I was recently interviewed for a Dal Magazine article about moving my undergraduate course to a virtual environment. At the time, I was reflecting about the beginnings of the MBA (Financial Services) Program. I started teaching in the program in 1999 and at the time there was no such thing as BrightSpace. We did not have webpages where students could post questions or comments. We did not have course videos. We had lesson notes, but they were in paper form only. Students would fax in their assignments. We had a “discussion space” kind of thing, where students could post questions to me and I could post them back, but it was really no more than a Listserv.
I think of where we are today with completely virtual classes within the MBA (Financial Services/ Leadership) Program. We have remarkable technology that we use now in terms of videos and quizzes and interactive tools . My ability to successfully move COMM 1010 (Business in A Global Context), my first year undergraduate class to an online environment was due to the fact that I had spent 20 plus years teaching in the MBA (FS/L) Program.
There is so much that has changed in those 20 years, but not the nature of the students. Our students are adaptable, flexible, and smart. They know how to use technology and they know how to use it to their advantage. I hope you enjoy the article as it gives me hope. When I think about our undergraduate and our graduate students, I know they will thrive and grow in any environment in which they find themselves. My hope is that if we can excel at teaching online it will open us up to even greater possibilities and greater opportunities for all our programs
Excerpt from the DALMAGAZINE: Shifting Gears
How can we best prime students for life as business professionals? That’s the underlying objective in Carolan McLarney’s Business in a Global Context course, a large first-year class aimed at undergraduate students interested in business.
While the answer to the question naturally shifts from year to year as the world itself changes, 2020 brought about a more dramatic upheaval than most as the pandemic battered economies and reshaped the way business is done. Remote work became the norm for many businesses and organizations, a trend that seems to have stuck is some cases even after restrictions loosened and a way of working that could become the new normal in the event of future outbreaks.
Dr. McLarney says her course this fall provides an opportunity for students to hone their digital savvy to meet the needs of this new era, given that—like most other courses at Dal—it’s being taught entirely online. “If anybody can work anywhere in the world now, then if you are exceptionally good at doing remote work, the possibilities for you as an employee are endless,” says Dr. McLarney. “That’s what we’ll be trying to teach them.”
Adapting a course for hundreds of students, including a large contingent of international students positioned in different countries and time zones, was no small feat. Dr. McLarney made a point of incorporating both synchronous (happening at a specific time) and asynchronous (can be accessed anytime) elements into the course to allow students flexibility. She holds two live synchronous lectures each Thursday, which are then made available as recordings. Students are divided into smaller groups for tutorials, which this year are pre-recorded and available each Friday. And rather than office hours, students book individual appointments.
“I think in a way this move to online is going to make us much better for every student,” she says. “I speak very quickly, and for students whose first language isn’t English, I think it can be a little overwhelming. So, wouldn’t it be great if you could just go back a few frames or go forward or pause and make some notes? This will probably make my course much more accessible.”
What won’t change are expectations of students. They’ll still be required to give presentations, do group work, take part in a business simulation, present themselves professionally, and complete assignments on time—only now, they’ll do so virtually. Even an annual networking event that’s organized in partnership with Dal’s Management Career Services is moving online, with students being offered opportunities to drop into different rooms and meet representatives from various companies.
If this fall is done well across the university, Dr. McLarney says, it could reveal a major opportunity to grow Dal’s student population and equalize education. “If we get very good at this, then we can reach parts of the world and portions of the population who don’t have access to education,” she says. “Wouldn’t that be just remarkable?”