The McDonough School of Business’ Master of Science in Finance, which originated as an entirely online program, implemented a new “blended classroom” technology on Oct. 1, 2015 that allows students to attend class both physically and digitally.
The MSB’s MSF program, which was founded in January 2014 and now includes an on-campus component for some classes, was ranked the No. 1 Best Online Master’s Degree in Finance for the 2014-15 academic year by BestColleges.com. The website cited its high-quality faculty and online platform.
The blended classroom has three rows of in-class students and a fourth row, which contains a large “Brady Bunch” screen displaying the students attending digitally.
Along with many other MSB faculty, Allan Eberhart, a professor of finance in the MSF, helped jumpstart, design and develop the online learning platform.
“With our program, we’re flipping the classroom. I think we’re doing it differently than any other program,” Eberhart said.
While other universities like the University of Maryland or the University of Central Florida use blended classrooms mixing face-to-face instruction with online learning, the MSF program actually allows students to attend class digitally. The program gives students more flexibility in scheduling and attending classes.
In the classroom, students on the “Brady Bunch” screen are still able to participate by either physically raising their hands or by pressing a button that causes a small hand icon to show up in their onscreen video boxes.
Technical assistants are present during class times and help keep the interactions between the professor, the in-class students and the digital students technically smooth.
Kirsten Anderson, a professor in the MSF, has taught classes in the blended classroom and has never faced any technical issues that hindered student participation or the flow of the class.
“I’ve had a seamless experience,” Anderson said. “We have really good support people in there. We have someone from the company that supports our classroom platform. They’re there every night with us and I’ve had zero problems.”
Armineh Ghazarian (MSF ’17) said she was very excited to attend class in such a digitalized classroom that has the potential to shape education in the future.
“Everything, every little detail is recorded so I can always go back and review everything, which I can’t do in a regular classroom,” Ghazarian said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity and I really think this is what the future of education will look like in terms of making high-quality education easily available to students from all over the world.”
Despite near-perfect feedback from students and faculty who have used the new technology, Anderson said that there are some drawbacks for students attending classes digitally.
“There are some nights where the students in the classroom are so active that the people online kind of fade into the background and almost become like an audience because it is easier to interact with people in the same room as you. I think the students who are actually physically there pipe in a lot more. They don’t have to worry about unmuting their microphone and getting my attention, etc.,” Anderson said. “If there’s enough people physically in the classroom, you definitely see some people on the Internet keeping quiet and not talking as much, whereas when there are fewer people in the classroom, everyone on the Internet seems to participate.”
Eberhart explained that he compensates for these issues in the classroom by focusing on the virtual students if they aren’t participating enough.
“It’s easier for someone in person to blurt out an answer than virtually,” Eberhart said. “Maybe at the margin, but we just quickly adjust for it by just tilting more to the virtual students. For example, if they want to give a quick answer, chime in real quick, you’re going to call on them.”
Nevertheless, for most students and professors, the benefits of the blended classroom outweigh the inconveniences it produces for digitally attending students.
The MSF will continue to use its technological foundation in an online open house Feb. 22 detailing the MSF program and their multi-faceted admissions program.
Correction: This article was updated May 21, 2020 at 11 p.m. to remove quotes from one source.