To be published in: “Proceedings of 11th IADIS International Conference on Information systems”, Lisbon, Portugal,
April 2018,” ©Copyright 2018 IADIS Press
USING THE STRUCTURE OF TACIT KNOWING FOR
ACQUIRING A HOLISTIC VIEW ON IS FIELD
Ilia Bider and Martin Henkel
DSV, Stockholm University
The paper considers the problem of students acquiring a holistic view on the IS discipline via a set of not explicitly
connected subjects taught in disparate courses. The main idea is based on M. Polanyi's works on a structure of tacit knowing
that can produce "a stereoscopic image from two separate pictures". The images that are used for creating a stereoscopic
picture give different perspectives on the same reality, but they do not explicitly refer to each other, the 3-d picture is being
created unconsciously by the human mind. This paper demonstrates that a connection between subjects can be created by
using the same or tightly connected business cases in different courses that use case based learning combined with
computer-based apprenticeship simulation. The paper discusses the main idea, the trial settings, and preliminary results.
Digital learning, apprenticeship simulation, case based learning, knowledge management, tacit knowledge
A project for which this paper is a progress report deals with the problem of the fragmented knowledge the
students get when studying an Information System (IS) program at a university. The problem is a consequence
of that the programs, usually, are structured in terms of subjects, each subject being taught separately and,
often, independently from other subjects. The problem is known in all disciplines (Miller, 1988), not only in
IS and the most common solution to it is having a special course (Kift et al., 2008) which helps the students to
integrate the knowledge from different subjects. In most cases, such a course is a capstone project (Durel, 1993)
given in the final year of undergraduate or post-graduate education.
The biggest shortcoming of having a separate course aimed at integration of the fragmented knowledge is
the students having their knowledge fragmented in a number of years, which can diminish their desire to stay
at the university until the end of their studies. Coupled with the subjects being taught in an academic fashion,
this can lead to the students with lesser academic preparedness drop out, or need to extend their stay at the
university. The question arises whether there is a solution to the fragmented knowledge problem that would
allow making connection between the subjects when they are taught, without waiting to the last year capstone
A solution that is under testing in our project is based on the M. Polanyi's ideas on the structure of tacit
knowing (Polanyi, 1965). More exactly, his ideas on the ability of human mind of creating a holistic picture
from a set of fragmented signals coming from the outside of the human body. This, for example, allows a
human being to create a stereoscopic (3-d) image based one two separate flat pictures that does not explicitly
refer to each other, but they represent the same reality taken at different viewpoints. Given this ability,
interconnection of the courses could be obtained of using learning objects related to the same reality in
difference courses, relying on the ability of the human mind to create a "stereoscopic" (holistic picture) from
the two, seemingly disjoint subject matters taught in two different courses.
The implementation of the idea of using the structure of tacit knowing for connecting the courses is done
in the frame of Case Based Learning (CBL) accepted in our department. The CBL is used in many of our
courses in the form of the students completing a practical project during the course where they apply the
theoretical knowledge they acquire from teaching/learning activities. Some courses employ projects where
students work in groups, others (especially on-line courses) use individually based projects. Each project has
a business case, and requires the students to complete some assignments related to this case. The assignments
can include building a model, e.g. a process model, or a conceptual model, designing a database or a building
a prototype of the system.
To facilitate the students creating tacit connection between the subject matters of different courses, we
suggest using the same, or tightly connected business cases in the projects completed in the frame of these
courses. For example, in one course the students could be asked to draw a business process model based on the
information from the case, and in another - to build a proto-type of an IT-system that would support activities
in the process. The connection between the cases can also be less strong, e.g. they concern the same company,
for example, a consulting company completing various projects for their customers. This will tie the business
cases through the individuals participating in them.
A usual way of presenting a business case to the students is giving them a text description of the case. For
testing our idea, however, we use a different way of case presentation, the one that comes from our previous
projects (Bider et al., 2015a; Bider et al., 2015b), which is called apprenticeship simulation. The apprenticeship
simulation is based on using multi-media capability to present a case to the students, such as recorded inter-
views with the stakeholders, web-sites of the companies included in the business case, examples of internal
documents, email correspondence, etc. The presentation fragments can be real, e.g. real interviews with people,
real companies websites, etc., or totally simulated, e.g. an interview where teachers play the roles of
stakeholders, faked websites, etc. Using a mixture of both creates a rich immersive environment similar to what
the students will find in their working life after their graduation.
