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Virtual classrooms: delivering world-class business education

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Virtual classrooms: delivering world-class business education
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Since being established in 1968 as the College of Business Administration at Texas A&M University, Mays Business School has focused on balancing innovation and tradition.

Obviously, much has changed in the half decade of existence, but Mays has negotiated massive societal and economic changes.

Mays Business School’s mission is to be a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders. Mays educates over 6,400 students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. It ranks among the top US public business schools and is accredited by AACSB-International - the premier accrediting agency for business schools.

Covid “really lit the fire under us”

Although Mays, like other establishments, had been looking at the possibilities of remote learning, up to 90% of its activities had been face-to-face. “Some of our clients really like pulling their employees out of their workplace and putting them in active study,” according to Ben Welch, Executive Director of Client Engagement, Center for Executive Development.

The pandemic, and subsequent lockdowns, changed all that. “When the Covid hit, it really lit the fire under us,” according to Greg Marchi, Chief Learning Officer and Assistant Dean for the Center of Executive Development, Texas A&M University. “But it also gave us the time to think about how we deal with this in a virtual world. The engagement with many of the technologies and partners we were considering immediately increased.”

The obvious solution: virtual classrooms

With its strong emphasis on a global education, Mays was determined to find a solution that enabled them to maintain those standards. Jared Bleak, senior advisor for the Center underlines the importance of getting it right. “Online learning is super-important for business schools. With the pandemic and quarantine, you have to be able to deliver the sort of learning and growth that people demand, especially during this time. So we need to get better and better at it.”

This led to an in-depth examination of the available possibilities. “While there are different platforms out there that are being used for meetings and conferences, we didn’t feel they were optimal for use with executives,” says Marchi. “They were designed as meeting or conference platforms. They weren’t designed to be teaching platforms.”

“As close as we can to face-to-face”

The choice eventually led to Barco. But why? “What I really appreciate is the ability to be myself in a classroom as opposed to sitting in front of a computer screen,” says Bleak. “It affords the opportunity to engage with participants like they are there and use my physicality to create connections. That’s a critical thing in our virtual environment.”

Moving from the drawing board to an actual educational delivery system as sophisticated as weConnect could be an issue. But in practice? “There was obviously prep time for faculty members, myself being one of those,” says Welch. “But once we were utilizing the facilities, there was a very quick learning time, a great overview, great acceptability, unparalleled customer service… And really, only half a day was utilized in prepping to use the service.”

Meeting customer needs

In addition to meeting the school’s mission as a world-class provider of executive education, the new possibilities offered by weConnect also fit in with customer needs. “I see this as something that is going to be perpetual,” says Welch. “Clients are saying it’s far more cost-effective, they’re not having to incur lodging and ensuing expenses. So I see it as a permanent addition to what we have previously been offering.”

And looking forward? “We’re looking at what we might be doing 6-12 months into the future,” notes Marchi. “We’ve had conversation with Barco about how technology is going to evolve, how the user is going to become more demanding with technology. As we get into this continued Covid and post-Covid world, there are things we must think about for that group of individuals. So the best way to future proof is always to think about flexibility, creativity and innovative thinking in your team and your partners.”