What will fall 2021 MBA classes look like in graduate business education? While many — in fact, last we heard, most — B-schools have yet to formally announce their plans, universities continue to behave a if they expect a sizable portion of instruction to be hybrid, meaning partly online and partly live. Innovation and adaptation using new technology are still the name of the game amid an ongoing global pandemic whose threat to student mobility — and therefore the learning process — is only somewhat diminished after 16 months.
Problems arising from coronavirus have been a fact of B-school life since March 2020, prompting some schools to heavily invest in workarounds that are expected to remain a part of the learning and teaching experience when all this is behind us. The latest is Emory University Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, Georgia, which despite plans for entirely in-person instruction in the full-time MBA has announced the opening of three “next-generation” classrooms that offer an immersive digital experience using such technology as holograms and virtual reality.
“The goal,” says Jaclyn Conner, associate dean for Emory’s executive MBA program who has been spearheading the teaching innovation efforts, “is not to use digital learning to replace all of our traditional classrooms but to reach a different audience and provide a top-notch educational experience.” Another hoped-for benefit: helping the Goizueta School halt or reverse a years-long trend of international MBA student losses.
A WAY TO STEM INTERNATIONAL MBA LOSSES
Goizueta’s Executive Education and Executive MBA students will be the first to experience the Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms, which like their counterparts at other top schools seek to create online and hybrid learning opportunities without sacrificing one-to-one connection. Emory hopes the completely renovated spaces brimming with innovative technology — made possible by a huge gift from The Goizueta Foundation — will connect students with each other and faculty in new ways, elevate classroom experiences, extend global reach, and eliminate the limitations of geography.
And that different audience mentioned by Jaclyn Conner? Emory surely hopes the Global Classrooms appeal to international MBA candidates, who have shown declining interest in studying at Goizueta (along with much of there U.S. South). Emory lost 16.2% of its international MBA student volume between 2016 and 2020, dropping to 28% last year. For comparison, similarly-ranked Indiana University reported more than 30% international students in fall 2020, though the Kelley School of Business itself has seen among the worst declines in international enrollment in the last five years.
The new Global Classrooms “serve as yet another differentiator for Goizueta amongst our competitors,” says Melanie Buckmaster, Emory Goizueta director of communications. The new facilities combine the best of digital learning and teaching technology, she adds, enabling faculty to be highly responsive and flexible with students — through real-time polls that gauge the “temperature of the room,” breakout room options for small group discussion, whiteboard technology, and engagement analytics. “We’re really proud of this new initiative as it’s allowing us to utilize the most advanced technology available to create engaging digital learning experiences.”
She adds that Emory Goizueta will be open for in-person classes in the fall. “We’re taking what we learned during the pandemic and applying it to supplement our traditional on-campus programs with some online course delivery for electives,” Buckmaster says. “We do offer a hybrid EMBA and that will remain a hybrid program. The Global Classrooms will be leveraged for online course delivery (hybrid EMBA and some electives) as well as by admissions and other departments as they offer events and other engagement opportunities in which geography may be a barrier to participation.”
HOLOGRAMS WILL ALLOW GUESTS TO JOIN EMORY FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
In addition to upgrades to its physical space, Goizueta is further innovating by incorporating hologram-like technology that will allow professors to bring in guest speakers from all over the world – connecting students to the best and brightest experts. The university is launching “pop-up” classrooms that will allow virtual visits to cities like Shanghai and Rome where faculty can deliver “in-person” instruction without the carbon footprint and expense of travel. Further, the institution is harnessing the power of virtual reality to immerse students and leading business professionals in real-world experiences — like crisis management and negotiations — allowing professors to insert unexpected challenges throughout the training and test business decisions, leadership behaviors, change management, and communication strategies.
“The ability to not only adapt but to innovate is critical,” says Nicola Barrett, chief corporate learning officer at the Goizueta School. “As with other sectors, higher education and executive development is undergoing significant change from new entrants, new technologies, and changing expectations of professionals and organizations.”
Goizueta has partnered with third-party vendor X2O Media to power the digital learning platform that drives each of the three global classrooms. With multiple camera angles and state-of-the-art audio, faculty and students will be able to see and hear each other through a wall of 20 to 40 high-definition monitors positioned with each student’s video feed assigned to a monitor, all in a familiar format.
“Goizueta will continue to deliver world-class educational experiences and opportunities for our students,” says Karen Sedatole, dean of Goizueta Business School. “Through this new technology and our overall teaching innovations, we are preparing principled leaders to have a positive impact on business and society.”