The idea of using CBL projects based on the same or tightly connected simulated business cases was tested
in our teaching practice. First, two courses that belong to the same program have been chosen for the test and
the results were assessed through a student survey and interviews; then a third course has been added to the
trial. In the first hand, the survey and interviews were aimed at finding out whether such courses design helps
to connect subject matters taught in different courses. In the second hand, we wanted to find out whether such
design has other positive and negative side effects. The preliminary results are positive: (1) the design helps
the students to connect the subject matters on the tacit level, (2) the design has some positive side effects, and
(3) it does not have substantial negative side effects. Currently, we are extending usage of the same or tightly
connected simulated cases to other courses, and continuing investigation of the effects on students learning.
The rest of the paper is structured in the following manner. In Section 2, we give an overview of the
knowledge based related to our project. In Section 3, we present the design of business case(s) used in the
courses, as well as give a short overview of the courses themselves. In section 4, we give an overview of our
investigation of the effects of using the same or interconnected business cases in CBL projects on the students
learning. Section 5 presents the conclusions and draws plans for the future.
2. KNOWLEDGE BASE
2.1 Related works
Our work crosses a number of areas in pedagogical research. To these belong research related to the problem
of fragment knowledge, Case Based Learning (CBL), using simulation in education, apprenticeship,
apprenticeship simulation, and reuse of learning objects. Due to the space limitations, we cannot give an
extensive overview of the works in all these areas, but limit ourselves to some examples.
The problem of fragmented knowledge has been known for a long time (Miller, 1988), but it is still present
in all educational disciplines. The most typical solution used for solving this problem is having a special course
aimed at integrating the knowledge from the previous courses, such course being usually scheduled at then of
the educational cycle (Kift et al., 2008). Often, such course is formed as a capstone project, see for example,
(Durel, 1993) that defines a capstone project as "a crowning course or experience coming at the end of a
sequence of courses with the specific objective of integrating a body of relatively fragmented knowledge into
a unified whole". As has already been mentioned in the introduction, the main drawback of such a solution that
we want to avoid is that the knowledge remains fragmented almost to the end of the program.
Case Based Learning (CBL) is a teaching method, where students, through working with a realistic case,
are getting an opportunity to apply concepts and theories in complex situations and develop their analytical
skills (Herreid, 2005). In its simplest form, a case can be given to the students as a textual description of the
organization (Fenstermacher, 2004), but it is possible to refer the students to a real-life organization (Recker
& Rosemann, 2009). Cases can be used as a larger part of a course, in the form of project assignments, but can
also be used for lectures, seminars, exams, etc.
A case can also be given in the form of a simulated situation. One field where the simulation has been
successfully used in teaching is in the medical field where a patient is simulated; see for example (Ellaway et
al., 2008). However, such simulations may be complex to create, especially, if the case should cover a multitude
of perspectives needed for IS analysis and design. As an alternative, apprenticeship simulation (Bider et al.,
2015a; Bider et al., 2015b) has been developed. Rather than simulating a complete business, apprenticeship
simulation aims at simulating the situation of an apprentice being guided by a master analyst. The master
presents the apprentice (student) with collected documents to analyze and delimited tasks to perform. This
approach approximates real apprenticeship that is usually used in professional education (Gowlland, 2014).
Research on reusing course material has so far pointed out positive effects of reuse in terms of increased
quality and productivity (Parrish, 2004). The goal of productivity, naturally, puts the focus on creating easy to
reuse modules of learning objects (IEEE, 2002) - digital or non-digital assets that may be used for education.
Development of learning objects and associated tools has focused on the technical side in terms of platforms
and exchange formats (Jesukiewicz, 2009), as well as on metadata standards for describing the pedagogic
content (Rodríguez-Artacho, 2004). Research in the reuse of learnings objects has so far pointed towards that
limiting dependency between modules simplifies reuse (Boyle, 2003). The approach we present in this paper,
have a different goal with reusing cases for teaching – instead of aiming at productivity gains, we primarily
aim at letting the students get a holistic view of a discipline. This said, it does not mean that the teachers will
not get productivity gains as a side effect of using the same business case in different courses.
