How Oxford University’s Saïd Business School used Zoom to deliver world-class education during COVID-19

(Image from Oxford University website)

Adopting the digital collaboration platform Zoom before the first wave of COVID in 2019 has proven to be a highly profitable investment for the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, with the institution saying that not a second of teaching has been lost during the global health crisis.

In numbers, this means that last year alone, using its enterprise-wide license, the school supported 80,403 Zoom meetings that connected 565,000 participants in 197 countries.

The video, chat and collaboration platform has also proven to be the perfect foundation for a new hybrid school-wide digital teaching and collaboration model, its chief information officer, said. Mark Bramwell. He explained:

We were very lucky – or you could say strategic – in that we had several foundations in place that allowed us to pivot and weather COVID-19. I wouldn’t say we were early adopters at this point because the software had been around for a little while, but it was already an integral part of our collaborative portfolio.

But we also recognize that learning is an incredibly personal experience, and we never focus on one medium or delivery channel.

The Business School – which operated as the Oxford School of Management Studies until a name change in 1996, following a £20 million donation from Syrian-Saudi-Canadian financier Wafic Saïd – offers 15 degree programs in business, management and finance. Its executive courses have been ranked among the best in the UK by the Financial Times, and its class of 2022 MBA graduates included 355 students from 71 nationalities, including 156 women.

Supporting students and faculty through the COVID “pivot”

The type of students who enroll to study at Said is an important factor in how the school approaches their service, Bramwell said. He explained:

Perhaps differently from the mainstream UK higher education undergraduate model, where everyone pays a flat tuition fee of £9,000, our MBA cohort pays over £60-70,000 to be here.

So, I don’t call them “students”: they are VIP customers. And so the quality of experience they rightly and understandably expect for that tuition is very high. Not only do we in IT have to make sure they can connect and do their jobs with us, but everything has to be available – and available 365/24 x 7.

Bramwell also points to how a factor in making Zoom a successful teaching platform during various lockdowns also involved structured support not only from the student body, but also teachers and other staff. He added:

I don’t think we should underestimate how our faculty have responded to some of the pressures that have been put on them. Of course, we have some of the most eminent professors in the world, but they have had to go through this the same way as everyone else – and, perhaps, pivot and change more than others, because they are on the front line of education. And that obviously completely impacted that.

Techniques used by Bramwell and his team to help teachers focus on proper training on how to make working from home effective. Much of this involved the mechanics of installing equipment in faculty houses, he said, as dining halls, kitchens and bedrooms had suddenly become lecture halls or mini studios. -production.

Training was also needed, he continued, around a new teaching process, as some colleagues needed guidance on how to use the technology – and that was not limited to setting up . bramwell said:

Obviously, online teaching is very different from face-to-face teaching. You don’t just teach the class, so moderate the chat and manage the presentations, you also need to make sure everyone contributes, participates and gets involved. This is where we found we had to provide a bit of support, in some cases.

The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic at the School has also led to the creation of new roles that did not exist before, such as the new role of “virtual classroom assistant”, as well as the need to ongoing resources to produce online, face-to-face and blended courses.

The supply of equipment was also a slight issue at the start of the health crisis, as with the world moving online overnight, the availability of certain equipment became scarce.

Said responded to this with flexible purchasing procedures; if Bramwell’s group couldn’t provide the necessary computing, teachers could buy it with their credit cards and get reimbursed quickly. Such purchases, he added, were always recommended against a framework of recommended equipment provided by the school and against indicative costs.

Raising awareness and CSR mission of Saïd

Although Bramwell did not find securing online teaching a major technical issue, a training process was needed. He said:

There was a lot of press around all of this at the time, but I told my internal stakeholders that we have strict security controls because our IT strategy builds security into the design of every new wallet, every new provider and every new app we bring.

But if there were any issues at the time, much of it was not related to the physical security of the platform, but to the sharing of personal data. Locally, an adviser hosting a Zoom meeting posted his password on Facebook and Twitter. But that didn’t happen with any of our men.

Zoom is also a key part of Saïd’s social awareness program and its corporate social responsibility program, in terms of making Oxford more accessible. The technology means the school can reach out to geographies, regions and learners that would not have been possible before. bramwell said:

For us, technologies like Zoom underpin and enable this. Before COVID, we were already online, but the fact that we were able to create an online community of over 30,000 participants shows what is possible using this type of technology.

Part of that mission is its ongoing £60million project to convert Oxford’s former Victorian-era power station into a new executive education campus, which will be full of technology to teach its students VIP customers both on campus and via the web.

This future model, Bramwell concluded, will involve videoconferencing and other innovations – but what exactly that looks like, he thinks no one knows yet. He said:

I think we’ve overcome the familiarity hump and that’s a given now – the world has accelerated in terms of the use of these collaborative technologies.

So what’s the next step? This is where product roadmap discussions with the Zoom executive team and Zoom technical teams really interest me: virtual reality, augmented reality? Is it a holographic projection? I’m fascinated by the next stage of change, as everyone is now playing in a very crowded space.

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