The videoconferencing era

For a good number of years, the Bluffton MBA has offered one or two courses that include some live videoconference class sessions. For the past several years, all three courses in the Health Care Management concentration have been offered as live videoconference-based classes connecting classrooms of students meeting in Bluffton, Archbold and Piqua.

This year we made a quantum leap in the use of live videoconference distance learning as we began testing the use of Zoom Cloud Meeting (an improved version of Skype) to serve individual students at a distance. We offered 11 different classes to students who were located at multiple locations. We even had one student who was on a travel schedule and “attended” live classes from Paris and Brazil.

We also entered new territory with the launch of the Online Collaborative MBA program offered through Bluffton University, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College. This program emphasizes sustainability, self-awareness and making a profit without harm to people or the environment, and includes two week-long residencies and videoconferencing for all other courses. The first cohort of this program includes 11 students living in Ontario, Canada,  the midwest and eastern parts of the U.S., who connect weekly via video-conferencing.

We are finding that both professors and students in video-conferenced courses have to be creative in finding ways to ensure that all students at all locations have equal opportunity for participation. Some particular challenges of videoconferencing include determining the best methods for having quality small group discussions and offering student presentations at a distance.

We are finding, nevertheless, that it is possible to create lively and engaging videoconference classes that are very similar to the traditional in-class experience.