The Digital Business Master Class is an intensive course with a two-week contact teaching period of daily lectures and project work. The graduate-level business course has a strong focus on international participants from Aalto University’s partner schools. Spring 2020 was the first time the Master Class was organised outside of the summer semester, which helped the course reach new groups of students both internationally and inside Aalto University. In addition to the new course timing, the spring 2020 Master Class will be remembered for the unexpected changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overnight transition to online learning
Since over 80% of the Spring 2020 Digital Business Master Class participants were short-term exchange students visiting Finland for only two weeks, the international travel restrictions issued at the end of the first lecture week caused considerable changes for the course. In addition to supporting social distancing, lectures were moved online to allow participation by international students who had to return home mid-program. One of these students was Kento Morishima from University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School, who gave thanks for the quick re-arrangement of lectures: “Although I had to go home in the middle of the programme, I still learned a lot thanks to the virtual learning opportunity.”
Another aspect that needed to be considered was business projects that students were working on. Digital Business Master Class is a challenge-based course, where collaboration with company partners and solving real digital challenges is an important part of the learning experience. This spring, student teams worked on project cases provided by two of Aalto University School of Business’s premium partners, Finavia and Konecranes. The original project deadline was at the end of the two-week contact teaching period.
“Because of the unexpected circumstances, our students had to make travel arrangements for flying back home mid-course”, Laura Kitinoja, program manager of the Digital Business Master Class, explains. “We couldn’t expect them to finish the project work by the original deadline during the confusing and stressful time we were facing.” Finishing the projects was still important since they accounted for a large part of the course assessment and learning goals. Digital Business Master Class’ solution was to give the students an additional week to get home and finish the project work. The decision was supported by the company partners.
“In a global pandemic situation like this, there is no option but to be agile and make changes to adapt to the new teaching environment”, Laura Kitinoja comments. “In the end, the project results turned out great. Coordinating the virtual project work across several time zones must have been challenging, and I know that a few teams wished they had had more time for finishing the projects. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the quality of the work the students delivered despite such unforeseen circumstances”, Laura Kitinoja says.
The quick move to virtual teamwork became an additional learning experience for the students. Hunter Danse from UNC Kenan-Flagler describes his experience with the teamwork aspect of the business project: “It was good to communicate early and have things in place, so when we were all over the world we knew how to communicate and what were the practices we wanted to implement to get things done. But, it was also important to be flexible and not be stuck on one idea or one way to do things. I think what we did well in our team was to have an early understanding of the rules that we would adhere ourselves to.”