A Technological Makeover for Traditional MBA Classroom


All sorts of advanced technological innovations, artificial intelligence to virtual reality are transforming the traditional classrooms at top business schools across the globe, catering to the students who seek a learning experience without being tied down to a particular place or timeframe.

It’s time to switch over to the virtual classrooms, known as Oxford Hub for International Virtual Education (HIVE) at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, the “WOW room” at IE Business School, Madrid and HBX Live at Harvard Business School.

Add to these the data visualisation labs at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto and Europe’s biggest data observatory at London’s Imperial College Business School. The way we learn is certainly undergoing a sea change.

The HIVE, in its physical appearance, resembles a high tech conference facility, with 27 high definition screens that form a U shape in a seminar room. However, the technology – developed and installed by SyncRTC, and operated by their Mashme.io software – is far more sophisticated than a traditional conferencing platform.

It employs robotics, facial recognition technology and 4D high definition projections to create a uniquely immersive learning and teaching experience.

The class leaders can engage with up to 84 participants, who can access the session via Mashme.io.  The technology is fully interactive. The teacher can address the participants individually, split them into groups and conduct real-time polls. The participants can see and hear one another.  The software also monitors the level of attentiveness in each individual, which it judges and scores based on their facial expressions and engagement with the class.

“This learning space takes us to the next level of our commitment to technology immersion. We have invested 25 million euros in innovative learning projects over the last 15 years, a strategy which has gained us recognition as the best business school in the world for online MBAs. 

“The Oxford HIVE will be employed for a variety of uses – from classes to ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitching competitions. However, we are particularly excited about its potential to enhance our program portfolio by allowing busy students to connect with teachers and fellow students from anywhere in the world,” says Mark Bramwell, Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of Professional Services at Oxford Saïd.

Peter Tufano, Peter Moores Dean at the School says while “the Oxford experience is an integral part of our approach, the methods by which we teach and learn are changing…The Oxford HIVE will allow us to teach, learn and share ideas as a global community, and we see it as a crucial tool to unite our global community in support of our mission to tackle world-scale challenges.

‘It will also allow our alumni to reassemble virtually as if here in Oxford. In a hive, bees work to make honey. At the Oxford HIVE, we will work to build knowledge,” he adds.

IE’s WOW (Window on the World) Room, in the Madrid campus, has 48 screens that comprise a digital tapestry of 45m2 shaped in the form of a “U” and with up to 200 degree vision. The hardware includes 2 tactile screens and cameras that permit the recording and editing of sessions in real time.

It also provides advanced video collaboration solutions that require low broadband levels to ensure effective participation of students using any kind of device from anywhere in the world. “The WOW Room allows students to connect and collaborate no matter where they are, even if the only way they can join is through their mobile phone at the airport”, says Jolanta Golanowska, Director of Learning Innovation at IE.

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“This learning space takes us to the next level of our commitment to technology immersion. We have invested 25 million euros in innovative learning projects over the last 15 years, a strategy which has gained us recognition as the best business school in the world for online MBAs. The WOW Room will simulate real situations in which some 100 professors and over 1,000 students from 130 countries will take part over the course of the first year,” says DiegoAlcázar Benjumea, Vice President of the School.

“Students will take decisions under pressure. They will find themselves in the midst of business crises, be required to define production processes in factory environments, negotiate war situations and resolve diplomatic conflicts between countries, to name just a few potential scenarios,” he adds.

Professors will either be physically present in the WOW Room or will be projected in hologram form and moved around the room by a robot in order to interact with students. In addition to simulations, they will use artificial intelligence and big data analysis on large screens. They will receive student participation statistics and propose votes on subjects of debate to promote collaboration. All classes will be recorded to enable subsequent access and reviewing of content,” he adds.

Patrick Mullane, executive director of Harvard’s virtual classroom, HBX Live, is also upbeat about the future of online learning. The feedback from the students has been that they learnt more and retained the information longer than if they had taken an on-campus program, he says.

However, he strikes a note of caution regarding certain aspects. While the online format is able to replicate the networking aspect of on-campus programs to some extent, participants from around the world in large anonymous courses who watch the same videos and interact on message boards or via email may miss out on the richer networking opportunities in the campus.


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