Leap of faith: reflections on the switch to online teaching during the pandemic

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A year ago, we explored how to get case teaching online – quickly. How did it go and what was learned?

Background

Education has suffered the world over as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at every level. For some students, the most intense additional disruptor will have been the loss of a family member, friend – or even a teacher. We focus here on the incredible effort, innovation, and commitment of time and energy, business school faculty have made, determined to honour their responsibilities to their participants through unprecedented times. With a global panel, we reflect on the enforced switch to predominantly online teaching and learning, especially with cases, and find out how it was for them and for their students.

Mountains reflecting in water

Was anyone prepared?

Almost everywhere, mere days’ notice were received that campuses were to close. Schools had to become instantly pragmatic as to how to switch to remote instruction and to take whole campus-based programmes online. Business school faculty were suddenly faced with the kind of crisis, or problem to solve, that they might typically work through with business leaders and executives – or indeed with an MBA class using a case.

“In some respects, the mindset of business – and business schools – was helpful for the situation,” observes Patrick Mullane at Harvard Business School (HBS). “Our faculty work regularly with organisational leaders, including some currently involved in the pandemic and pioneering vaccine solutions, and there was a sense at the school that we, too, had to deal well with the crisis we faced. Even though faculty are fundamentally independent actors in their classes, they do work extensively together to coordinate teaching plans for in-person courses, which ensured that, from the start, our approach at HBS was collaborative. Having invested in developing HBS Online over the last few years, and having learned a great deal from our experiences, proved to be a significant factor in helping us figure out the best way forward as well.”

For David S Lee at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the civil protests of 2019, which also impacted students and forced some university campus closures, had already compelled faculty to find ways to manage teaching through disruption. “We needed to reframe our mindset,” reports David, “and understand that at such times, teachers also need to be leaders for students. So I asked myself: ‘How can teachers lead in a volatile environment? How can we adopt a leadership agility mentality?’” Further helped by what he had learned in the co-development of an award-winning MOOC, David found that a willingness to explore new technologies and deploy them into the online (case) teaching process offered both a way to show such leadership, and opportunities to potentially enhance the pedagogical process. He authored an article for his colleagues on preparing to teach in a dynamic environment.

At University of Sussex Business School, René Moolenaar took a moment to reflect strategically with his colleagues: “How does an organisation best respond in an agile way to something that has happened that is outside its control? We quickly realised that we had an opportunity to ‘practice what we teach’ for which we needed to identify the resources and experiences we did have that could support our response to such a shock and enforced change.” One such example was the Masters’ programmes that had been developed at Sussex in collaboration with Pearson to deliver a remote learning experience to students anywhere in the world. “Of course, we could not use the actual materials from the distance programmes,” reports René, “but we could tap into the knowledge and practical experience they had given us to inform our rapid response.”

In fact, as we explored in 2019, many schools had already been experimenting with various models of online (case) teaching, or engaging in collaborative ventures with other schools to develop pedagogically robust, well functioning, remote learning designs and technologies. These initiatives had mostly involved design for courses taught asynchronously, but because the pandemic lockdowns struck in the middle of programmes, and scheduled classes needed to be immediately replaced, it was clear to faculty that a priority was going to be facilitating as much synchronous teaching online as possible.

At EDHEC Business School, Karin Kollenz-Quétard recalls: “When the pandemic struck, MSc, MBA and Executive programmes were all ongoing with class participant numbers ranging from below 20 to above 220. We had just one week to move them all online which was extremely challenging.” Fortunately, Karin had been doing a small amount of blended teaching which helped her tackle what she faced. “In fact, the process of switching went relatively smoothly from the pedagogical point of view,” she says. “We have a pedagogy innovation lab and onsite learning designers who helped tremendously. The bigger challenge turned out to be getting the required technology up and running, and the online facilities for student interactivity in place and effectively operational.”

