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

Irena Fayngold, a digital learning designer, and Paul Carlile in The Cube

A DEBATE OVER THE SEQUENCING OF BUSINESS IDEAS & CONCEPTS

Later that afternoon, in yet another brainstorm in The Cube, more faculty gather to discuss what will get taught in the second module of the program, “Managing Performance With Data.” The group debates on whether it should use a J.C. Penney case study on performance measures to launch the module or go directly into a yet to be created case on a bakery that makes cookies. There’s a discussion about the sequencing of concepts: Should process mapping be taught in the second week of the module or much later in week five?

Jay Zagorsky a senior lecturer on markets, public policy and law, is trying to figure out how to jam what would ordinarily be taught in two separate semester-long MBA courses into a much smaller space. single week. “I was told to teach quantitative methods and statistics within three weeks when typically I would have seven weeks,” says Zagorsky, recognizing the significant culling work that still remains.

In any week, for that matter there is a bewildering array of ideas and concepts to convey to online students. Week four, for example, will cover financial statements, revenue recognition, costs vs. expenses, net income, assets, accounts receivable, depreciation, liabilities, the basics of bond pricing, equity, retained earnings, and basic ratio analysis among other things.

‘WE’RE PLAYING A REALLY RISKY GAME’

Outlining one of the capstones that will allow students to apply what they learn at the end of each module

“A lot of this is culling what content should be in each week,” says Greg Sabin, a lecturer in accounting who is a former chief financial officer. While his core expertise is in accounting, he will also help finance, statistics and economics in module two while another professor, Janelle Heneike, will cover operations. But Sabin must consult with other faculty who are not directly involved in delivering the program, a level of involvement that can complicate what actually gets taught.

By starting with learning objectives, rather than what a professor wants to teach in a semester-long course, the faculty is being forced to reduce content to its essentials, connected directly to what students need to learn. In a way, it is a reverse engineering of an MBA. “If you go back to the old semester model, it’s often an artificial construct,” says Dean Fournier, who says she is confident that the faculty will work it all out.

“We’re playing a really risky game because we are doubling down on our residential programs while launching this new online MBA,” she says. Creating the online program requires that Questrom more clearly differentiate its more expensive full- and part-time MBA options, doubling the amount of experiential learning in the full-time program, investing more money in career management, more effectively leveraging the Boston ecosystem and allowing students to go deep and specialize in such things as social impact, digital technology, and healthcare, options that online students will not have.

Ultimately, the race to get it done has galvanized many at Questrom, even many of the initial skeptics. “We have done more thinking about the future in three months than we did in ten years,” says Associate Provost Dellarocas. At one of the presentations before the business school faculty, he recalls a senior professor who quietly sat through the session until finally raising his hand to speak. “‘This is the most exciting thing to happen here in 30 years,’ he said. And it is. I don’t think anyone has figured this out. We are on the leading edge right now.”

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