Harvard Business School’s Classroom Of The Future

A digital blackboard shows Professor Anand's notes for a mock class on Uber

A digital blackboard shows Professor Anand’s notes for a mock class on Uber

The day’s Harvard Business School case study poses a simple question: Is Uber really worth $50 billion?

Bharat Anand, a Harvard strategy professor, provokes a lively discussion between the 42% of the class that believes the private car and ride share service is worth its sky high valuation and the remaining members of the class who essentially argue that the company’s market value is largely the result of over-enthusiastic investors.

“This has all the elements of a bubble,” sums up Anand. “There is competition and regulatory challenges coming down the pike, and there doesn’t seem much that is really unique here except for the network effects.”

A typical HBS class? Not exactly.

LIVE FROM A STUDIO AT WGHB, A HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL CLASS

There are no students present in the classroom. The session isn’t being held in one of the buildings on the HBS campus. Instead, Anand is teaching the case in a virtual classroom housed in the facility of public broadcaster WGBH, roughly a ten-minute ride from school.

This is Harvard Business School’s classroom of the future, a high-ceilinged broadcast studio designed to reproduce the intimacy and energy of the school’s case method teaching in a digital environment. One person carries a roaming camera on her shoulder, capturing Anand in action. Another production staffer insures that the audio from the live feed of participants is as loud and clear as if each person was in the room.

Anand, meantime, faces the images of 60 students portrayed on a curved screen in front of him, a high-resolution video wall composed of more than 6.2 million pixels that mimics the amphitheater-style seating of a class HBS tiered classroom. Because each image is two feet wide and two and one-half feet long, there is no sky deck, or top back row in the class. Essentially everyone sits front and center, whether they reside in Beijing, Warsaw, Prague, Miami, San Francisco, or Toronto.

THE DEBUT OF HBX LIVE!

For years, colleges and universities have been imagining what the classroom of the future would look like. Many have tried to create it, with video screens and cameras, even teaching robots. But after three full years of planning and building a unique virtual space, Harvard Business School has truly invented the future classroom and announced the official launch today (Aug. 25) of what it is calling HBX Live!

The case study under discussion—Disrupting The Taxi Industry—is a mock session designed to show off what represents a significant though undisclosed investment in the studio. Together with HBX CORe, an online program on the fundamentals of business, and the launch of a portfolio of online learning for more senior managers, Harvard Business School has unmistakably taken the lead in digital learning among all business schools, if not all universities.

There are, of course, several other highly prominent business schools, including Yale University’s School of Management and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which have built their own versions of these long-distance classrooms. Yale deploys one in its newly opened $243-million complex to bring far flung students together in global network courses, while Wharton uses the latest Cisco TelePresence technology to connect its West Coast campus in San Francisco with home base in Philadelphia.

AN HBX LIVE SESSION IS MORE OF A SHOW THAN A CLASS

But no one has undertaken either the expense or the ambition to uniquely recreate a case study classroom to teach 60 people in real time, with no delays in voice or image, no matter where they are in the world—and to do it while amping up the spark and vitality of a more typical classroom discussion. That is, no one until Harvard Business School.

Truth be told, an HBX Live session is more a show than a class. Many of the system’s features were informed by visits to NBC Sports in New York and to Las Vegas where team members watched active sports betting on a single, massive screen. The HBX studio is soundproof, behind thick, heavy doors over which a neon sign brightly announces: “HBX! X” It takes four production staffers, two on the set and two in an elaborate upstairs control room, to assist a teaching professor. And besides the roaming cameraman, there are five other stationary cameras to capture the action, along with the 60 built-in laptop cameras for each student, allowing a director to stitch together multiple images for one feed, just as if this was a live television show.

“Anand can walk into a regular classroom with no support,” says Jana Kierstead, executive director of HBX. “This classroom is a full-on team effort. The producers ask for a teaching plan the day before class so they can tee up a slide or a video segment. It’s not just a class. It’s a show and it requires some production.”

  • freedom

    Can someone put this videos online for everyone? That would be great.

