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Multikonferenz Wirtschaftsinformatik (MKWI) 2016

Research-in-Progress- und Poster-Beiträge
Technische Universität Ilmenau 09. - 11. März 2016

“IT via ERP”: A Novel Approach to Teaching IT
Fundamentals to Business Administration students
by Means of an Open Source ERP System
Mariela Castro Kohler1 and Tobias Hagen1
1

Hochschule Offenburg, Fakultät Betriebswirtschaft und Wirtschaftsingenieurswesen,
{mariela.castro, tobias.hagen}@hs-offenburg.de

Abstract
First year Business Administration students tend to regard themselves as “non-computer scientists”
and often have a lack of motivation about taking IT courses in general, either because they perceive
them as too technical, too difficult or somewhat irrelevant. In an attempt to counteract this
perception and increase the levels of engagement and willing attendance to class, we decided to flip
the traditional lecture model and develop a new teaching and learning approach for the IT
Fundamentals course using an open source Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system as the
platform from which to draw the various underlying IT concepts and through which the relevant
competences can be acquired.
This paper describes the implementation process of this new contextualized learning framework
“IT via ERP” and the changes in the didactical methods to support it.

1

Introduction

In an increasingly digitally connected world, where the deployment of technology continues to
expand in all areas of society, changing the way we communicate, work and make business,
digitization has become the megatrend for organizations (Klups 2015), acting as an agent of
disruptive innovation and leading to the rethinking of business models, processes and strategies to
obtain maximum economic benefits and maintain a company’s competitive edge.
Whether as future employees or independent entrepreneurs, students need to be prepared to face
such an IT-driven workplace where, according to Anderson et al. (2009), “IT and the business are
so intertwined and interconnected that IT is the business, and the business is IT”. Burton (2012),
however, regards technology as still “…usually viewed from too much of an IT perspective and not
enough from a business integration and user development perspective” originating “…a huge
missing link between the human talent development, and the technologies being marketed…”.
It is therefore vital for future business administrators to acquire the essential IT competencies to
understand the underlying concepts and the impact of IT strategic implementations leading to

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business change and improvement. Only then will they be able to work together with the IT
specialists and participate in the modelling and implementation of sustainable business IT solutions.
1.1

Background Information and General IT Curriculum

At Offenburg University, Business Administration students follow two information technology
modules as illustrated by Figure 1. The first study phase includes the module Information
Technology 1 which consists of the IT Fundamentals course in the first semester followed by the
IT-Tools course in the second semester. In the second study phase students follow the module
Information Technology 2 consisting of the courses Business Information Systems, which is largely
based on SAP-ERP case studies, and Business Intelligence, which integrates the use of SAP BI
tools, also through case studies.
Information Technology 1

Information Technology 2

Semester 1

Semester 2

IT Fundamentals  (4 CP)

IT Tools (2 CP)

Semester 3
Business Inf. Sys. (3 CP)

Business Intellig.  (2 CP)

Figure 1: Information technology modules for Business Administration students

1.2

Outline of the IT Fundamentals Course

The curricular framework of the IT Fundamentals course is essentially based on the key IT topics
and competencies required by the modern business world, as identified in standard business
informatics textbooks such as Abts and Mülder (2013). Before the implementation of the approach
described in this article, the course followed the sequence as illustrated in Figure 2. The arrows
indicate some of the cross-referencing topics, suggesting that an integrated approach, rather than
the traditional chapter sequence, would actually be more suitable for this course.

Databases

IT in society 
and in 
business

Computer 
systems:
•hardware
•software
•algorithms

Networking 
and Internet
•Networks
•Internet
•Web 
technologies

•data 
modelling
•RDBMS, SQL
•DB Trends

Business 
processes and 
applications

IT Security and 
Data Protection

•Workflow
•ERP, CRM, SRM, 
DMS...

Figure 2: Curriculum framework for the traditional IT Fundamentals course

The main problem with this approach was that students learnt the topics under a traditional computer
science lecture model, where content proved at times too technical or not relevant in a business
context, and with little hands-on experience. The students were therefore more focused on studying
to pass the final examination rather than engaging themselves in the learning activities or
developing an intrinsic motivation to extend their knowledge. This perception was confirmed by

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the students’ feedback at the end of the semester and as a result, we decided to explore new ways
to teach IT to Business Administration students.
Throughout our research we found that most methods focused on how to teach informatics or on
how to teach ERP, but so far no model integrated both. This inspired us to design our innovative
concept: the teaching of “IT via ERP”.

