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Telecommunication class creates Virtual Commerce Mall on Internet

April 16, 2001

While new technology is making a world of virtual businesses available on the Internet, some MSU students have been learning more about it through a simulation of their own.

Charles Steinfield’s Telecommunication 891, Advanced Electronic Commerce, has constructed the Virtual Commerce Mall - a Web site with nine virtual stores created by students.

Steinfield, a professor of telecommunication, said it’s important students understand how business and technology combine.

“Part of the problem that we’ve had with all the dot com failures is a whole lot of people started creating Web businesses without really knowing enough about what makes a good business,” he said. “So it really helps to have some training so they can understand the role of information technology in business.”

Student teams formulated business models to create their stores while learning more about e-commerce - a term used to refer to the buying and selling of goods on the Internet.

“The class had a lot of theory about e-commerce practices and then they got to try out their ideas and theories on the site,” Steinfield said.

But its project wasn’t done when the site was completed. The class invited students and faculty from the Department of Telecommunication to do some virtual shopping on the site with $2,000 worth of fake money.

“It was so realistic and professional that I was worried that I was going to get a large credit card bill in the mail,” said Mark Levy, chairperson of the Department of Telecommunication.

Levy was one of about 400 shoppers who visited the site, which included students from two introductory level telecommunication courses, TC 100, The Information Society, and TC 201, Introduction to Telecommunication Technology.

Levy said the project was an excellent experience for both the students who created the site and those who visited the site as shoppers.

He said about a third of telecommunication majors plan to spend some part of their careers dealing with the Internet.

“It’s very important for our students to have the experience of being a part of this communication revolution from the very beginning,” he said. “And working with an e-commerce site gives them a chance to see what the problems and opportunities are.”

Brian Pentland, associate professor of accounting and information systems, said he and his students have used the same software used by Steinfield’s class to create virtual businesses.

Although he put more emphasis on the business planning aspect of e-commerce in his courses, he said it’s important for students from many disciplines to learn about e-commerce.

“I think that in the university as a whole, we’re trying to set up programs that allow students to combine businesses and technology courses together,” he said. “In our department we are trying to increase the level of technology use in all of the courses.”

Albert Brewer, a telecommunication graduate student who helped create the Virtual Commerce Mall, said he has learned a lot about e-commerce, but also about the role of technology today.

“We have to be more understanding of how technologies are coming together and bringing new services and options to the rest of the world,” he said.

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