Students Thao Vu (from top left, clockwise), Donnie Williams, Chloe East, and faculty Ben Warnick (inset) and Jeremy Beus discuss classes in The Next Carson Coug curriculum.

Next Carson Coug Classes Help Students Connect during COVID‑19

By Becky Kramer

During his class on team dynamics, Donnie Williams sometimes forgets that he’s doing distance learning alone in his Pullman apartment.

Class discussions are lively, and he’s gotten to know his four teammates in Zoom breakout rooms. Together, they’ve negotiated a team contract, worked through conflicts, practiced communication skills, and polished assignments for team grades.

“It’s like the best class I’ve had so far—the whole online thing doesn’t feel weird at all,” says Williams, an accounting and finance major from Auburn who transferred to Washington State University in August. “My teammates seem cool, and the instructor is really great.”

As part of The Next Carson Coug curriculum, the Carson College of Business has been rolling out smaller classes with higher levels of student participation. The format was developed long before COVID-19 hit, but it’s been a boon during the pandemic.

The classes are designed to develop students’ critical thinking and public speaking skills through case studies, class discussion, and team exercises. During distance learning, students say the classes feel “personable.” Faculty members like the format, too.

Jeremy Beus taught the teams class Williams took. He is a new faculty member, and The Next Carson Coug’s teaching philosophy helped draw him here. While he misses in-person communication, Beus says technology still allows the students to work in teams during class.

“It’s different, but it’s working,” says Beus, an associate professor in the Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship. “The class discussions have been rewarding, even in this online environment.”

Engaging students

The teams course is part of a three-class module in The Next Carson Coug curriculum that includes business ethics and innovation. Ben Warnick teaches all three courses at WSU Vancouver.

“The classroom engagement has been really spectacular, which might surprise some people,” says Warnick, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management. “People probably think that professors are lecturing online and students aren’t engaged. It’s just the opposite.”

Students do the readings before class, so they’re prepared for discussions and small group exercises. Beus and Warnick have 50 to 60 students in each class. Part of the students’ grade is determined by class contributions. Attendance averages 90 percent.

Developing independent thinking

Thao Vu took Warnick’s ethics class during the fall semester. During class discussions, she appreciated how Warnick encouraged students to speak up about ethical quandaries in their own lives.

Vu talked about Disney’s new release of Mulan. She told her classmates she was looking forward to seeing the movie until she read a New York Times article about efforts to boycott it.

“I love Disney, and my family members are big Disney fans. But after I read the article, I was like ‘wow,’” says Vu, a junior majoring in business administration.

Human rights issues are driving the boycott effort, including Disney’s decision to film part of Mulan in a Chinese region where the government is oppressing ethnic Muslims.

“I don’t want to boycott the movie since people put lots of effort into making the film, but I don’t want to ignore the issue either,” Vu told her classmates. “Awareness is one of the crucial elements in ethics.”

Chloe East, a junior majoring in finance, says Warnick’s ethics class helped her become more confident in articulating her thoughts and examining how her actions affect others.

“The ethics class doesn’t teach you what to think, it teaches you how to think,” she says. “The class forces you to think about things not just from your own perspective, but the perspective of someone else who may have been raised a different way.”

Watching students develop into independent thinkers and confident speakers is rewarding, Warnick and Beus say.

“I’m not interested in lecturing and being the person who knows everything,” Warnick says. “It’s so much more fulfilling to teach students how to apply the material in day-to-day scenarios they’ll experience.”

Through The Next Carson Coug curriculum, students get more of that experience early in their college careers, Beus says.

“Hopefully, it will train students at the onset to think a little more critically,” Beus says. “Independent-thinking graduates are better at solving problems, and that’s something employers are looking for.”