2

ERP and the new Curricular Framework

ERP systems enable the effective integration of business processes, optimizing the operations and
the management of data across all enterprise functional areas and are therefore considered the IT
backbone for enterprises of virtually any size and in nearly all business fields. However, successful
ERP implementation projects tend to be complex and require not only a robust and reliable IT
infrastructure but also a thorough definition of business requirements (Anderson et al. 2009).
On analysing the stages of an ERP implementation project, we recognized that all of the IT
competence areas, as defined in our curriculum, could be mapped onto an ERP project life cycle,
providing the ideal context for an integrated “IT via ERP” model. This new curricular framework
was designed based on an adaptation of Leiting’s (2012) ERP project structure as illustrated in
Figure 3.

RUN

DESIGN

ANALYSIS

IT Fundamentals Course

Project Management
Team building

Project Timeline
Budget

Timeline & Budget 
updates

IT in Business and Society

ERP Project Implementation

Business Case Study analysis

IT Infrastructure analysis

Data analysis
Master & Transaction data

Business Org. & Processes

HW, SW, NW, Comm.

Business requirements

Software & Hardware 
requirements

Cleansing & 
Organization

Networking & Comms. 
requirements

Modelling & 
Implementation

IT Security & Data 
Protection

Reporting

Testing

Testing

Customizing

System documentation

Figure 3: the “IT via ERP” curricular framework

The structure is supported by three tiers – Analysis, Design and Run – which roll across four project
areas – Project Management, Business Case Study, IT Infrastructure and Data analysis. The relevant
IT topics were matched to each corresponding phase of the ERP implementation project life-cycle.
In this way, the learning of IT and the essentials of ERP and business process integration occur
simultaneously and students gain a deeper understanding of the importance of an IT-strategy to
support the enterprise business objectives.

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2.1

The ERP System

To support the learning activities planned for the proposed framework we chose the open source
software Odoo (www.odoo.com), formerly OpenERP, because it provides a simpler and more
attractive user interface, where all the functional areas are integrated as one single tool without
requiring any additional software. This operational simplicity was taken into account as a factor to
impact positively upon the students’ learning and motivation curves. As a cloud-based solution,
Odoo is straightforward to implement and it is free of charge for educational institutions.
Furthermore, Odoo can also be deployed on premise on a standard database and webserver. Its
administration and user management is relatively simple, allowing students to work in groups and
create different organizations with some customizing options. We also agreed that students would
benefit from the exposure to different ERP landscapes throughout their studies, in our case Odoo
and SAP, increasing their awareness of the different architectures and process flows within ERP
systems (Leyh et al. 2012).
2.2

The didactical concept

Through the “IT via ERP” framework we addressed the issue of integrating and contextualising the
IT concepts, making them appropriate and relevant for Business Administration students. However,
the implementation of such a model also requires a change in pedagogical strategy in order for it to
be effective.
The new concept to support this framework consists of four main features: the B-Learning model
using Moodle, the inverted classroom model, the case studies approach and an E-Examination as
illustrated in Figure 4.
 Learning of the
theoretical concepts.
 Groundwork for the case
study at home

Inverted 
classroom

Case Studies

 Real-life business scenarios
 IT competencies immersed
in ERP-Imp. Project
 Odoo ERP software

IT via ERP
 Moodle LMS as
B‐learning
learning tool.
 Interaction with resources
and peers online

E‐Examination


Case-study based
Secure exam mode:
Moodle-Test +
SEB

Figure 4: The didactical concept for “IT via ERP”

We established a B-Learning model to complement the face-to-face sessions with online activities
on Moodle, with the aim of using the LMS as a learning tool and not as a mere repository of
resources. We also changed the course structure to suit the new “IT via ERP” framework and
published the necessary resources for each topic. These were only made available, though, after
completing the previous unit in order to allow students to carry out the tasks in preparation for the
next case study. Through the application of this inverted classroom methodology (Langer et al.
2014) we optimized the time in class, promoting an active and collaborative learning environment.
The students could also monitor their activity and learning progress in Moodle, helping them to
develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, and thus to encourage independent learning.
With the case study approach we simulated a real-life learning scenario in the workplace for our
fictitious company – the car accessories dealer “Crash AG”. In groups of 4-5, with each group being

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an instance of “Crash AG”, the students worked collaboratively to build and acquire new knowledge
through problem-solving and decision-making activities, helping them also to develop social
competencies such as teamwork and interpersonal skills (Barkley et al. 2014).
Table 1 shows the set of case studies designed for a total of 48 semester periods per week (SPW)
out of 52, based on each of the ERP-project phases of our framework.

