How Is COVID Changing the Business School Campus?

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021
By Marco De Novellis
Photo by iStock/Brothers91
Changes necessitated by the pandemic are recreating the spaces and ways in which business students learn, for the long term.

In late September of this year, Harvard Business School temporarily moved some classes online following the latest COVID outbreak. Once again, as during the initial outbreak, students transitioned from campus to the virtual realm, studying cases and engaging with professors and classmates from their home computers.

However, this time the process was more seamless than before. A blended learning approach, combining in-person study with virtual classes at home, has become less of a preference and more of a necessity for business schools.

In the midst of a pandemic, the business school campus isn’t always open. When it is, some students prefer to study remotely, while schools have seen the benefits of blended, or hybrid, learning.

In a recent AACSB quick-take survey of 90 business school leaders, 83 percent of respondents said the pandemic would have a lasting impact on their programs. At the time of the survey, just 12.5 percent of MBA programs offered by responding schools were being offered entirely face-to-face. The remainder of MBA programs were being offered in some form of hybrid or online delivery.

So how do these changes affect the business school campus longer term?

Investments in Technology: 5 Case Studies

How and when students and faculty use the business school campus has already changed. More than 70 percent of business school leaders surveyed said their faculty or staff continue to work remotely due to the pandemic, with nearly a quarter reporting that many work remotely.

Nearly all respondents said that shifting to online delivery had the greatest impact among all changes brought on by COVID. Even when responding to categories other than delivery method, respondents often mentioned a second point related to delivery method. In looking forward, around 56 percent of business school leaders said delivery method was the greatest change the pandemic will have on the future of their school.

Flexibility has become a priority area of investment for most business school leaders. And so, at campuses around the world, schools are implementing technology that enables them to switch seamlessly between online and on-campus delivery methods.

1. ESMT Berlin, Germany

ESMT Berlin has invested around 500,000 EUR (about 580,000 USD) to upgrade its auditoriums to support hybrid learning, installing microphones on every seat and cameras that focus on whoever is speaking.

In hybrid sessions, an additional faculty member is assigned as a “co-pilot,” working as a bridge between online and in-person attendees to ensure that those not physically present are involved in class discussions. All students connect online via Zoom, including those on campus.

“We want to remove any sense of physical separation so that virtual participants are equal contributors to the classroom,” explains Rebecca Loades, director of career accelerator programs at ESMT Berlin.

Hybrid teaching, she says, has become the norm, and can contribute to a richer classroom experience as students share observations, insights, and related resources through the Zoom chat function.

“This not only helps students who are shy or don’t have English as their first language, but also nudges students to share things they may not think are worth interrupting faculty for, and yet which will support learning,” says Loades.

2. IE Business School, Spain

IE Business School developed a new teaching model in response to COVID. The Liquid Learning model, IE says, blends together physical and digital learning ecosystems in innovative ways so that students obtain the highest quality of education no matter where in the world they are.

It’s based on four guiding principles: collaboration, active learning (learning by doing), personalization, and applied learning (lessons based on real-world scenarios).

The idea is that classes, even entire programs, can be delivered asynchronously and synchronously, online and offline, and students can move fluidly from one learning state to another—that’s what distinguishes liquid learning from a standard hybrid model, IE says.

3. MIT Sloan School of Management, USA

At MIT Sloan, innovations that were born of necessity when campus was closed during the pandemic are now a standard part of a more dynamic classroom experience, says Dawn Roberts, senior associate director of the MBA Program Office.

“Classrooms have been permanently equipped with upgraded smart technology and tools. For example, faculty can use their iPad as a digital whiteboard or live-stream guest speakers into the classroom from anywhere in the world,” she says.

MIT Sloan is now better prepared for hybrid learning. After the COVID outbreak, MIT supported hybrid classroom instruction by investing resources into creating an Instructional Technology and Instructional Design team. The team collaborated with instructors to develop, refine, and curate a set of teaching tools.

Teaching and learning dean Ezra Zuckerman-Sivan also created a regular schoolwide Faculty Town Hall that facilitated peer-to peer-training on topics ranging from creating a home studio to effectively managing the chat function on Zoom.

4. Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business, Kazakhstan

In Kazakhstan, COVID vaccination rates are low and cases are high, although some MBA students are back on campus in a hybrid learning model.

These students now have wide-angle, high-definition web cameras in their classrooms to support those studying online. The layout of the classroom has changed, too. Rather than professors addressing students from the front of the class, professors and students look toward the same screen.

Jenifer Lewis, associate professor and director of degree programs at Nazarbayev University's Graduate School of Business, says these modifications allow for more natural interaction among all participants.

“In our u-shaped classrooms, the professor now faces the large screens that project the classroom material as well as the Zoom interface, allowing the professor and students in the classroom to easily see the videos of students online,” Lewis explains.

“The webcam faces out toward the classroom seats to capture the professor in the middle of the ‘u’ and the students sitting on the sides.”

5. INSEAD, France and Singapore

INSEAD developed its VR Immersive Learning Initiative after the COVID outbreak. Since then, over 2,000 INSEAD students have taken part in VR-enabled courses, with long-distance learners using VR headsets at home.

Whether on campus or online, VR allows students to experience each case as though they were living it.

The goal, Ithai Stern, academic director for the VR Immersive Learning Initiative, said in a recent interview, is to teach the case method in a different way.

Whether on campus or online, VR allows students to experience each case as though they were living it. According to a PwC report exploring VR’s impact on soft skills development, VR learners learn four times faster than traditional classroom-based learners. They are more confident about applying the skills they’ve learned and more emotionally connected to the content.

“It's also a wonderful technology to generate empathy,” Stern said. “[With VR], when I teach directors, I can literally position the 50-plus white man in the classroom in the role of the only Black woman on the board of directors, and they come out and say, ‘Okay, I’m starting to get it!’”

A New Kind of Campus

In a late 2020 survey of higher education leaders in Australia, 79 percent said they believe COVID will be looked back on as the turning point for the way campuses are designed in the future.

Nearly 90 percent said there would be less demand for lecture theaters, while the majority said they were more focused on making campuses cheaper to build and operate, following budget constraints due to COVID.

While the business school campus should remain a safe haven for networking, socializing, and extra-curricular activities, schools must now consider social distancing, ventilation, and hygiene policies.

Business schools are working to become more sustainable and build more eco-friendly infrastructures.

As we’ve seen, the rapid adoption of blended learning on campus alongside the popular flipped classroom approach—where students learn course content independently before putting their learnings into practice in class—requires design changes.

At the same time, business schools are working to become more sustainable and build more eco-friendly infrastructures.

Columbia Business School’s new Manhattanville campus is designed for flexibility, the school says. It includes spaces that encourage the development of social intelligence skills and collaboration across disciplines as well as flexible classroom space outfitted with the latest technology.

Opening in January 2022, the Manhattanville campus is also the first neighborhood development in New York City to earn the prestigious LEED-ND Platinum designation, based on a rating system for “green” buildings, from the U.S. Green Building Council.

In the U.K., Leeds University Business School invested around 1.5million GBP (over 2 million USD) into audiovisual equipment for its new Esther Simpson Building, while University College London’s (UCL) new Global Business School for Health will offer on-campus and online courses with a future media studio, in development for its UCL East campus, to hone new learning technologies.

Health considerations and budget cuts, coupled with investments made to build technology infrastructure and support blended delivery models during the pandemic, are set to have a lasting impact on the look, feel, and experience of b-school campus life.

Marco De Novellis
Senior Editor, BusinessBecause & GMAC Media
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