  • A Bit Disappointed

    I like your comments about accessibility and the practical use of this technology. They are important and vital to success. No doubt Harvard will do great at this.
    Incidentally, the Cornell program I discuss in other posts also archives all class sessions for viewing at later dates/times and has for years. The Cornell program links ~160 classmates or members of the cohort with Live fully interactive multi-point video for classes via purpose built studios. The students reside in the USA, Canada, and Mexico at this time and so cross national borders. It is amazing technology with live fully interactive classroom discussions with students and professors and allows for an incredible diversity of perspective. Oh and you actually earn an MBA degree and not a certificate of completion.

  • JohnAByrne

    Yes, the sessions can be taped and archived for later viewing.

  • Claire

    This looks super engaging and enables interactivity. It also has the benefit of allowing geographically disperate corporate clients (for example) to input into the learning environment. My recent research has identified that busy professionals also value, and indeed expect ubiquitous learning opportunities. Assuming these live streaming sessions are also filmed and uploaded to a VLE then this meets that expectation too. I appreciate that flies in the face of the very philosophy of live streaming, but it does meet dynamic accessibility needs. I just want to engage in one of these sessions now!

  • fidel305

    So what is the difference?

    Is it really necessary or even advantageous for the Prof to see every student on a separate monitor as opposed to hearing them?

    And doesn’t even ESPN do the remote thing with several connected taking heads who can see each other and be seen?

    Not seeing the big advantage here. Or the new tech.

  • A Bit Disappointed

    Exactly. I was wondering if anyone else would recognize what seems so clear. In this case, HBS is not the innovator at all (yet is receiving credit) and is imitating another school. Cornell is not getting appropriate credit at all.

  • bwanamia

    1. I’m not sure i understand how the HBX platform isn’t a videoconferencing technology.

    2. If HBS were to offer an EMBA through their HBX platform, how would that be different? And you’re probably wrong about HBS’s long run plans for the platform.

  • SnobberyStinks

    It is now so clear why your name is HBS. Well done and astonishing wit. Behold greatness!

  • HBS217

    Cornell has a business school?

  • A Bit Disappointed

    Then we shall agree to disagree on this. The Cornell program has also invested considerable sums as well, and how does it matter that one is or is not MBA granting? We are taking about business education delivery through new technological innovations right. I must say though that it potentially shows an unfair bias to say that there is no comparison here especially when until I pointed out that Cornell’s program was true live video from a purpose built studio, your were not aware of it – so I am not sure how you can so confidently state that there is no comparison? Anyway, I will leave it be…
    Thanks for the time.

  • JohnAByrne

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. The comparison you are making with HBX Live! is an apples vs. oranges comparison. These are two very different approaches, with two distinctly different outcomes. Cornell-Queen’s is running a remote EMBA program. HBS has no intention of doing an EMBA. HBS has invested millions into a true virtual classroom. Cornell-Queen’s has no real virtual classroom at all. It’s videoconferencing technology.

  • A Bit Disappointed

    Your supplied article link at the bottom of the second paragraph even refers to it as live video and not teleconferencing???

  • A Bit Disappointed

    I did not miss it at all, I am a big proponent of your websites and this innovative process. You are unfortunately mistaken in this instance – there is ZERO/NO teleconferencing??? It is live fully interactive video from purpose built studios – that is the point and has been for over 10 years now. This is directly from their website:

    “During the boardroom sessions, multi-point interactive videoconferencing links the faculty and Boardroom Learning Teams in locations across North America.”

    See the pictures below and visit the website
    Thanks

  • JohnAByrne

    You apparently missed that story which ran two years ago:

    http://poetsandquantsforexecs.com/2013/04/30/cornell-queens-novel-emba-program/

    By the way, Cornell and Queen’s are using readily available teleconferencing technology. There really is no comparison here to what HBS is doing.

  • A Bit Disappointed

    Too funny and typical that the credit and praise for this innovative technological advancement in business education goes to Harvard, with mention also of Wharton and Yale and no credit or mention to the real innovator. The truth is, and this website has even written about it in the past, is that the real pioneer and continuing leader in this technology is Cornell University’s Johnson School. Their Cornell Executive MBA Americas has been doing live fully interactive digital classroom’s with Queen’s University successfully for over 10 years now. Harvard and the others are mimicking and playing catch-up but Cornell will not receive the praise or credit because it is not Harvard. Too bad and kind of sad.