As selective business schools transport their highly competitive MBA programs to computer screens across the country, top educators are creating new strategies to motivate their students and engage learning in the online community. Vice President of Curriculum David Foster and Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship Atul Nerkar play vital roles in implementing University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA Program to ensure that students receive an education that mirrors their on-campus classrooms.
"In the online MBA programs, every student has a front row seat,” Foster said. "There’s a lot of creativity in our class about how we raise engagement.”
Through completing self-paced interactive cases, capping classes at 15 and requiring every student to have a webcam, the online community fosters an academic environment as personal and rigorous as a proper classroom. By enforcing synchronous weekly class meetings lasting an hour and a half, students from around the country will be able to communicate with their instructor and their peers from a live online chat room. In addition, asynchronous information such as case studies, discussion boards and case discussion are also provided to enhance education.
"I think a lot about student perspective,” said Foster. "It is like a mental locomotion. You want the students to own the material. There are limitations on a technical platform, but there is a wealth of tools provided for social interaction and making certain materials available.”
By using case studies as a core teaching material, students are required to read cases and work in small groups to dissect real world scenarios. Each student is generally responsible for 1-5 cases
However, due to the lack of in-person meetings, problems arise in engaging students from computer screens. In order to engross all of the students from their own living rooms, professors personally tailor their curriculum to the students in each class. By requiring students to read each case study and complete assignments prior to class, the faculty members utilize their responses from the assignments to develop their presentation. Then, they facilitate a discussion surrounding the case, and the students receive a summary of the class conversation, as well as different articles and homework assignments driving home the material learned.
In addition to structuring classes differently, online instructors need to work hard to create strong class dynamic and individual relationships with students.
"Instructive involvement is high in online learning,” said Nerkar. "Many believe it is much easier (to teach online.) However, it is a different set of rules, and they are pioneers in that regard.”
In order to help actively motivate students, the grading system relies greatly on classroom participation. Providing that 25% of the grade is on participation alone, with 25% on online assignments and 50% assessments, instructors can guarantee that the students understand the material presented clearly. Furthermore, the stronger the instructor-student relationship is, the more the students will get out of the class.
"If you know your students well, students will be engaged. If you teach strangers, the class participation will be lower,” said Nerkar.
As more and more business schools are moving online, there is a real struggle to create a program with the same caliber as an on-campus business MBA program. However, by fostering strong instructor-student ties, enforcing class participation and requiring specific homework assignments prior to classes, universities are using new technological tools that will provide students with an elite education from their homes.
Allyson Freedman is the Communications and Conference Intern at the Global Business School Network. She attends George Washington University and recently returned to Washington, DC from studying abroad in London.