McDonough School of Business
News Story

The Connected Classroom

Georgetown McDonough uses innovative teaching solutions to take online learning beyond the digital lecture.
By Heather Boerner

Just before 8 a.m., a student sat down at her home office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with a cup of coffee and her computer to begin her weekly coursework. With a click of the mouse, her face was broadcast 8,956 miles away to a classroom in Washington, D.C., where she participated in a discussion about corporate financial policies.

You could call this the Georgetown McDonough Master of Science in Finance (MSF) for a new age — a course comprising online instruction, topped off by a weekly discussion between students located around the world.

The MSF blended classroom, a combination of remote and on-site students, is the business school’s first foray into technologically enhanced education, but it is unlikely to be the last. Georgetown McDonough plans to apply the MSF program’s experience to other disciplines within the school.

“It would be crazy to assume that the way we teach entrepreneurship today is going to be the same way we’ve always taught it — and that’s probably the case for any business topic,” says Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative and a member of the Georgetown Future(s) of the University Initiative, which is re-envisioning how courses will be taught in a decade. “The way our students learn is changing, and we need to be willing to change right along with it. For a school like Georgetown, with such rich traditions, it would be easy to rest on its laurels. Instead, this university is looking to the future.”

David A. Thomas, dean and William R. Berkley Chair of Georgetown McDonough, has made expanding technology-enhanced learning one of the school’s goals for the next five years. “There’s no question that technology is being used to reshape the educational landscape at every level — from elementary school to high school to post secondary and graduate school,” he says. “It struck me as irresponsible of us to sit on the sidelines.”

He appointed Paul Almeida, senior associate dean for executive education and professor of strategy, to lead the school’s digital strategy and to map its future of educational technology. The pair recently visit-ed other colleges to see how they apply technology to students’ educations, though Georgetown McDonough has no intention of following the pack.

We’re increasing the quality of the education with technology. We’re doing what we do with more flexibility, which allows students to climb the ladder in their careers without leaving those careers.”
—Paul Almeida, Professor of Strategy and Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education

Thomas compared the online experience to the buildings on campus. Those buildings are majestic, providing students with a world-class experience in bricks and mortar. “That’s what we need to do online,” he says. “Provide a premier online educational experience.”

The school already is well on its way. Reid’s entrepreneurship program, Startup Hoyas, allows students to apply to participate in pitch competitions by posting video to Facebook. In a course Reid taught last semester, students showed they were following their chosen industries by tweeting industry news and information. And lecture videos for the Starting Startups That Matter course are available for anyone in the world to watch free online.

Such examples are far from what people think of when they imagine online learning. These are no MOOCs, so-called massive open online courses, which make education available to an unlimited number of students, sometimes at the expense of quality and specificity.

“Most colleges are looking at technology as a way to get more students involved more cheaply,” Almeida says. “We’re not doing that. We’re increasing the quality of the education with technology. It’s a totally different objective than a MOOC. We’re doing what we do with more flexibility, which allows students to climb the ladder in their careers without leaving those careers. And it enhances learning and student satisfaction.”

When McDonough leadership announced that the school would pilot an online MSF degree program, finance professor and director of the MSF program Allan Eberhart had his doubts. Eberhart believed online classes meant comprehensive, 90-minute lectures uploaded to the web that would be hard to follow for all but the most dedicated students.

“When I saw how much you could do,” Eberhart says, “that’s when I became convinced we could use technology to improve the quality of education, as well as its flexibility.” He agreed to lead the development of the program.

The technology had grown since the days of online bulletin boards and platforms where students upload papers. The program would embrace a fully integrated teaching strategy that required faculty to dissect the curriculum and start over with a reimagined learning experience in mind.

Eberhart and his colleagues found themselves in a video studio, standing in front of a green screen re-cording five- to 10-minute videos on the core concepts from the assigned readings. Then they worked with graphic designers to create illustrations that further explained the concepts. Add in a digital white board and transcripts of the entire presentation, searchable by keyword so students can revisit the parts that warrant further investigation, and you have more precise and elaborate instruction than students would get in person.

“It is completely unlike watching someone teach in a classroom,” Eberhart says. “There’s a very personal connection between student and teacher.”

After students digest the presentations and do the reading, they gather in real time to discuss case studies at a specific time each week with all the other students in the class, no matter where they are located.

Using a platform called MSF Live, Eberhart can view every student on an 80-inch screen — he can see their faces, their reactions, and, through a “hand raised” button, their questions. It resembles the opening credits of the “Brady Bunch,” with each student occupying one square. When the course began, all students logged in remotely and the program’s faculty had to learn to conduct class in a studio rather than a classroom.

When the courses became blended, with some students on-site at Georgetown McDonough and some logging in remotely, he could still see all the students on the screen and was able to include every student in the conversation. The program morphed into something unlike any other MSF in the world.

It is completely unlike watching someone teach in a classroom. There’s a very personal connection between student and teacher.”
—Allan Eberhart, Professor of Finance and Director of the Master of Science in Finance Program

“I think the way we teach in our MSF program is the way that we eventually will teach in all of our pro-grams,” Eberhart says. “That’s why we don’t think of MSF as ‘online,’ but instead as ‘technology intensive.’ Eventually, this this term will fade away, too. All programs will be technology-intensive, and we will have shown the way with our MSF program.”

An immersive educational experience like the MSF program allows students to bring the self-directed, asynchronous parts of the coursework with them to discussions. They do not just rehash what the reading told them. They get right to the meat of it.

This is exactly what Armineh Ghazarian (MSF ’17) loves about the program. She attends in person, but she calls the experience seamless. Using the technology, she does the reading, watches the series of presentations, and gets the crux of important lessons right away.

“Instead of professors outlining what we read, the professor presentations have the air of, ‘Concentrate on this,’” she says.

When students meet for real-time discussion, the class goes beyond theory. It applies the learning.“I really like the way Professor Eberhart designed the program, because he’s not teaching us as if we’re students,” she says. “The way he’s teaching us, it’s as if you’re a manager, you own your own company, and what are you going to do.”

Flipping the classroom is likely to show up in more programs at McDonough as the school’s leaders apply what they’ve learned from MSF to other programs.

Ghazarian, who also received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown, believes the experience provides the same quality and interaction she saw in her face-to-face undergraduate courses.

“The whole point is to create managers to go out and do good in the world,” she says, “and then to come back and say, ‘I got my education from Georgetown.’ ”

Published in Georgetown Business magazine, Spring 2016