In common with others we spoke to, Karin reports that a high level of transparency was offered to the students about the process and the fact that new things were going to be tried. “I found students really open to experimenting and their feedback was consistently constructive and very helpful,” she reports.

At Ivey Business School, David Wood and his colleagues were just two weeks into the MBA programme when they received three days notice to get synchronous teaching up and running over Zoom. Here too, experience of previous work to develop remote courses gave an invaluable head start. “We had already been rethinking teaching design for online use, including how we replace a live classroom while upholding the core Ivey case teaching process and philosophy. We found that we could leverage some of those digital assets we had prepared. However, to do this well, it quickly became clear what a high level of planning would be required to teach online. Not least, it challenges faculty to specify learning objectives for every individual class – not just for a course overall.”

David developed a presentation and workshop for Ivey faculty to help rethink the learning process. “We needed to consider in detail the students’ own perspective right down to how long everything we were asking them to do would really take, whether synchronous or outside the live virtual class. In practice, this required going through selected cases as though we ourselves were the students, which turned out to be a valuable exercise.”

How did it go?

While the case method has always depended on instructors being extremely well prepared ahead of class, our panellists agreed that online teaching demands even more planning. The selection of a suitable case itself is made more complex as instructors must additionally assess how well it may work online and diverse resources have emerged to support these decisions. Practical, often time consuming, tasks need completing, such as pre-recording video content, breaking material into small chunks (for many between six and eight minutes was found to be optimal for attention spans), creating interventions such as polling, simulations, and break out group work, but also developing asynchronous assignments, and pre-class tasks. There was a reward for all this detail though; several faculty reported that their students, too, seemed to be arriving better prepared at online class. Given that most classes had to be shorter to be feasible on Zoom or Teams, better levels of preparedness all around helped to get as much value from the events as possible.

Student at laptop with Zoom call working on a case

At INSEAD, David Dubois recalls: “I still remember having to acquire new skills myself, sometimes in as little as a couple of hours – how to effectively engage people online and get the technology to cooperate. Simultaneously, I knew participants had mixed feelings when coming to the class. Many were anxious for their, often distanced, families, some disheartened to spend a large portion of their day online and maybe back at home, and all were missing out on their greatly anticipated, unique and multi campus, INSEAD, MBA experience. In short, the stakes were high.”

David was well aware that the online medium can be quite dehumanising, which could impact on class participation, especially crucial to case learning and, consequently, the ability to learn. “I made sure to introduce ‘human interaction times’ in pairs or small groups (‘taking the temperature’) to help tackle and possibly evacuate any stress. Having already taught a course using digital media, I had experience with e-resources that I was able to include and make even more impactful in my course. I also made sure to connect with my students individually by opening up optional ‘digital office hours’.” David reports that much of the online teaching seems to have gone well for participants from the start. “Remarkably, course evaluations have been on par or even higher than when teaching in the live classroom.”

Many other faculty found ways to back up their online teaching with planned opportunities for students to interact with them and each other, whether for academic or pastoral purposes. Karin Kollenz-Quétard made sure to be present and available online – as she would be in person in a case class – 15 minutes both before and after an online session. René Moolenaar started every class with up to ten minutes ‘social’ interaction so the Zoom gathering could share and gauge how everyone was feeling; he then ‘eased’ the class into the core matter by fully sharing the learning objectives of the session and how it was planned. David Wood granted students access to his TimeTrade Scheduler to book directly any available online appointment with him.

At Singapore Management University (SMU), after the initial phase of getting teaching online, polling revealed that students wanted an increase in interaction and engagement to enrich their learning experiences. These findings are consistent with what was widely reported across our panel. Aarthi Sridharan explains: “Our students indicated ‘Zoom fatigue’, appreciated shorter online class durations and requested plenty of breaks. They expressed a strong sense that pre-recorded videos and suchlike were really useful, and that the best use of plenary class time was for interactivity and engagement to give feedback and support for their learning. They enjoyed media such as online video conferencing, discussion forums, Google documents etc, but expressed the need for technical support to be available to them if they were recording their own presentations, or experiencing problems accessing the online class from their location.” Aarthi further reports that her teaching colleagues found that having a teaching assistant at course level helped filter students’ queries and ensure faculty time was well utilised.

