Online learning is a skill of its own. Learners and instructors need to have the right technology, understand how to use e-learning platforms, and be fully engaged. Success starts with a faculty trained in online teaching supported by an environment that has been offering distance learning even before it became a new reality. Staying in tune with the progress of each student informs faculty on what they need to provide to deliver the best possible e-learning experience.
In the School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM), we care; we listen; we respond. When SBNM Associate Dean Rochelle Robinson-Levant was preparing the 2020–2021 academic year schedule, she included course offerings reflecting requests to simulate face-to-face instruction. Synchronous Summer 2021 was born from this very planning exercise, incorporating feedback from students to best support their learning and flexible class options.
Having made the shift during the pandemic to all online classes, many students felt they were missing a human connection. Reinstating a sense of face-to-face interaction with faculty and peers, Synchronous Summer will mirror the format of in-person classes, building into the schedule a number of synchronous virtual meetings. Frequency and length will be determined by the faculty based on what they believe would provide the greatest benefit to students. For one class, that might mean a virtual meeting during weeks one, four, and seven for an hour at a time, addressing complex topics or providing opportunities for discussion. For another class, there could be a virtual meeting for the first week to set the stage and the last week for student presentations.
“The idea was to build flexibility into the classes so that faculty could use the synchronous meetings in a way that was most advantageous for the learning experience in their particular class,” said Robinson-Levant. Looking ahead, there are many advantages to continuing with the synchronous online format even when it is deemed safe to return to in person classes. “Students living further away from campus will be able to take classes that offer the synchronous component and it will allow more flexibility for those students who do prefer face-to-face learning,” said Robinson-Levant.
“I feel confident that synchronous summer will be fully supported by the SBNM program and staff and students,” said Juanita Koziol, MBA candidate with certificates in finance and nonprofit governance.”
Important to Koziol is the ability to continue establishing relationships with her classmates. “During synchronous summer, students can have the reassurance of knowing that their classes will always be meaningful, in a learning platform that offers real business experience from professors working in their field,” said Koziol.
Balancing graduate school with family and professional life, has become even more apparent during COVID-19. SBNM faculty recognize this added layer of responsibility and the importance of offering a flexible schedule.
“I would not have been able to continue to take classes without the flexibility component of online classes this past year. My schedule changed dramatically when I was redeployed for several months with different hours,” said Bryan Carlson, MBA candidate, who works in a hospital.
Adult learners like Koziol appreciate SBNM’s flexible class offerings. “Having peace of mind knowing that logging into a class can be at my leisure and the class is always available 24/7. This means for an adult student who has a busy schedule with family, health, career, volunteering, or other life goals, they can trust SBNM to provide an enriching learning experience and most importantly continuing their studies during a pandemic crisis,” said Koziol.
Whether seamlessly pivoting to fully online due to the pandemic or simulating closer connections through Synchronous Summer, SBNM faculty are preparing future leaders to respond to a changing landscape while maintaining the rigor of graduate programming.
“I am inspired by the richness of the program relevant to critical aspects of business leadership such as ethical decision making, understanding diversity, conflict, team strengths and weaknesses, and more. I feel better prepared to do well in leadership roles now than I would have without this experience,” said MBA candidate Rebecca Headrick.
With an innovative mindset and readiness to lead positive change, graduating MBA candidates Koziol, Carlson, and Headrick are well prepared to embrace new challenges and make a difference in their fields.