Goodman students adapt quickly as course content moves online

When in-class courses changed to online teaching last month, Asma Zafar questioned how she would ensure the remainder of her classes would provide students with the educational experience they deserved.

The Assistant Professor of Strategy for the Goodman School of Business at Brock University teaches several courses that include experiential education components that allow students to gain practical experience by applying the skills and knowledge from their course content to their projects.

For the past several months, students in Zafar’s Business Strategy class have been working closely with Red Roof Retreat, a local not-for-profit organization that facilitates respite and recreation programs for children and young adults with special needs. After learning about the charity’s challenges, student groups were tasked with writing a 25-page report detailing strategic recommendations and preparing a presentation to their professor, classmates, representatives from the School’s Experiential Education team and the Executive Director of Red Roof Retreat.

With physical distancing protocols implemented last month in response to the COVID-19 crisis, all Brock courses moved to online formats.

“Presentations are the culmination of weeks of research, collaboration and critical thinking, so I really wanted to come up with a new way students could show off their work,” said Zafar. “I was aware that many students were in touch with the client and were motivated knowing they would be presenting their recommendations directly to the client.”

She worked with Goodman’s Experiential Education team to come up with a new way to conduct the course presentations. They recommended using Zoom video conferencing software and set up 16 meetings so student groups could still present their findings to Red Rood Retreat.

Zafar’s Business Strategy course is one of five Business courses that have used video conferencing software to conduct classes and presentations. An additional two have incorporated video capture to record narrated PowerPoints.

Fourth-year Accounting student Chelsea Dorrell found the new challenge less stressful than presenting in person, despite her lack of experience using the videoconferencing technology.

“When we present in class, it’s easy to get nervous about standing a certain way and making eye contact with 30 audience members all staring at you,” she said. “When we were behind a screen, we didn’t have to worry about what we were wearing, we could look down and reference our notes without seeming unprofessional, and when we spoke, only the presenter’s face was visible on the screen along with our presentation slides. Because of this, we were able to communicate our points more effectively and the presentation ran more smoothly.”

Red Roof Retreat’s Executive Director Steffanie Bjorgan was grateful students were able to continue with their presentations and was impressed with the final product.

“The video conferencing technology seemed to encourage students to be concise and accountable for their roles in the presentation,” she said. “They demonstrated adaptability and flexibility — skills they will need in the ever-changing business world.”

A second course Zafar is teaching, Business and Society, looks at how a single-minded focus on profit can negatively affect the sustainability of the environment.

Zafar used a free simulation program from Massachusetts Institute of Technology that saw students convene against each other as competing fisheries. They were instructed to maximize their profits, which meant sending their ships to the deep sea. Resources depleted rather quickly though.

The simulation allowed Zafar to use a controller module from her home to communicate with students and show graphs as the situation evolved.

“I was very proud of how resourceful the students were,” she said. “In addition to connecting with me from their homes using a Lifesize classroom meeting, they were using WhatsApp and FaceTime video chats to connect with their group members.”

Some students joined in from as far away as France.

Overall, Zafar was impressed with her students’ preparations for the new technological course components.

“If it had presented a challenge to them, they had preplanned how to overcome that challenge,” she said.

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