David Lee underlines the value of student feedback in helping him to “do better” as online teaching was implemented. He recommends the use of mid – rather than just end of – semester feedback so that any changes can be implemented during the ongoing course. His students also wanted more breaks. “I was concerned not to lose the momentum of the class,” he recalls, “but in practice the breaks – say ten minutes, coupled with a suggestion to think about a particular issue during the pause – worked really well, with students often returning to the online session with completely fresh questions to contribute to the case discussion.” In common with several others, David observed that the online medium seemed to make it easier for shyer, or culturally less confident, participants to contribute to the discussion either live on Zoom or through the chat functions.

René Moolenaar found that without the inhibitions of a live class, the volume of questions and class participation using the live chat function actually increased, making it sometimes challenging for him to be able to maintain adequate response levels. “We have learned that some things are now working better than before. For example, the auto captioning feature has made classes clearer and easier to follow especially for non native English speakers, or for those who used to be seated towards the back of a large classroom. Our student feedback has indicated that in many cases, they have been helped by the move to online teaching, and class discussion may have become more inclusive. Going forward, we need to find ways to integrate these better things across all teaching modes.” Contextualising the future view, René observes: “We see in business that it is those organisations that are seeking to come out of the pandemic better than they went into it that will flourish.”

Wherever practical, most faculty seem to have implemented a default, camera-on, policy for participants in online sessions in order to have some ability to observe participants’ engagement levels. “Seeing all the students increases the energy of the class,” observes Karin Kollenz-Quétard. “I can see on their faces whether they understand or not, which is especially important for case teaching.” Experimenting with the balance of what students do synchronously and asynchronously on a course has also proved enlightening. “My students are really enjoying the new flexibility and variety which means they are not just constantly behind their screens and that they are meeting – if virtually – many different class mates through team assignments, which are deliberately varied in size and composition,” says Karin. “I’ve found that you need to trust your participants much more in online teaching; in some ways, I’ve been giving up some control and it seems to be beneficial for the learning process.”

Student learning outcomes seem in most cases to have exceeded faculty expectations and often been equal to, or even better than, previous equivalents. Critically for the case method, most teachers seem also to have evolved sufficiently robust ways to include the evaluation of online class contribution when grading their participants.

Most pitfalls of pandemic-induced online teaching mentioned by our panel related to the unreliability, variable quality, or failure of technologies, including such basics as the accessibility or adequacy of Internet connection, especially for students forced to return to their countries where acceptable online connectivity 24/7 – or even just four hours a day – is not a given. Though faculty were probably too modest to highlight it, their own challenges to produce high quality materials and run live sessions from home, where technology could also be an issue, alongside often juggling their own work with children’s home schooling and other members of the household working from home, must have brought its own stresses. Not everyone has previously taught online or felt comfortable with such technology, let alone from home. 

PAGE 2 

What will stay?

There is general agreement that the experience of teaching everything online has been revelatory in many ways, forcing instructors to rethink and create pedagogical innovations and new approaches. Depending on location, some schools have been able to get COVID-secure and socially distanced teaching back on campuses, usually in a hybrid mode of programme delivery due to the restricted participant numbers allowed in an internal classroom. There was widespread agreement among our panel that negotiating the hybrid class, with its inherent time lags, disjointedness and ‘inequality’ between participants in person and those elsewhere, remains the toughest challenge and, looking ahead, is the one that will need the most development and innovation, because it will become an inevitable necessity everywhere in months to come.

