Goal: To make education relevant by designing an
This policy brief discusses the establishment of a Virtual Enterprise program in Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers. Virtual Enterprise is a practice or model business in which the students, hereafter called employees, apply the acquired knowledge from previous years of schooling. This brief will discuss The New York City Board of Education's role, our school's role, our corporate sponsor's role, the responsibility of the employees, and the justification for such an undertaking.
Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers (MBHS) is a New York City public high school located in lower Manhattan. The school opened in 1975. The 3200 students come from every district in New York City. The demographics are 44% African American, 30% Hispanic, 21% Asian, and 5% European. The male- female is 40-60%. Poverty level is 77% which classifies us Title I. The school structure supports various houses such as Marketing, Accounting, Computer Science, Information Systems, Legal Studies, Securities and Finance, and Office Administration. 90% of the MBHS seniors graduate with 7 more business credits more than their other high school counterparts and go to college. 6% of the graduates go into the military. All students do in school internship and outside business internship.
Our school has been awarded a Virtual Enterprise room from the Board of Education of New York City. Our firm is a publishing enterprise called Virtual Voice. The Virtual Enterprise Project in New York City is borrowed from the European concept begun in the 17th Century and still in operation in Europe. It began as a program for commercial training, a simulated practice area for employees before entering the real world of business. Currently many schools have incorporated interdisciplinary instruction and school-to-work programs. These practice firms function like true-life businesses and go far beyond the existing practices like school-to-work and Tech Prep. They provide a employee-centered educational approach towards teaching and working. This task-oriented environment provides the employee with a broader perspective on the correlation between academics and application. Employees will be responsible for the completion of work-related goals, objectives, transactions, and daily activities. They will be applying knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics needed to succeed in employment and/or post-secondary education. In New York City six schools set up Virtual Enterprise businesses the first year and twelve schools will be added in the second year. The schools will interact within the city and with schools in Europe. The experience will become international. The Virtual Enterprises conducts business on the Internet.
Education has taken quite a beating and lots of criticism in recent years. Johnny can't read, can't think, can't work. Starting with a Nation at Risk in the early '80's and then the recent IBM Summit of state governors and selected CEO's in the mid 90's discussing standards in education, the nation has become very involved in a very proactive way in education. This involvement is initiated from the White House and filters down through every part of our society right into the classroom. Essentially, education is being revamped and scrutinized by everyone, like no other time in history. The message I am getting loud and clear is that we have to find a better way to educate our citizens and to implement it. Standards are being raised across the country. And for the first time support is being provided to help educators begin the process of achieving the standards. A popular chant is developing uses of the Internet and computers in the classroom to deliver education. Government is concerned about its citizens, business is concerned about its employees, parents are concerned about the children, and employees are concerned about their future. We are being asked to assist our students in moving from the diconnected, assembly-line mentality of the industrial model to the integrated model of education which includes thinking, teamwork, and technology.
The common concern is centered around education. Education has finally taken a real front seat in the priorities of this country. The question from society is how do we better prepare for the future especially in light of today's technological advances. Education has not kept pace with these advances and everyone is concerned, especially educators. A major focus of education today which differs from the past is the fact that education is seen as more of a necessity than a luxury. Today a worker needs an education to read machine manuals, unlike his counterpart of yesterday. Once a high school drop out could make a good wage, today that high school drop out can't get a job. High school diplomas aren't enough, today the employee needs post secondary education. Scholarly education is slowly being replaced with functional education. School-to-Work, Tech Prep, and vocational skills are becoming the most desired courses in high school education. In preparing the students for post secondary education, educators are stressing skills, and relevancy in models of constructivism. We must ask: What cognitive skills do we want our students to develop? What problems do we want our students to solve? What concepts and principles do we want our students to be able to apply? What metacognitive skills do we want our students to develop? To answer these questions we must provide and let our students to construct their projects as their method of learning. Students are in more integrated curriculum designed classes and are working in teams more often than by themselves. Integrated curriculum designed classes employ technology, improve thinking skills, employ a constructivist methodology, and use learning styles of multiple intellegences. Society has demanded we prepare our youth for the workplace, so we are emulating the workplace in our classes more and more. The new class we are constructing is called Virtual Enterprise because the employees will be constructing a business employing all of the skills they have learned in all of their academic classes heretofore. Society has made the demand and we are trying to answer that call.
