‘Are we there yet?’ The long drive to online mastery for business schools

EOCCS, online learning, engagement,

Anyone who has been a child sitting in the back of a vehicle on a long journey will have heard or uttered the question: “Are we there yet?” For children (and adults) disengaged from the process of driving the vehicle, the journey can appear to be endless.

If the destination is too distant, or the road too bumpy, or the whole idea of travel too painful, the passengers become restless.  They can soon become angry and rebellious. Let’s not even think about those who become car-sick – or spend the entire journey playing on their smartphone…

The journey to online mastery for institutions, faculties, and learners is also a long one.  The destination is moving further away as we turn what we think might be the last bend in the road! Just like successful learning, however, successful online delivery needs engaged faculty and support staff – not docile passengers…

Much of the discussion about online engagement at the 7th annual EOCCS learning community symposium, hosted by UPF Barcelona School of Management in September 2023, focused on the engagement of learners. What many Deans and Directors want to discuss is the engagement of their own faculty. The engagement of faculty is a precursor to the engagement of learners.

The EOCCS survey of EFMD member business schools in May 2023 was mirrored by the results from the October 2023 WONKHE/Kortext report. The development of staff skills in managing a digital future is a top priority. The experience of many instructors plunged into emergency remote teaching during the pandemic was negative, and so there is also confidence-building work to be done.

At the symposium, we were privileged to experience four case studies, one each from Italy, France and Colombia and an overview from Engageli, a company that partners with numerous institutions as they develop their digital presence. The case studies reflected schools that had made clear strategic decisions to provide online learning as part of their mainstream offer.

Eight learning points

So, what advice did our symposium presenters give for the engagement of faculty?

  1. Faculty engagement and the development of digital teaching skills are only part of the progress towards effective online learning for our students. Schools and Institutions should see faculty engagement as an important element in the wider strategic thinking about digitalisation.
  2. Involvement of faculty with multi-disciplinary innovation teams / Learning Labs and the formulation of regulations, the fostering of innovation and the sharing of good practice yields buy-in at an early stage.
  3. It will be easy to identify faculty Champions (10%?) who relish innovation and the traditionalists (10%?) who resist change. However, a focus on the 80% who are open to developing digital teaching skills will offer the best rewards in the longer term.
  4. Recruitment of faculty needs to include, amongst other things, a requirement for digital skills. Flexibility in approach will be important here, reflecting the different needs and competencies of faculty members.
  5. Consider the stress that change can induce in faculty members. Have a plan to deal with potential stresses and support to avoid them in the first place.
  6. Workload models should be revisited to reflect the different nature of online teaching and learning. The online pedagogic model is different but not fully determined or quantified. This area is ripe for innovative thinking and seizing the opportunities offered by new technologies.
  7. Good practice in online development involves a team – members of which have different skills and responsibilities. Good quality learning design and technology skills will liberate faculty members to do what they do best.
  8. Reach out to schools at similar or more advanced stages of digital development.  This can help create partnerships that extend beyond immediate support needs. The EFMDGlobal online learning community is one way to reach out to offer or to ask for advice – but as a blog reader, you already knew that…

Bumpy road ahead?

In summary, the road to online mastery is long. The journey will challenge the status quo but will be eased by careful management of the key players. The four case studies summarised here cannot hope to cover all eventualities, but they can act as guidance for those seeking an online future.

All of our presenters spoke of fundamental change and turbulence brought about by advances in technology in Higher Education. As recommended by Alain Goudey from NEOMA, let’s leave the last word to Peter Drucker:

The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.”

With thanks to our panel members:

  • Catherine Pereira Villa, Associate Professor and Dean, International School of Economic and Administrative Sciences, Universidad de La Sabana, Colombia
  • Luigi Gangitano, Chief of Digital Innovation, POLIMI; Managing Director in FadPro, Italy
  • Alain Goudey, Associate Dean for Digital and Professor, NEOMA Business School, France
  • Talia Kolodny, Senior Director, EMEA, Engageli, Israel

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