The Value Proposition

Clearly all business students, Accounting, Finance, Marketing, etc, will need to leverage technology in their careers, sometimes with, sometimes without IT support, and in either case, to do it well they need to get their hands "dirty" with a basic, under-the-hood understanding of how it works. The Max Labs take advantage of Salesforce's "Clicks Not Code" platform to let students with no prior technology skills grapple with process requirements, data issues, app design considerations and more in a fun, comfortable environment. And, given the power of the platform, they astonish themselves by what they're able to build and see work.

Integrating The Max Labs into Your Course

The Max Labs serve as a supplement for the Intro to Business Systems course common to most undergraduate Business degree programs. The labs are "textbook-agnostic" PDF supplements that integrate seamlessly, as in-class lab sessions or as homework, with all the leading textbooks, eg. Baltzan, Laudon & Laudon, Gallaugher, etc. or none at all. (At SJSU, we use it with Kronke.) The exercises touch on many of the common textbook chapters, eg Mobile, Enterprise, Analytics, Cloud, Database, Innovation, Process Automation, CRM, Social Business, etc, providing an ideal basis for discussions that concretize the topics.

Structure

The lab materials include a brief Pre-lab reading (four blog postings from Max, setting up the backstory), followed by six more postings, each containing one lab exercise that most students can finish within a standard 75 minute class session.
Lab 1a - Introduces data-based apps; students create a mobile app of their own
Lab 1b - Adds data importing, views, reports & dashboards & effects on decision-making

Lab 2a - Introduces data quality concepts, validation rules, basic data modeling
Lab 2b - More data modeling, adds virtual fields, multi-table data integration

Lab 3a - Introduces process scalability & automation, business rules, automated emailing
Lab 3b - More process automation, social business, web form/database integration

Each one, including the Pre-lab, comes with a "Pre-flight Checklist" providing an overview, learning objectives, preparation needed, if any, deliverables and tips for success. 

The deliverables are simply screen captures, taken by the students at designated checkpoints to confirm progress and then emailed or uploaded into an LMS as directed. There are 2 to 5 deliverable points for each exercise. The student's name appears on every screen displayed by the Salesforce system being used so names are automatically included in each screen capture. Deliverables are easy to grade by simply confirming the students successfully reached the checkpoints.

The Student View

When introducing the labs, instructors explain that the blog postings are fictional but, to maximize the experiential effect, they are presented as if they were genuinely written by Max with instructors adding the Preflight Checklist and deliverable annotations for the purposes of class use.

Pragmatics

The exercises are fairly self-contained and require minimal instructor intervention but instructors can add significant value by integrating the student's lab experience into class discussions to reinforce course concepts and highlight textbook readings, etc.

The labs are flexible and easy to incorporate into a course as desired. For example, some instructors schedule the 1st, 3rd and 5th exercises as in-class lab sessions with the 2nd, 4th and 6th assigned as homework. Some assign them all as homework. Some space them out, while others cluster them together. For compressed terms, some instructors use only the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th labs.

Technology

The labs employ the free, lifetime Developer Edition (DE) accounts that Salesforce provides to anyone for learning on their Force.com platform. The platform is cloud-based so accessed via any Web browser on any operating system/platform, eg. PCs, Macs, Linux computers, etc, eliminating the hassles with PC-only solutions. The platform automates password resets, etc, eliminating instructor hassles with student account management. The cloud-based architecture allows students to start an exercise in a classroom lab on a PC, for example, and finish at home on a Mac.

Salesforce is the fourth-largest enterprise software company in the world and has been named as the #1 most innovative company in the world by Forbes.com for four of the last five years running, so the labs give students exposure to leading edge technology they may well see again in their careers.

Support

To scale up to running 1,200 students/year at SJSU, the labs had to be carefully honed to minimize potential problem points, so very little support is needed for students to complete the exercises successfully, particularly if they read and follow instructions carefully. But trouble-shooting guides are provided for each lab to get students past the most common mistakes that arise from mis-reading, etc. and an online support community, monitored by trained lab assistants, is available for any additional problems that arise.

Costs

The PDF files themselves are free and Lab 1a can be performed at no cost. But when students begin Lab 1b, they will encounter an instruction to install a component into their Saleforce account for a charge of $19.99 that covers the entire lab set. Instructors adopting the labs agree to collect the purchase confirmation along with the other student deliverables. The revenues support ongoing maintenance.

Best Practices for Teaching with the Labs

A Best Practices Manual for the labs is forthcoming here. In the meantime, here are some key considerations for success:
  • Emphasize to students that they read & follow the instructions to avoid problems but to get the most out of doing the labs, students need to read the Pre-lab material and the material between the instruction steps as well. (If they skip Max's thoughts about why she did what she did, they can complete the labs successfully but will not be learning much–they'll be missing the how's and the why's.)
  • If you're running the labs in class sessions, it's helpful to have one or two good lab assistants on hand who have worked through the labs and can help students who get stuck. The vast majority will not need any help but a few may occasionally have a question.