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Online Learning Brings Students Closer Together

When COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown began, so too did the mid-semester break, giving staff and students time to adjust to life as we have known for the past six weeks.

But for the current cohort of Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA), who have “contact courses” every third or sixth weekend, there was no option but for lecturers to pivot and re-work an entire weekend’s course for online delivery, within two weeks. The EMBA is delivered by distance with in-person courses held at the weekends to minimise the disruption to students’ lives, many of whom have executive or senior leadership roles.

Shanelle Yates has been JH Whittaker and Sons’ human resources manager for six years. She says the company has experienced significant growth in recent years and completing an EMBA is about her professional and personal growth. “The EMBA seemed to be tailored for like-minded people, at a similar career level, which I knew would pay off in terms of learning from other students. When assessing various universities, it was clear Massey’s offering was the superior option for those who have full time jobs and busy lives.”

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, she was disappointed the contact weekends would no longer take place as she valued the networking element with fellow students, but she says Massey’s commitment to getting online fast, meant a lot. “I realised how lucky we were to have lecturers who were prepared to completely revamp our papers to make them work online when other universities were not going to the same effort.”

Initially sceptical at how online delivery of the weekend courses would work, she says it was seamless. “I’m blown away by the emotional support and compassion shown by our lecturers – they understand that it’s a tough time for everyone, which I know we all really appreciate.”

The Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) southern regional manager Mark Cartwright’s team is geographically spread out, so he is used to less interaction, but he says the current environment means they are interacting more frequently and finding new ways to connect, like themed meetings. He too says the EMBA online experience exceeded his expectations. “My initial thought about the prospect of a weekend-long delivery of the course was one of trepidation.

“I was conscious of possible technical issues and the possibility that some attendees may not understand video conferencing etiquette, which could have caused significant disruptions. However, Professor Ted Zorn set the expectations for the delivery early and steered the group through the potential issues. We all got a sense that we were learning how to learn this way together, including Ted, which allowed us to build a sense of comraderie.”

Life is busy for mum of two Susanne Hardy who leads IT project planning for Toyota. She has been with the company in different roles over the past 20 years and is completing her EMBA to develop her wider business and commercial knowledge. She says she has learnt many new strategic concepts that will be valuable to Toyota, as well as building a strong future network to keep in touch with: “Massey has done an awesome job initiating online for the EMBA (and other groups), its calm and organised responsiveness to the crisis and dedication to maintaining and even improving, students education has been stellar, and has certainly made me feel glad I am studying here.

“Studying at home, while balancing work and family life, has been challenging but there are definite perks. I’ve really enjoyed being able to blend home and work, and of course study. I’ve loved seeing my family more and getting outside for regular breaks and walks, cooking dinner and some of those things I normally can’t do.”

For all three, they say working online throughout the lockdown has brought their teams at work closer together. “Seeing people in their home environments, with their kids and pets around, has added a new human element to everyone,” Yates says.

The development of online learning platforms and tools such as Zoom means the experience of learning can be just as good as in person, she says. “Once you are ‘in class’, listening to the lecturer and seeing his/her screen, you forget you are online, and you get absorbed in what you are learning. Then you join your classmates for a wine online at the end of the day!”

Cartwright says the quick shift to online, both at work and for the EMBA, has been a great learning experience in itself. “Calm seas don’t make good sailors. This has caused us to change it up and step up, and isn’t that one of the key outcomes of an EMBA anyway?”

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