What Business Schools Will Look Like After The Pandemic

Bill Boulding, dean of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and chair of GMAC’s board

William Boulding, Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

This is a time that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. This is something that we have never experienced so it has been interesting and challenging. What I feel really good about is what people often say, that in a crisis you can see both the best and the worst of human behavior and we are really lucky that we get to see the best. 

Despite all these challenges, I feel extremely grateful to the community I am part of to help us get through this. Some of the things we are doing now because we have to we will continue to do. So this is not without upside in terms of identifying ways to connect our community in ways that we weren’t using before. So there definitely are positive aspects despite the onslaught of really scary, damaging events that are happening.

What this helps faculty and students understand is what works well online and why do you need face-to-face. I think there is a generation with a belief that by definition everything face to face has to dominate. And yet I believe that faculty and students are discovering that there are examples where they can change up the material in interesting ways to put some content online that actually enhances the face-to-face component. There is this massive forced experiment, and out of it you are going to have some failures and some discoveries around better practices than what we know-how.

If you choose a face-to-face program, so much of that experience happens outside the classroom. So we need to be very much aware of not only how we teach but how we facilitate that interaction. I just came out of a meeting where the insight was, ‘Wow. These interactions online are attracting much bigger audiences because people don’t have the barriers of having to get out of their homes and into a particular location.’ Whether it’s physical or psychological barriers, it is opening up access to programming at a scale that you don’t get in a face to face environment. Those are things that will be sticky for us.

Sri Zaheer, Dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota

Sri Zaheer, Dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota

We had to move 300 sections of 200 courses online in four working days. Those courses had never been online. It was a crazy week. Only had one or two faculty who needed a lot more hand-holding than others. Our IT people were sensational. They put out training videos. It has been phenomenal how they really did what was needed. The transition has gone better than expected. And we have done a survey of all our students and have gotten significant participation. I was worried that a couple of courses would be complete dogs. But the good news is that for our part-time and executive MBAss there is no issue. They are fine, and the transition was almost seamless for them. Our undergrads are the ones who are really missing the personal engagement. The lowest score was a three which was satisfactory but the undergrads were less happy with this transition after spring break. It was a huge shock to them. The full-time MBAs occasionally took a part-time course as an elective but for the most part they value that in-person experience, too. They love the synchronous courses and are not quite as happy with the asynchonous. In other programs, students tended to prefer the combination.

I think the transtion would have been harder if not for the fact that for the last six or seven years our part-time MBA program has  added ore online programming, and last year we went fully online with an online MBA. It started out more as a service to our part-timers who can now choose to start online or not. All the credits are the same. The price is the same. Offering that flexibilty caused student satisfaction to jump up as we added more online courses. Flexibilty is terribly important because a lot of our students are working for Fortune 500s in town and suddenly they have to go on a plane for a company assignment. So we invested heavily in instructional design and training for faculty.

A lot of our faculty are discovering that this online experience doesn’t have to be less than but rather different than. Guest speakers are much easier to bring in now from around the world. And students appreciate it when faculty who do that. Even after the crisis is over, I think faculty will bring in a broader range of guest speakers. Flipping will become much more acceptable and normal. Material that has to be delivered via lecture will be largely recorded and then in-person classes will be reserved for what is really valuable like cases discussions and experiential work. Those trends were already kind of occuring and this has accelerated this discussion. There is definitely going to be a rethink of some things but some of it is an acceleration of what was happening already. 

So much depends on how the virus progresses. This will be more of a challenge for schools that are dependent on international students. The worry is that they won’t get their visas on time. That is a huge concern. Consulates are closed everywhere and student visas are at the bottom of the list in terms of priorities. Some of the earliest appointments are in November in China). If that is the situation, even if students want to come and we are open for business as normal, getting the students here might be a challenge. 

If someone doesn’t get a visa we are hoping they can start the program online. It is not ideal. There may be some other options, too, like allowing them to come in January. We will have to figure these things out. Let’s hope we open in the fall. The visa thing puts a real wrinkle in it. Right now, we probably would give them a deferral because the full-time MBA is a small part of our portfolio. The schools that are diversified can do this. So I think we can support them really well and give them deferrals if they want. 


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