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Robert Cooper, AB ’12, is an Evening MBA student living in Chicago. Having already earned an undergraduate degree in economics and public policy from the University of Chicago, Cooper said he has more Maroon apparel than he can fit into his closet. He is a management consultant at Kenway Consulting, specializing in business intelligence and data analytics. During Spring Quarter 2020, he took professor Ann L. McGill’s Managing in Organizations course virtually.

Q: What surprised you about how the virtual class worked?

A: I’m mainly surprised with how pleasant the experience has been overall. I expected a less than satisfying experience on Zoom, with connection issues, frequent disruptions, and a more difficult time understanding the material. But none of that came to pass, and instead everything has been pretty smooth. On top of that, I figured I would be less engaged online, as I wouldn’t be physically immersed in the classroom and there would be more distractions at home. But so far that hasn’t been the case. I think I’ve had about the same level of engagement in online classes as I did in person. 

Q: What were unexpected advantages or disadvantages of the remote format for you?

A: Overall, I had a great experience. The advantages to the remote-learning format were more significant than I expected; not having to commute from work to Gleacher Center, and then from Gleacher back home was really nice and saved a lot of time. And being able to walk a few steps to the kitchen during break and attend class in gym shorts was pretty awesome. I attended all the classes live on Zoom, but having them recorded was helpful in case there was anything you needed to go back and review, or if you ended up having to miss a class—which would certainly be understandable given all that happened this past quarter. 

In terms of disadvantages, obviously nothing can replace the in-person experience. It’s a bit harder to ask the professor questions, and you miss out on socializing both with friends and with new classmates whom you could build connections with. I think Professor McGill did a great job trying to mitigate both of those—she monitored the Zoom chat and would pause frequently for questions, and she kept the Zoom open for a half hour after class for a “class social.”

Q: How did the Booth academic experience you’ve come to expect translate to the remote environment?

A: This translated pretty well. Since so much of the course would be slides and lectures anyway, not much of that gets lost in the Zoom format. There is a group discussion component that probably wasn’t as robust as it would have been in person, but the Zoom breakout groups did a pretty good job of replicating it, given the circumstances. 

“The flow of class was managed very well, as Professor McGill would monitor the chat for any questions or comments and see if people were raising their hands to pause for questions.”

— Robert Cooper

Q: How did the remote environment work in terms of fostering community/collaboration? 

A: This was certainly harder, as we weren’t all in the same place looking at each other. For the class as a whole, the chat functionality in Zoom helped a lot with this, as people could leave comments or questions without interrupting the flow of the lecture. And, of course, many of the comments are joking or funny, so it helps lighten the mood and foster community within the class. 

In terms of collaborating on homework in groups, most of my group work as an Evening student has traditionally been done remotely anyway. So collaborating via Zoom calls and Google Docs is nothing new. 

Q: How did the Zoom functionality (chat, polls, breakout sessions, one-to-one speaking) work in terms of supporting collaboration and group learning and discussion? 

A: The Zoom functionality was pretty impressive. Professor McGill did a great job utilizing all of the features. We had several polls during class that were used to compare our results against historical data a few slides later. The flow of class was managed very well, as Professor McGill would monitor the chat for any questions or comments and see if people were raising their hands to pause for questions. This kept the lecture going without sudden interruptions but also meant we could pause frequently for further discussion. 

Q: Can you highlight any particular approach Professor McGill took that made the virtual classroom experience particularly enriching or rewarding?

A: Yes, she clearly put a lot of time into figuring out how to get the most out of the online experience. It’s easy for the flow of an online meeting with 60-plus people to get disjointed, but during Managing in Organizations, it never did. I think that’s because Professor McGill put a lot of effort into delivering the class naturally while still monitoring the participants and the chat to loop in any questions or discussion points at an appropriate time. That way, no one was interrupted, but it also never felt like anyone had to wait long to get their questions answered. 

This is probably similar to how it worked for previous in-person classes, but each week Professor McGill would pick a few students to share what they wrote about in their weekly thought paper. This was a nice way to keep students engaged and have us hear from different voices.

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