November 25, 2014

Haas to Launch Three Digital Classroom Pilots

Tapping into new cutting-edge technologies, the Haas School is launching three digital courses on a pilot basis starting this summer to optimize the teaching opportunities offered by this game-changing medium.

"Digital education is revolutionizing how we teach, including our traditional courses. It already affords us new and deeper ways to customize how students absorb material and how they link it to their own interests," says Dean Rich Lyons. "This is the future. We need to shape it─and be a leader."

Lyons also has been asked to serve on a new executive group that is steering UC Berkeley's participation in online learning.

The first online course, to be rolled out at Haas in June, is Data and Decisions, a prerequisite for the school's Evening & Weekend MBA Program.

In the undergraduate program, Lecturer Tiffany Rassmusen will begin teaching Professional Judgment in Accounting online starting in July. And finally, Associate Professor Cameron Anderson will begin teaching his popular MBA elective Power and Politics course online to both full-time and evening and weekend students in Fall B. He will also offer the course in the classroom to full-time students during Fall A.

"We specifically selected quantitative and qualitative courses and faculty with different teaching styles," says Jay Stowsky, Haas senior assistant dean for instruction. "Haas also is using three different vendors to implement the pilots to better learn about the effectiveness of different approaches to development of online education courses."

Funds from a $1 million matching gift from Steve and Susan Chamberlin, MBA 87, former members of the Haas faculty, are being used to cover the costs of the pilots. The gift also will help pilot initiatives at other UC Berkeley professional schools, including the College of Engineering, Graduate School of Education, School of Information, and School of Public Health.

The faculty members have spent months rethinking their courses for the new format. "We're building in both synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences that take advantage of the online medium," explains Adam Berman, Haas' executive director of emerging initiatives, who is leading Haas’ online activities as well as a consortium of UC Berkeley professional schools to explore online education.

"One of the biggest advantages is this: when I go in and teach a class, I’m teaching the same thing to all 30, 60, or 100 students and I don’t fully know whether my students understand the material. Online there’s not only a way to understand whether students are progressing but also which concepts are challenging for students to learn. This will allow faculty to tailor instruction to each student. That’s a huge difference," adds Berman.

For example, students will complete an assessment before taking their online class so that the instructor knows more about them. Then, if the instructor knows a student is interested in health care, he or she can tailor the content to include more examples in that field.

The technology also enables instructors to build new features into their courses. Anderson, for instance, notes that for years he has wanted to create an exercise to accompany a lesson on the importance of resources to power–resources ranging from a team to a position in an organization to expertise. Haas' outside partner, with surprisingly minimal feedback required from Anderson, created an online game called "King of the Hill" that involves gold mining to illustrate the points from Anderson's class.

"It's pretty darn clever," Anderson says. "Through trading gold, students experience and learn the ins and outs of political corruption."

Although the content in Anderson's online course will be the same as in the in-person version, he believes the digital course may prove even more effective for a few reasons.

Anderson's online class, which was oversubscribed several times over, will involve one day a week of synchronous learning for as long as an hour and a half (compared to approximately three hours in the classroom version). During that time, all students will log onto their computers for a variety of learning activities through an online portal.

Anderson believes that format will work better at creating a level playing field for students who may be less likely to speak up in class. "This is a much safer environment that pushes them to contribute a lot more," Anderson says. "I think there is going to be a ton more participation."

He also believes students will learn more from each other than in the in-class version because they will be required to have more group discussions on their own. And he expects students will learn more because they will be going at their own pace. "I've heard from my students that my class is like drinking from a fire hose," Anderson acknowledges. "This online approach allows for self-paced learning that I think will benefit students in their busy, time-constrained lives."

Why did Anderson want to be one of the first faculty members to dip his feet into the world of online education? "When I was in college I was taking a comparative religions course that I wasn't doing well in, and I realized it was because I was distracted in class," he recalls.

By luck, the professor offered an audio recording of the class. After listening to that, Anderson found his performance "went through the roof" because he could stop the tape when he didn't understand something and then replay or pause to think about a point the professor made.

Plus, he adds, "I like the idea of using new innovative technology to convey content in ways that will engage and teach students even more."

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