A new approach: Capstone Units
MBA News Barbara Barkhausen, September 5, 2016 / 09-14-2016
The work place is changing, the population ageing and the traditional way of how we learn needs to be revisited. The University of Sydney Business School has therefore started to tackle its approach to learning, turning away from the traditional classroom teaching to more experiential ways. MBA Channel has spoken to Guy Ford, the Director of the MBA programme at the University of Sydney Business School, about the school’s new Capstone Units.
At the University of Sydney Business School you have a very different approach in how you teach. Can you tell us more about the so called Capstone Units?
The Capstone Units are experiential, which means learning by doing – there is less instruction and more facilitation. Students are doing something instead of passive learning in the classroom. We have a number of companies that we partner with and the students’ task is to develop products for these companies that have an actual commercial potential. Many business schools might have a consultancy element but not many develop real products.
What kind of products are we talking about?
Let me give you an example: a company might say we want to go into the retirement market or they might want to help transition people back into the workforce faster after time off for various reasons and the students’ task is to develop a product and service. They are given certain ideas but not a lot more. After that they have to come up with a design, prototype and ideas how to market it. So far it’s mainly been apps that the students developed.
How successful have these first applications been?
We have had only 40 students graduating with the programme but already two groups have been approached to take their ideas further in commercial arrangements.
With which industries are you working at the moment?
We’ve started with financial services companies like Swiss Re and U Bank.
So if you compare your Capstone Units that foster product development in a company compared to the more traditional consultancy approach – where do you see the advantages of your programme?
There is nothing wrong with the consultancy approach but it does not get students as deep into the company as our programme. Often nothing really eventuates after a consultancy project. At least that’s my experience, whereas our students develop a commercially usable product.
How much time do students spend with individual companies?
The Capstone builds on design thinking and lean principles, and as such, is conducted over four to five weeks. In these weeks students usually learn quickly and their products might be 80 per cent finalised within this timeframe already.
Another special “Sydney feature” is your surprisingly high female cohort of students of over 50 per cent. How are you attracting so much more female talent than other business schools?
We had one cohort with over 50 per cent and most have had about 45 per cent. I think it is because we have a cap on the number of students. We take 50 from a quite large number of applications and within these 50 we try to select a diverse cohort with gender balance. Working with others that see things differently from you is a great way to educate yourself. At our school, opportunities are for everyone: And the view that male MBA students are these dominant alpha males that want to win at any cost is waning. We start with a leadership project where everyone learns how to effectively shape and lead teams and that’s attractive for men and women. We also give two full scholarships for women and this also tends to create a high awareness.