By ESCP Marketing Professor Robert Wilken

With the Covid-19 pandemic, ESCP Business School was forced to switch teaching completely to online formats. Lectures, group work, exercises, presentations by practice partners, and ultimately exams had to be adapted to the new situation of global scope. Is online teaching now automatically less interactive, less participatory, more prone to disruption, perhaps even more boring (for all involved)? Or does the online environment open up a space for new ideas that we have had to try out by necessity in the particular circumstances, but which may remain useful even for times of Covid-19 mastery?

The pandemic, and with it the aforementioned limitations, has now lasted for about a year; a good opportunity, then, to reflect on the involuntary testing period. In doing so, I will not go into technical details, but focus on the big picture that has emerged for me so far.

As a starting point, I will introduce a concept that I have frequently implemented across courses in digital teaching. It was clear to me that the usual 10 times 3 hours of face-to-face teaching per course could not be replicated online, mainly because of the risk of lower attention or faster fatigue. Thus, the central idea was to divide each course into different components:

Firstly, a pure lecture part, which serves to convey content. This part is prepared by the students in the form of slides, articles or videos, and during the lecture I add examples for illustration. Smaller exercises during the lecture break up my monologue and let the students directly check the knowledge in an application-oriented way. There are also one or two quizzes or short surveys per lecture, the results of which are produced and visualized live.

Secondly, asynchronous units, which the students organize themselves in teams, between the lecture dates. Students work together on case studies and projects, applying their knowledge from the lecture in more complex contexts. In doing so, the teams are allowed to choose the object of analysis for the project (e.g., a product, an industry, a company). I also provide feedback to each student team on each step of the project.

And thirdly, interactive small groups with a maximum of 20 participants, in which the students have the floor - they present their solutions to the case studies and project tasks and also assess each other; I remain the moderator of the discussion.

More flexibility and shorter seminar units: Instead of the usual 10 times 3 hours in the classroom, with this concept each student has 6 lectures of 2 hours each, 6 asynchronous units of 2 hours each for the preparation of the case studies and project assignments, and 3 sessions in small groups of 2 hours each for the presentation of the solutions. More extensive than before is certainly the regular contact and individual feedback for the teams on the respective project steps. And as an "encore", a written exam exercise is scheduled. 

This teaching concept, even if based on a simple initial consideration, brings several advantages. Firstly, improved preparation on the part of the students and increased attention through compression of the content; in other words, concentration of the students in the lecture part is created through concentration of the content. Secondly, greater student engagement and motivation through greater autonomy (self-organization of asynchronous elements; choice of project topic). Thirdly, greater learning success through regular feedback discussions. The list of plus points could easily be continued. At the same time, one can state: None of this is dependent on an online environment; all components are independent of the format. So the transition forced by the pandemic has revealed opportunities for the reorientation of teaching in general.

However, one thing that remains somewhat problematic from my perspective: the lack of small talk with students on the sidelines of lectures; such conversations are apparently not that small.