Four semesters in, Michigan Ross profs share insights about what it’s like teaching in the Online MBA Program

April 24, 2020

It takes a significant amount of work to build and successfully execute a rigorous and engaging MBA course in an online format.

As the fourth semester of the Online MBA Program at the Ross School of Business comes to a close, four top Ross faculty members talk about their experiences creating courses for the program, including what they enjoyed most, what they found most challenging, as well as what they thought of the students. They also share surprising findings, including how teaching in a virtual environment can free up more time to meet one-on-one with students.

“I really enjoyed teaching in the Online MBA Program,” said Maxim Sytch. “It was great to be able to deliver some of our best insights, research-based practices, and action-based learning to an audience that would otherwise not be able to attend a full-time program.”

Even though he had initial hesitations, Sytch said his experience co-teaching Leading People and Organizations did not differ as much as he thought it would from an in-person course. That was largely due to the highly immersive educational environment enabled by the SmartStage technology in the Digital Education Studio at Ross, he said.

“When I am teaching in the Digital Education Studio, I can see the students’ faces, their reactions to the discussion, both verbal or nonverbal, and I can feel the level of energy in the class and how it varies,” Sytch explained. “I can call on and speak with the entire class or a chosen student, and I have access to a wide range of teaching tools that approximate a physical classroom — whiteboard, videos, breakout rooms, slides, etc.”

While he said creating strong bonds and carrying on high-energy discussions may be more easily done in person, Sytch was surprised that other classroom activities were more effectively carried out virtually. “For example, while it takes valuable class time for students to move to and return from physical breakout rooms, it can be instantly done in a virtual classroom. And as an instructor, I can visit those breakout rooms instantly, which allows me to spend more time with students rather than walking from one room to another.”

Lindy Greer, who co-taught the course with Sytch, said what she found most interesting was their ability to foster learning in an online environment, including on traditionally in-person topics such as teams and leadership. She also pointed out surprising benefits about administering a virtual course to working professionals.

“Teaching online has made me much more intentional about how I pass on information,” explained Greer. “By breaking up material into smaller chunks, including short videos, exercises, and reflection moments, I actually felt I was able to convey more material and create deeper learning in the online environment. It also helped that the students could immediately apply the learnings in their day jobs and talk about it in class after.”

Gretchen Spreitzer and Ross lecturer Betsy Erwin led the Business Leadership Residency, which took place at the end of January and included a loaded schedule of classes, social events, and the Leadership Crisis Challenge.

“The Business Leadership Residency was so special because it was the first time most of the cohort met each other in person,” said Spreitzer. “We had to build community very quickly, so we tried to plant the seeds before the students arrived on campus for the three-day residency, and that created the foundation for a strong bond to occur in a short time.”

In delivering the pre-residency classes from the Digital Education Studio, Spreitzer said she was pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement and participation by the students in the live virtual sessions. “The OMBA students are smart and motivated, which I believe is one reason they’re able to balance the tough coursework with their work and family commitments,” she said.

Mike Barger has just completed development of his High Stakes Leadership course for the Online MBA Program this summer.

“I’m very excited to teach in our OMBA Program,” said Barger. “Having run an education technology company before coming to the Michigan Ross faculty, I’ve been looking forward to helping the school make a meaningful commitment to digital education. Doing so with a full degree program the caliber of a Michigan Ross MBA makes it clear to the market, our alumni, and our prospective students that we are breaking new ground in the space.”

Nevertheless, Barger said that producing an online course up to the high quality that Ross is known for takes a lot of time (hundreds of hours) and is a resource intensive process, involving the investment of many people.

“Finding the time, patience, and resilience to keep pushing the process forward can be quite a chore,” he explained. “That said, the end products are very much worth the effort. I couldn’t be happier about my High Stakes Leadership course and I believe students are going to find the materials both educational and exceptionally practical.”

Greg Miller, who taught the first class in the OMBA program Principles of Financial Accounting, shared his thoughts on the unique opportunities offered by the online format, the high caliber of the students, and more on a recent episode of Working for the Weekend, a podcast run by part-time MBA students at Michigan Ross.

Interested in applying to the Online MBA Program at Ross?

Michigan Ross is now accepting applications for the Online MBA Program, and the school is announcing a new winter 2021 intake. Application deadlines have been extended for fall 2020, with a final deadline of June 15, and the winter 2021 deadline is September 21, 2020. For candidates applying to start in fall 2020 only, limited GMAT/GRE waivers are available if they meet specific criteria found here.

This article originally appeared in the Ross News Blog.