In 2018, NUCB Business School in Japan invested in technology to develop a virtual program that was designed specifically for women on maternity leave from their workplaces.
“We established a beautiful, high-quality studio facility on an open floor on our campus,” says John Kang, assistant director, international affairs for NUCB Business School. The large facility makes use of studio cameras, a soundboard, many television screens, and professional video production equipment.
In early February as COVID began to hit, the school decided to go 100 percent virtual with the large studio serving as a template for 10 miniature set-ups in other rooms. The spring 2020 semester began as scheduled in April without any delays.
The efforts proved so successful that Ministry of Education officials visited and wrote a white paper on how NUCB Business School pioneered a distance learning solution that could serve as a model for the rest of Japan.
“We were really proud of that because I think it was a testament to our ability to adapt quickly and lead the way,” says Kang.
EMBA faculty made the shift quickly during the COVID lockdown. In talking with faculty and gathering student feedback, the program learned the challenges of engagement through the online platform.
Based on their responses, the school developed a quick reference guide for faculty with recommendations about conducting a virtual course that included increasing the use of gesture systems such as raising hands or physically indicating yes or no. They also experimented with virtual backgrounds to immerse students in a case.
“More seriously, our professors have increased their use of Harvard business simulations because, for some of them, they have found it’s a very effective way to increase engagement.” They also incorporated group work in a virtual setting, expanded their use of platforms for activities, conducted quick polls, and organized random breakout rooms with activities.
“We’ve also seen a huge effort from our students in organizing their own activities,” says Kang. “I would say they’ve taken the ball and run with it.” Those student-led activities include club activities, competitions, webinars, and networking.
“This whole digital transformation that we’ve been forced to undergo has really yielded a lot of interesting innovations and useful initiatives that I think ultimately once we are in a post-COVID era will remain and will shape the way things are done at our institution.”
And while EMBA students returned to the physical classroom in the fall 2020, with only 10 percent of EMBA courses taking place virtually, the fully online legacy of early pandemic days is shaping new directions.
Currently, the school offers its executive education courses virtually for students and non-degree participants who can’t take campus classes or prefer virtual classes. The application of technology during the pandemic also has changed many efforts for the better—from improved workflow to hybrid events, such as case writing, project presentations, and competitions, to career services, alumni gatherings, virtual tours, and even an online package of Japanese stand-up comedy, he says.
In April 2022, NUCB Business School marked a new milestone: The school’s first course taught in the hybrid delivery format, with students participating in person and remotely, thanks to a new hybrid auditorium.
Inspired by the hybrid auditoriums of Harvard Business School and drawing on more than two years experience in developing digital solutions to educational challenges, the system took four months to conceive, develop, and construct, with participant-centered learning through case method teaching strictly in mind.
Boasting a high-resolution camera for blackboard visibility, state-of-the-art audio equipment for ease of communication between participants and faculty, and multiple displays transporting remote participants from throughout the world straight into the classroom, the hybrid auditorium represents yet another step forward.
In considering future developments, it pays to reach out to other schools, participate in conferences, learn more about what is happening in the industry, and be willing to experiment in the right context, says Kang. “I think a lot of business schools have risen to the challenge. It is inspiring to see.”