INITIALLY, HOUGH ACTUALLY MAILED DVDS TO STUDENTS FOR INSTRUCTION
The program has come a long way since 1999, when it mailed lectures on DVDs to students. Tapping into their mission to be innovators, Hough quickly pivoted to placing courses online when Apple released iTunes. It was also the first program to distribute video iPods to its students, before moving to the iTouch and the iPad. Now, the school provides students with the same lightweight tablet laptops to everyone, which are configured the same way so students don’t experience any hiccups from day one.
Courses are delivered on a Learning Management System (LMS) from Sakai (The school is transitioning to Canvas in the fall) . Instead of 60-90 minute lecture videos, the school employs topic-based segments, lasting 15-25 minutes, that include videos, readings, embedded surveys, projects, assignments, and links to additional content. This serves two purposes. First, by chopping content up into smaller nuggets of information, students can easily refer back to specific topics. Even more, this method makes content easier to digest, says Sevilla. “This is not a Michael Bay production, but you need rich and dynamic content that’s [appealing] to listen to, to understand, to be engaged with.”
The content, which is prerecorded in a professional studio, is re-done every three years and only used for the online courses. While most classes are recorded, some professors have held live sessions to discuss particular cases or help students prepare for finals. The LMS also includes a discussion board, where students can respond to faculty (or peer) questions.
The program also prides itself on a seamless student experience. “One thing we do really well,” says Sevilla, “is take care of student life cycles. We’re cognizant that universities can be slow and bureaucratic. So it’s our job to take that minutia off the table for students – from getting books and materials from the faculty [at orientation and residencies] to registering them for classes. We have dedicated financial aid people in our building, so it’s ours to manage and [students] don’t have to wait in line…It’s a very rigorous program…so our job is to allow them to focus every ounce of energy on coursework and learning – as opposed to things that could get them bogged down.”
ALL NEW ONLINE STUDENTS FIRST COME TO CAMPUS FOR A FOUR-DAY ORIENTATION
Hough’s online MBA program also pours heavy resources into the faculty. The business program employs three full-time instructional designers, who work closely with faculty on online delivery. While the online program uses the same faculty as the full-time program, some professors are more comfortable in front of a camera than others. “Some of them are naturals,” Sevilla observes. “We do go through a cycling process to determine which faculty members have an affinity for this process.”
It is one thing to talk about community. But online MBAs are steeped in Hough’s cohort culture from the moment they arrive on campus for orientation. A mandatory four day event, students spend time with student affairs, career services, faculty, and peers. After laptops are distributed and software is loaded onto their devices, the tech team provides training and one-on-one coaching, to ensure users are comfortable with accessing and using the applications before classes start. In addition, students complete a full day of team-building exercises.
The goal is to allow students to hit the ground running. And one key is for students to choose the right teammates to work with. “We do some things around personality and team dynamics [at orientation],” says Sevilla. “The process…puts their skin in the game as opposed to us assigning them to teams or just having them randomly pick based knowing each other for six hours…If the team is not working well, it’s going to be magnified in this kind of a program.”