Course I: About the Course

This course was designed by Leonard Dobusch and Elke Schüßler in March 2020 in response to the first Covid lockdown in Europe.

Abstract painting, foto by Pawel Czerwinski

The worldwide spread of the Covid19 virus poses a grand social challenge. Seriously threatening the health of the world’s population and accompanied by huge social and economic disruption, it is one of the largest immediate crises for Western societies since World War II and a humanitarian disaster for humankind around the world. Drawing on classic and contemporary organization theory, this course aims to illuminate many pressing questions surrounding the pandemic, such as how supply chains can be organized to ensure adequate supplies of health material, the strengths and difficulties of open science approaches to the development of a vaccine or capabilities of different forms of organization and coordination to quickly and adequately respond in times of crisis. 

The course comprises 12 classes, each dealing with a particular aspect of the Covid19 crisis in relation to different theories of organization and organizing. It is a collaborative effort of organizational scholars from different Austrian and German universities that have expertise in researching grand challenges, different forms of organizing and crisis management. Given the current need for distance learning, the whole course can be completed online and asynchronously. Each class comprises a short recorded lecture and a set of core and background readings in addition to links to contemporary newspaper articles.

The course is made available open access, which means that all learning materials are openly available for everyone. Lecture slides and the syllabus are shared in editable formats so that instructors from around the world can use the materials and adjust the course as needed. All course materials (lectures, readings) can be found here. You can sign up to our Youtube channel here. The adaptable course syllabus can be found here.

Please note that this is not a Mooc in which you can register online, participate, and then get credits from us. Rather, it is an open course concept with accompanying course materials that can be used – either in full, or in part – by university instructors interested in teaching organization theory more generally, and organizing in times of crisis/crisis management specifically. While you can of course just listen to the lectures and access the readings by yourself, you can only obtain grading and credits if you are registered at a university where this course is taught.

Learning Objectives

This course aims to familiarize students with the implications of the Covid19 crisis on organizational, managerial, and societal processes. The seminar will be grounded in contemporary theories of organization and management science, and enables students to critically engage with theoretical concepts along practical contemporary phenomena. Specifically, students of this course should learn to:

  • Analyze the current Covid19 crisis through the lens of organization theory
  • Understand the role of different organizational forms such as bureaucracies, high-reliability organizations or inter-organizational networks in coordinating responses to crisis
  • Understand alternative and open forms of organizing and their advantages and difficulties 
  • Understand the role of leadership in crisis situations and reflect on different types of sensemaking with regard to open communication and transparency on the one side and uncertainty and an unknown future on the other side
  • Understand the challenges of organizations to communicate in times of crisis, and the role of social media for and in crisis communication. 
  • Reflect on how organizations can be designed to respond to unexpected events and be responsive and resilient
  • Understand how crisis can be a trigger for entrepreneurship, innovation and change
  • Understand the ways in which grand challenges relate to inequalities, including gender inequality
  • Critically engage with both theoretical concepts and practical contemporary phenomena. 
  • Reflect on what organization theory and practising managers can contribute to addressing grand societal challenges

Suggested Assignments and Grading

Grading and examination as well as the tools used for handling the assignments may vary from instructor to instructor. Generally, the workload in terms of ECTS depends on how the course is implemented by the respective instructor (e.g. whether completion of all 12 classes including the following assignments is mandatory): 

Before listening to lectures:

  • For each class, students read the relevant core reading(s) and contemporary news article(s) provided in the course outline and post a question that links the core readings to current developments (either in a forum or using email – follow instructor guidance).

After listening to lectures

  • Students complete the post-lecture assignment for each class either individually or in groups (follow instructor guidance). 
  • A randomly assigned group of students sorts the questions posted in a given week and provides answers to three clusters of questions (either in a forum or an open document – follow instructor guidance).

After completion of all classes:

  • Students write a short essay (1.500 words) on a topic of their own choosing or on a topic provided by the instructor following the advice given in the “How to write an Essay” mini lecture.

Course Materials

Please find here a read-only version of the full syllabus of this course. Course instructors are invited to download the file and adapt it to their local needs. Students are advised to follow the syllabus handed to them by their respective instructors, as it might diverge from the one that is available here.

Here you find all the course materials for the individual classes, including a short lecture, a set of core and background readings, and an assignment.