The Chicago Booth Experience During COVID-19
One of many hallmarks of the Chicago Booth MBA is flexibility. While this has mainly referred to the curriculum and course scheduling (e.g. MBA students only have one required course, and can tailor the rest of their studies), it’s been put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we hear from Nadeem Khan, Chicago Booth MBA ’20, the community has risen to the challenge—and continues to pass with flying colors. Read on for Khan’s account of professors moving lessons online, how student clubs are coping and more about the leading business school’s flexibility.
How is the online classroom experience going at your school? What’s different about it?
The one thing that has stood out in my experience at Chicago Booth has been the rich discussions in classes, and the constant back and forth between students and professors where ideas dominate the classroom. Consequently, when we heard that all classes during Spring Quarter would be online, we were curious of what the experience would be like. While it is hard to recreate the classroom environment like-for-like in an online setting, I have been pleasantly surprised by my experience so far.
Overall, professors have toyed with different teaching methodologies, using a mix of recorded lectures, offline assignment submissions, interactive “in-class” synchronized discussions, and online break-out groups. This combination has worked pretty well, and I have really enjoyed my classes in the online world. I have also been extremely impressed by the effort the faculty has put in to preserve the classroom spirit and recreate the classroom experience. Most importantly, professors have not tried to just deliver the classroom material into the online world, but have developed tailored materials for this quarter.
For example, Professor Laura Born who teaches the course “Cases in Financial Management,” a highly interactive and discussion-based class, held two “practice” sessions with a subset of students to test out ways the class can run smoothly. In our first class she was extremely prepared: armed with three screens, excel models altered for Zoom, PowerPoint slides that had blanks that she could fill in to recreate a white board. Furthermore, she well understood the mellow mood (due to the virus) of the students and tried to make the class more upbeat by holding a music competition where each of us sent in our favorite songs, which she played during the breaks and before class!
What is the technology platform your school is using to deliver classes online? Does it vary from class to class?
Chicago Booth has decided to use Zoom to deliver online classes, and the format is consistent across all classes, town halls, webinars, and talks organized by the school.
How are you maintaining relationships with your classmates, professors, and other b-school community members during this time period?
With the lockdown in place until at least the end of April, the school administration, our student government (Graduate Business Council or GBC), and individuals within the community have stepped up to ensure that we can be connected and supportive of each other in these difficult times.
The school administration has organized town halls with the Dean, the Deputy Dean, and the Career Services team, who have taken out time to answer questions that are on top of mind for students, and also discuss the school’s plans going forward. This has helped bring some clarity in an environment of uncertainty. In addition, Booth professors who have been at the frontlines of thought leadership to understand and combat the impact of the virus, have taken out time to do webinars with students to share their point of view. For example, the Stigler Center at Chicago Booth has developed online programming called the “Political Economy of COVID-19 Series” to explore the global economic and political implications of COVID-19 with leading academics and experts. These avenues have been great for providing credible and trustworthy information, at a time when we need it most.
The GBC has developed an exclusive virtual social events calendar that has allowed us to engage with other members of the community while we socially distance. These include virtual game nights, cooking classes, Sommelier training(!), language classes, and online trivia sessions. This period has also allowed us to uncover hidden and fascinating interests that other members of the community have! People have self-organized online sessions on the study of rocks and minerals, introduction to meditation techniques, guitar lessons, and a 101 on the Mahabharata (a Sanskrit epic of ancient India)!
In addition, welcoming recent admitted students into the community is a big part of the tradition at Booth. With our annual “First Day” admitted student weekend cancelled, the team has organized “Virtual First Day”—a five-week event that allows new members of the community to get to know the school better and connect with existing students. Admits have been divided into small groups with 6-7 existing students acting as squad leaders. Each of the squads have organized virtual happy hours that allow people to get to know each other. Furthermore, new admits have had an opportunity to experience classes, interact with professional student groups through webinars, and attend presentations by various learning centers at the school!
If you are active in any clubs, how has their work continued?
As with most other events happening on campus, the activities of clubs have also moved online. Professional groups such as the Management Consulting Group have limited activities in the Spring Quarter, as the major focus is planning for the incoming academic year. Groups such as the Booth Technology Group, which sees a lot of programming in this quarter aligned with recruiting timelines, have had more of an impact. Large events such as the Tech Conference and company visits have been indefinitely postponed, with other programming such as lunch and learns and roundtables moved online. What has been most heartening to see is how members of these groups who have already secured full time/summer offers have stepped up to provide help to those still looking. This has taken the form of online coaching sessions, resume/cover letter reviews, and connecting people to Booth alums or other people in their networks.
Non-professional groups such as the Dance Club and AudioBooth have used this opportunity to bring the community closer, allowing more people to get involved. For example, the Dance Club has organized online dance classes, such as a Barre workshop, and AudioBooth has set-up online music lessons for the less talented! In some sense, there is a silver lining to this period, as the extra free time has allowed us to pick up old hobbies and give them another shot!
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