Mere acquisition of knowledge is not enough any more. Employees need to apply this knowledge to real life applications. Virtual Enterprise will be a way to foster this systemic change and to establish a transitional theme for all disciplines for all employees. By being a member of a collection of Virtual Enterprises domestically and internationally, the employees will develop versatile interpersonal skills and will be introduced to diverse thinking. This will enhance problem solving skills and prepare them for the real world. In a practice environment like this the standards are automatically raised with the support to achieve the expected goals. In addition, the Virtual Enterprise can serve as a standardizing force within the school for all disciplines.
What the employer wants is an employee who can learn; listens and has good oral communications; can read, write, and compute; is a creative thinker and a problem solver; displays personal management; posesses group effective interpersonal skills. With an integrated curriculum and working in a simulated business, our students will develop these skills and become life long learners.
To satisfy State curriculum requirements, Virtual Enterprise will develop skills and competencies which include resources, interpersonal skills, information, systems, and technology. By resources we mean acquiring skills in allocating time to perform a task, money to finance their projects, space in which to do their project, and staff to do the task. Interpersonal skills will entail working on teams, teaching others, serving customers, leading negotiating, and working well with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Information skills will require gathering and evaluating data, organizing and maintaining files and databases, communicating in written and verbal ways, and using computers to process information. Systems skills will entail understanding social, organizational, and technological systems. Social systems mean the personalities of each employee as well group dynamics. The organizational system will provide the hierarchy or chain of command so each employee knows expectations and bounds. Technology systems are high maintenance and the employee's ability to do minor troubleshooting and minor hardware/software maintenance. In addition the employees will need to monitor and correct performance in each of the three systems by designing or improving each system. Technologically speaking the employees will have to learn how to apply technology to solve tasks and how to troubleshoot low end software glitches. Of course basic foundation skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and mathematics; thinking creatively, making decisions, solving problems skills; and personal quality skills of including responsibility, self-esteem, and integrity will be the cornerstone of our curriculum.
Thus the main objective of the Virtual Enterprise simulation is to improve the skills the employees use to acquire knowledge, to deal with business problems on their own team and within the company, and to integrate academics skills acquired from previous years in education. We will be preparing the employees for post-secondary activities which will include employment and further education. In either case they will have acquired a skill to either see the relevancy of the academic or to apply in the real place of employment. It is a win-win scenario for the employee. They will become a better employee.
In the initial year the employees will establish the type of firm they plan to run and write an appropriate business plan. The plan will outline the mission, set overall goals, identify objectives, and create a table of organization. They will develop an employee manual and form departments: Administration, Accounting, Marketing/Advertising, Human Resources, and Sales/Purchasing. A hierarchy will emerge and specific goals and objectives will be generated as they startup the business. In each of the subsequent years, new employees will revise business plans and goals to suit their own objectives. The purpose of the Virtual Enterprise will never lose its primary pedagogical function and this will be insured by the presence of so many teachers and by the constant evaluation and assessment process built in. Like a business the employees will be responsible to maintain ledger books, keep records of transactions, and maintain a file of correspondences. As employees they will continue to take state mandated tests and fulfil school curriculum requirements. Evaluation and assessment will be performance based and portfolio. Virtual Enterprise is merely marrying two heretofore separate entities, acquired knowledge and application, providing society with better prepared employees. The program will provide employees with academic relevancy. In subsequent years further Virtual Enterprises will be created.
Economic support comes from the Virtual Enterprise Center (VEC) which is part of the borough superintendency and the New York City Board of Education. Since this is a Chancellor and Board of Education initiative, support is substantial. The mandate has come from business and from the government and from society to better prepare our employees for post secondary activities. By raising the standards they have also provided the support to carry out and fulfil our goals. The VEC will provide initial startup material such as hardware and software, office furniture, peripherals, and technological support where needed. Hardware specifications include 34 high tech workstations connected to a LAN which serves as an Intranet and connects to the Internet. The classroom will resemble an office and have office type furniture arranged in work areas not rows. The VEC will assist in establishing partnerships with an internationally renown corporation to serve as a model and coordinate networking with other domestic and international enterprises. VEC will assess and evaluate the business' books and overall performance. Provide leadership and guidance in fulfilling the goals of the employees, school, and corporation. The VEC will be the bank, the IRS, and the academic clearinghouse.
The Virtual Enterprise program will have a smooth transition into our school. Classrooms have been identified and the custodial crew has been alerted to the needs to begin the renovation of the room. A team of in-house faculty have been organized to serve as an advisory board. Two teachers have been identified to facilitate the class. The equipment needed will be provided by the Board of Education specifically designed for this project.