Water ripples

David Wood is not alone in looking forward to getting back into the live classroom. “I do not envisage learning remaining 100% online in the future,” he comments. “Online is not a replacement for a classroom experience, but now we understand that incorporating elements of it in a campus class has the potential to make the future classroom experience even better. These include its immediacy, such as through the use of polling, its more dynamic pacing and flexibility, or some of the innovations the process has brought about; we got our students to compile journals of their learning that they can later deploy for their final exam. We certainly need to ask ourselves how we are going to add value when we get back into class and raising the hybrid teaching bar is going to be the major challenge we have to face.”

For Aarthi Sridharan, a key issue will be ensuring that the student experience is consistent across live and online channels. “Investing in much richer blends of delivery will be the key as we look ahead,” she suggests. “There is a need to ensure that student experiences across all channels are addressed in an integrated perspective.” Aarthi considers online learning still to be a work in progress and anticipates that it will stay so beyond the disruption of the pandemic: “Our faculty need empowering with ongoing support from learning designers because the more we allow and facilitate carefully constructed asynchronous and bite-sized content, the more we will be able to support the needs of students who may be on the move, at work, or in less than ideal home learning circumstances.”

Patrick Mullane anticipates that the impact of online, and increasingly hybrid, teaching experiences of the last year may have wider implications. “Hybrid teaching is something that we are going to have to do very well. But the hybrid classroom can also provide a model for how people meet as colleagues and indeed how we work at the School,” he suggests. “A classroom discussion has many things in common with a meeting to develop a new product or course, for example.” He summarises: “What we have learned from the last year is that not everything we have done has been perfect, but we have been forced to experiment and to explore new approaches, and also make investments in new technical facilities. There can be no doubt that many of the outcomes and learning from this phase of disruption will serve us well into the future.”

Implications for cases

So how have cases emerged from the year of enforced experimentation with online teaching? Many authors are now amending or creating new teaching notes to provide guidance for all kinds of learning environments. David Dubois feels it is important that instructors always approach cases with a view to selecting the best pedagogical tools available regardless of the teaching channel or modality. “We have seen that there are elements or exercises that run better online than offline and we should not hesitate to build blended teaching models in the future,” he says. “My most recent case (Ualá’s "Tech and Touch" Customer Strategy: A Fintech David vs. the Goliaths of the Financial Services Industry in Latin America) includes a strong analytics dimension and I offer tips for my fellow educators on how to make the case and its learning points shine even more brightly through live polling or live analytics group work.”

David sees a wider context: “Post pandemic, we will find ourselves needing to up our game whether through more dynamic and flexible cases, or in our work as management educators in general. Our competition now includes influencers such as top CEOs offering online workshops on topics like entrepreneurship or marketing, so we need to raise the bar and show just how top business schools can outperform this new competition. Our experiences over the last year in terms of augmented engagement and embracing a wide array of digital learning tools surely stand us in good stead for achieving this.”

We give the final comments to the multi-award winning case author and teacher, Debapratim Purkayastha, and honour him here. Not aware of the untimely fate he would face earlier this year at the hands of COVID-19, he had begun work on an analysis demonstrating why case educators, in particular, were well placed to design successful virtual instruction, something he felt was important because “online classes can be quite boring without adoption of active learning strategies that keep the student engaged.”

Debapratim was optimistic about a renewal of the classroom following the “leap of faith” into teaching online through the pandemic: “Instructors who are agile enough to adapt to the new realities … will soon realise that much of the generic skills that they have acquired in case teaching can be replicated online. … In fact, they may soon realise that there could be some added benefits … It is unlikely that the progress made, and lessons learnt will be frittered away. Rather the resources and competence acquired can be leveraged to our advantage … but also tap the new opportunities provided by the pandemic.”

We fully anticipate that this vision will become a reality.

This article was published in Connect, Issue 52, June 2021.

