Since beginning their MBA journey earlier this year, Imperial’s Weekend MBA 2020-21 cohort have demonstrated their considerable ability to adapt to unforeseen change and unexpected challenges.
Following their remote induction in April, this talented group of career-driven individuals have experienced their programme in a different way to they were perhaps expecting. Taking advantage of Imperial College Business School’s blended ‘multi-mode’ delivery approach, they have successfully swapped their regular on-campus weekend sessions for a combination of remote learning and secure face-to-face teaching (government restrictions permitting).
As the rollercoaster of 2020 continues to unfold, two Weekend MBA candidates share their experience of multi-mode delivery on the programme. From Zoom lectures to campus restrictions and bonding remotely with newly formed syndicate groups, Nina Lynn and Danielle Onyemaobi provide an insight into the unexpected benefits and challenges they’ve faced throughout this unprecedented year.
Nina Lynn: the two experiences of remote learning and on-campus sessions
Customer Success Manager, Sea/ by Maritech,
Weekend MBA 2020-21
The Imperial Weekend MBA – the programme you didn’t expect to be participating in from your living room! When the College announced a fully remote first term for the Weekend MBA 2020 cohort, I will admit I was skeptical. I was not looking forward to online learning having enjoyed the classroom experience so much during my undergrad.
After months of Zoom lectures, breakout rooms, “can you all see my screen?”, and appearances by our classmates’ kids, dogs, and significant others, we wondered if we were ever going to meet each other in person. Eventually, after asking ourselves “Will we? Won’t we?” several times, the programme team advised us that the Business School would be pursuing a multi-modal delivery for the autumn term, with strict guidelines in place to ensure our safety. This meant lecture halls capped at 35 people, everyone else remoting in via Zoom, masks to be worn at all times and plenty of hand sanitiser! We all raced to fill out our surveys to grab a coveted on-campus spot.
I was fortunate enough to be on campus for the first two teaching weekends this term. I had the usual first-day excitement butterflies in my stomach, though it felt strange to stand six feet apart from my classmates who I had felt so close to via Zoom. As excited as I was to be in the classroom (where I feel I learn best) I really missed everyone who was joining remotely and wished they could be on campus with us too.
Our professors’ co-pilots (people assigned specifically to support the faculty in the delivery of multimodal lectures) adjusted to their roles and did a great job making the experience as seamless as possible by switching cameras on and off, zooming in and out, passing microphones, and managing the range of inputs for content sharing. After this first on-campus experience, I was worried that my projected remote weekends in November and December were going to be disappointing in comparison.
Having just finished my first weekend remoting into the lecture theatre, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. While I of course prefer learning in-person, I found that being a virtual part of a live lecture can be just as engaging. I felt I had the convenience of having the lecture theatre in my house!
The co-pilots are helpful in diagnosing any audio problems in the room, and while nothing can ever be perfect, they really have made their best efforts to ensure the remote attendees have the best experience possible. Professors do their best to keep the remote students involved in discussion and encourage people to ask questions; for in-class exercises, they even arranged mixed in-person and virtual groups to maximise interaction. One pro tip for fellow remote learners – switch to the lecture hall’s camera, rather than the shared content, to see where the lecturers are pointing and feel more “there”!
Taking everything into consideration, I’ve become a believer in the multi-modal way of learning - all the benefits of a live class, including being put on the spot and the odd technological hiccup, but with the benefits of being in my own home (like easy access to the kitchen of course!) and minus the distraction of wearing a mask!
Danielle Onyemaobi: managing multi-mode study in my syndicate group
Programme Management Consultant
At the beginning of the Weekend MBA programme we were assigned syndicate groups to help us complete some of our assignments. Though some people would prefer to work alone, syndicate groups have been proven to encourage collaborative learning. The aim is to get students working in teams and thereby act as proxies for a functional or business setting, so this skillset is transferable. Imperial set us up in groups of five within the same time zone, which was very much appreciated! Within my syndicate, we have people from many different walks of life and with varying levels of experience in everything from finance to marketing and project/product management.
When it comes to working with your syndicate, there are a few things it’s useful to know. Firstly, ask the fundamental question "what do you hope to get out of the MBA?”. Everyone has different motivations and the answer could be grades, experience, a network, or something else entirely. I’ve found that answering this question is the key to managing expectations. For my syndicate group, both good grades and the experience of the MBA were the most common shared priorities.
Following the April lockdown, the question of virtual networking and getting value while studying were on everyone’s mind; however, Imperial were quick to address this by sending us to a break-out room during our virtual induction, where we could immediately get to know one another. We quickly proceeded to create a syndicate WhatsApp group - this allowed us to banter and get to know each other before our first official call.
Our first meeting on Zoom saw us focus primarily on understanding each other’s personalities, something which would prove crucial to our working relationship. Being aware of the challenges we would face during the pandemic, we decided early on to agree which tools we would use to help us collaborate. Thankfully, Imperial provided several different options (SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, Zoom etc.) and we’ve found it easy to communicate and collaborate throughout the year.
When it came to working on our very first group assignment, we chose to start with individual research on the topic to encourage personal participation and allow us to gather our thoughts separately before reconvening. The next Zoom meeting was spent deciding on the report format, splitting the report/presentation into different sections and assigning individual accountability. A general agreement on who would be the project lead followed (based on everyone’s strengths) and this person was assigned responsibility for consolidating the final report, review and submission after group approval. We found this way of working is extremely effective, even in a remote setting, and we have followed this formula for every assignment since!
With family and work commitments, one of the advantages of a collaborative tool like Zoom has been the ability to ensure weekly/bi-weekly team meetings take place at a time convenient for all the group members, without the constant need to travel to and from a physical location. We have to pay homage to the children who often appear right in the middle of team discussions to ask for any number of things; this experience would not be the same without them!
As challenging as it can be to cultivate virtual relationships with your peers and lecturers, it is not impossible and can be just as enriching as in-person interaction when managed in the right way. By utilising all of the tools made available to us, and working together to collaborate in the most effective way possible, the overall experience of remote/multi-mode learning has been overwhelmingly positive, and I look forward to finishing the programme with the rest of my incredible cohort as we head into the new year.