The Virtual Enterprise program will be employee run with teacher facilitators. As high school seniors, they will come to the class with the necessary skills to run this business. They will not be called students, they will be called employees. Underclass employees will be introduced into the program through attrition. Gathering the resources will become incumbent upon the facilitators. Human resources will come from our staff and from our corporate partner. The facilitators will have technological skills, business skills, and administrative skills. Next will be the creation of an advisory board made up of teachers in the school. They will provide technical expertise, business expertise, and skills needed to augment the success of the business. They will be advising the facilitators when necessary and be guest visitors when necessary. Finally, we will solicit the expertise of a real world class business partner to serve as mentors, a model, and a classroom to visit to see how this business really works.
The employees will have access to the best minds we can provide. Financial resources will initially come from the Board of Education which is providing the hardware, software, and furniture to set up the room. Students will draw up plans and employ ergonomic skills to create the virtual business' office. They will assess themselves by keeping charts which explain their project, define the skills to be acquired, demonstrate the mastered skills, and highlight those skills to be worked on. Self assessment is crucial in the learning process.
The classroom will resemble an office and not a classroom. Their will be a reception desk, workspace modular units for each employee grouped by department. Departments will be created to perform the functions of the business. Departments will include: Administration, Accounting, Marketing/Advertising, Human Resources, Sales/Purchasing, and others as needed to fulfil the business goals. The school is providing staff allotment to instruct and to facilitate the employees' instruction.
The facilitators will bring technological expertise as well as pedagogical skills to provide guidance to the employees. Corporate partners will provide business guidance, a model of the office environment to serve as a place for field trips so employees may observe the everyday activity of an office. Businesses will provide monies for travel and incidentals needed to carry out our liaisons with the corporate partner. The leadership will come from the employees. Guidance will come from the facilitators. They will elect a CEO and vice presidents to run each of the departments and the company. They will bring to the business the knowledge acquired from their academic classes. They will observe our business partner and model it to form our own business. They will have the technology to fulfil their plans as devised from their business plan. The business will be responsible to fulfil all duties of the business in terms of guidelines according to accounting practices, and prepare Virtual Enterprise tax returns.
The business will be a microcosm and part of a macrocosm. The Virtual Enterprise class, the microcosm, will be interrelated systems. This class will be one system with departments within making separate interacting systems. It will also be a part of a macrocosm which is comprised of the other 18 Virtual Enterprises of New York City. The Virtual Enterprise room will serve as a teacher and employee resource center for the school as well. The employees will be able to assist teachers to integrate technology into the various curriculum. Employees will become teacher trainers. Employees will have yet another library and employees who can assist them in finding information for academic and personal purposes. The spirit of cooperation and group learning will prevail and make for a better educational environment school-wide. The school will be many concentric circles interrelated and independent at the same time. The employees will be training future employees, tapping other teachers resources, and providing a school wide focal point in educational purpose. Teachers will be guiding the employees by providing their expertise as needed.
The Virtual Enterprise brings some stability and focus to an educational system in turmoil. By turmoil I mean the readjusting of the NYC schools has caused our school to become a dumping ground for the overflow from other schools either downsizing or closing. The size of our school supports this activity, but the transient nature of it has had its price. Traditional education has been compromised by the lack of consistency and constant in and out of groups of employees. Virtual Enterprise will begin the process of providing applications of academic skills to displaced employees. It will show them relevancy and provide the hope which displacement counters. Being a transient employee or a displaced employee is similar to being an immigrant from a war ravaged country or an economic refugee. Our school becomes a safe haven and sanctuary and Virtual Enterprise will begin the educational healing process necessary for society and employee.
While engaged in these authentic learning activities, all students will be able to articulate the their activities with a product. They will practice and analyze what they have previously learned as they create a product. Acknowledge what they do not know and formulate questions that lead to further exploration and problem solve to acquire the knowledge. They willl synthesize connections between academic learning and life experiences. And finally they will determine what was learned, how it was learned, and how it could be more effectively learned. Learning to learn is the major goal in education and Virtual Enterprise will help us realize this.
Education is a willingness to work to solve a problem or the understand a situation or system. Education is successful when the "velcro" concept exists. Knowledge cannot be poured into a student it must be placed in the appropriate compartment and stick, like velcro, and then be applied in an application. We learn by doing. The Virtual Enterprise program is just such an educational endeavor which is trying to bridge education and business and marry the two into a program which benefits the student and society. Relevancy, the "velcro" theory, and learning by doing are constructivist theories from pedagogues, while Virtual Enterprise is the vehicle to make it so.