When my in-person program went remote: An MBA candidate’s perspective

PSU School of Business Recruitment Marketing Manager Corinne Gould recently interviewed MBA candidate Nathaniel Goldberg about his first term of remote education. A professional educator and graduate student, Goldberg offered some key takeaways from his experience.

  1. With many internship leads drying up in the wake of COVID-19, Goldberg explained how he has had to think outside of the box to still have experiential learning opportunities: “It’s forced me to be more creative when it comes to leveraging my professional experience and consulting aspirations into something productive and worthwhile. So for me, that’s been helping faculty improve what their remote classes look like.” 
  2. Goldberg suggested instructors make their courses more impactful by building a connection with their students from the outset: “Make the material relevant and personally meaningful. It’s one of the best ways to encourage intrinsic motivation.”
  3. Goldberg ultimately recognizes that this is uncharted territory for many teachers and students, and so he emphasized flexibility: “We should focus on progress. There are going to be some mistakes. So let’s focus on improvement, because at the end of the day, this is a group effort.”

Read the full transcript below.

Corinne Gould
Hi, this is Corinne Gould. I’m the Recruitment Marketing Manager at the School of Business at Portland State and I am here with Nathaniel Goldberg, our marketing assistant and MBA candidate. Let’s get things started off, Nathaniel. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background- Where you’re from, where you attended your undergrad, and how you ended up in Portland?

Nathaniel Goldberg (0:22)
Sure thing. I was born and raised in Atlanta. When I was 16, I decided that I wanted to be a history or English teacher. And so that was my focus in college. When I graduated from Emory in 2009, nobody was hiring. And I found myself in a Catch-22. Schools weren’t going to hire me without experience, but I couldn’t get experience if I wasn’t hired. So on the advice of older generations, I went back to school to get my master’s in education from Vanderbilt, but it still took another two years after graduating for me to find that first teaching job. So in the interim, I washed dishes in Nashville, I peddled books in Louisville, and worked with preschoolers in Seattle. Eventually, I was hired to teach U.S. History at a school in Savannah. But for the next five years, I criss-crossed the country, teaching history and English in Appalachia, the Bay Area, Seattle, Toledo. But since my generation started from behind, I just was never able to establish financial stability for when that next economic crisis hits. You know, like right now. I ultimately chose the Portland MBA because of its focus on redefining business, its connections with the city’s business community, and its graduate employment profile, because frankly, I just don’t want a repeat of my other post-master’s experience.

CG (1:53)
That’s quite a career journey. So in addition to the values of the Portland MBA, what were some of the reasons that you chose an in-person program, like the MBA program at Portland State.

NG (2:05)
Yeah, I valued a small cohort, the emphasis on individual attention, the potential for robust discussions. It’s easier to make those things happen in an in-person environment than a remote one.

CG (2:20)
So you’re coming to the end of your first year in the program. Your fall term was in-person in the Karl Miller Center and spring term has been an opportunity to learn remotely as we respond to COVID-19. What have been some of the opportunities and some of the challenges for remote learning?

NG (2:37)
One thing that I’ve really appreciated about this term is learning more about some of my cohort members. You know, we’re in this shared experience and so it’s been interesting for me to see how different people are coping and to be supportive of one another. I think flexibility has been another opportunity. Obviously, students who do online programs do so in part because of the pliant nature of them. And I’ve definitely found more windows to do things like exercise than I previously did. And then I think like any pet owner, I’ve really enjoyed having my dog and cat serve as my de facto coworkers. But considering how much they sleep, I don’t know that they’re the best role models.

In terms of challenges, there have definitely been a few. The amount of screen time has been rough. There are days where I’m on camera and look at a screen for six hours. And so that can be pretty exhausting. I think another challenge has been the lack of what the in-class environment brings. I understand that, you know, remote learning may be a substitute, but in my opinion, it’s not equivalent. As a classroom teacher, I kind of suspected as much, but that’s been brought into clearer focus this term.

CG (3:53)
I just admire so much how gracefully you and your cohorts are just rolling with the punches. Those challenges are definitely felt from faculty and staff as well. But it is a unique student experience right now. So at this point in an MBA program, many candidates are using this time to build their professional network, and to get some experiential learning in through internships and job shadows through the summer in the fall. What has that experience been like for you, especially as it transitions to remote.

NG (4:26)
Like a lot of MBA candidates, I had internship leads that dried up once COVID hit. So that’s forced me to be more creative when it comes to leveraging my professional experience and consulting aspirations into something productive and worthwhile. So for me, that’s been helping faculty improve what their remote classes look like.

CG (4:48)
That’s amazing. To that point, you got to speak with School of Business instructor Brian McCarthy about some of his strategies and how faculty can adopt new kind of innovative practices to make their classrooms more effective with online and teaching opportunities. As a teacher yourself, what were some of the strategies that you and Brian talked about that stood out to you?

NG (5:12)
Yeah, I think the biggest thing is to make that connection with your students. And that can be done in a couple of ways. First, make the material relevant. We are witnessing businesses having to pivot in real time. Let’s take advantage of that. Use Grubhub, for example, as a company that should be thriving in this market, but isn’t. Let’s explore their pitfalls and impart some lessons. I love our Harvard case studies, but let’s supplement them with some messier situations. Second, make the material personally meaningful. This is one of the best ways to encourage intrinsic motivation.

I’ll give you an example. I was teaching the Progressive Era to teenagers and that’s all about reform. To that end, I assigned a project in which students could choose any reform they were putting passionate about. It could be social, political, environmental, business, health care, whatever, and just go with it. They had to make a pitch to their classmates and school leaders about what their reform entailed, and then write a formal proposal on it, which I sent to our state senators. Several of them got letters of commendation, which added this real world element to the whole thing. That only happened though, because I knew what made my students tick, and they bought into the assignment, because it was relevant and meaningful. And so made it a much more successful and memorable exercise than if I just said, you know, write a paper on the Progressive Era.

But I think it’s also important that teachers know that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are some pretty straightforward things that can be done to improve classes in this setting.

So first, if you’re going to lecture keep time at the forefront. There’s plenty of research out there that suggests that people have attention spans of about 10 to 15 minutes. So if you lecture synchronously, keep it in that timeframe. If you have to lecture more, record it and let students have the flexibility to watch it on their own terms. They can pause it, rewind, come back to it. It’s going to help them better retain the info and that’s the whole point, right?

Second, make your live sessions interactive. You know, you can use extrinsic motivation, like participation points, but if you’ve built that supportive classroom community from the outset, you may not need it. Either way, do a range of activities – breakout rooms, whole class discussions, check-ins – just to keep that flow going.

Third, make sure your online material is accurate. That is probably the most straightforward thing that instructors can do to improve their classes. So check the accuracy of due dates. Make sure the assignment submission folders are up and aligned with those due dates. If you’re going to reuse announcements, make sure that the info matches up with the current term and not an older one.

Fourth, consider holding more frequent office hours and invite your students to introduce themselves. I get that it can require some additional time, but it could go a long way in building that classroom community and making the in-class experience better.

Finally, I think it’s important to emphasize that we should focus on progress. There are going to be some mistakes. So let’s be flexible and focus on improvement, because at the end of the day, this is a group effort.

CG (8:37)
Those are really outstanding recommendations. Thank you so much for taking the time for this conversation. Nathaniel. I hope you get back to classes in-person soon.

NG (8:49)
Thanks, Corinne. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

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