“I enjoy online learning,” says Alan Popoli, MS ’17. “I’m very much a fan of having that flexibility and being able to work on team projects remotely. I think it mimics a lot of what we experience professionally in the real world.”
These real-world professional experiences resonate more now than ever as many Americans made the switch to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all grown more accustomed to remote work and online learning.
For the Fox School of Business, that pivot was a relatively smooth one, in part because Fox has been offering online courses for quite some time. With nearly a decade of experience, Fox faculty share their keys to success with online learning.
Key #1: Preparation, preparation, preparation
Professor Bertrand Guillotin of the Department of Strategic Management has been teaching online for 12 years. His experience goes back to blended courses that were 50% online in 2008. At the Fox School, he focuses on undergraduate international business courses and MBA-level courses. Now, he is starting to teach Executive MBAs and mentor Executive DBA students.
When it comes to his keys to success, Guillotin says, “If realtors recommend ‘location, location, location’ then I would recommend ‘preparation, preparation, preparation.’”
To keep students engaged online, Guillotin recommends drawing from their perspectives, backgrounds and aspirations to help maintain and deepen the virtual connection. “I try to build a learning community with each class that comes together, respecting and leveraging all backgrounds,” he says. “It has to be dynamic and timely in terms of the content and the discussions so that they can relate to and apply the new knowledge, as soon as possible.”
Key #2: Invest in the students’ success
Michael Hubbel of the Department of Risk, Insurance and Healthcare Management has worked in the risk management field for decades. He began his career in research and development for three different insurance companies and transitioned to academia in the 1980s. He has designed online risk management and insurance courses for a series of universities and a major consulting firm.
He began his career at the Fox School in 2008 and now teaches Introduction to Risk Management, Managing Risk in the Online MBA and Part-Time MBA programs, and the Enterprise Risk Management course in the Executive MBA program.
His key to teaching online is investing in students’ success. As part of his preparation for class, Hubbel has students complete surveys about themselves, so he can use a “cheat sheet” during live sessions to call on students when a topic aligns with their background or field of study or interest. He maintains scheduled online office hours and is willing to meet with students at other times online when schedules conflict.
“I enjoy both approaches to teaching, in a physical classroom and online,” says Hubbel. “The technology and design support from our Department of Online and Digital Learning professionals at Fox have made all the difference!”
Key #3: Encourage collaboration
Amy Lavin, assistant academic director of online programs, began her career in direct marketing and was part of one of the first online life insurance applications. Since then, she joined Temple and has been at the forefront of various Temple online initiatives, including implementing the university’s online payment engine and e-billing.
About eight years ago, Lavin was asked to teach an introductory management and information systems class online. Over the next six years of teaching the course, she improved upon the formula every semester. Today, she is a full-time faculty member and the academic director of Master of Science in Digital Innovation in Marketing.
Lavin suggests, whenever possible, to encourage collaboration between students by turning their cameras on, engaging in breakout sessions and participating during class discussions. If the students and faculty can connect and feel comfortable with each other, it makes the class much more successful.
“I wrote my dissertation last year on engagement in online education. Over and over again, the online faculty with the best evaluations were those that managed to engage the students through the above-mentioned tactics,” Lavin says. “Talking at the students gets you nowhere. There is too much competition for attention in an online classroom.”
Key #4: Keep it fun and engaging
Katie Gerst has a long history with the Fox School. After holding various positions in the administration, she received her MBA and began teaching as an adjunct in 2004. Since then, she became a full-time faculty member and started teaching online in 2012, teaching the initial iterations of the undergraduate Business Communications course.
“For me, it’s all about anything you can do to keep the students engaged and make it feel as much like a real classroom as possible,” Gerst says. “I put them in breakout rooms to work on projects and have them report out so they’re still doing hands-on stuff. In one of my classes, one assignment is to formulate an email in groups where they’re delivering bad news. I had them use that structure to write an email where they were breaking up with someone. They end up having so much fun with it and it reinforces the structure that they need to use.”
In addition to her other roles, Gerst is the academic director of the Fox Honors program. The spring semester posed a unique challenge for her students, many of whom had never taken an online class. But with the support of the Online & Digital Learning Department and the expertise of faculty, the students thrived.
Benefits of online education from the experts
“You can connect people who otherwise might never cross paths,” says Professor Guillotin. “I have had students based in France, Germany, the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Oman), Japan and Korea join the [Online MBA] class. They succeed as if they had been in Center City.”
“The ‘flipped classroom’ forces students to actively engage with the course content, rather than passively listening to lectures,” says Professor Hubbel. “I think we focus on the material more in the online courses. There are beneficial interactions and discussions among students in physical, face-to-face classrooms. But there are also distractions in the classroom.”
“For the master’s students especially, online education provides access,” says Professor Lavin. “So many people are juggling full-time jobs, families and other commitments. It enables students some flexibility that attending a face-to-face class might not. It also enables students to attend the school of their choice, not simply the school that is most convenient to their location. I think the same could be said of the undergraduates.”
“At work, in any business setting, you’re going to use something like Zoom,” says Professor Gerst. “You’re going to have video conferencing. Most of these systems run similarly, so having online learning experience is going to make you more comfortable when you have to use it for work.”