Published: 27th November 2020
How Stanford has made online business education work during the pandemic, with a dash of empathy
We spoke to Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Sarah Soule about online education and its perks and downsides
Sarah A Soule tells us about a day when she ran out of space on her whiteboard at home. A Professor of Organisational Behavior and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Stanford Graduate School of Business, her students were waiting for her, online. Without wasting a second, she wrote down the equations on her refridgerator, much to everyone's amusement.
When the classrooms around the world made a sudden switch from offline to online, owing to the pandemic, educators and students caught with their discussions on platforms and software that worked the best. However, Soule says, "Some less tangible tools we’ve been employing include compassion, empathy and understanding - this year has presented challenges no one could have foreseen. As such, we are ensuring that we devote special consideration to the health, bandwidth and wellbeing of the members of our community, whether on campus or remote, during this time and serve as sources of direction and advice when needed."
In a candid conversation, she also spoke to us about how COVID affected the structure of classes and research. Excerpts:
Was the switch from online to offline education seamless?
The decision to transition from in-person to online instruction to meet pandemic safety guidelines was made with careful consideration. We wanted to ensure that we were able to continue delivering an engaging and impactful educational experience while ensuring that students, participants, faculty, and staff were able to remain safe and healthy. This transition was made easier and more seamless with the help of Stanford’s Teaching and Learning Hub, which comprises teams that focus on the GSB classroom experience and includes the team that developed Stanford LEAD.
The initial transition to online learning in the spring resulted in a lot of learnings for Executive Education. Rather than simply transition our existing content and programs into an online format, we took time to rethink and redesign our programs and offerings, like the Stanford Business Leadership Series and our new on-demand online courses
When do you plan to have students back on campus?
The health and safety of our students, participants, faculty and staff continue to be our number one priority, and we’re closely monitoring state and national health guidelines to ensure adherence to all protocols. We currently have MBA and PhD students on campus with measures in place, such as wearing masks, social distancing, disinfecting common areas, some classes held outside in small groups, and hybrid teaching, to ensure the safety of our community. We, like all education providers, are hoping for a COVID-19 vaccine and that we might be able to offer face to face programs in 2021.
What are a few perks and downsides of online education?
We’ve been able to become jacks of all trades in classroom administration by learning to convert a traditional classroom setting into a virtual format while developing a strong understanding of all the tools and software required to translate the experience online. This will serve us continually, as these new skills remain relevant in the fast-paced digital world. Additionally, online learning empowers “work from anywhere” - allowing our participants to benefit from rich, diverse perspectives from global groups and those with schedules that make in-person, 9-5 learning difficult.
In-person interactions lead to creativity and real-time discussions about ideas, curriculum, and processes. These can be hard to replicate within a Zoom session, however, we have been experimenting with ways to do this through different technologies. Additionally, increased reliance on video can lead to Zoom fatigue or the exhaustion that comes with countless hours spent in front of a screen. Zoom video interactions also afford less of an opportunity for those casual socialising and networking moments spurred during classroom or laboratory settings. However, our faculty have embraced this new way of teaching and learning, whether it’s using breakout rooms to encourage socialising or bringing virtual guest speakers to classes, and they continue to work to provide a transformational experience to our participants.
How has COVID impacted research?
COVID-19 has impacted every sector and demographic around the world, and the impact will be felt for years to come. This pandemic has mobilised our researchers to study the impact of the virus on employees, businesses, the US economy as well as the world. GSB faculty members are recognised for their ground-breaking research, and it’s inspiring to see their commitment to discovering, and sharing, data and learnings about this virus at a time when it’s needed.