INSEAD is continually seeking ways to drive innovation in teaching methods and embrace cutting-edge approaches to virtual, hybrid and in-classroom course delivery. Many INSEAD students have documented their positive experiences of these approaches in a range of testimonials. But what is it that makes INSEAD’s classrooms – whether virtual or in-person – so engaging?
In the Know caught up with INSEAD’s Pushan Dutt, Professor of Economics and Political Science, and Georgina Hall, Assistant Professor of Decision Sciences, to understand how they are designing and developing courses that are equally effective for students in remote settings as they are face-to-face.
Mastering a cutting-edge digital approach
As a first step, the faculty has needed to get to grips with the innovative technology infrastructure INSEAD uses to support virtual interactions. These include INSEAD GO-Live rooms and dedicated Zoom rooms. Both platforms enable faculty in campus-based classrooms to interact in a live environment with students dialling in from home.
“My first real encounter with both Zoom and GO-Live came during lockdown. As I hadn’t used these tools before, it was definitely a bit of a scramble to figure out what works in terms of keeping students active and engaged,” recalls Dutt.
But after a period of adjustment, Dutt says that teaching online has quickly become second nature. For one thing, INSEAD’s virtual classroom set-up offers several large video screens so the teacher can see all students in one view.
“Once you can see the students’ faces close up, it’s much easier to read the room and understand whether students are following well or getting confused,” he explains.
The virtual classrooms allow INSEAD’s professors to engage actively with the students through quizzes and polls, and use a whiteboard to explain points. “I also tell students they can use the chat function as a private space to comment in real time on the lectures I give. I do not monitor the chat,” says Dutt. “All this is helpful in bringing in the intimacy and interactivity of real-world classrooms.”
Overcoming the challenges of online learning
At the same time, faculty members have needed to rethink the online experience they deliver to students if they are to maintain and even exceed INSEAD’s high-impact in-person approaches. One challenge has been combatting the reality of ‘Zoom fatigue’, where focusing on a computer screen drains energy faster, leaving students with less bandwidth to stay engaged in class.
Dutt’s response has included refining course material down to its core parts, creating leaner modules to reduce any possibility of information overload. For Hall, building in breathing spaces to classes has also been key to successfully teaching via video conferencing.
“I now deliver lessons in ten-minute increments, each topped with a two-minute break,” she says. “That way, students get a chance to reflect on what they’ve just learned, along with some downtime.”
Hall also encourages participation on the online platform with techniques such as cold calling, where the teacher selects who should respond to a question by name.
“When every student anticipates being asked, they think and engage in readiness. They stay involved, and you don’t have that 15-second silence where people are wondering whether to unmute their mics and start speaking,” she says.
“It’s been really helpful in encouraging people in a virtual environment to stay fully mentally present and enable more meaningful participation.”
Boosting students’ active involvement in the virtual classroom
As the professors acclimatised to the technology, they also began to appreciate certain freedoms that can be lacking in conventional classroom settings.
“In a virtual environment, it’s a simple matter to rapidly assign students to virtual breakout rooms where they can work through a task you’ve set in a timely and interactive way,” explains Hall. “It’s one instance of the online approach being arguably more effective than the more time-consuming in-person approach, and something I’ll be retaining going forward.”
Dutt agrees. “I like to run a lot of games in class, so I’ve also really enjoyed being able to use breakout rooms with live document sharing to enable that,” he reports.
“I can divide the class into groups and set them a task, and responses are posted onto a Google spreadsheet or document that everyone can immediately see and contribute to. It means I can get everyone to contribute to a question in less than two minutes, look at what everyone is saying to understand if there’s a pattern emerging, then deliver immediate real-time feedback. It’s very effective in encouraging llively classroom exchanges, where we examine different perspectives and challenge everyone’s assumptions.”
Delivering world-class business education
The professors agree that while the move to remote learning has not always been easy, it has brought with it an opportunity to experiment and innovate.
Piloting new virtual approaches and building on practices that have been proven to work is helping to create positive student experiences.
“There is no single preferred teaching method at INSEAD. The faculty is free to choose the method they believe fits best with the content of the session, so even before the pandemic, we were already offering a hybrid blend across campuses for some programmes,” Hall points out.
“Students were already experiencing a wide variety of teaching styles and techniques that mixed face-to-face or live virtual teaching with some pre-recorded components. What matters here is not the method chosen but the result: the effectiveness of the learning experience. Our recent shift to remote education has turbocharged this entire approach and made it stronger – we really know what works in the different settings now.”
Dutt puts it this way: “Looking ahead, whether students are able to return to campus or remain remote for longer, we have the virtual teaching capabilities and experience to enhance instruction permanently.”