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Harvard Business School students, some of the only Harvard affiliates who experienced in-person classes last fall, praised the hybrid classroom model that the school debuted in the fall and continued this spring.
Spring semester courses at the Business School take place either fully remotely or in hybrid classrooms, in which rotating groups of 25 students attend in-person classes that are also available on Zoom, allowing remote students to participate as well.
In a Feb. 16 Covid-19 update to HBS affiliates, Executive Dean for Administration Angela Q. Crispi and Business School Dean Srikant M. Datar wrote that 115 class sessions were held in a hybrid classroom in the previous week.
David Chataway, a second-year Master of Business Administration student, wrote in an email that he has “really appreciated” the hybrid model, calling remote instruction “fantastic.”
“The combination of lectures and exercises remotely and safely in person taught important communication skills for conducting business over both mediums,” Chataway wrote.
Second-year MBA student Olubukunola “Bukie” Adebo said she intentionally sought out hybrid courses for the “classroom experience” that includes “energy and movement.”
When in person for these hybrid classes, Adebo said, the course “basically operates like normal class” — students still raise their hands and engage with peers and professors — aside from the fact that they don masks and are seated far apart from each other.
“Even when I’m not in the classroom for the hybrid classes, just the fact that the professor’s standing in a room and writing on a board and moving around in the space, that even makes the class better,” Adebo said.
Adebo also commended the Business School for the improvements it has made to remote learning since first transitioning online nearly a year ago. Calling the initial virtual classes in spring 2020 “atrocious,” Adebo said it was very difficult to stay engaged.
In the fall and this spring, however, Adebo said she saw “a huge difference” in the quality of instruction.
“A lot of professors found out what really works for them — they realized they needed to be drawing on an iPad, or standing in front of a board, or whatever they needed to do to feel a little bit more natural,” she said. “Most professors have figured that out, and they’re more comfortable navigating the Zoom environment.”
Still, Adebo said the school could further improve the remote experience if professors were more “sensitive” and afforded more “flexibility.”
“People taking classes from home means that people are dealing with home stuff — you have partners who have kids, you have weird stuff going on in your apartment, and just being a little bit more understanding about that,” she said.
Business School spokesperson Mark Cautela wrote in an email that transitioning to virtual classes last spring was “a new experience” that the school has since worked to refine.
“The unexpected pivot to virtual teaching in Spring 2020 utilized only the zoom platform—an approach that was largely unfamiliar to everyone,” he wrote. “Even with intensive efforts to ensure training and the appropriate technology set-ups, it was a new experience trying to replicate the dynamic interaction of a typical class session.”
Cautela added that HBS has integrated “extensive feedback” from faculty since then in order to create new instructional models that will “continue to evolve and likely will be needed in the future, too.”
Farah H. Azmi, a second-year MBA student who has chosen to take all of her courses virtually this academic year, said the remote experience has made her spring semester thus far “bittersweet.”
Because second-year HBS students choose electives rather than attending a set of required courses with the same cohort of peers, as first-year students do, Azmi said remote learning has left her feeling isolated.
“This semester and the fall semester — when I was doing classes via Zoom — it was weird because I didn’t know any of these faces, I didn’t recognize any of their voices,” she said. “It’s just a much different atmosphere. Whenever you’re just surrounded, you’re introduced to people in a different way.”
Second-year MBA student Burjis N. Godrej said remote instruction has had its benefits, too. One of those benefits is Zoom’s breakout rooms, which Godrej said are beneficial for meeting new classmates.
“In a regular classroom, you could only talk to the people who are next to you, but in a breakout room, you’re randomly matched with people in the classroom, so you get to meet many more people and discuss these topics with them,” Godrej said.
Azmi added she has found that online classes also grant more “flexibility,” allowing her to fit more activities into a day.
“If you think about Zoom classes, you’re able to work on something else up until the last second,” she said. “I can squeeze in a workout, I can squeeze in a couple more emails, versus whenever you’re in class in person, it’s hard to do all those extra things.”
—Staff writer Carrie Hsu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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