‘THE STUDENTS ARE AS ENGAGED AS THEY ARE IN THE LIVE PROGRAM AND THE QUALITY IS EXCEPTIONAL’
Van Alstyne says he has been especially pleased with both the quality of the students and their engagement. “The traditional MOOC online class has a completion rate of 3% with low engagement rates,” he notes. “So that set the expectations low, and I got the exact opposite. The students are as engaged as they are in the live program and the quality is exceptional. We have students from Facebook and Google and Coca-Cola. The quality has exceeded my expectations. I was really pleased.”
Going through the first iteration of an entirely new program has led to a deep level of self-examination based on constant feedback. “Every week we ask, ‘What could we do better?,'” says Matychak. “‘What did you like? What did you not like?’ We have done a lot to make certain that the live weekly sessions add a lot of value with a lot of two-way engagement. People say you can’t do a case discussion with 200 people. Well, we’ve done it. We have really tried to make sure that this live experience really differentiates the program and the students feel they are really part of an MBA program.”
In fact, adds Carlile, the success of the two-hour-long weekly live classes has been among the biggest surprises. “It makes everything meaningful,” he says, “even for the faculty who ask what is this experience like? They want to be in an environment where they have an impact on students. They can have that impact in the live classes. They have total buy-in on this, and they see what is possible and they are doing things they have never done before.”
‘CLASSMATES REALLY AIDED IN THE LEARNING’
The live sessions are held at 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. every Thursday. Students engage with video segments and solo work before those classes. “In live, they apply what they learned and get challenged. And then they do more of the teamwork on the weekend and apply it in their own industry or a different place. You’ve got to give them a rhythm and it reminds them that this is an MBA program. There is cold calling, teams have spokespersons, and everybody is on the hook to speak for part of an assignment or case. It sets expectations. And then the students figure it out and they get in that flow.”
Out of the 15 live sessions in each module, attendance is mandatory at a third of the classes. Otherwise, they can be viewed later in the video archive. On average, 80% of the students are attending the live sessions, with a high water mark of 90% and a low water mark of 65%, according to Monica Moody Moore, assistant dean of the online MBA program. The live classes have proven instrumental in fueling an early objective of the program which was to insure that peer learning would take place in a virtual environment.
“One of the data points we have is that their classmates really aided in their learning process,” says Moore. “But the question whether that could really happen at scale. We saw this ii student evaluations and they found that it aided and in some cases deeply aided their learning. They are learning from each other in meaningful ways.”
‘WE SEE ONLINE AS A GREEN SPACE TO ENCOURAGE CULTURAL CHANGE’
Through it all, the students aren’t only learning. So are the faculty and staff, particularly when it comes to BU’s integrated curriculum. “I don’t think we have nailed it,” concedes Carlile. “This is about changing the culture of a business school. We are delivering it for the online students and are probably 75% there but we are trying to change the culture of the school at the same time. We see online as a green space to encourage that change. It is an integrated curriculum but it’s also in the spirit of digital transformation an integrative set of services. We don’t have strong separation between staff and faculty. That is the old world. If you think about digital delivery, companies couldn’t just make a digital version of a product. They had to say this must be an integrated experience. We think higher education could be better off if it functions this way.”
The students in the program say an early highlight was the three-week-long capstone project at the end of the first module. Students were carved up into teams of five each and assigned one of ten existing companies from Uber and Lyft to Ford, GM and Tesla, for an analysis of the auto industry. The goal? To study the current state of the industry from that company’s perspective and to recommend action steps for the year 2025 to stay on top.
“It was a great way for me to consolidate all of the learning in the semester,” says Brunz, who was on the Toyota team. “It was a fantastic way for me to apply all of the tools I learned to a real world example. But If I don’t see a Toyota for a while, I would be happy. This really forced me to apply everything I learned, take a position and make a clear and coherent argument which is what I have to do in business.”
SURPRISED BY THE INTERACTION WITH FELLOW STUDENTS AND FACULTY
The auto industry assignment, along with the live class sessions, helped to allay an an initial worry he had about doing an online degree program. “One of my concerns going into it was how interactive it would be,” says Brunz. “One of the things that surprised me most was how much I was interacting with people, whether it was in my team or in the groups within the live meetings. I have met so many people and I really feel connected to the faculty, staff and other students. I know that BU is known for its rigor and a great education. This program has really pushed me in a great way. It is challenging to look at the business and industry I’m in and all of the different forces on it.”
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in education,” agrees Leo Baumann, a brand manager for a European automation company who is taking the program from Switzerland. “It has been outstanding. We are getting a lot more value than we would normally get. A similar program which isn’t accredited by the AACSB would cost a lot more in Europe. For the quality, standards and brand name, this is absolutely incredible.”
Meantime, the school and its faculty are literally creating what it will deliver to students just ahead of pushing it live in front of them. It is a daunting task for sure, more in the spirit of a startup than an established academic institution. And as the program continues to scale, the challenge will be to keep far more students deeply engaged and involved in the learning. Already, BU has learning facilitators in place, each of whom handles two pods of 50 students each.
“Our sessions are only limited by where the technology is,” believes Matychak. “The Zoom limit is 500 people and 50 breakout rooms. If we add more groups, you might have to extend the time or become big enough for a third live session every week instead of two.”