Virtual Classroom • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Virtual Classroom

Valparaiso University's MBA program is one of the best in the country, and has been cited by Princeton Review seven years running. But there was one problem-making it easy for full-time working professionals, who comprise two-thirds of the program's enrollment, to get their degree. Many of them traveled and entertained for work, and then there were the single moms with young children.
“We tried to come up with a way to help them all stay on task even if they couldn't be in class, and what we came up with is a system called MBA Live,” says Bruce N. MacLean, director of the Graduate School of Business.
What began as a stopgap measure to help students connect remotely when necessary developed into a vehicle for the Graduate School of Business to share intellectual property with the rest of the world.

Bringing Students Together

It took two years of testing, and in the summer of 2010 the university took the leap and invested $100,000 to create a classroom that accommodated the MBA Live technology. Today all of its MBA courses utilize this technology.
The classroom consists of three tiers of long, curved tables with built-in microphones that pick up student discussions as well as comments from the professor, who wears a mike. Everything said in the classroom can be picked up by remote students who connect to the class via computer. A 55-inch LCD monitor on the back wall creates a virtual “fourth row,” where images of students who are attending remotely are displayed.
What the remote student sees is a divided screen, with a large section for displaying PowerPoint presentations or other data and a smaller section that provides a visual of the speaker-the professor, guest speaker or students. Selecting an icon of a person with his arm raised from the toolbar sends a message to the instructor that the remote student has a question or comment. “Their voice comes right over the PA system, and they can participate in the classroom as though they were actually here,” MacLean says.
The technology has also assisted the program in obtaining quality guest speakers. “It is very difficult to get speakers to travel to Valparaiso to speak to us,” MacLean says. “But it's very easy for them to give 10 minutes of their time if they can do it right from their own office.” Another bonus is that the technology can handle huge amounts of data, allowing students to perform statistical analysis on real BMW data-data is several years old and obtained through an alliance with software company SAP-rather than performing a simple example from the text.

Taking It Global

“We are starting small,” MacLean says. “Right now we are primarily servicing our local students, although we do have students from all over the country that attend remotely. But eventually our plans are to expand this on a national and international basis.” Nearly 16 percent of students enrolled in Valparaiso's MBA program are international students, but in recent years it has become very expensive for international students to come to the United States and extremely difficult for them to obtain visas. MBA Live offers an alternative for delivering the classes wherever they are requested.
Currently the university is in negotiation with a company in India to license the school's intellectual property and broadcast its MBA classes to India. “India doesn't have a single accredited business program in the entire country,” MacLean says. “Industry there needs MBAs with an American-style education, and they can't get it. “This is likely just the beginning. The university has contacts all over the world and with MBA Live it now has the delivery tool it needs to take its MBA program global.


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