Joan Lofgren: Hybrid course ensures the students can complete the course whether they are on campus or not

This academic year started in very different circumstances than usually. Joan Lofgren, the Director of the Bachelor’s Program in International Business, teaches the Global Business Environment course to first-year students at Mikkeli Campus. This year the course was delivered using a hybrid format due to the COVID-19 situation.
Program Director Joan Lofgren with GBE course syllabus

Lofgren shares her experiences about the hybrid GBE course:

What is the GBE course about?

The Global Business Environment course is a survey course in international business that is required for the IB major. Usually freshmen take the course in the first module of their studies in Mikkeli. I have taught the course since 2010, soon after I became director of the program. We focus on various aspects of the global business environment: political, cultural and economic factors and IB theories about strategy like market entry. It’s a good way for me to get to know the new students and I feel I can help orient them to the program more generally, alongside the course activities.

How does the hybrid course work?

Students were able to complete the course whether they are on campus or not. About 30 new students could not start their studies in Mikkeli due to the COVID situation, so they took the course entirely online. The remaining 50 took my course on campus, but in order to follow distancing guidelines, we divided them into two groups – one group would be in the auditorium watching the lecture “live” and the other would be in other classroom watching the lecture via streaming in Zoom. The next day they would switch so each student was in the auditorium for half of the course.

I also had a special session with the online students once a week, so I could focus just on that group.

Although it was challenging to arrange the course in this way, our goal was to ensure that all our BScBA 20 students starting this fall could begin their studies on time. And we wanted to give the opportunity to students who could travel to Mikkeli to meet their fellow freshmen in person and interact in my course and otherwise on campus.

What changes have you made to the GBE course?

One of the key changes I made this year was in the way group work was organized. In past years, I could organize various activities based in the auditorium, like a learning café activity to review for an exam. This year I had to organize activities that could be done by students online and on campus.

The online students were divided into breakout rooms in Zoom, and the ones on campus formed their own groups and did the work in study rooms and other spaces.

The “deliverable” for the group work needed to be easy to upload to MyCourses, so everyone could easily see the results. Usually that was in the form of slides that one or two students from the group would present to the whole class.

Discussion during the lecture also had to change – it was easy for students in the auditorium to ask questions, but those streaming the lecture needed to do so in the Zoom chat, which I would check several times during the session. Sometimes I asked online students to make a comment in class, and he/she would appear in Zoom on the big screen.

One element that I kept the same was the team presentations of cases from the textbook. Those went very well—the students on campus and those located around the world (eg Albania, Kazakhstan, Vietnam) delivered high quality presentations. The learning activity that was part of the presentation task was at times challenging, however, since the students were in three spaces. Several teams found that a Kahoot quiz was a fun and easy way to reach all the students.

How are the students adjusting/reacting to the hybrid course?

The students handled the situation well – and achieved the learning outcomes of the course very well.

One major assignment in the course is the individual paper due at the end and the students found very interesting topics to research – everything from Red Bull marketing strategy to FDI in countries like Venezuela or Nigeria. I enjoyed talking with the students about their paper topics, and it was reassuring that I could keep that traditional aspect of my course in spite of all the special circumstances due to COVID.

The hybrid course reminded me that the Mikkeli Spirit can help us to make it through all sorts of challenges in arranging the studies.

Joan Lofgren, Director of the BScBA Program

What have you learnt from the implementation of the hybrid course?

I was reminded that we teachers must keep our audience in mind. For example, how would a certain group activity work if the students could only meet virtually?

Also, I asked myself how to connect with the shy or quiet students who were not on campus – normally I would see them in the hallway and try to get to know them in person.  Meeting in Zoom sometimes helped with that, as I got a glimpse into the students’ lives in a different way than just meeting on campus.

What is the best/funniest thing that has come out of the hybrid course?

I think my students saw me struggle with some technical issues but usually we ended up laughing about it. Like students and their much older professors around the world, how we view and use technology is fairly different, but the students were really good-natured about it. I once confessed to a student that I consider myself a bit of a dinosaur in these issues, and he assured me that I wasn’t by any means the worst case…

I think the course reminded me that the Mikkeli Spirit can help us (students and teachers) to make it through all sorts of challenges in arranging the studies. And that the interaction in the classroom our program is famous for can still happen – in different ways than we imagined a year ago at this time, but still involving fun and interesting learning processes.

Bachelor's Program in International Business, Aalto University

International Business, Bachelor (BScBA, Mikkeli) and Master of Science (Otaniemi) in Economics and Business Administration

The Bachelor’s Programme in International Business provides students with a comprehensive range of skills and knowledge to build, develop and lead companies on a global scale. A bachelor’s degree in business with an international focus opens up a wide variety of career opportunities across all industries and continents.

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