Ru

Case Study

SPW

Odoo

IT in Business &
Society

1

The Company “Crash AG”:
understanding the current business
processes and the role of IT

4

---

ERP Implementation:
Project Management

2

ERP-Project Life Cycle: team
building, resource planning,
timeline and budget

2

- Demo System
- PM Module

ERP Implementation:
Business Cases

3

Business Case analysis: objectives,
workflows, business requirements,
proposals, customizing

4

Module analysis and
their integration

ERP Implementation:
IT Infrastructure

4

Software: analysis and selection

6

- Module installation
- Project update

5

Hardware: analysis and selection

4

Project update

6

Networking: analysis and proposals

6

Project update

7

Web technologies: website design
and implementation

6

- Website Module
- Project update

8

IT Security and data protection:
analysis and procedures

4

- System user rights
- Project update

ERP Implementation:
Data

9

Database implementation: data
modelling, customizing, reporting

10

Purchase, Sales,
Customers &
Logistics Modules

ERP Implementation:
Testing

10

“Crash AG”-ERP goes live!

2

Daily operations
simulation game

Design

Analysis

Project Phase

Table 1: new Case Study structure under the “IT via ERP” model

Because many students suffer from what is known as the “bulimic learning” phenomenon and only
want to memorize what is to be examined (Haerder 2012), we also changed the assessment format
to an E-Examination based on a case study and online Moodle questions, making it consistent with
our pedagogical model. Students would then need to demonstrate their IT competences by applying
them in a different business context, instead of memorizing and repeating concept definitions.
2.2.1

An Example: The Data Analysis Case Study

The unit “Data Analysis” starts with a “flipped activity” at home. Students read the theory notes on
Databases published in Moodle. By means of an animation they relate these concepts to a real-life
example and then answer the corresponding online quiz in Moodle. In class, the session starts with
a short discussion on the “flipped activity” to set the students in context and go over the theoretical
concepts needed to solve the case study. Working on the case study in groups, the students:
 Analyse the described processes in the Odoo “Crash AG” system, identifying, extracting and
making a list of the actual data and the corresponding data types.

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 Organise and normalise the data, identify the primary and foreign key fields, the master and
transaction data, and establish the relationships between the different tables.
 Analyse the non-computerised process, as presented in the case study, and design a relational
data model for the ERP system.
 Implement the model in MS-Access and create the necessary queries to produce the required
reports.
They can use the notes, useful links and other resources provided in Moodle, working under the
guidance of the lecturer who takes on the role of a facilitator (Langer et al. 2014). The solutions are
presented and discussed upon completion of each section of the case study and at the end the
students upload their final work in Moodle for the lecturer’s supplementary feedback.

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First results

The evaluation of the application of this didactical model in two semesters generated positive and
encouraging results. With an average of fifty students per semester, the level of sustained attendance
increased to 90% - 100% in every lesson in comparison with the erratic attendance rates in the past.
The level of motivation and engagement were also measured through the observation of active
participation in class, the number of interactions (“clicks”) on the activities and resources in
Moodle, and the completion of the case studies. As a result, the course was rated as the most active
Moodle course in both semesters. Table 2 shows a comparison of results between the previous
semester under a traditional approach (*) and the two semesters with the new methodology, where
we also observe a significant improvement in the final examination passing rates.
Semester

Nr. of Students

Total Nr. of Clicks

Activity completion rate

Exam Pass rate

SS 14 (*)

85

7583

10%

88,0%

WS 14/15

51

17480

87%

96,0%

SS 15

45

18361

92%

95,5%

Table 2: Results after two semesters with the new methodology

The students had the opportunity to reflect upon their IT competency levels “before and after” by
taking part in the online self-assessment surveys at the start and end of the course, and also to
comment on the model. The contextualised, integrated and practical nature of the course through
the application of the B-Learning approach combined with the case studies was highly valued. They
mentioned that they had learned more topics in a relevant context and in a useful way because
nowadays it is expected from people to continue to develop their skills online using similar systems.
The availability of self-paced tests at the end of each unit was also regarded as very positive.
They mentioned, however, that it took them some time to get used to the “flipped activities” and
understand their importance for the case studies. Others commented having a greater workload for
this course than for others, feeling at times overwhelmed with the new methodology and the variety
of activities. For a few, working in groups proved a challenge at the beginning but this situation
improved throughout the semester and under the lecturer’s guidance.

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Conclusions

Our curriculum model shows that it is possible to align a standard IT curriculum for Business
students along an ERP implementation project. This approach not only covers the relevant IT topics,
but also stresses the important role of ERP systems and business process centric thinking for modern
enterprises. Through it we were able to increase the levels of engagement and willing attendance to
class, leading to improvement in learner achievement. As this way of learning was new to everyone,
we also addressed the issue of heterogeneity of individual IT skills and promoted the development
of the students’ social competencies during the group activities.
Although this model requires a significant initial effort in the planning, designing and development
of the resources and the case studies, it was worthwhile to see the change in attitude and levels of
motivation of the students as a result of this new approach.
We will continue to refine the model and enhance the case studies based on the semester outcomes
and the student feedback. We will also include badges as a gamification element, making each case
study a mission or challenge to be accomplished, and in this way motivate our students even further.

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