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Workshop offers International Exchange…without the Travel

June 26, 2014 //

International exchanges are a common occurrence for Global Executive MBA (EMBA) students. For the first time, however, the Fox School has taken travel out of the equation and brought students from its Philadelphia campus together with those from its international campuses for a two-hour Global EMBA integration workshop using WebEx™ conference technology.

While distance learning and remote conferencing have both existed for years, very few EMBA programs have used these tools to unite students from around the globe into a live learning experience.

“We had already begun efforts to create more collaboration among our Global EMBA students through social media groups, expanded opportunities to study abroad and international immersion trips,” says Rebecca Beeman Geffner, director, International and Executive Programs, IGMS/CIBER, Fox School of Business. “There was still a desire, however, to simultaneously connect these students across time zones in a meaningful way.  Based upon our success using WebEx™ for our Online MBA students we decided that this was the best tool for us to achieve our goal of an international, integrated experience for busy executives.”

The workshop – titled, “Frugal Innovations: Doing Well by Doing Good” – took place in late April and focused on how the power of business can be scaled to alleviate poverty and promote environmental sustainability.

“When I was asked to design and deliver the inaugural Global EMBA integration workshop I knew that I wanted to choose a subject that was new, universally important and appealing to EMBA students around the world,” explains MB Sarkar, PhD, the HF ‘Gerry’ Lenfest Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Academic Director of the Fox Global Immersions Program. “It was a challenging assignment but also very fulfilling and I think that the team and I succeed in pioneering an initiative that fits into Dean Moshe Porat’s vision of a Global EMBA program that mirrors the interconnected world.”

According to Dr. Sarkar, the preponderance of ‘wicked’ societal problems – poverty, access to healthcare, food and water shortages, and environmental challenges to name a few – is forcing a new compact between business and society.

“There is increasing emphasis on inclusive business, shared value and the triple bottom line,” he says. “More and more, innovations that are driving this approach are being seeded in emerging markets, which are extremely resource-constrained and house the majority of the world’s poor and under-served population. Interestingly, through a reversal of the traditional directionality of innovation, such ‘frugal innovations’ are increasingly finding application in the developed countries. To sensitize students to this shifting strategic paradigm, I decided to design the workshop around a frugal innovation-related challenge.”

In the weeks leading up to the workshop, WebEx™ test sessions were conducted with all participants to help avoid technical issues. Readings and specially recorded lecture videos by Dr. Sarkar were uploaded on a Blackboard site created specifically for this workshop. An Edmodo discussion board was also launched to generate excitement and start a dialogue about frugal innovation among students.

“Edmodo is like the academic version of Facebook,” says Geffner. “Using this, our students were able to share information and comments relative to the subject. There was strong participation on this forum both before and after the workshop.”

On the day of the event, 70 students and EMBA faculty members representing all five of the Fox School’s cohorts (U.S., Colombia, Singapore, Japan and France) logged into the workshop. The event was organized in the Fox School’s in-house studio and was successfully executed by the online team consisting of  Darin Kapanjie, PhD, Dan Lantz, Chris Miano, Carly Haines and Kevin Donahue.

“Since we were working with three different time zones we had to choose a time and day – in this case Saturday – that worked for everyone,” says Geffner. “Students in the U.S. and Colombia were signing on in the morning while our cohorts in France and Asia were joining us in the afternoon and late evening.”

In addition to the lecture, which was presented by Dr. Sarkar in Philadelphia, the workshop included virtual breakout sessions.

“We used the registration list to separate students into 10 diverse groups in advance,” explains Geffner. “When it was time, we used WebEx™ to ‘move’ the members of each group into their own room where they could interact and share one another’s desktops.”

According to Geffner, the event was a resounding success with emails, text messages and posts on Facebook and LinkedIn circulating for weeks afterward. She gives much of the credit to the Fox School’s global partners for helping to market the course and shares that plans are already underway for additional workshops.

“It was not only the students who learned from this workshop,” she says. “While international travel will always be an integral component of the Global EMBA program and for global business in general, this experience certainly opened our eyes to other impactful ways in which we can successfully foster global exchange and dialogue among our executive students.”