In the tech sector, you want to be first to market. That way, consumers associate you with innovation. You’re the disruptor, the pioneer, the first mover – the head of the pack. That’s what the Haas School is attempting to do with its Forum classroom. Yes, most schools are teaching online thanks to the pandemic. However, no one has put quite the spin on it as Haas.
The school calls it a “reframing” of the online education experience. Sound like marketing fluff? In this case, the technology has real teeth. Built off Zoom and initially targeted to executive education, The Forum is a robust platform that addresses many of the gaps that dog traditional online platforms.
For starters, instructors can see life-size shots of every student on a curved screen that’s taller than they are (and more than twice as long). As a result, they can identify an emotional response, no different than in a classroom. Looking out, professors can see which students are puzzled, inattentive, or enthusiastic. When students pose questions, the sound comes from the side of the screen where the students are. In other words, faculty members don’t waste time pinpointing the students’ location. In addition, instructors can engage students with tools ranging from polling to written responses.
The platform also makes online learning user-friendly for students. For one, they can ‘digitally raise their hand’ – where a hand symbol will cover their face to show an instructor where and when students need help. The system also enables them to tap into various room cameras or access whiteboards and PowerPoint displays. In other words, The Forum is designed to “mimic the in-person classroom experience,” says Julie Shackleton, vice president of digital initiatives for Berkeley Executive Education.
“Faculty are fully supported from a technical perspective. Zoom has tools, but they are layered on top, whereas here it’s front and center. When you click the hand-raise button, it comes up in front of your face. And the ability to have polls, both open-answer and multiple-choice, allows for deeper dives in discussions, allows for a lot of contributions at once. There’s an Ask a Question feature, too, so the faculty member won’t be disturbed, but knows that the questions are there for when they’re ready. And it has very cool whiteboards that can be used for collaboration and can be saved — nine different whiteboards. Some of our faculty really like to load content in advance. It’s all up there and can just be displayed when they’re ready.”
Just don’t think of The Forum as a temporary band-aid. Fact is, the genie – to borrow a cliché – is out of the bottle. As a result, Haas is doubling down on this technology, experimenting with new tools and polishing up existing ones.
“I think when things get back to normal, we plan to fully still lean into digital,” Shackleton adds. “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.”
In the end, The Forum is an extension of the Haas mindset, which values innovation, conscience, and community. Located an hour from Silicon Valley, MBAs can access some of the best research and business minds in the world, says Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions, in a 2020 interview with P&Q. Even more, Haas MBAs follow Four Defining Leadership Principles, which clearly marks the community’s values and guides decisions ranging from hiring to curriculum development. The four principles include Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself – values that reflect the school’s commitment to innovation, humility, life-learning, and ethics. In essence, the Four Defining Leadership Principles come down to openness – the kind that enables the institution to embrace structural changes that create student-centered resources like The Forum.
“[There is a myth] that Berkeley is an echo chamber of beliefs, explains Danielle Mayorga, a 2020 grad. “One of Haas’ defining principles is “Question The Status Quo” and I have seen first-hand how my peers are doing that in the classroom, in our dialogues over dinner, and in the companies, they are launching or joining. It’s definitely a place where a foundation of shared values allows you to have deeper and more meaningful conversations–whether or not you agree.”