How Do Baylor MBA Professors Teach Change Management? They Lead By Example

August 13, 2020
News - Flipping the Switch
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By Kristin Kaden Dreyer

According to an article in US News, prospective MBA students desire an MBA degree to facilitate a career change or allow them to increase their compensation, as evidenced by a 25% jump in Baylor's full-time MBA enrollment for the incoming class this fall.

Yet how do professors support Baylor MBA's long-held hallmarks of student relationships and team-based learning when the delivery format switches from in-person to online programs?

"It's a myth that we can't build strong relationships online," says Ann M. Mirabito, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing and a member of Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business graduate faculty. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a rapid shift in the field of telemedicine, suggesting that physicians and therapists can have strong relationships with their patients via a remote connection. "If the medical community can do it, we know that professors and students can, too," says Mirabito, who goes on to say that relationships are built on mutual trust, whether connections are made online or in person. "What matters to students is that we are genuinely interested in them and that we're thoughtfully preparing them for rewarding careers," she says.

Developing Deeper Personal Connections between Faculty and Students

While online MBA programs have been in existence for more than 30 years, it has only been a matter of months that on-the-ground MBA programs have shifted to a combination of online and hybrid/in-person classes. Office hours and individual, private meeting times-a staple of professors making connections with their students-become even more important, despite being done online. According to professors, it takes work on both sides of the student/teacher relationship to build these connections using this virtual format.

"Student-professor relationships are really no different than friend relationships. Both take effort," says Mirabito. She offers students some easy suggestions for building relationships online, especially during Zoom videoconferences. "Keep your webcam turned on and join in the discussions orally or use Zoom's chat feature," she says. Mirabito discourages ghosting (when students paste a static picture of themselves in a Zoom conference). "We connect emotionally when we see each other laugh or frown," she adds.

Stacie Petter, Ph.D., professor of information systems and a member of Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business graduate faculty, agrees. She stresses the importance of not only attending office hours but being an active participant during the online time. Her office hours are designed so that students can attend individually, join as a group, or just meet fellow classmates. "Students can drop in for a short time or stay for a while based on their needs," she says. "But it's important that students don't just sit in and listen to other conversations; rather, I expect them to ask questions about the course content, course logistics, or discuss a shared interest and have a meaningful conversation. I encourage students to find confidence in reaching out to ask questions before they find themselves struggling too much with content in the course," she adds.

April Rowsey, lecturer of business communication and information systems and a member of Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business graduate faculty, noted that learners in her Spring classes got to know her more as a person than just a faculty member during this rapid transition to online learning. "During one of our live virtual class sessions, my three-year-old son snuck into my home office/guest bedroom, launched himself off the bed, and attached himself to me like a koala bear. After a brief moment of stunned silence, laughter erupted as students got an opportunity to see me as a parent in addition to a professional educator. I used it as a teachable moment to remind them that only a few years earlier, BBC Dad, worried that he would lose his job for being interrupted by his family during a live, Skype interview from his home office. It was a great opportunity to highlight just how much our business communication has evolved."

Baylor MBA professor April Rowsey chats virtually with a student.

To more closely replicate the experience of in-person activities, faculty members use innovative approaches that build personal relationships. Mirabito meets students individually via Zoom before classes begin in order to get to know them. Petter builds a discussion board that encourages students to post a picture of their workspace, loved ones or an interest, e.g., family, pets or a favorite sports team. "We are even scheduled to have a group discussion board for a virtual potluck where students share a picture of one of their meals, a favorite recipe or food. It was a great success and a fun way to build rapport."

In addition, most professors share their mobile number with their students so that they have quick access to help, should a student be stumped on a homework assignment or want to discuss their career plans.

The Bonus of Online Learning

Professors and students have been pleasantly surprised by the positive effects of going online. Recent applicants for admission to the Baylor Executive MBA program haven't been deterred by the prospect of joining the program virtually if necessary, according to Rowsey. "Most of these working professionals have already experienced the shift to online/remote/virtual in their career roles so they understand first-hand that this pandemic might impact the way they join the program initially but that experiencing online and virtual classroom collaboration can still produce valuable experiences," she says. "In many ways, learning virtually in an MBA program mirrors the learning that is expected to take place in the workplace these days."

Mirabito agrees, commenting, "I've discovered students can learn as much or more in an online class." She believes online course delivery can be very efficient. "Rather than delivering a lecture in class, I record lectures for students to watch before class. Our class time focuses on discussion and exercises that promote deep learning," she says.

Baylor MBA professor Dr. Ann Mirabito prepares for her 'Comparing Apples and Oranges' lecture.

