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Retail and ITM classes team up to create Shopify stores

March 08, 2021
Shopping cart on top of laptop

Ted Rogers School students are partnering with online retail leader Shopify to get hands-on experience building their own businesses from the ground up.

Shopify, the all-in-one commerce platform that is powering over one million businesses, has an Open Learning Program which provides authentic experiential learning opportunities for students by giving them access to fully-functional Shopify stores for free. When Dr. Frances Gunn (Associate Professor, Retail Management) and Dr. Deb Fels (Professor, Information Technology Management), discovered they were both teaching classes where students had access to Shopify accounts, they decided to join forces to create an interdisciplinary project.

Since Dr. Gunn had a group project in her Leading in Retail Organizations (RMG 925) course this semester and Dr. Fels had one in her Advanced eBusiness (ITM 550) course, they gave students the option to choose an interdisciplinary team project where they would work with students from the other class to develop a Shopify business.

“The ITM students were learning about the IT infrastructure pieces that were important to the eCommerce enterprise, and the Retail students were learning about innovation and customer personas in design thinking – so the project fit in with what both of them were studying at that time,” Dr. Gunn explains.

Interdisciplinary groups vary from groups with just a single discipline because people will have different priorities and perspectives. “With this project, students are able to bring their diverse interests, abilities and educational and work experiences to bear on a common goal,” says Dr. Fels. “Also, the two courses are teaching different aspects of the eCommerce retail world, so students from both courses have the benefit of learning and applying those different topics from each other.”

This unique learning experience was appealing to ITM student Shafiul Mazniabin. “I chose to do this project with Retail Management students because of the different perspectives they bring to the table with their retail knowledge, understanding of the customer's requirement and other creative aspects," he says.  

As far as Dr. Gunn and Dr. Fels are aware, this is the first time there has been an interdisciplinary project at the Ted Rogers School that is embedded in two different courses and is credit-worthy.

“Our students need to be able to come out ready to pivot and to work in an interdisciplinary way, and what we need to provide to them is this capacity in a way that’s embedded in what they’ve learned,” says Dr. Gunn.

There are eight teams of four students each (two Retail and two ITM) participating in this unique project. After an orientation during the first week of class in January, which involved the students meeting each other virtually and team building activities, they were off and running to create their Shopify business.

Some of the businesses the teams have created include ones for international snack foods, thrift shopping, watches, high-end computer parts and lip care products. Dr. Gunn says that the students have been very engaged in this project, and she is seeing high-quality results.

“Interdisciplinary projects are well suited for fourth-year students, as most of us have accumulated a certain amount of working experience and knowledge,” says Retail Management student Belinda Chen, who is working on an international snack foods business with her team.

“In projects like this, we get to engage learning in context and apply concepts gained from extracurricular activities, such as Bootcamps,” she explains. “We learn with others and through engagement over a period of time using hard and soft skills. We also brush up on our leadership skills and learn to put on different ‘thinking hats’ to collaborate and problem-solve.”

Retail student Sebrina Bender, meanwhile, is working on an online clothing consignment store with her team. “Our group is very passionate about our idea for this project, and none of us have ever worked with a Shopify platform before,” she says. “This assignment is truly a unique and exciting opportunity, and I cannot wait to apply my retail skills to help make our website great!”

All of the groups have submitted their project proposals and are now in the final development of them. They will present their business ideas in Powerpoint as their final project at the end of the semester.

Dr. Gunn says that the logistics of doing this interdisciplinary project has been surprisingly smooth, even during a pandemic, and she plans on running it again in the future. “Ted Rogers School’s Retail Management program is instituting a thought leadership platform for retail learning, and it is going to be focused on these types of dynamic learning opportunities,” she explains.”It’s one of the things that differentiates us from other Retail programs in the country, and why we’re well-established internationally.”