2.2 The structure of tacit knowing
In a number of his philosophical works, including (Polanyi, 1965), M. Polanyi presented his view on the
structure of tacit knowing that "brings out the joint meaning" from different signals coming from the outside
world. A typical example he uses is a stereoscopic (3D) image created from two "flat" pictures "due to slight
differences between the two pictures, taken from two points a few inches apart". As Polanyi calls it, "we are
focally aware of the stereo-image, by being subsidiarily aware of the two separate pictures". Our work on
creating a holistic view on IS-discipline in the students' heads is based on the capability of human mind to
create a holistic picture from two images that are not related to each other besides that they represent the same
reality taken from different angles. The problem to solve here is relating the subjects of different courses to the
same reality taken from different viewpoints, but without any explicit references between them. In our
approach, this is achieved by having the same basic business case for the project assignments in the courses,
where the assignments creates different viewpoints, while not explicitly referring to each other.
3. BUSINESS CASE AND COURSES DESIGN
3.1 The business case
A business case chosen for the field trial of our approach features two fictional characters, both of them being
companies. The first character is a consulting company called ST Transformer that completes projects on behalf
of their customers. ST Transformer is meant as being present in all interconnected business cases to be used in
various courses in the future. ST transformer is a purely fictional character that does not have any prototype in
real life. The roles of consultants working at ST Transformer, e.g. when conducting interviews or facilitating
workshops, are played by the teachers in our department.
The second character in the business case is one of the ST Transformer's customers, called Harmony inside.
The company helps their clients to deal with the IBS syndrome (where IBS stays for Irritable Bawls Syndrome).
The company was started by two dietitians for several years ago, and recently, it came into the phase of growth.
This is also a fictional character, but in difference from ST transformer, it has a prototype as a real company.
The ladies who started this real company play the roles of the staff working at the fictional company.
The basic information that is reused in all courses that employ the case consist of two websites of the
companies (faked), see Fig 1., and two recorded interviews/discussions between the consultants from ST
Transformer and the staff from Harmony inside. The interviews are divided in 6 fragments, approximately 5
min each, each fragment being devoted to a specific topic, see Fig. 2.
Figure 1. The fake website of the fictional characters in the business case
Figure 2. An interview fragment
A course that chooses to use this business case creates a project site where the links to the basic presentation
fragments are introduced. An example of a project site used for one of the courses is presented in Fig. 3. Besides
these links, the project site can include tasks to be completed in the frame of the project and any additional
information that might be required for the project. The course teachers are free to choose which interview
fragments include in the project, and in which order, for example, irrelevant for a specific project interview
fragments can be excluded from a particular project. In addition, the course teachers decide which fragments
are the main ones for the project, and which ones only constitute a business context. Here, again, a fragment
that is main in one course project can be viewed as just a context in another course project.
3.2 The courses
Currently, three courses at the department are included in the field trial: Business Process and Case
Management (BPCM), Citizen centric service design (SERDES) and Systems Theory, Organization and IT
(SYSTOIT). All three courses include elements of enterprise modelling, and use projects related the “Harmony
Inside” case for teaching these elements, see Table 1 and text below it. The courses are not explicitly referring
to each other, and there is no requirement that a student should take all of them, or should take them in any
particular order. In fact, a student can decide to take only one of these courses. The first two courses are
mandatory for one MS program (Open eGovernment) and are given online. The third course is a campus course
and it is not included in the program. Normally, a student takes BPCM first and SERDES after it. However,
some students choose to do it in the reverse order.
Figure. 3. An example of a course project site (BPCM)
Table 1. Overview of the three courses
Course Case contents Case use
1. BPCM Video interviews, Companies websites Business process modelling, Agile business process
2. SYSTOIT Video interviews, Companies websites Variety engineering, Viable System Model (VSM)
3. SERDES Video interviews, Companies websites,
Mails, Screen mockups, see Fig. 4.
Service value network modelling, Information
modelling, Domain driven design, API design
The objective of the BPCM course is to give the students broad view on Business Processes (BP), including
that there are different approaches to BP modeling, and development, and that the choice of which to adopt
depends on the context and task at hand. The course presents to the students two modeling methods in details,
workflow modeling with BPMN and State-oriented Business Process Modeling (Khomyakov & Bider, 2000),
while giving a short overview of other modeling techniques, alongside with how to choose the one that fits the
context and task at hand. The course takes such issues as agile vs. traditional business process development,
process architecture and adaptive case management. The Harmony Case is used for a project assignment related
to building an executable process model for online consultations given by dietitians, see Fig. 3.
