When Mount Saint Mary College welcomed students back for in-person and virtual instruction in August of 2020, professors – especially from the Mount’s School of Business – saw an opportunity to teach their students the value of doing business online.
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the business world was becoming increasingly digital. The need for social distancing has caused even more industry leaders to consider the benefits of remote work, noted Michael Fox, assistant professor of Business Law, Pre-Law advisor, and MBA coordinator at the Mount.
This semester, Fox turned his traditionally in-person presentation assignment into a virtual presentation via Zoom. Despite having both in-person and remote students in the class, he realized that remote presentations are quickly becoming the new norm in business practices. Fox wants all of his students, whether virtual or face-to-face, to practice using all of the platform’s features so they can feel confident in a remote business setting, he said.
The “new normal, and the shift in the business world to Zoom meetings rather than business travel and conferences” prompted the switch, which allows them to feel comfortable presenting in-person or virtually. “That will further hone their skills as they prepare to enter the world as business executives,” he explained.
For Fox’s colleague Anthony Scardillo, assistant professor of Marketing, remote learning isn’t completely new – he’s been using video conferencing for his marketing work since the early 1990s. “The current platforms, such as Zoom, are not foreign to me,” he noted. They “are much easier to use than some of the older technologies that required special connections, high-speed internet – not readily available back then – and sophisticated audio and video equipment.”
Scardillo is teaching four courses in the Mount’s Hy-Flex modality, which offers students both in-classroom and remote learning opportunities. This semester, Mount professors are utilizing many methods of instruction, from in-person to fully online/virtual – and everything in between. Under Hy-Flex, most courses, like Scardillo’s, are a blend of online and in-person elements, creating a hybrid learning experience.
Scardillo notes how important having the multiple modalities is for students who may need to be in quarantine. It gives them “the opportunity to still actively participate in the class,” he explained.
The experience has certainly challenged him to get creative as an educator, particularly regarding collaboration with other faculty.
“One of the highlights for me this semester is the sharing of ideas that this teaching modality has fostered...I have had the opportunity to learn new ideas on how to present, and have passed on some of my ‘best practices.’ That has been quite rewarding.” - Anthony Scardillo
“It can be very easy to just focus on the students in the classroom. That is what we are used to,” he explained. But for classes with remote and in-person students simultaneously, “you must remember that the screen to your left or right constitutes a significant percentage of your class.”
In the same way as virtual meetings now taking place daily across the country, education is also facing the challenge of creating common spaces across the digital divide. “One of the big things you have to remember is that even though we are more and more attuned to life in the eWorld and online interactions, you must make a concerted effort to create a classroom environment that conveys a sense of community and common learning,” Fox noted.
For educators and businesspeople alike, he suggests virtual engagement, such as developing polls for students to interact with while in-person students raise their hands, utilizing project and speaker capabilities so that all students can see and hear one another no matter where they are, and remembering to speak directly to the camera sometimes, as if it were another student in the room.
“Does it take some adjustment, and intentional focus, at first? Sure,” Fox concedes. “But it is not insurmountable, and soon becomes part of your regular teaching pedagogy.”