SOM online courses thrive

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Photo by Andrew Koenig.

After successfully piloting two online courses this semester, the Yale School of Management plans to expand its online program.

In September, SOM launched two interactive online courses — one on mobile banking and one on antitrust laws — and offered the courses to students who attend member schools of the Global Network, a group of 23 business schools around the world. While this semester’s courses were both taught by SOM professors, the Technion institute of Technology in Israel will join Yale in offering online courses through the network this spring.

SOM Associate Dean David Bach said he thought the pilot program this semester was a success, adding that the students who participated in the two courses exceeded his expectations.

“What I think has been most surprising in a positive way is how quickly the students worked together, how quickly they formed teams,” Bach said. “It just shows how an online experience can lead to a real community that extends into the real world.”

Bach added that he was impressed by how the students networked outside the course, making plans to meet with each other in person.

SOM Dean Edward Snyder said that these small network online courses, dubbed SNOCs, differ greatly from MOOCs — massive online open courses — which are open to anyone rather than limited to a network. SNOCs represent a completely new approach that is unique to SOM, he said.

While the dropout rate for larger courses offered by websites like Coursera is almost 50 percent, Bach said that students enrolled in SNOCs remained committed to the courses this fall.

SOM professor Fiona Scott Morton, who co-taught the antitrust law class with Snyder, said that although she was worried about potential issues like technology troubles or lack of student dedication, the outcome of the course was positive.

Still, Scott Morton said that SNOC’s are a more valuable opportunity for students from other schools than they are for SOM students, as SOM students already have access to many resources.

There are also some disadvantages to learning through an online platform as opposed to in a physical classroom, Scott Morton said.

“Here [in a classroom] you can ask a question, you can raise your hand, if you don’t understand you can look puzzled,” Scott Morton said. “There are lots of ways in which this is less of a good experience than being in a classroom.”

But Ignacio Alvarez MBA ’13, who took the online course on mobile banking, said in a Tuesday email that he found the course to be a good opportunity because guest speakers from around the world contributed to the class. Had the course been taught in New Haven rather than online, these speakers may not have been able to participate, he said.

Brad Gentry, the SOM professor who will teach the Yale SNOC next semester on natural capital, said these online courses are valuable to Yale students because they allow them to engage with people from around the Global Network. Students can establish connections that will be useful to them later if they work in international enterprises, he said.

Gentry added that the course he is teaching next semester may be particularly appealing to students because it addresses issues that, though relevant in the business world today, are not normally taught in MBA schools.

“The course offers students the opportunity to get a leg up on their competitors by addressing some of the issues facing the companies they might want to work for,” Gentry said.

Bach said the course topics chosen for SNOCs are ones for which working with students across the world will add value to the educational experience. Faculty expertise is also an important factor in determining topics, he added.

Gentry said he decided to teach his course because of the opportunity to interact with international students and explore issues surrounding natural capital.

“Given that the Global Network is new, and given that online courses are still new, and given the need for new solutions, it seemed like a good point to jump in and try something out,” Gentry said.

The Global Network was founded by Snyder in 2012, his first year in office.

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