SERDES aims at teaching the students software service design in the public sector. It contains elements of
theories on service oriented organisations, such as service-dominant logic (SDL). Moreover the course covers
the use and design of egovernment service platforms, and the design of service API:s. In the SERDES course,
the Harmony Inside case is used for creating enterprise models, including service value networks and
information models. Furthermore, the students design a service API based based on the case description. For
adjusting the Harmony case to the course, the case has been complemented with additional material. For
example, three fictitious mails have been added outlining requirements for the service design that was not a
part of the basic case description. Another addition is that a screen mockup has been added (see Figure 1c),
that gives the students an idea about what data the future service needs to handle.
SYSTOIT is an introductory course in system theory applied to the organizational context, including usage
of IT in the organizations. The course introduces central notions of systems theory, such as system, context,
goals, variety, etc. A particular focus is made on teaching Viable System Model of Stafford Beer (Beer, 1979)
and its usage for organizational systems diagnostics. The Harmony case is used to support all teaching activities
in the course.
Figure. 4. A mockup screen used in the SERDES course
4. ASSESSMENT OF EFFECTS ON STUDENTS LEARNING
The first round of the three courses included in the field trial was completed during the fall term of 2016 (BPCM
and CEDRIS) and spring term of 2017 (SYSTOIT). The second round is now underway. Overall, 11 students
finished two of these courses: eight Students attended BPCM + CERDIS, two students attended SYSTOIT +
BPCM and one student attended CERDIS + BPCM. To investigate the effects on students learning of having
the same case in the projects assignments, we conducted a survey among these students. The participation in
the survey was voluntary. Nine students have chosen to answer the questions. In addition, we have interviewed
three of these students to get a better understanding of their answers.
Besides the formal questions on the students' background, the survey included questions aimed at clarifying
the following issues:
Whether the students get connection between the subjects from different courses taught in separation
Possible negative side effects
Possible positive side effects
The questions and answers related to these issues are presented in Table 2. As we can see from the table, there
is a consensus among the students that using the same case helped to create a connection between the subjects
of the courses that were not explicitly linked to each other. A near consensus has also been reached in the
question whether it helped to understand how a company could be viewed from different angles. In comments,
the students expressed that it helped to get connection between the subjects as well, e.g. "Seeing different
perspectives on the same organization makes it easier to understand new courses and theories".
To better understand in what ways the connection between the subjects has been created, we conducted
online interviews with three of the students who participated in the survey. The general conclusion from these
interviews was that the students could not explain in which ways the connection had been created, they just
felt that it did exist. This fully supports our initial assumption that the connection is created on the tacit level
due to the structure of tacit knowing professed by M. Polanyi.
The only possible negative effect we investigated was whether the same course can create a confusion
(Question 3). Though one student was undecided on the issue, the rest did not experience any confusion.
The positive effect of gains in learning productivity was reported by almost all students (question 4). This
was confirmed with the following type of comments: "The student needs to spend less time familiarizing with
the case and can spend more time on the subject matter". However, only about half of the students agreed that
reuse made it more interesting to complete assignments (Question 5).
Table 2. Survey results
Connection between the Courses
1. Using the same case in two subjects gave me
understanding of how the subjects are related
2. Using the same case gave me an understanding of how
an organization can be viewed from different perspectives.
Possible negative effects
3. Using the same case was confusing, for example by mixing up some concepts from different courses.
Possible positive effects
4. Using the same case made it quicker to complete the
assignments in the 2nd course.
5. Using the same case made it more interesting to do the
6. If there were a third course using the same case it would
be considered as an advantage
7. Overall, using the same case in several courses is a good
As far as general impression on the reuse of a cases in different courses is concerned (Questions 6&7), most
of the students agreed that it is rather a good approach, though there are potential drawbacks in it, e.g. "The
only possible drawback of this approach is that case diversity can enhance student learning, and re-using a case
reduces the case diversity a student meets while studying", or " Somewhat decreased motivation; assuming full
familiarity with the case without it necessarily being so". Note, that in our preliminary investigation (Henkel
et al., 2017) on reusing the case in several courses, the expected results were much more uncertain.
