Brainstorming The Future: Boston University’s Disruptive $24K Online MBA

Paul Carlile, senior associate dean for online learning, leads a brainstorm in The Cube


All told, Carlile would ultimately enlist a group of 19 faculty who are actively collaborating to deliver the new program, though as many as 60 faculty are involved in one way or another. “We needed some thought leaders, some senior people who were willing to step up,” says Barb Bickart, senior associate dean for MBA programs. “They see this as the future and wanted to jump onboard. Others saw this as an opportunity to do something new and challenging. We are starting from ground zero on what online could be.”

It would ultimately come down to a faculty vote on Nov. 8. “I was going through a lot of soul searching for what that vote would mean,” says Fournier. “If we barely won approval, it would not be a resounding vote for the leadership. If we failed, I was willing to walk.”

There were numerous presentations and town halls over many months to win over the faculty. After a closing speech by Fournier at the meeting, 96% of the faculty voted their approval. Fournier was elated. So was Provost Jean Morrison who came to Fournier’s office that day with a bottle of champagne to celebrate the victory. “University support,” says Fournier, “was big. We couldn’t have done it and wouldn’t do it without that support.”

But resistance didn’t end with the vote. When the new program was announced, some of the school’s part-time MBAs revolted. “They said, ‘Wait a minute. You are offering our degree at what price? One threatened a class action lawsuit. Another wanted a rebate on the degree,” recalls Fournier. “We went to them and said, ‘You can get this MBA credential for $24,000 or stay in the program with your classmates, learning from faculty face-to-face. Only four of them wanted to talk about that option and only two people switched. We pressure tested it. I wasn’t worried but I was really stressed that we had to navigate everyone of those things successfully. I really feel the segmentation is real.”


Brainstorming Module One on Creating Value for Business & Society

The demand for BU’s $24,000 online MBA is clearly there. Roughly half of the students who have put down their deposits came from edX. Over all edX had 12,000 users who expressed interest in an Online MBA and Questrom received nearly 10,000 qualified leads from edX. “There is a lot of pent-up demand, especially at an affordable price,” says Matychak.

Now it comes down to execution. Back in the Cube for an 11 a.m. meeting, Venkatraman explains to five other participants in the room his theory of “connected capitalism” in which companies must connect to a broader set of actors to create value. He proposes an exercise in which students identify the most important global trends that will shape the firm and managers’ roles in the future. It would occur in the second or third week of the program and represent the first teaming exercise the students encounter.

It becomes immediately clear that this is not a typical meeting of faculty planning curriculum. Irena Fayngold, a digital learning designer with more than a decade of experience at public TV station WGBH, is in the meeting expressing very different ideas about what faculty have to do in an online environment. “I am here,” she says, “to think about flow. It’s helping people see themselves coming on and off the stage. They are actual actors, and they are interested and curious to learn what it means to be on a screen.”


Outlining one of the capstones that will allow students to apply what they learn at the end of each module[/caption]Venkatraman does not look like a Hollywood actor, but he had done the first MOOC at Questrom three years ago on digital transformation strategies and is ready for this new challenge. In a face-to-face class, Venkatraman explains, he would simply divide the students into small groups and they would go to the corners of a classroom, collaborate together on the trends and then present them to the class. “How do we bring the power of technology to do that?,” he asks. “How can we do that with 200 people online?”

“You don’t,” responds Paul Hutchinson, a senior lecturer ofsenior lecturer for management & organizations and a ‘teaming expert.’ “You do it with 20 groups of ten-person teams, organized by their diversity.”

To bring a sense of community to a class filled with 200 students from all over the world, it’s suggested that the school use Yellowdig, a social sharing platform that assists peer learning and student engagement.

“You’re advocating for the students and the teaming,” says Fayngold to Hutchinson. “I want to also advocate for the faculty. Venkat, you know how you walk into a lecture, work the room, get some verbal and non-verbal cues from students. But there is also Yellowdig. As you get to know your group you can quickly go to Yellowdig and look up their backgrounds.”

“Is that going to be at the level of a LinkedIn profile?,” asks Venkatraman. “We need to have LinkedIn integration so students can quickly get to see who is on their team. If they are not on LinkedIn, maybe we shouldn’t admit them,” he jokes. “What I like is that very quickly they get to have voice.”

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