For Petter, she's enjoyed finding creative solutions to delivering content. "Planning and delivering online and hybrid courses can take an extensive amount of time," she says. "But I have enjoyed thinking about how to use both high- and low-tech approaches to find ways for students to learn. I love coming up with my own out-of-the-box solutions to explain concepts and to help students engage with the material, which I hope students find useful."

Certain Core Principles Are Proven & Timeless

While so much seems to have changed overnight, professors agree that many core principles of MBA classes remain the same.

"Most business communication tenets are stable, regardless of the delivery format," says Baylor's Rowsey. "It's still important to craft a persuasive opening in a presentation or in your professional written discourse," she says. "Filler words need to be removed. Structure and tone are important. Audience engagement is the goal. At the same time, I often remind students to assume that they should always assume that the default engagement setting with an online audience is zero. Email notifications, pets, kids; the list of distractions is endless so you'll want to ensure your delivery is sharp, your content clear, and your visuals are rich and appropriate. And you have to be prepared for anything, including, audio or connection problems or time-shortened meetings."

Petter, who recognizes that though out-of-the-box thinking for statistics and business analytics can be valuable, shares that it's important for students to recognize the best practices to approach business problems, even during a pandemic. "Businesses shift their organizations using information technology to address current issues," she says. But what's important is for students to identify how to best use tried and true practices or learn when innovation is needed when using data for decision making."

Learning from Real-Time, Real-World Examples

Agility and flexibility is likely to be key for MBA programs to thrive during times of economic shifts and global instability, according to an article in the Financial Times, which goes on to say that the core parameters of how MBAs are delivered will be "changed forever." Baylor professors agree that the dynamic environment created by the world-wide pandemic provides opportunities for a teachable curriculum that is current and relevant.

"Covid-19 has accelerated changes that were already underway," says Mirabito. "But it doesn't change the foundation of good marketing--that of improving people's well being while meeting organizational goals." These principles are just as true today as they were pre-Covid-19." Mirabito helps students to understand that strong marketers need the research skills to sense changing consumer preferences. "The tactics are always changing, but crafting valuable goods and services to build relevant brands doesn't change--even in a pandemic," she says. "The key is for students to internalize the core marketing principles so they can quickly reimagine marketing in a way that resonates with buyers."

Mirabito points to industries like technology, software and pharmaceuticals that have boomed during the pandemic. She weaves into her course fresh marketing examples, kicking off each class session with a real-world business example that students have found. Recently, students have spotlighted Tesla, Glossier, Apple and Chipotle. "We peel back the layers to assess how the brand illustrates or extends core marketing principles. This way, students are internalizing marketing principles rather than simply cataloging new examples. I remind them that good marketing isn't about gimmicks."

Petter's curriculum spotlights how data is captured, stored, analyzed, and interpreted for decision making by organizations like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, a timely topic in today's increasingly online business environment. "In class, talk about why organizations collect data and what is the organization's (and the consumer's) responsibility with this collection and use of data," she says. "We discuss how this data can include bias that affects decision making. These issues haven't changed during the pandemic, nor has the speed of technology or data collection/sharing changed. I teach students to be aware that if they are missing data, it can create bias that has negative consequences.

Feedback Along the Way

Professors are used to measuring student feedback through surveys and interpersonal interaction. Through digital classrooms, they look for other methods of insight as to student engagement and progress.

Rowsey, whose class in Management Communication is one of the first courses that MBA candidates take, teaches a model for giving and receiving feedback. "About halfway into the semester, I explain that we are going to use a feedback tool, where they are going to provide feedback on aspects of my course," she says. "I explain that this is a model used extensively in the business world, and I invite them to use the framework to highlight three specific areas of the course that are effective already, followed by three specific areas that can and should be changed in order to enhance effectiveness. This simple exercise encourages the use of the feedback framework and I'm always impressed by the measure of thoughtfulness of their recommendations. By 'walking the talk' I show them that I am open to suggestions and feedback, which is especially important as we try out new online methods."

Mirabito welcomes students' suggestions, adding that it's been especially important during the shift to online teaching. "For example, students really like polls and breakout rooms and so those are a big part of our online program," she says.

Petter says students only know if they are really learning statistics and analytics if they try to solve problems on their own and receive feedback. Her classes include frequent learning checks to help students identify if they have learned the content from the videos and practice problems. The incorporation of frequent feedback regarding their understanding of content offers students an opportunity to see if they are really learning these skills prior to the exam. "If there are frequently missed questions, this provides feedback to me as an instructor to create another video, offer additional practice problems, or provide more clarity during office hours or class on various topics," she says.

About Baylor's MBA Programs

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