This paper suggests an innovative approach to dealing with the problem of "fragmented knowledge" the
students get in IS related programs that consist of a set of not very tightly connected courses. The approach is
based on the structure of tacit knowing uncovered by M. Polanyi that allows a human being to create a holistic
picture from a set of disjoint signals coming from outside but representing the same reality taken at different
angles. The main idea of the approach is using the same basic business case in different courses. The idea has
been tested in a CBL environment using apprenticeship simulation. The trial includes three courses. The results
obtained so far, though limited, confirm the initial assumption that using the same, or tightly related business
cases in combination with CBL and apprenticeship simulation could facilitate the students to create connection
between the subject matters of different courses on the tacit level.
Currently, we are trying to expand the usage of the same case to more courses, and are planning to conduct
a broader empirical study. The latter will include a study of the severity of the "fragmented knowledge"
problem in the departments programs, and how well our approach deals with it. A kind of connectivity index
could be developed for this end.
This work was supported by a grant from Stockholm University. We are grateful to our colleagues Erik Perjons,
Stewart Kowalski and Åsa Smedberg who participated in the project and in teaching the trial courses.
Beer, S., 1979. The Heart of Enterprise. Wiley.
Bider, I., Henkel, M., Kowalski, S. & Perjons, E., 2015a. Simulating apprenticeship using multimedia in Higher Education:
a case from the information systems field. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 12(2), pp.137-54.
Bider, I., Henkel, M., Kowalski, S. & Perjons, E., 2015b. Teaching enterprise modeling based on multi-media simulation:
a pragmatic approach. In Benyoucef, M., Weiss, M. & Mili, H., eds. Proceedings of 6th International MCETECH
Conference, LNBIP Vol. 209. Montreal, Canada. Springer, pp.239-54.
Boyle, T., 2003. Design principles for authoring dynamic, reusable learning objects. Australian Journal of Educational
Technology, , 19(1), pp.46-58.
Durel, R., 1993. The capstone course: A rite of passage. Teaching Sociology, 21(3), pp.223–25.
Ellaway, R. et al., 2008. Building a virtual patient commons. Med Teach, 30, pp.170-74.
Fenstermacher, K.D., 2004. If I had a Model, I’d Model in the Morning. In Proceeding of OOPSLA'04. ACM, pp.88-89.
Gowlland, G., 2014. Apprenticeship as a Model for Learning in and Through Professional Practice. In International
Handbook of Research in Professional and Practice-based Learning. Springer. pp.759-99.
Henkel, M. et al., 2017. Reusing Cases for Teaching Enterprise Modelling — Feasibility Study and Reality Check. In
SCME-iStarT 2017. CEUR Workshop Proceedings Vol. 1954. CEUR-WS.org, pp.4-14.
Herreid, F.C., 2005. Because wisdom can’t be told: Using case studies to teach science. PeerReview, 7 (2), 7(2).
IEEE, 2002. IEEE Std 1484.12.1-2002 IEEE Standard for Learning Object Metadata. New York: The Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers.
Jesukiewicz, P., 2009. Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), 4th Edition Content Aggregation Model.
Advanced Distributed Learning.
Khomyakov, M. & Bider, I., 2000. Achieving Workflow Flexibility through Taming the Chaos. In OOIS 2000 - 6th
international conference on object oriented information systems. Springer, pp.85-92.
Kift, S.M., Field, R.M. & Wells, I.B., 2008. Promoting sustainable professional futures for law graduates through
curriculum renewal in legal education: a final year experience (FYE2). eLaw Journal, 15(2), pp.145-58.
Miller, G., 1988. The meaning of general education: The history of an educational paradigm. New York: Teachers College
Parrish, P.E., 2004. The trouble with learning objects. Journal of Educational Technology Research and Development,
Polanyi, M., 1965. The Structure of Consciousness. Brain, LXXXVIII, pp.799-810.
Recker, J. & Rosemann, M., 2009. Teaching Business Process Modelling: Experiences and Recommendations.
Communications of the AIS, 25, pp.379-94.
Rodríguez-Artacho, M..V.M.M.F., 2004. Modeling Educational Content: The Cognitive Approach of the PALO Language.