Page 1

Background

Education has suffered the world over as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at every level. For some students, the most intense additional disruptor will have been the loss of a family member, friend – or even a teacher. We focus here on the incredible effort, innovation, and commitment of time and energy, business school faculty have made, determined to honour their responsibilities to their participants through unprecedented times. With a global panel, we reflect on the enforced switch to predominantly online teaching and learning, especially with cases, and find out how it was for them and for their students.

Mountains reflecting in water

Was anyone prepared?

Almost everywhere, mere days’ notice were received that campuses were to close. Schools had to become instantly pragmatic as to how to switch to remote instruction and to take whole campus-based programmes online. Business school faculty were suddenly faced with the kind of crisis, or problem to solve, that they might typically work through with business leaders and executives – or indeed with an MBA class using a case.

“In some respects, the mindset of business – and business schools – was helpful for the situation,” observes Patrick Mullane at Harvard Business School (HBS). “Our faculty work regularly with organisational leaders, including some currently involved in the pandemic and pioneering vaccine solutions, and there was a sense at the school that we, too, had to deal well with the crisis we faced. Even though faculty are fundamentally independent actors in their classes, they do work extensively together to coordinate teaching plans for in-person courses, which ensured that, from the start, our approach at HBS was collaborative. Having invested in developing HBS Online over the last few years, and having learned a great deal from our experiences, proved to be a significant factor in helping us figure out the best way forward as well.”

For David S Lee at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the civil protests of 2019, which also impacted students and forced some university campus closures, had already compelled faculty to find ways to manage teaching through disruption. “We needed to reframe our mindset,” reports David, “and understand that at such times, teachers also need to be leaders for students. So I asked myself: ‘How can teachers lead in a volatile environment? How can we adopt a leadership agility mentality?’” Further helped by what he had learned in the co-development of an award-winning MOOC, David found that a willingness to explore new technologies and deploy them into the online (case) teaching process offered both a way to show such leadership, and opportunities to potentially enhance the pedagogical process. He authored an article for his colleagues on preparing to teach in a dynamic environment.

At University of Sussex Business School, René Moolenaar took a moment to reflect strategically with his colleagues: “How does an organisation best respond in an agile way to something that has happened that is outside its control? We quickly realised that we had an opportunity to ‘practice what we teach’ for which we needed to identify the resources and experiences we did have that could support our response to such a shock and enforced change.” One such example was the Masters’ programmes that had been developed at Sussex in collaboration with Pearson to deliver a remote learning experience to students anywhere in the world. “Of course, we could not use the actual materials from the distance programmes,” reports René, “but we could tap into the knowledge and practical experience they had given us to inform our rapid response.”

In fact, as we explored in 2019, many schools had already been experimenting with various models of online (case) teaching, or engaging in collaborative ventures with other schools to develop pedagogically robust, well functioning, remote learning designs and technologies. These initiatives had mostly involved design for courses taught asynchronously, but because the pandemic lockdowns struck in the middle of programmes, and scheduled classes needed to be immediately replaced, it was clear to faculty that a priority was going to be facilitating as much synchronous teaching online as possible.

At EDHEC Business School, Karin Kollenz-Quétard recalls: “When the pandemic struck, MSc, MBA and Executive programmes were all ongoing with class participant numbers ranging from below 20 to above 220. We had just one week to move them all online which was extremely challenging.” Fortunately, Karin had been doing a small amount of blended teaching which helped her tackle what she faced. “In fact, the process of switching went relatively smoothly from the pedagogical point of view,” she says. “We have a pedagogy innovation lab and onsite learning designers who helped tremendously. The bigger challenge turned out to be getting the required technology up and running, and the online facilities for student interactivity in place and effectively operational.”

In common with others we spoke to, Karin reports that a high level of transparency was offered to the students about the process and the fact that new things were going to be tried. “I found students really open to experimenting and their feedback was consistently constructive and very helpful,” she reports.

