The benefits of a virtual classroom

Jaclyn Conner is the Associate Dean of the Executive MBA program at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. She spoke to MBAGRADSCHOOLS about the school’s latest innovation around online learning: the Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms. She also shared some of the benefits of a virtual classroom and her thoughts on the future of online learning.

In short

What are the Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms?

The Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms at Emory University use cutting-edge technology in a sophisticated set-up to offer immersive, digital and hybrid learning experiences to its students.

“These Global Classrooms allow us to expand our boundaries and be able to offer Executive MBA programming as well as executive education and other opportunities to students all around the globe,” says Jaclyn. “We were really looking for a learning environment and atmosphere where we could expand not only the knowledge that we provide, but really expand our outreach to students and be able to provide a virtual learning experience that was really unique and different, as far as being able to incorporate other educational technologies and tools into the learning experience.” (00:30)

There are two formats of the Global Classrooms: hybrid and fully virtual. In the hybrid classroom, there are students who are physically in the classroom with the instructor, as well as students who are participating virtually. “Those students who are virtual are able to literally serve as an additional row in the classroom,” Jaclyn tells us. Virtual students are “able to participate as if they were physically in the space.” (01:52)

In the fully virtual Global Classrooms, the room is filled with a large wall of monitors, with each student’s face on one of those monitors. “From the student standpoint, they have multiple camera angles,” Jaclyn explains. “They’re also able to see the faculty member’s content. They can see their other classmates.” (04:18)

In short, the Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms provide a seamless experience for both students and faculty, in a time where many schools have struggled to adapt to digital and hybrid learning.

How do the Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms showcase the benefits of a virtual classroom?

“The goal of the Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms is to provide executive education and Executive MBA education to students anywhere in the world at a variety of points and time zones,” Jaclyn says. “The beauty of that is that we’re no longer bound by geography. It’s very important to be able to offer education to anyone in the world.” (05:39)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of students at the Goizueta Business School were located in the southeastern region of the United States. Today, “the outreach is completely broadened beyond what you ever could imagine,” Jaclyn states. “It really is beneficial to the students and to the greater community. We’re allowed to have conversations with a much more diverse group of students and that’s very important for our learning experiences, as well as for faculty members. That’s what this technology allows us to do.” (08:22)

Jaclyn reveals that the school was already thinking about setting up high-tech virtual and digital classrooms pre-pandemic. For years – not just at Goizueta Business School, but in higher education as a whole – students have demanded more flexibility. “The pandemic really fast-forwarded all this thinking and all this opportunity,” Jaclyn tells us. (09:22)

In times of moving forward, Jaclyn says, “The world has changed. We’re recognizing that we have to stop saying, ‘When will we go back to the old normal?’ The normal has forever changed. We’re willing to embrace that and accept that and explore what that means for all of us in a positive way.” (09:56)

Overcoming the stigma of online learning

Online learning is not a new invention. It has been around for decades – long before the pandemic.

A passionate advocate for online learning, Jaclyn is excited to see it finally come to the forefront. “Obviously, I didn’t want to have a global pandemic. But I am delighted that people now have been exposed to other modalities of teaching,” she says. “I think adult learners are very open to this mode of communication with global businesses taking place. Many people are leading virtual teams. That’s not going to go away; it’s only going to be enhanced.” (14:12)

Why did it take a global pandemic for everyone to embrace online learning?

“Online learning has had a stigma associated with it for many years,” Jaclyn explains. “People have been very skeptical of online learning in the past. What does it really mean? Can you perform online learning at the same level of quality?” (15:07)

As we’ve seen, some have been slower to adapt to change, while others have embraced change and new technologies.

Jaclyn is hopeful that the future will only shine a stronger light on online learning. “I really believe that the next generation of young learners are going to show us even more than what we have ever seen before, so there’s a lot more to come in this space,” she tells us. “I think we all need to buckle up and get ready for the ride.” (16:51)

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