Lights, Camera, Action! Behind The Scenes Of UC-Davis’ Forthcoming Online MBA

Kimberly Elsbach recorded her video for UC-Davis’ online MBA in Los Angeles


The program also will feature immersions twice a year to allow students to show up in a single location with professors. Over the two-year program, each student will have to attend at least two of the immersion which will probably occur over a long weekend starting on Friday. “We are geographically blessed. One of the immersions will be in Davis, another can be in San Francisco, or Napa, or Silicon Valley.”

2U advised the school’s faculty that it should take between 150 hour and 200 hours to convert their classes into the chunks of learning for an online format—before ever entering a studio to do the filming. “I spent at least that much,” says Elsbach. “It took a good three months of work to get the course ready in course planner where it is planned down to the minute. I’ve taught this course for 15 years but had never gone through that process systematically.”

To redesign her course, she met every week online with 2U staffers for a dozen weeks through November, December and part of January, before flying to Los Angeles to record her video sessions in late February. Together, they went through every minute of teaching, outlining the course goals and to achieve those objectives online. In her ten-week course, Elsbach had to design 100 minutes of online work that students would do on their own to every 100 minutes of learning with her direct and live involvement. There was one rehearsal after another, leading to still more revisions. All group activities had to be put in the live class sessions she will hold once a week. That in itself was a big change because she would ordinarily go back and forth betwen lectures, discussions and activities in an on-campus class.


Little is left to spontaneity. “You can have lectures with slides but they don’t want you to have more than ten minutes of lectures or slides in a shot. You have quizzes, videos, and you’ve got to organize the class so it is broken up so you don’t talk for a long time. It’s not something you can just slap together. In many ways, it is more work than putting together a live class because you have these time limits and you want to make it work for three to five years.”

Besides the mini-lectures, she also had to orchestrate videotaped roundtable discussions with two students, recruited from the University of Southern California. These segments simulate an in-class, back-and-forth conversation. “You have an experience. You reflect on it by listening to the roundtable discussion. You are given some theoretical frameworks and then you test it in another experience.”

Elsbach had been on camera before, mainly for local TV news, so when she had to show up to record her sessions, she walked into the studio confident and without any jitters. “They had to do makeup and hair,” she laughs. “They do this slate between every take and sound checks. It’s more of a professional production than I had ever done before. Yet, they want you to do it in one take. If things go wrong, you can do a retake. But it is not like filming a movie where everything is perfect. The videotapes that come out of it are pretty true to what would happen in a real class. They are not absolutely perfect.”

During the first studio visit, Elsbach taped all of her lectures in an 11-hour day. The following day, she returned to the studio and spent the entire day taping roundtables with student volunteers. 2U has been editing the tapes until she will have to run through a single class to make sure everything works smoothly. “It was actually fun and I was pleasantly surprised at how professional and organized the 2U people are. They really know what they are doing, and they know what will make the class engaging. It’s not going to be a dumbed down version of our MBA.”

As the first Davis prof to go through the process, Elsbach has put together a tip sheet for her colleagues. Her advice: It will take longer than you think to translate your in-person class to online. “But it is probably worth spending that time because you want the online class to be as good as your in-person class, but it is a completely different animal and you have to take the time to make it work.”


Yetman says that when the MBA online program is launched sometime next year, it will be priced equal to the school’s part-time MBA program in San Ramon which carries a fairly hefty pricetag of $120,960. That would make the UC-Davis program one of the most expensive online MBA degrees in the world behind only Carnegie Mellon University’s $128,000 MBA program. It’s even more than UNC’s $114,048 online option or Syracuse University’s $84,186 online MBA, both 2U clients.

Admission standards, adds Yetman, will be in line with Davis’ part-time programs where the average GMAT score is 579 and students average nearly seven years of work experience. Students would be able to complete their MBA degree in as little as two years or as long as four to six years. By and large, the online version of the MBA will be the same as Davis’ campus version with the unit requirements, courses, and faculty—and roughly the same electives as well.

“The 2U model is to start small,” says Yetman. “We could have just 20 in the first cohort, but it will be a great opporunity to get it done right. It’s not about making money. It’s about offering a quality education that the faculty are happy to deliver and the students are happy to receive. Our hope is that the program gets much bigger, perhaps an intake of 50 to 80 students four times a year.”


Yetman has scheduled his class toward the end to allow his colleagues to go first. “My motto is you never ask someone to crawl through a hole unless you are prepared to go through one as well,” he says. “But now there’s genuine excitement on the part of the faculty who are lookng forward to creating these courses.”

The faculty, he says, has gotten over their initial concern that online education could never equal the quality of face-to-face classroom learning. “Several years ago, you may have gotten faculty who would say they are afraid that this could never be as good,” he says.

“But when you team up with a company like 2U and you see the full suite of technology available, you actually come away with the idea that this may be better than a professor with a piece of chalk in front of a blackboard. The truly scary part is, ‘Oh my gosh, this may be the better version.’ That is the real scary part.”


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