At Virus ‘Ground Zero’ in U.S., Seattle Schools Do What They Do Best: Innovate

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business has suspended in-person classes through the spring quarter. File photo

Coast to coast and all points between, universities in the United States are bracing for the full impact of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, which is responsible for thousands of deaths globally and a growing number of cases domestically. But schools aren’t just bracing — they are also preparing, canceling in-person classes, restricting travel for students, faculty, and staff, and prohibiting large gatherings in an attempt to block the spread of the disease.

Their business schools are following suit. UCLA, home of the Anderson School of Management, announced Tuesday (March 10) that face-to-face classes have been suspended; Cornell University and its Johnson Graduate School of Management did the same. At Indiana University and the Kelley School of Business, in-person teaching has been suspended with a plan to resume campus classes April 6. Michigan State University, home of the Broad College of Business, announced the move to virtual instruction after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency in response to the announcement of two new cases in the state.

How prepared are business schools to effectively move coursework online? Not very, according to John Katzman, founder and CEO of Noodle Partners, an online education platform. “This is a real wakeup call,” says Katzman, who also founded 2U, a publicly-traded online educatin provider. “I am on the phone with a whole lot of universities who really feel they need to up their game. Most schools are using technology poorly. They have no real pedagogy that is synchronous to flank asynchronous instruction. It is a teachable moment, a moment that most people skate through somehow and ultimately decide to up their game.”


So far, though, nowhere in the U.S. has been harder hit than Seattle. The city became “ground zero” for the country when the first death attributable to the virus was reported in the suburb of Kirkland in February; to date, half of the known fatalities from the disease have occurred there. Which means the business schools of Seattle have had more experience than their peers in dealing with the threat. The University of Washington, home of the Foster School of Business, was the first university in the country to move classes online, a decision that Foster Dean Frank Hodge says comports to the school’s reputation for innovation. The Foster School plans to resume classes normally on March 30, after students have completed the quarter and spring break, pending improvements in the virus containment effort.

But Hodge, who became dean in 2019, says the school may be on the cusp of a new normal. “I don’t know that we’ll ever go back to the way things were,” he tells Poets&Quants. “Part of it is just because of our mind frame. What I like about that is, we’ve got everyone thinking, ‘If I need to pivot, if we have a snow day or we have some kind of an emergency, I can quickly go to something and run my class.’ So that has been a welcome disruption or a silver lining.”

Frank Hodge. UW Foster photo

Washington Foster’s MBA Class of 2021 has nearly 120 students, 29% of whom are international. Total enrollment in the full-time MBA, ranked 21st by both Poets&Quants and U.S. News, is about 230 students. Across all graduate and undergraduate programs, including executive education seminars and life-long learning programs, the Foster School has about 3,500 students.

Their health and well-being — and that of Foster’s faculty and staff — is the school’s first concern, says Hodge, chair of the school’s accounting department for many years before taking over last year from long-time Dean Jim Jiambalvo. He isn’t as concerned about the disruption to coursework or experiential programming, though obviously it will take a lot of work to mitigate the impact of these unusual circumstances.


The Foster School is up to the challenge, he insists. “What we’re planning as a university right now is that we will be back on campus for classes starting March 30th, which is the beginning of the quarter,” Hodge says. “We would make a call a week prior if we were not going to gather in a classroom environment. And what’ll happen, just like it did before: We’ll have a cascading of information that’ll all go out. We’ll ask instructors to prepare for the first two weeks of the quarter without in-person experiences.

“Given our experience with the last two weeks of this quarter, I have no doubt that we can successfully do that.”

A thornier question is what to do about large events. Here again, Hodge says, Foster will have to show that it has earned its reputation for innovation.


“One of the focuses of the Foster School is innovation, and so we offer seed money competitions for entrepreneurs and things like that. We’ve got to find a way to do those events if we’re not going to do them face to face.

“We had a faculty member, Rebecca Lovell, run an event recently where there were eight team rooms set up in Zoom and she took judges around virtually, none of them in the same room. She took them all around to the various team rooms, where they presented to the judges. Then she would take them to another team room. Then they collaborated as a group of judges and then they had an award competition where all of the students were involved. And it went really well. None of the people came together in person, but we were able to accomplish the objective.

“The event went off without a hitch and was a huge success.”

See the next page for a short Q&A with Frank Hodge, dean of the Foster School of Business, and page 3 for an up-to-date list of the top 50 U.S. business schools and the measures they are taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 


Seattle Albers Dean Joe Phillips. Albers photo

Washington Foster was the first business school in the U.S. to move in-person classes online in response to the coronavirus. Seattle’s other big B-school, Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics, was the second. The school moved all in-person winter quarter classes online in February. That affected the 18 students in the Albers one-year Bridge MBA program, the 43 in the part-time MBA (ranked No. 57 by U.S. News), the 23 in the executive MBA (No. 17), and the school’s 959 undergraduates.

Now in the last week of winter quarter, virtual classes at Seattle Albers are humming along as well as can be expected, Dean Joe Phillips tells P&Q — despite the eeriness of a quiet campus.

“Faculty and students have been meeting online in different modalities depending upon the skill set and familiarity of the faculty member with the various tools available, before doing different things and making it work out,” Phillips says. “And we are also preparing for final exams next week. So in the classes where there are final exams, the faculty are figuring out how they’re going to handle those and not be doing that on a face-to-face basis.


“That seems to be going OK. The campus is very, very quiet. There are a few students around, but most of them are not around. The dorms are open, the cafeteria is open, our offices are open, so if students need to see an academic adviser or they need to visit the placement center, they can still do that. The biggest change is that there’s just no classes meeting. But that causes a huge change in terms of the atmosphere and action on campus.”

The Albers School is fortunate in one regard: timing. It launched an online MBA and online Master in Business Analytics in fall 2019, giving faculty experience in the medium. The online MBA program currently has 20 students but expects to have 30 by spring quarter.

“We’ve had a lot of faculty that were already teaching online classes,” Phillips says. “We have faculty that have gotten training, who may have not given 100% online classes, but they’ve received training around it, and they may have been doing some hybrid things in their classes already. And then we also provided some workshops to faculty last week so they could get ready for this situation.

“And actually, before all this happened we had asked our faculty to put together their plan for the spring quarter. So maybe a month ago we thought we could finish out this quarter without any disruption, but we were pretty sure that something was going to happen for the spring quarter. The spring quarter for us will start March 30th. So we have asked faculty to develop a plan for their classes for the spring — literally, what if you had to go the whole quarter without meeting with students face to face? How would you be handling this class? After we made that request, we put together the workshops for faculty that want some more training and wanted some best practice discussion that they could benefit from.”


Like its neighbor Washington Foster, Seattle Albers has a reputation for innovation, Phillips says, that is helping the school weather this most unusual of circumstances.

“I think whether it’s UW or us, there’s a continuum across our faculty in terms of their skillset with respect to online teaching.,” he says. “And it’s really an opportunity for those that have been out front to seize the moment and mentor some of their colleagues that have been a little slower to make this transition. I think the opportunity for us — and everybody, really — is that everybody knows in their mind, and maybe even their heart, that online instruction is here, and everybody has to be on that train.

“I think everybody’s trying to figure out how far we go into the spring quarter before we can get back to normal, and hoping that we don’t get all the way to graduation. I think most people around here think that we can get back to normal before June. But it remains to be seen.”

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