The STR Teaching Committee asked outstanding strategy teachers to describe some of their innovative teaching. This post features Associate Professor Pinar Ozcan (link to webpage), interviewed on behalf of the STR Teaching Committee by Assistant Professor Hakan Ener (link).
Pinar Ozcan is Associate Professor of Strategic Management at Warwick Business School in the United Kingdom. One of her popular MBA strategy courses runs entirely online, and she recently described her experiences with online teaching in an interview.
How do students learn strategy online?
Online learning has come a long way since the days when students were simply expected to watch recorded lectures and take an exam at the end of the term. Technology has become much more interactive, and faculty members can now track and assess the progress of students throughout the term. Pinar Ozcan worked with university e-learning experts in order to re-design the students’ learning experience accordingly.
In her online course, students learn by completing about ten topics (modules), each of which features a case study and supplementary readings, much like an offline course. What is different about the online experience is that students need to complete milestones (such as small assignments) in order to make progress within and between these modules.
For example, in a session on Industry Analysis with an emphasis on the role of complementors (companies that enhance the value of a focal firm’s product or service), Pinar’s course asks students to begin by reading a case study of Apple and watching an introductory video from Pinar. Then, the students are asked to do a 5-forces analysis of the computer industry at the time of Apple’s initial entry. This is where it gets more interesting: students may do this analysis using a paper and pen, and then simply take a photo of their work. When they upload this photo to the course platform, the teaching team (Pinar and her assistants) can review the students’ work, before the student proceeds to the next part of this module.
Pinar then provides her students with a preparation question about Apple versus IBM, based on the case study, and announces that the students should prepare to participate in a live session where Pinar will be guiding a discussion online. The live session involves all of her MBA students connecting to a live video feed at the same time, where Pinar asks students questions the way she would in the classroom. The students answer in writing, and Pinar probes some of their responses further before moving on to other topics during the hour-long live session.
As the students reach the last phase of this module on industry analysis, they play the well-known “Wintel” (Windows + Intel) computer simulation for participants to experience strategic decision-making in the presence of complementors. This game is played among two players, and the online platform allows the game to be played anonymously; that is the students don’t know who is on the other side as their product’s complementor. Given that students may be participating from different time zones, they are paired in order to maximize their engagement at a time that suits them. The live session that takes place after this game provides an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned.
What should faculty members know about teaching online?
Pinar Ozcan has valuable advice for faculty members who may wish to get involved in teaching online.
- Get help from e-learning experts. Most large universities and business schools now employ education technology specialists who can help you to organize the course in a way that enhances student engagement. This is very important in order to ensure a high success rate among students. A well-designed online course is one where students complete assignments and come back for more content on a periodic basis, even daily.
- Organize the students in virtual teams. While the tendency of students taking a course online may be to work on assignments individually, it’s important that there are group discussions and assignments taking place throughout the course. This is one of the ways in which the students develop a sense of belonging in the class.
- Vary the instructional tools. In addition to the tools described earlier, Pinar is able to use technology in order to generate different types of assignments for students. For example, in a module that involves a strategic decision to potentially acquire another company, the students may engage in an “online bidding” exercise where they name the price they would be willing to pay for the target, and explain their decisions.
- Learn from what other faculty members have done in online teaching, not only in terms of content but also regarding the process of course management. Pinar says that the teaching team, including teaching assistants have the responsibility to generate and maintain a positive and constructive environment online. Things may sometimes not go according to plan, either due to a rare glitch in online technology, or due to challenges that may arise when students combine a full time day job with online learning. Responding rapidly to emerging issues is crucial.
- Give the students reasons to pay attention to all teaching materials, and to be present during the live sessions led by the faculty. In addition to the milestones embedded in the modules that require students to complete assignments before proceeding, Pinar has found that it takes skill to generate instructional videos that sustain students’ interest all the way to the end. For example, she provides tips about how to apply the module’s lessons to the course term project (a strategic assessment report for a real company) in various parts of the videos and the live sessions, which helps to sustain interest, attendance, and active participation. This appears to be the most challenging and important part of teaching online.
In summary, online teaching has improved a lot and is becoming a real substitute to offline teaching. Pinar is adamant that her MBA students taking the online course learn no less than their peers in the classroom, and that the interactive technology even provides some learning opportunities that would be difficult to generate offline.
In an upcoming post in this series, we will hear from Professor Regina Herzlinger of Harvard Business School about her Massive Online Open Course, and learn more about the state of the art in online education.