At Ivey Business School, David Wood and his colleagues were just two weeks into the MBA programme when they received three days notice to get synchronous teaching up and running over Zoom. Here too, experience of previous work to develop remote courses gave an invaluable head start. “We had already been rethinking teaching design for online use, including how we replace a live classroom while upholding the core Ivey case teaching process and philosophy. We found that we could leverage some of those digital assets we had prepared. However, to do this well, it quickly became clear what a high level of planning would be required to teach online. Not least, it challenges faculty to specify learning objectives for every individual class – not just for a course overall.”

David developed a presentation and workshop for Ivey faculty to help rethink the learning process. “We needed to consider in detail the students’ own perspective right down to how long everything we were asking them to do would really take, whether synchronous or outside the live virtual class. In practice, this required going through selected cases as though we ourselves were the students, which turned out to be a valuable exercise.”

How did it go?

While the case method has always depended on instructors being extremely well prepared ahead of class, our panellists agreed that online teaching demands even more planning. The selection of a suitable case itself is made more complex as instructors must additionally assess how well it may work online and diverse resources have emerged to support these decisions. Practical, often time consuming, tasks need completing, such as pre-recording video content, breaking material into small chunks (for many between six and eight minutes was found to be optimal for attention spans), creating interventions such as polling, simulations, and break out group work, but also developing asynchronous assignments, and pre-class tasks. There was a reward for all this detail though; several faculty reported that their students, too, seemed to be arriving better prepared at online class. Given that most classes had to be shorter to be feasible on Zoom or Teams, better levels of preparedness all around helped to get as much value from the events as possible.

Student at laptop with Zoom call working on a case

At INSEAD, David Dubois recalls: “I still remember having to acquire new skills myself, sometimes in as little as a couple of hours – how to effectively engage people online and get the technology to cooperate. Simultaneously, I knew participants had mixed feelings when coming to the class. Many were anxious for their, often distanced, families, some disheartened to spend a large portion of their day online and maybe back at home, and all were missing out on their greatly anticipated, unique and multi campus, INSEAD, MBA experience. In short, the stakes were high.”

David was well aware that the online medium can be quite dehumanising, which could impact on class participation, especially crucial to case learning and, consequently, the ability to learn. “I made sure to introduce ‘human interaction times’ in pairs or small groups (‘taking the temperature’) to help tackle and possibly evacuate any stress. Having already taught a course using digital media, I had experience with e-resources that I was able to include and make even more impactful in my course. I also made sure to connect with my students individually by opening up optional ‘digital office hours’.” David reports that much of the online teaching seems to have gone well for participants from the start. “Remarkably, course evaluations have been on par or even higher than when teaching in the live classroom.”

Many other faculty found ways to back up their online teaching with planned opportunities for students to interact with them and each other, whether for academic or pastoral purposes. Karin Kollenz-Quétard made sure to be present and available online – as she would be in person in a case class – 15 minutes both before and after an online session. René Moolenaar started every class with up to ten minutes ‘social’ interaction so the Zoom gathering could share and gauge how everyone was feeling; he then ‘eased’ the class into the core matter by fully sharing the learning objectives of the session and how it was planned. David Wood granted students access to his TimeTrade Scheduler to book directly any available online appointment with him.

At Singapore Management University (SMU), after the initial phase of getting teaching online, polling revealed that students wanted an increase in interaction and engagement to enrich their learning experiences. These findings are consistent with what was widely reported across our panel. Aarthi Sridharan explains: “Our students indicated ‘Zoom fatigue’, appreciated shorter online class durations and requested plenty of breaks. They expressed a strong sense that pre-recorded videos and suchlike were really useful, and that the best use of plenary class time was for interactivity and engagement to give feedback and support for their learning. They enjoyed media such as online video conferencing, discussion forums, Google documents etc, but expressed the need for technical support to be available to them if they were recording their own presentations, or experiencing problems accessing the online class from their location.” Aarthi further reports that her teaching colleagues found that having a teaching assistant at course level helped filter students’ queries and ensure faculty time was well utilised.

