B-School Over Zoom Got Better During the Pandemic, Students Say
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Tyler Schenk’s MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School ended with more of a whimper than the bang he’d hoped for. The last few months were conducted largely online because of Covid-19, and he missed the social and in-person collaboration he’d previously enjoyed in the classroom. “You just lose out on a huge component of the business school,” says the 2021 graduate. “I don’t blame anyone.”
Schenk, 31, was among more than 6,000 MBA students around the world surveyed by Bloomberg about their online learning experience during a year in which B-schools globally shifted operations to Zoom and other apps, or offered a mix of digital and in-classroom instruction. The crisis seems to have forced programs to raise their online game: The data indicate that students on average believe schools improved their virtual offerings in 2021.
The quality of online collaboration that students felt their schools offered was 13% higher than in 2020, ranking 4.3 out of a possible 5. Online job search strategy scored 10% higher, at 4.1. Comprehension of online learning materials improved 6%, and the perceived proficiency of professors at using online tools increased 5%. The survey results were collected as part of Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2021-22 Best B-Schools ranking, which is scheduled for release on Sept. 15.
Despite that progress, Schenk says his online experience was below average. And top programs still value in-person learning. Many are planning to bring students back to campus for the coming term—depending on the trajectory of the pandemic—including Wharton, Columbia Business School, NYU Stern School of Business, and the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. To return to campus, Wharton students must show proof of vaccination or undertake regular testing, according to an Aug. 5 statement from the school. Almost 80% of students and 84% of faculty reported being fully vaccinated at that point, and the school said it expected those figures to rise.
Some schools, including Oxford’s Saïd Business School in the U.K., plan to retain elements of online teaching even as they welcome students back to campus, opting for a hybrid model. “We’ll take a bit of both of those worlds and combine them,” says Bettina Kosiel, director of the executive MBA program, noting that perhaps not all students will be able to travel to Oxford in the coming months. Kosiel says she doubts the fully in-person way of teaching will ever return.
Wharton offered its MBA class of 2021 a fifth in-person semester starting in September to make up for the fourth semester of online teaching. Schenk says he couldn’t enroll because of issues funding the additional time. Now he’s envious of the classes of 2022 and ’23, due to arrive back on the Philadelphia campus. “I only wish I could have been there a little bit longer,” he says.
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