The 10 Biggest B-School Innovations Of The Decade

Poets&Quants is celebrating the 10th anniversary of our founding this month and marking the occasion with recaps of some of our most important coverage. As we’ve moved through the last decade covering every facet of graduate business education, we have gained unique perspective on the innovations that have had — and will continue to have — the most lasting and positive effects on that ever-changing landscape. Here’s a list of the 10 biggest ones.

10. Haas Leads The Way With Virtual Classrooms

Give it a year, two at the most, and this one may well rocket to the top of a future list. After coronavirus wiped out the latter half of the 2020 spring semester at business schools around the world, some schools decided not to get caught by surprise again. Leading the way in pioneering a new, improved virtual MBA experience is the University of California-Berkeley, where Berkeley Executive Education and the Haas School of Business are preparing to unveil a major upgrade to Zoom classes this fall. But this innovation is here to stay, even when coronavirus is a memory.

“When things get back to normal, we plan to fully still lean into digital,” Julie Shackleton, vice president of digital initiatives for Berkeley Executive Education, tells Poets&Quants. “We imagine that it might be more hybrid. Even international people, we might do some work in The Forum before they arrive and they have the in-person time and then we follow up. So it’s still going to be here. This is not a short-term, temporary fix for us. This is the way we’re moving.”

Mike Rielly, CEO of Berkeley Executive Education, says Zoom still has its place, including as a tool for breakout sessions and other pedagogical needs. Virtual classrooms are just the next evolutionary step. “It’s nice to be a first mover,” Rielly says. “I believe as a business school, as a top business school, I believe Haas is the first to introduce virtual classrooms in the degree programs. It’s not something that top business schools have ever had to solve for, so it’s not that this technology hasn’t been in existence or ideal for this, it’s just that that wasn’t the pedagogical approach for being on campus.”

9. Toronto Rotman Pioneers The Use Of Video Interviews

Video interviews are so firmly established as part of the MBA interview process that few realize they are less than a decade old. The technology was pioneered by Kira Talent, a Canadian startup, and first adopted in admissions by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, which began using a short video interview as another application data point in 2013. “We are a talent management business school,” Leigh Gauthier, former director of careers and one-time director of admissions at Rotman, told P&Q in 2014. “We find great talent across the world and train and develop that talent. Big business employers are increasingly looking for applicants with good presence and communications. At Rotman, we do a lot of teams and classroom discussions; consequently, we are looking for a different type of student — someone who will be successful in all forms of communication.”

Recognizing that video is an essential part of our world and business in general, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Yale School of Management followed Rotman’s lead, and video interviews quickly became a common element of the app process.

Now, in the age of coronavirus, they are absolutely indispensable — though they will persist past the current health crisis because admissions committees want to know whether an applicant can present themselves well over video, because inevitably those candidates are easier to place at graduation. “You can’t fake this,” Gauthier said six years ago, advising applicants on how to handle themselves. “We’re looking for a real person with thoughtful answers. Take a deep breath, smile, and shine simply by being your best self.”

8. Darden Makes Waves With A Test-Optional Admissions

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business was among the first institutions to get out ahead of the calamity. Darden Dean Scott Beardsley was the first B-school dean to recognize that the pandemic and the recession it would cause would open the doors to a flood of new MBA candidates, some newly unemployed, others who saw their opportunities for advance scuttled by the downturn and the health crisis. The school aggressively extended its round 3 application period by more than three months. Then, no less crucial at a time when standardized test centers were closed down, Darden agreed to accept undergraduate entrance exam scores on the SAT and ACT or LSAT, MCAT and Executive Assessment scores in lieu of a GMAT or GRE. Darden even agreed to chase down recommenders on behalf of its applicants.

The results of one of the boldest move in MBA admissions: Applications in Darden’s extended round 3 soared by 364% over its year-earlier final deadline. The increase drove a 25% jump in total applications for the 2019-2020 admissions season to roughly 2,730 from 2,283 for 2018-2019 for the 338 classroom seats in Darden’s full-time MBA program. At the time the admission changes were announced on March 24, applications for this year were flat after a 19.8% decline in the previous two years. The steep increase reinforces the notion that this coming admissions season for business schools could be among the largest ever (see Could 2020-2021 Be The Biggest MBA Application Season Ever?).

All of this begs the question: Should schools do away with entrance exams, or make them optional? The debate continues.

7. Harvard’s FIELD Program: Case Studies Take A Break

Early in the decade, under new Dean Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business School added a required experiential exercise that departed from their fully case-study approach to learning. It was an incredible undertaking to bring an entire cohort to different locations around the world for consulting assignments with companies — and it was a huge historical step for HBS, which departed significantly for the first time from the case study, which is a near-religious belief at HBS.

FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) is based on small-group learning experiences that focus on leadership, global business and entrepreneurship. “There is a real learning by doing as opposed to simply putting yourself in the shoes of the actor and asking, ‘what would you do?’ Nohria said in 2011. “Now you have to actually do it.” FIELD includes a required eight-day global immersion experience during the January term. To accommodate the new yearlong course, Harvard cut roughly 10% of the classes from its 10 core courses in the required first-year curriculum.

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