Five of the 83 students involved in the executive MBA program through Cornell University and Queens School of Business in Toronto look out their windows to see a torrential downpour. Eight others look out and see a sunny, cloudless day. Eleven are inside during a snowstorm. And they are all listening to the same lecture. How is this possible? Through videoconferencing, where students can watch their professors on a television screen. Their computers are hooked up to the monitor, which allows them to listen to the lectures through a course web portal.
Three Saturdays every month, students gather at their respective boardrooms across 17 different cities and tune into two four-hour lectures. The lectures, coupled with periodic residential sessions in Ithaca, enable the students to complete their MBA degrees over the course of seventeen months. The Executive MBA program, which has been in use for two years, is a collaboration between Cornell University and Queen’s School of Business.
The program was initially implemented to allow working students to take classes without having to quit their jobs and move to school. Most of the students have been out of college and in the work force for an average of 10 to 15 years. Their jobs vary from doctors to lawyers to finance managers and beyond.
Prof. Vrinda Kadiyali, marketing and economics, enjoys teaching students with diverse professional backgrounds and feels that it is advantageous to be working and taking business classes simultaneously.
“The big attraction of teaching executives is that they are in their jobs and they can immediately apply it to what they are doing, whereas our students here in the regular program can only apply it a year-and-a-half later. These students are also older, so they have more work experience, which adds a lot to the class. It’s very enriching to teach the executives. I actually learn from the students. It’s a pleasure to teach them,” Kadiyali said.
According to Danny Szpiro, director of the Cornell-Queens MBA program, the job diversity allows students to participate in peer-to-peer learning. Because the students are not coming together from one specific area, they are able to contribute a diverse array of insights.
Szpiro stresses the advantage of the videoconferencing teaching style.
“One element of the program that is unique is that the students are not all in one region. We have a footprint all across North America. The diversity of the experience that people can bring to the program is far greater than it would be in a small city,” Szpiro said.
Videoconferencing also enables students and professors to have an educational experience different from working in a traditional classroom setting. Each student is equipped with a gadget called a “One-Touch,” which the students use to answer questions posed throughout the lecture. There is also a button the students can press to let the professor know if they do not understand something, which gives the professor immediate feedback about how well he or she is explaining the material. If a student has a specific question, he can press a button, which is like raising his hand in a traditional classroom setting. Each “One-Touch” is registered under one student, so when he presses the button, his entire biography shows up, including his name, boardroom location and career. According to Szpiro, “I can tailor my answer to his needs depending on his job.”
Kadiyali is also a proponent of videoconferencing. “Technology has compensated from some pains you might think you would get from this type of class. It’s pretty much the same as a regular class,” she said.
According to the MBA professors, the program has received a positive student response. Angela Horne, associate director of Cornell’s Management Library, already completed the program. When asked about the program’s advantages, Horne said, “That I was able to continue to work full-time. That we have team coaches who help us through the rocky times and help us re-focus when things seem a bit overwhelming. I was really pleased that my classmates were all top-notch individuals who excelled both in their careers and in the classroom. It was really stimulating to spend time with professionals who were able to juggle their families, careers, and classes.”
The Executive MBA program has grown from last year, and is expected to continue to grow in the future, both physically and technologically. According to Szpiro, “From a technology point of view, we’re always looking for the latest and greatest. That’s never-ending. From a growth point of view, we are targeting this year to move this into a two section model. What the Johnson School is looking at is perhaps new programs, perhaps expanding this learning format to other countries.”