07 Oct 2020 20:32 IST

Online learning is not a mere replacement: JKBS Director

Teaching students to work with a team virtually is crucial to their corporate career, says Sanjiv Marwah

JK Business School’s Sanjiv Marwah believes that organisations are turning to B-schools in a big way through the pandemic. The most effective outcome is that institutes can reach beyond campus walls to improve industry interactions on a global scale. Companies are willing to make e-visits to address the batch and it has never been easier to establish partnerships with corporates. At this level of disruption, organisations are scrambling to identify and source the talent they need to stay ahead. Young graduates with the right skill-sets can fulfil the demand and further their career prospects in full throttle, he says.

Prof Marwah speaks about JKBS's makeover and outlines the roadmap for the future. Excerpts from an interview:

While endeavouring to rebrand JK Business School, what were the focus areas?

The process has been on since 2017. The goal is to raise the quality of education to a world-class standard. Covid-19 gave us the opportunity and time to introspect and accelerate the transition process. There were three questions we asked ourselves when we began this journey - what do we teach, how do we teach, and how we measure. The answers to these fundamental questions shaped our entire rebranding activity.

What we teach, colloquially known as syllabus, needed to be revamped to match changing industry demands. It's time to rethink our pedagogy for a world that's been overturned by technology. The fast-paced adoption of advanced tech has led to new job demands in the industry and has influenced business models in many ways. Cloud computing, 3D printing, big data analytics, IoT, AI, and so on, have changed the market landscape. This is not a trend exclusive to just some industries; rather, the entire paradigm of the management industry is going through a change. The entire curriculum was re-worked, rejuvenated, and reintroduced this year. Today, we are focussing on specialisations such as business analytics, supply chain analytics, and digital marketing.

In terms of how we teach, the focus has shifted from remembering and recalling facts, towards higher-order thinking skills. During assessments, students are required to apply, analyse, and evaluate, instead of, define, state, and elaborate.

The end-term assessments do not carry more than 40 per cent weightage. It’s a continuous assessment process inclined towards testing students’ analytical skills. For instance, teachers are free to conduct open book exams and cheat sheets are allowed inside the exam halls because questions are not based on recall value. We have reduced the surprise elements in an exam and improved our focus on ways to test knowledge acquired. The format appears easy, but it isn’t. The learning rigour remains the same, only the direction has changed.

How are students dealing with online learning? Have the results been satisfactory?

We had already incorporated blended learning in our pedagogy even before the pandemic and that has helped us seamlessly transition into this new phase. Previously, online learning was appended to the main programme, now it has become the only learning mode. I do not believe that online learning is a mere replacement, it’s here to stay.

JKBS has partnered with Google to conduct online classes since March 15. This means that our institute can host meetings with up to 250 participants, live stream to up to 100,000 viewers within a single domain, and record and save meetings and classroom sessions to Google Drive. All this data is available on the drive for later consumption. Google is providing us with additional support and giving out these services for free during these challenging times.

Are there any challenges in online classes?

The only challenge to fully virtual classes is the loneliness of a learner which creeps in when you're engaging with technology and learning all by yourself. It can cause fatigue. To address that, we facilitate group discussions, joint presentations, and assignments, to increase interaction among peers in virtual classrooms. In the future, there has to be a judicious mix. B-schools have the responsibility to prepare students for a corporate career. So, teaching students to perform tasks online and work with team members is crucial and inescapable.

There has been a global trend of students typically turning to B-schools and graduate programmes during economic downturns; how have this year’s applications been?

The total number of applications has increased by 20 per cent since last year. Luckily, we had the bandwidth to shift our admission process completely online. The challenge that we faced is that the dropout rate has been higher too. But we have been able to do admissions against the withdrawal, so it hasn’t largely impacted our overall financial systems or admission rate. We expect some challenges to emerge in the upcoming year. Students might want to defer their admission by one or two years and ride out the pandemic. A lot of our students come with work experience, so deferring a B-school admission simply means staying at a job a little longer. As you have noticed, the total number of CAT applicants has come down by 10 per cent this year. Only time will tell.

Your students will be entering their jobs (or those with experience, re-entering the job market) at a most challenging time. How are placement opportunities?

Without a doubt, companies are hiring, but they have higher expectations from young graduates in terms of skill-sets for obvious reasons. The top packages might see a hit but the total number of placements and the average package will remain unaffected. Our live projects have gone up by 100 per cent this year and interaction with the industry has never been easier. Industries are turning to B-schools in a big way. Even connecting with global industries has been made easy. The number of CEOs willing to make e-visits to the campus is unbelievable. Working so closely with the industries will augment the learning for the first-year students and improve career prospects for placements as well. We are hoping to have an identical placement season like last year, if not even better.