Hacking a University Class and Bringing a Macro-Sustainability Perspective

Researchers on the paper, clockwise from top left: Forrest Watson, Julie Stanton, Stefanie Beninger, Christine Domegan, Alexander Reppel and Stanley Shapiro

Author Stefanie Beninger discusses the perspective of sustainability within university settings and the pros of having macro-sustainability efforts throughout based on the article “Teaching What Society Needs: “Hacking” an Introductory Marketing Course With Sustainability and Macromarketing” published in the Journal of Marketing Education.

Pursuing more just and sustainable action is increasingly important given the challenges facing humanity. University educators often look to update their material and approaches in order to equip students to handle the challenges of today and tomorrow. However, as many educators know, such classroom changes can be difficult. Sustainability issues are often very complex, requiring a systems-based approach that accounts for macro dimensions. Textbooks often fail to include up-to-date aspects that grapple with this complexity and educators can struggle to find the time to familiarize themselves on all the relevant details.

My five co-authors and I, working at six institutions across six countries, saw an opportunity to ‘hack’ an introductory-level marketing course. We infused the course with sustainability topics that accounted for macro level issues and provide students with more tools to be able to tackle contemporary challenges. This ‘hacking’ was a departure from previous iterations of this course which had taught primarily a micro perspective, focusing on companies and consumers, as many marketing courses traditionally do.

Homepage screenshot of the Macromarketing Pedagogy Place website

For our hacking, we split the course into traditional and expanded components. This juxtaposition allowed for students to still receive the traditional micro tools, while integrating macromarketing and sustainability perspectives purposefully. Each week, the home instructor first taught the traditional content. Then, a few days later, students were challenged by a guest lecturer, from our authorship team, to rethink what they learned earlier in the week. For example, initially, students learned to identify attractive consumer groups, where having enough income is often a key factor. Two days later, extremely low-income consumers were considered, including how and when they can be approached in an ethical way. Using guest professors helped lessen the burden on the home instructor to be an expert in all areas. We also provide our recordings and approach on a special website – Macromarketing’s Pedagogy Place – for others to use.

An additional core part of the ‘hacked’ approach was using controversial statements. Each week, our team of six, posed a new controversy for students to consider, such as “Marketing should [not] investigate all potential consequences of new product development.” Students, in groups, had to defend one ‘side’ of the controversy as well as provide feedback to students who had the other ‘side’. Our goal was to expand their thinking, teach them to research key topics, and encourage them to defend their findings.

Using pre- and post-semester testing, we found that our approach allowed students to expand their awareness of some key topics related to sustainability. We also found indications that students were learning to grapple with the increased complexity that a macro perspective brings and understanding the role marketing has in this complicated landscape.

For educators who would like to ‘hack’ their own traditional classes to bring in a macro and sustainability perspective, we encourage them to read our recent publication for further details. We hope to see more efforts towards equipping students for our global challenges. 

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Stefanie Beninger

Stefanie Beninger is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at IE Business School at IE University. She is also a Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow.

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