As part of series of articles looking at Imperial's innovative educators and their students, we speak with Dr David Lefevre from the Business School.
Some people see virtual education as an easy way of offering cut-price education, but not Dr David Lefevre. As the man who created Imperial’s first online degree programme, the Global MBA, he is clearly passionate about the benefits of this approach.
He says: “The Global MBA has been a great success. Students on the course are the most satisfied in the Business School, and Business School students are already some of the most satisfied at Imperial.”
The obvious benefit of a virtual degree is that students do not have to be on campus, or even in the same country, as the university (see box, right). Global MBA pupils visit South Kensington just twice over their two-year parttime course, once at the start of their first year and again at the start of their second.
“Our students are people who couldn’t study at Imperial in the traditional way because of their time-commitments or their location,” David explains. “And these are exactly the kind of student Imperial needs to have influence in business.”
To set up the programme, existing MBA course content had to be digitised – a massive undertaking but one that brings additional benefits. “We ran a pilot project last year for undergraduate engineering students. This allowed us to deliver online modules in topics such as economics, accounting and entrepreneurship to our campus based students, something that was previously impossible due to timetable clashes across departments.”
In addition, the capability built to support the Global MBA is now being expanded into Imperial’s partnership with edX, a non-profit organisation that offers free online education from some of the world’s best universities. Imperial’s first offering via edX is a series of courses designed to prepare students to pursue a full MBA.
The easy part is actually having the vision, says David, who notes that the technology is also constantly evolving and opening up possibilities. The challenging part, he asserts, relates to organisational change.
“Switching to online teaching and learning means that everyone involved has to do their job in a slightly different way.”
He explains that online learning forces teachers to approach lessons differently: “To deliver online courses our academic staff need to adopt a team approach, often working together with an instructional designer, teaching assistant and media specialists who develop the online courseware.”
Dr Lefevre says the whole process has taken around a decade but his motivation is clear: “We hope to use technology to enhance the learning experience of all students. For example, on a typical course students spend 80 per cent of their study time outside the classroom. This can be a very isolating experience but when students log in to our online environment they have access to help, support and a sense of community.”
The Global MBA programme is now led by Dr Paolo Taticchi, himself a Principal Teaching Fellow in Management and Sustainability at Imperial College Business School.
Dr Taticchi said: “Our Global MBA programme tends to be most popular with students whose personal circumstances mean that the only business education that works for them is online. The world of work has changed, and education needs to change with it. The most talented candidates coming to Imperial have demanding jobs, and often need to travel globally. Based on the feedback from students, I can see us reporting an increasing demand for the online MBA to GMAC for many years to come.”
Written by Kerry Noble with additional reporting by Andrew Czyzewski.
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