Free first edition: read all about it

4th April 1997 at 01:00

Laminated case studies with CD-Rom

Free to schools and colleges,

extra copies Pounds 98

From Times 100 Teachers' help desk, Business Communication Centre, Ashley House, 44 High Street, Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, LS23 6EA

Adrian Lyons reviews an ambitious business venture from The Times.

The introduction to this pack sets out its agenda: "The Times 100 still aims to bring the real world of business into the classroom for students of business studies." It goes on to discuss the change that has taken place in business education over the past decade, suggesting that "business education today focuses more on the organisation and its activities rather than on its operating environment". The suggestion is made that GNVQ has necessitated a "greater need for case studies and other materials from the business world on which to develop assignments and other work. The Times 100 case studies go some way to address these needs".

Also in the introduction, credits are given for the project team headed by Lindsay Cook (business editor of The Times), so we can establish that the editorial direction has come from the world of journalism rather than education. Perhaps it is just a personal wish, but I would like an indication of who wrote the materials. The only information we are given is that: "The writers commissioned to create these case studies have come from a wide range of teaching backgrounds including secondary school, further education and business education teacher training environments."

The pack comprises an A3 portfolio containing an introduction, teacher's guide, overhead-projector masters, curriculum guide, business news guide, 60 business case studies, and a CD-Rom. Each of the pages is double sided and laminated. If you are using a free copy, you will no doubt be grateful for such a professionally presented product, but at Pounds 98 for additional sets, the issue of opportunity cost arises.

The curriculum guide is extremely useful, and has been added at the request of teachers. It is in the form of a grid with each of the 30 case studies listed along one axis, and syllabus topics listed on the other axis. However, this suggests a problem with the whole notion of the pack. The grid covers each element of GNVQ business at foundation, intermediate and advanced level. Similarly, there are large sections for both GCSE business studies and A-level economics and a rather small one for A-level business studies. It must be questionable whether one resource can be equally appropriate for all of them. It certainly raises questions about differentiation.

The teacher's guide shares this problem of broad targeting. Guidance is given on the use of the case studies in general terms, but no comments are made about their practical application on different courses. The assumption is that the activities included with each case study will address the needs of different audiences, and the teacher really should be wary of using this pack as an off-the-shelf resource.

The business news guide reveals The Times newspaper interest, as the glossary of business news terms is followed by an explanation of the various components of The Times newspaper business coverage.

Turning to the core of the pack, the actual case studies, these are attractively presented, with colour photographs interspersed with columns of text, describing how each business responds to modern business issues. The featured company has co-operated in the production of each case study and this has led to a rather uncritical presentation. Tasks and activities would involve some thinking on the part of students, but critical analysis is absent.

The CD-Rom contains a copy of each case study, and in theory students can print off individual copies. However, although my 486 machine is hardly state-of-the-art, after waiting for 20 minutes for a printout I gave up. The extra material that is included on the CD-Rom is company annual reports for each business featured.

This is a noble attempt by The Times to support business education, with commendable production values. It has been thoughtfully prepared and professionally presented. My concern is that the brush may be too broad, and therefore the teacher should use the material as a possible supplement to their planning, but certainly not as a substitute.

Adrian Lyons is a senior lecturer in business education at the University of Brighton

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