professor of business law and director of accreditation and assessment. “The opportunity for the student to begin to integrate different and important areas of business is enhanced and facilitated.”

Serving on the design team were Mulvaney, committee chair; Frank Badua, accounting; Kokoli Bandyopadhyay, information systems and analysis; Frank Cavaliere, business law; Craig Escamilla, management and marketing; Paul Latiolais, management; and Venta, management.

When first beginning the process of developing the course, a search for existing textbooks on the topic was made. “What we found were executive education courses but we didn’t find a lot of resources,” said Craig Escamilla, instructor in management and marketing.

“Most of the materials we found are not from business literature, but from the vein of critical thinking and decision,” he said. “In our assignments we tie it back to business.”

Over two semesters nearly 400 students have taken the course that introduces them to basic concepts and tools that improve their analytical skills by familiarizing them with the basic principles involved in the theory and practice of critical thinking for reasoned decision-making.

The course builds from a foundation on induction, deduction and logical thinking. New concepts and methods that build decision-making skills are introduced each week of the course that is provided online and taken by students on campus and those pursuing their degrees entirely online.

A section on business writing introduces how to effectively present a logical argument.

“Business writing is very different from most of the writing students do in college,” Escamilla said. “They learn in this course how to create and communicate value right from the beginning.” Business writing is a significant element throughout the course, he said, and that supports one of the college’s goals of improving graduates’ writing abilities.

In the course, students learn to use the “R.E.D.” decision-making model, which stands for recognize, evaluate, and draw conclusions.

In a segment presented by Venta, students participate in activities designed to teach the decision process, give practice and provide opportunity to defend and explain their decision.

In the fourth week, students learn and use Tableau, a data visualization tool, in a segment taught by Information Systems and Analysis Department Chair Kakoli Bandyopadhyay.

In week five, the focus returns to employing the decision making model, drawing conclusions using Tableau to data analysis, and presenting those conclusions through clear, concise and compelling writing.

In the sixth week, students apply decision making to ethics, play an ethics game, develop a personal code of ethics and learn their own ethical decision making style.

“The game forces them to see things through other peoples’ lenses,” Mulvaney said. “Not everyone sees the world the same way.”

In the seventh week, fraud and critical thinking are examined through contemporary examples from business. “For example, what do you do if you go through the decision process but the data is fraudulent? How do you apply the model in a way that ensures your data is trustworthy,” Mulvaney said. “It’s yet a higher step in the decision making process.”

The last week of the class brings all the concepts together and helps students prepare for the final examination where they will have to apply what they have learned in a fact-based scenario using the complete decision making process.

In addition to the course work, students play a marketplace game, operating a virtual business for a year-and-a-half where they make quarterly decisions. Although as sophomores they haven’t covered all aspects of business in their classes, they have to make every decision that a business has to make. “We evaluate their performance using the same rubric as the senior-level class so we will see how they have improved in their decision making,” Mulvaney said.

Using measures, the faculty can see how “as they advance to upper level classes they’ll better prepared to make business decisions,” Escamilla said. “Our goal is the  well-rounded business student, who specializes in one discipline, certainly, but also understands how that discipline works in business as a whole.”