Executive Learning Center connects management students worldwide
Dennis Gillen, at work in the WebCORE Express Studio.
Dennis Gillen’s image appears in the upper left corner of the computer monitor, in a multipaned window that also contains an outline of key points he’s making during a lecture. Gillen, associate dean of executive education in the School of Management, momentarily disappears as a video replaces him in the corner, but his voice can be heard over the new images as he guides students through them. The presentation was created in the school’s WebCORE Express Studio from Caliber Learning Network, part of the new Executive Learning Center that opened last fall in the Crouse-Hinds School of Management Building. The studio integrates video production equipment, computing hardware, and Caliber’s WebCORE intuitive software tools to create web-enabled training and communications programs. “By creating a studio on campus we have immediate access to a powerful live or on-demand course production environment,” Gillen says.
The Executive Learning Center is the latest development in a partnership between the School of Management and Caliber, a global provider of corporate e-learning solutions. Last spring, the school and Baltimore-based Caliber struck a deal to deliver the school’s M.B.A. Upgrade program in its entirety, as well as individual course modules, to corporations using Caliber’s Internet-based technologies. Caliber enables companies to dramatically increase the reach and reduce the costs of traditional training programs, using technologies spanning a wide spectrum of delivery methods, including Internet, intranet, and digital satellite. The technology allows faculty to present executive education programs live over the Internet at pre-arranged times and dates to corporate desktops or to Caliber learning centers, and to archive the materials for on-demand access via the Internet. “The Executive Learning Center will give our faculty an opportunity to build courseware exclusively for an Internet-based learning environment,” Gillen says. “Caliber provides us with the best delivery mechanism and access to premium advisors who understand education on the web. Our M.B.A. Upgrade course modules are perfectly suited for this environment.”
The school will continue to present the M.B.A. Upgrade program and course modules using the traditional, in-person seminar model, Gillen says, but converting the program to an Internet-based multimedia format will make the materials available on a much broader scale. “The coming generation of executives perceives the computer and the Internet as an extension of itself,” he says. “It’s the way they learn and do business.”
University College initiated its own series of online courses in 1997. The credit and noncredit courses are offered entirely over the Internet, without a residency period. Last fall, some 300 students enrolled in 19 online classes. Colley says approximately half the students in these classes lived on campus, but chose the online format to add flexibility or variety to their schedules. “They’re typically undergraduate, open enrollment courses,” Colley says. “We emphasize that these are not easier versions of campus classes, just a different format for certain people with certain needs.”
James A. Schwarz, a professor in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, says students in online courses have even more responsibility to keep up with coursework than students in traditional settings. “Probably the most frustrating thing is not seeing students respond as quickly as I’d like,” he says. Another challenge is keeping students’ attention. “Things don’t happen serially as they do in a classroom; they’re intermittent,” Schwarz says. “If you let them drift off too much, it takes a while for them to come back in.”
Schwarz’s course, Everyday Miracles in Science, introduces students to a range of scientific principles and demonstrates their practical uses. Using the TopClass interface, Schwarz posts notes and accompanying illustrations for that week’s topic in one window, and assignments and announcements in another. He logs into the system daily, usually from home, to check for completed assignments and messages from students. Though the class never meets face to face, Schwarz keeps things lively for students with a series of interesting experiments. “Remember Mr. Wizard?” he asks. “He would perform some razzamatazz, then actually explain the science behind it. I do it backwards in the web course—I spend the first five weeks going through some basic chemistry and physics. Their assignments are the Mr. Wizard part of things.”
One experiment involves a half-liter bottle of seltzer water and a teaspoon of raisins. “I give them specific instructions: Open up the seltzer water, immediately put the raisins into the seltzer, tap the bottle, and tell me what you see,” Schwarz explains. “And then tell me why it is you saw what you saw. The why is the important part. They can always tell me what they see.” What the students see are raisins floating to the top of the bottle, then sinking, then rising to the top again. The science behind the phenomenon is explained in Schwarz’s notes—carbon dioxide gas in the seltzer nucleates, or forms bubbles, upon the dimpled surface of the raisin, causing it to rise and fall as bubbles form and dissipate. Students write reports on their experiments and post them in TopClass for Schwarz.
The assignments have revealed a pitfall of the distance-learning format, Schwarz says. “One of the experiments involved steel wool,” he says. “I have a student from Korea, and he wrote me and said he didn’t know what steel wool was. I tried to explain it to him and told him he could probably get it in a hardware store or supermarket, and he wrote back and said he couldn’t find any.” It took some time, but Schwarz thought of a way to replicate steel wool and wrote back to the student. “I told him to get some iron nails and a metal file—they have those in Korea,” he explains. “Then file the nails to collect a pile of very fine particles.” The experiment called for iron with a very large surface-to-volume ratio. Steel wool was perfect, but small particles from the scrapings also worked. “You have to be very careful when you give an assignment,” Schwarz says. “In some cases, what might be very common to us is not necessarily that common to a student who’s halfway around the world.”