David Lee underlines the value of student feedback in helping him to “do better” as online teaching was implemented. He recommends the use of mid – rather than just end of – semester feedback so that any changes can be implemented during the ongoing course. His students also wanted more breaks. “I was concerned not to lose the momentum of the class,” he recalls, “but in practice the breaks – say ten minutes, coupled with a suggestion to think about a particular issue during the pause – worked really well, with students often returning to the online session with completely fresh questions to contribute to the case discussion.” In common with several others, David observed that the online medium seemed to make it easier for shyer, or culturally less confident, participants to contribute to the discussion either live on Zoom or through the chat functions.

René Moolenaar found that without the inhibitions of a live class, the volume of questions and class participation using the live chat function actually increased, making it sometimes challenging for him to be able to maintain adequate response levels. “We have learned that some things are now working better than before. For example, the auto captioning feature has made classes clearer and easier to follow especially for non native English speakers, or for those who used to be seated towards the back of a large classroom. Our student feedback has indicated that in many cases, they have been helped by the move to online teaching, and class discussion may have become more inclusive. Going forward, we need to find ways to integrate these better things across all teaching modes.” Contextualising the future view, René observes: “We see in business that it is those organisations that are seeking to come out of the pandemic better than they went into it that will flourish.”

Wherever practical, most faculty seem to have implemented a default, camera-on, policy for participants in online sessions in order to have some ability to observe participants’ engagement levels. “Seeing all the students increases the energy of the class,” observes Karin Kollenz-Quétard. “I can see on their faces whether they understand or not, which is especially important for case teaching.” Experimenting with the balance of what students do synchronously and asynchronously on a course has also proved enlightening. “My students are really enjoying the new flexibility and variety which means they are not just constantly behind their screens and that they are meeting – if virtually – many different class mates through team assignments, which are deliberately varied in size and composition,” says Karin. “I’ve found that you need to trust your participants much more in online teaching; in some ways, I’ve been giving up some control and it seems to be beneficial for the learning process.”

Student learning outcomes seem in most cases to have exceeded faculty expectations and often been equal to, or even better than, previous equivalents. Critically for the case method, most teachers seem also to have evolved sufficiently robust ways to include the evaluation of online class contribution when grading their participants.

Most pitfalls of pandemic-induced online teaching mentioned by our panel related to the unreliability, variable quality, or failure of technologies, including such basics as the accessibility or adequacy of Internet connection, especially for students forced to return to their countries where acceptable online connectivity 24/7 – or even just four hours a day – is not a given. Though faculty were probably too modest to highlight it, their own challenges to produce high quality materials and run live sessions from home, where technology could also be an issue, alongside often juggling their own work with children’s home schooling and other members of the household working from home, must have brought its own stresses. Not everyone has previously taught online or felt comfortable with such technology, let alone from home. 

PAGE 2 

Page 2

What will stay?

There is general agreement that the experience of teaching everything online has been revelatory in many ways, forcing instructors to rethink and create pedagogical innovations and new approaches. Depending on location, some schools have been able to get COVID-secure and socially distanced teaching back on campuses, usually in a hybrid mode of programme delivery due to the restricted participant numbers allowed in an internal classroom. There was widespread agreement among our panel that negotiating the hybrid class, with its inherent time lags, disjointedness and ‘inequality’ between participants in person and those elsewhere, remains the toughest challenge and, looking ahead, is the one that will need the most development and innovation, because it will become an inevitable necessity everywhere in months to come.

Water ripples

David Wood is not alone in looking forward to getting back into the live classroom. “I do not envisage learning remaining 100% online in the future,” he comments. “Online is not a replacement for a classroom experience, but now we understand that incorporating elements of it in a campus class has the potential to make the future classroom experience even better. These include its immediacy, such as through the use of polling, its more dynamic pacing and flexibility, or some of the innovations the process has brought about; we got our students to compile journals of their learning that they can later deploy for their final exam. We certainly need to ask ourselves how we are going to add value when we get back into class and raising the hybrid teaching bar is going to be the major challenge we have to face.”

