In October 2018, Imperial College Business School is launching the first ever online MSc Business Analytics programme, designed by Imperial’s award-winning educational technology team, the Edtech Lab.
Sarah Grant, Manager of Online Learning Design, and Charlotte von Essen, Senior Learning Designer, have been integral in designing the online programme. Their task is to translate the MSc Business Analytics on-campus programme into the digital sphere.
The online programme contains very rigorous technical, programming and analytical content. Translating this online is no easy feat, but they have risen to the challenge.
We speak to Sarah and Charlotte about how they designed the programme, facilitate interactions between students in an online setting and utilise the bespoke learning platform, The Hub.
What makes the programme better than anywhere else?
They have designed an innovative new programme and are confident that the content and delivery approach is superior to other MSc Business Analytics programmes. Sarah explains:
The advantage of this programme is that it is designed from the ground up to teach analytics and big data tools in the context of business problems. It’s a skills-based programme which has real and immediate business application. In this sense, it’s unique.
Charlotte tells us more about the features of the bespoke online learning environment:
The user experience on The Hub is cleaner and more intuitive. The functionality is superior compared to other platforms as The Hub has been designed specifically for business education. We have a lot of room for pushing educational and technological boundaries.
Designing the online programme
A huge advantage of creating the MSc Business Analytics (online delivery, part-time) is that the programme material is established and in its third year as a programme. This allows the Edtech team to build the new online delivery alongside the programme, meaning the content is the same, just delivered in a different way.
Sarah and Charlotte used the on-campus programme as a resource and attended the core modules with MSc Business Analytics students. This has given them an in-depth understanding of the programme. Sarah said:
We’ve started building alongside the running of the on-campus programme. So, we’ve had the opportunity to jump into classrooms and actually see how it has been taught. We then creatively reimagine the modules online.
By attending the on-campus classes, they have been able to get a good understanding of the faculty members’ teaching styles, discovered ideas for exercises and tasks, made a note of small anecdotes and picked up on student questions. This has enabled them to add a personalised, human touch to the programme, which is something the Edtech lab really aims for when designing online provision.
In terms of content, Sarah and Charlotte work collaboratively with the programme faculty to re-work the on-campus material for online delivery. They create a module outline by mapping across the learning outcomes onto the weekly sessions and then collaborate with the faculty to think about how best to deliver the content. Sarah reflects:
Working with faculty can be extremely rewarding. It’s a luxury to be able to work alongside leading practitioners in the field and to work together to create possibilities for new modes of teaching.
What does the online delivery look like?
Programme content is sorted by week and segmented into bite-sized chunks with a time indication of how long it will take students to complete each activity. Charlotte said:
The online version has a clear, coherent narrative. The activities scaffold the learning so that students feel well-supported throughout. Breaking down the module into distinct tasks, videos, readings, live sessions, assessments and feedback helps learners achieve their educational goals.
The programme is designed to be as flexible as possible. Students can download video presentations to their device and watch them on their own time.
There are two or three live classes per module, each run twice to accommodate for time-zone differences. Live classes are synchronous learning opportunities held with the lecturer or teaching assistant (TA). These interactive classes can be used to introduce complex topics, which is especially useful for difficult topics such as machine learning.
There is also work involving software that occurs outside of The Hub. Sarah said:
We want students using the software and tools that they are actually going to be required to use in their jobs. For example, students use Spyder to programme in the Python language and Excel and AMPL to solve sophisticated optimisation problems.
For students who are working whilst studying, they will be able to apply their skills immediately. All students will be competent programming in Python by the end of the first module.
Facilitating interaction on The Hub
An important part of studying Business Analytics is the ability to troubleshoot problems and work with your peers. The Edtech Lab has implemented a variety of features into this programme to ensure this interaction is facilitated in the online space. Charlotte said:
I don’t know where students will have problems with the content. Therefore, if they have problems with certain elements of the content, we need to ensure within delivery that they can get support and deal with the issues.
We are excited to reveal that students will be using Slack Workspace as their communication channel, a new feature which is unique to this programme. While there is a discussion forum built into the Hub, Slack is the tool that developers typically use, and the students will have to use in their jobs going forward. Slack will be used as a troubleshooting place where teaching assistants can help to support students solve problems. Charlotte said:
Although the programme is designed to encourage and empower students to search for their own solutions to problems, it will also build a community of peers and leverage the possibilities of group learning.
The Edtech Lab have also introduced interactive and social video capability for the first time. Social video is where a pre-recorded lecture plays alongside social learning functionality including being able to ‘like’ something, add comments or ask questions in real-time.
Students can also book on to online drop-in sessions with the teaching assistants. These sessions take place in online spin-up classrooms with video and screen sharing capabilities to ensure that all students have access to one-to-one support.
Overall, the MSc Business Analytics (online delivery, part-time) is carefully scaffolded and well-supported. We fully anticipate that students will find this programme an enriching, educational experience.