Managing in difficult times

Education | Crystal Wu 24 Nov 2020

Students of insead's inaugural master in management program are not letting the pandemic slow them down. They are soldiering on to Fontainebleau, France to pursue their studies.

The program was seven years in the making.

"It became obvious that there were talents in this younger age group that we were not seeing in our institution because they were typically not doing MBAs," said program director Thibault Seguret. "So we started the work to assess what we could develop and do something that has not been done before."

So the faculty started asking companies and recruiters what skills, attitudes and profiles they were looking for in prospective recruits.

"It led to defining a program that not only gives a business background, but also has two strong emphases: data and technology and soft skills."

Hoping to further equip students, the program also includes practicals towards the end of the semester, where students will take on daily challenges brought by companies so as to apply content learned in class to real-life situations.

There are 95 students in the inaugural class - which Seguret said exceeded expectations.

Resuming face to face classes in the midst of the pandemic, Insead's Fontainebleau campus has been adopting measures to protect their students while maintaining school life as normal as possible.

"When we launched on September 1, 25 students were still in the process of getting visas, so they started online. And as they got their visas, they flew in and started attending their classes on campus," he said.

"We are now experiencing a constant flux of maybe five to seven students going online from one day to another."

This is because all members in the school - including staff members, faculty members and students - need to undergo PCR testing every week at the testing facility on campus. The test, a diagnostic for Covid-19, is a requirement to be able to study or work on campus.

So if students forget to book their test on the right date, they will have to revert to online teaching until they book for a test and have a negative result.

With testing available on campus, students can book tests in between classes and receive their results in 12 to 24 hours. According to Seguret, the waiting time is rarely more than 15 minutes and the testing process is very optimized.

Furthermore, the campus has been transformed to accommodate constant social distancing. For example, plexiglass has been placed on desks and there are markings in the corridors to remind students to distance. Also, masks are mandatory on campus.

"We always felt that this needed to be an attitude and behavioral change rather than us policing," he explained. "We make the process efficient, but we count on our students to actually be responsible."

To cater to the needs of different students who may be abroad or undergoing quarantine, Insead has been adopting a dual mode teaching approach, making their lectures available both online and in person.

On campus, professors can bring up a screen of students who are learning at a distance as they teach in a amphitheater.

An interactive approach to learning at Insead also means that lecturers have to adapt and find ways to integrate online students into daily in-class debates and discussions.

"Everyone can be called upon at any moment and anyone can comment at any moment," he said.

"We keep the flow of the classroom discussion even with the online learners, which is an added difficulty for our professors, but they are handling the challenge very well."

To facilitate the recent teaching change, some lectures have assistants in the amphitheater to check the online classroom for questions and raise their hands for Zoomers so professors can call on and answer questions from distance learners.

Groups for collaborative work have also been designed so they include both students on campus and online. Students on campus are responsible for bringing the work of distant learners back for them.

"One of the things that brings our students together is the value of inclusion," explained Seguret.

Even with such rigid measures in place, Seguret found the whole Insead community to be extremely supportive and responsible - with some students even opting for online classes when they were symptomatic.

"This is a unique time in the history of mankind, and there is a general anxiety floating around. We are making sure that we are here to support everyone and to keep everyone grounded on what the priorities are. Your safety is the most important," he said.

"The new normal also takes a psychological toll that we are acknowledging and also normalizing, because the last thing we want is people to think they shouldn't feel anxiety when they actually do."

The school also provides a team of free psychological services that works both in person and remotely, and is accessible to all members of Insead across various time slots.

"We are a community that is facing this challenge to make things work and no one is truly exempt from this situation. We are in this situation together, and we are supporting each other."

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