For Aarthi Sridharan, a key issue will be ensuring that the student experience is consistent across live and online channels. “Investing in much richer blends of delivery will be the key as we look ahead,” she suggests. “There is a need to ensure that student experiences across all channels are addressed in an integrated perspective.” Aarthi considers online learning still to be a work in progress and anticipates that it will stay so beyond the disruption of the pandemic: “Our faculty need empowering with ongoing support from learning designers because the more we allow and facilitate carefully constructed asynchronous and bite-sized content, the more we will be able to support the needs of students who may be on the move, at work, or in less than ideal home learning circumstances.”

Patrick Mullane anticipates that the impact of online, and increasingly hybrid, teaching experiences of the last year may have wider implications. “Hybrid teaching is something that we are going to have to do very well. But the hybrid classroom can also provide a model for how people meet as colleagues and indeed how we work at the School,” he suggests. “A classroom discussion has many things in common with a meeting to develop a new product or course, for example.” He summarises: “What we have learned from the last year is that not everything we have done has been perfect, but we have been forced to experiment and to explore new approaches, and also make investments in new technical facilities. There can be no doubt that many of the outcomes and learning from this phase of disruption will serve us well into the future.”

Implications for cases

So how have cases emerged from the year of enforced experimentation with online teaching? Many authors are now amending or creating new teaching notes to provide guidance for all kinds of learning environments. David Dubois feels it is important that instructors always approach cases with a view to selecting the best pedagogical tools available regardless of the teaching channel or modality. “We have seen that there are elements or exercises that run better online than offline and we should not hesitate to build blended teaching models in the future,” he says. “My most recent case (Ualá’s "Tech and Touch" Customer Strategy: A Fintech David vs. the Goliaths of the Financial Services Industry in Latin America) includes a strong analytics dimension and I offer tips for my fellow educators on how to make the case and its learning points shine even more brightly through live polling or live analytics group work.”

David sees a wider context: “Post pandemic, we will find ourselves needing to up our game whether through more dynamic and flexible cases, or in our work as management educators in general. Our competition now includes influencers such as top CEOs offering online workshops on topics like entrepreneurship or marketing, so we need to raise the bar and show just how top business schools can outperform this new competition. Our experiences over the last year in terms of augmented engagement and embracing a wide array of digital learning tools surely stand us in good stead for achieving this.”

We give the final comments to the multi-award winning case author and teacher, Debapratim Purkayastha, and honour him here. Not aware of the untimely fate he would face earlier this year at the hands of COVID-19, he had begun work on an analysis demonstrating why case educators, in particular, were well placed to design successful virtual instruction, something he felt was important because “online classes can be quite boring without adoption of active learning strategies that keep the student engaged.”

Debapratim was optimistic about a renewal of the classroom following the “leap of faith” into teaching online through the pandemic: “Instructors who are agile enough to adapt to the new realities … will soon realise that much of the generic skills that they have acquired in case teaching can be replicated online. … In fact, they may soon realise that there could be some added benefits … It is unlikely that the progress made, and lessons learnt will be frittered away. Rather the resources and competence acquired can be leveraged to our advantage … but also tap the new opportunities provided by the pandemic.”

We fully anticipate that this vision will become a reality.

This article was published in Connect, Issue 52, June 2021.

A guide to case teaching

In this introductory guide to teaching with cases we ask why teach with cases, explore how to preparing for case teaching, and introduce some tools and techniques. 

Picture representing 'A guide to case teaching'
Picture representing 'A guide to case teaching'
A guide to case teaching

In this introductory guide to teaching with cases we ask why teach with cases, explore how to preparing for case teaching, and introduce some tools and techniques. 

Discover more