What Business Schools Will Look Like After The Pandemic

Haas Dean Ann Harrison
Photos Copyright Noah Berger / 2018

Ann Harrison, Dean of UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished at Berkeley Haas during the COVID-19 crisis. In the space of 24 hours in March we moved from in-person to remote instruction across all our degree programs. All of us embraced Zoom. Students now attend class virtually from all over the world.

Nine months ago, I also formed a task force to explore the future of business education at Haas and make some recommendations on an expanded role for remote instruction. That task force, led by Prof. Jenny Chatman, has begun to present its recommendations.

While it is too soon for me to present our strategy in detail, I would like to share three important insights.

First, an increasing share of global business education is being delivered in ways that are not face-to-face, and this trend has been accelerated by climate change and COVID-19. Second, the quality of that instruction is absolutely critical for its success or failure.  MOOCs that were offered to huge classes through traditional instruction did not work. Increasingly, we are seeing that effective online instruction means creative synchronous delivery with fewer than 70 students in a class. My third insight is that the most effective form of remote instruction going forward will be a hybrid model that combines high-quality remote learning with face to face opportunities for students to interact.

In addition, one of our strategic shifts has been to invest in digital strategy. While most universities, including UC Berkeley, have instituted some form of hiring freeze, we made an exception for our Haas Digital team. The team, led by Dr. Sara Sieteski, focuses on remote and online instructional delivery. We’re now hiring for this team, including a new instructional designer, who will allow us to enrich our quantitative simulations and offer experiential, high-touch courses in a remote instructional setting.

Olin Business School Dean Mark Taylor at Washington University

Mark Taylor, Dean of Washington University’s Olin Business School 

There were a lot of innovations already underway in business school education before the crisis. Flipping the classroom, asynchronous forms of knowledge transfer, digital learning—these were all beginning to happen at an ever-increasing pace here at WashU Olin and around the world. In the post-pandemic era of business education, I believe we’ll see the curve strongly steepened in terms of the speed of adoption of these innovations in business school pedagogy. The pace at which both faculty and students adapt to and adopt new tools and teaching and learning methods and processes will hasten. And paradoxically, business education will become increasingly more global, while the need for international travel will contract.

We’ve clearly crossed a threshold in the past six weeks. The meaning of “face to face” has changed—and I don’t think we’re going to look back. For example, we’ll continue to find value in overseas travel, experiencing different cultures first hand, seeing plant and machinery, processes and staff with our own eyes. But increasingly, we’ll complement those experiences with virtual engagements that provide global context and hands-on experience—without the jet lag. This is true of business more generally and will be part of business education going forward. For example, I can envisage overseas projects for our students having a greater degree of online engagement with clients before travel even takes place.

When I was a fund manager, I managed a team that spanned offices in London, San Francisco and Sydney—and that was a decade ago. Today, the skill of international virtual management has become even more important and will take a step change upward in importance as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. In the midst of this pandemic, we have quickly shown faculty and students not only that they can teach and learn in virtual classrooms, collaborating in digital breakout rooms across time zones and cultures—but that they can learn (and practice) valuable skills that will serve them in their 21st century careers. Our students have already told us as much.

In fact, I believe digital learning tools—now that we’ve shown in short order that we can use them well—will revolutionize the way we construct modular programs such as our executive MBA programs and executive education. As we emerge from the crisis, we will also see the next level of digital learning being developed and implemented. In fact, this process was already underway at WashU Olin. Curriculum specialists in our Center for Digital Education were already collaborating with faculty to redesign courses for state-of-the-art digital delivery. We expect demand to accelerate and there to be innovations in delivery, using multiple shorter formats based on what we know about optimal attention spans, and using digital enhancements like animation and video footage to revolutionize the learning experience.

Antonio Bernardo

Antonio Bernardo, dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management

Tony Bernardo, dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management

We’re going through a period where there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty for everyone. Students are concerned about job prospects. They are worried about whether we will be in-person in the fall and there are budget implications for the school. But it has been really heartening to see everyone rally and make the best out of an extraordinarily challenging time. The students have come up with a number of great community initiatives and they are partnering with us on teaching. They are giving valuable feedback that we are introducing in the classroom as soon as we can. There has been a lot of outreach to support the most vulnerable in the community.

We have a number of hybrid courses in our fully employed MBA and our Executive MBA. So we have some experience, although it wasn’t experience shared by the majority of the faculty. One of the things we did right away was put together a number of seminars by professors who had experience with remote learning. We had two and one-half weeks to prepare for the spring quarter so that helped to ease the transiton. We met with student leaders across all our programs weekly, and they do surveys of students and give us feedback on techniques faculty are using that may or may not be working well. There are some things you learn that you don’t think about. They are simple but they make a difference.

When you are teaching in Zoom, for example, there may be a number of students raising their hands in the Zoom feature but you want to keep a discussion thread going. That is tricky to do if you just respond to the raised hands. So how do you keep a discussion thread going in Zoom? TAs are very helpful here because you don’t want the faculty managing the technology and the discussion. There has to be a lot of work on setting up discussion groups within a class. Sitting down in front of a computer for three hours is challenging so you have to find ways to break up the time and have students work with themselves.

There is a lot of innovation going into remote learning. We are going to learn how to do this better and better and we are going to share those best practices. I think there will be an extraordinary amount of collaboration tools that come out of it. We already have some good tools but you have to expect it will be better. What is coming out of this is a period of rapid teaching innovation and that has got to have an obvious long-term impact.

Long-term, we have a whole generation of people who are becoming more comfortable with this modality. Students are comfortable with this. When they pursue graduate degrees they may be more open to this as a modality. I have two kids in college and they are making the transition reasonably well. It doesn’t work for all of their classes but for most, it works really well. These are future MBA applicants. At the same time, the in-person part of the MBA program a significant part of the experience. It is hard for me to imagine that that isn’t always going to that way.

For the fall, we are going to be exploring as a university in various possibilities. I don’t think the only choices are fully remote or fully in-class. One of the contingencies we have to plan for is in-between. It could be in-person with more distancing or a combination of online offerings for students who can’t attend every day or have personal exigencies that will have to be managed. So there is a whole set of opportunities in-between and we are planning for them. I do think a very plausible contingency is something in-between. That is a reasonable expectation for September. Our regular fall quarter starts in September and we are four and one-half months away from that so there is a lot that can happen.

Mostly, I am thinking of this as a temporary phenomenon. We will bounce back from this. It is quite possible that next year could be an outstanding one for MBA applications. We typically see a surge in applications during a recession, and we may have a backlog of international students who can’t come due to visas. There will clearly be some financial consequences to this but I don’t expect that to derail our priorities. But it is also making you think about a couple of other things: How to bring remote learning to our programs in a sensible way and what are the really important programming issues that emerge from this on the future of work. If you think about all the opportunities and challenges people will face by working from home, there are a number of issues in terms of how to bring the best out of your virtual workforce. Those are not just challenges for us as an organization but for our curriculum. How does our curriculum change to reflect the changing challenges that are going to impact managers? This is incredibly exciting.

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