Virtual Classroom Experience at HHL

by Petra Spanka | April 02, 2020
Prof. Dr. Carsten Bartsch only had 24 hours to transform his course from a traditional offline format to an online course held on Zoom. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In this interview he talks about the benefit of turbo innovation due to difficult times.

Creating a Virtual Classroom in 24 hours

This interview was first published in April 2020.

Professor Carsten Bartsch was forced to reinvent his course in only 24 hours. As one of the first professors affected by the closing of the campus in March 2020, he quickly developed an online course using Zoom.

“I firmly believe that crisis creates innovation – since it forces you to reconsider.”

Which campus do you normally teach at and what courses do you offer?

I teach at all three campuses, i.e. Leipzig, Cologne and Munich. I am offering courses in the fields of Strategy, Marketing and Entre-/Intrapreneurship in both the MBA and the MSc programs. Teaching at HHL is especially meaningful to me, since I joined HHL as a PhD student in 1997 and was involved in the whole re-structuring of the school. For example, I was the first program-manager for the MBA program. Therefore I really call HHL my family!

Due to the current covid-19 crisis you were forced to switch course format in only 24 hours. How did you originally teach and how did you adapt the course?

That was indeed challenging, since the course is a mixture of just about every teaching style you can imagine – plus it´s highly interactive. The course involves classroom sessions, case-discussion, group work, the Markstrat Management Simulation, consulting sessions between me and the student groups as well as student presentation. I really love this class!

I was supposed to start teaching in Cologne on a Friday afternoon. On Wednesday night Franka (Program Manager) sent me an E-mail at 9:45 pm, asking me if I had already packed my suitcase and in her next sentence telling me I could unpack it, since we couldn´t do classes. That made me really sad.

Adapting to online teaching overnight

Knowing that this was also the last class for the Students of the part-time MBA class P14C, I spent all night trying to figure out how we could make this work. The next morning, we held a phone conference and agreed to try to go digital. I spent the next 30 hours identifying a platform to use (I found Zoom to be best suitable) and to adjust my lessons. And it worked!

We tried to keep as much interaction as possible in our Zoom classroom, students interacted using Microsoft Teams, we met in Zoom for consulting sessions and: all the skepticism from Friday afternoon was gone by Friday night. Plus, we had a great class altogether! P14C consisted of a small group of eight students, but the next week I held the same course with 26 participants. It also worked well, so we learned, which shows that digital teaching is also scalable.

I must add though, that all of this would have not been possible without the amazing support of the program management team and also the bold decision by Prof. Dr. Stephan Stubner, to let us go for this experiment. It was also an organizational challenge – but as the HHL family, we once again made it! Thx, you guys!!!!

These challenging times force us to react quickly and adapt accordingly. How do you think that has helped develop your course?

Honestly, I believe it´s always good to constantly develop your course – and such a massive situation is obviously even more challenging. I firmly believe that crisis creates innovation – since it forces you to reconsider. Covid19, however, is even more challenging. My key take-away is: Crisis creates turbo innovation! Why? Because nobody can question the necessity for this innovation. Not on the supply side (i.e. Professors), not on the demand side (i.e. students). We had to do it.

And I must say I was always a bit hesitant to do online teaching since I interact very intensively with my students. I try to make my classes into moderated discussion rounds and I wasn´t convinced, that can be done in an online course. Know I know: It can be done! And it doesn’t even feel strange anymore to sit in front and speak into my laptop.

“Crisis creates turbo innovation! Why? Because nobody can question the necessity for this innovation.”

I also have the feeling the students are getting more and more used to the new situation as well. This week, I was teaching a three-hour online class – using only eight slides. Why? Because students were so actively discussing! That was great. Does this have a long-term impact? I am sure many of these changes are here to stay.

For example, I will now be teaching a new HHL class in Global Strategy as a weekly class, three hours a week. Something that would have been impossible for me to do, had I been required to travel to Leipzig from Munich. It would have meant four hours to Leipzig, three hours of teaching and then four hours back to Munich again.

Knowing now, how great a class can be done digitally, we are doing it as an online course starting in May. So yes, crisis definitely created turbo innovation for me!

Prof. Bartsch on Turbo Innovation

Prof. Dr. Bartsch teaches at all three HHL campuses, i.e. Leipzig, Cologne and Munich. He offers courses in the fields of Strategy, Marketing and Entre-/Intrapreneurship in both the MBA and the MSc programs.

In his guest post for HHL Blog Prof. Dr. Carsten Bartsch writes about the effect of turbo innovation for academia.

What feedback are you receiving from the students? How have you managed to create interaction during your online courses?

The feedback I am receiving is more than great. And I am not only talking about the wonderful comments on LinkedIn, the emails or the personal comments. My main feedback is that students are so willing to take up this challenge and even view it as a chance, to practice new ways of working.

I believe interaction is crucial for an online class not to be boring. And students are willing to interact – in fact I am doing things no differently than in a face-to-face class. I ask questions, ask students about their experiences, stimulate discussions with the one or other provocative statement.

My nicest feedback was one P20 student who wrote me an email Monday night (my class was starting Tuesday morning), expressing how skeptical he was about an online class and if he could still drop out in case he didn´t like it. Needless to say, he not only stayed, but was one of the top performers in the class and, in the end, was really happy about it.

“Going digital now gives us a chance to bring people together from all over the world.”

Due to social distancing we are all forced to spend a lot of time on our own. What benefits do you see in coming together virtually?

This is a great phase for new ideas. All people have very similar challenges these days, one of the is being lonely and being cut off from their normal lives. Going digital now gives us a chance to bring people together from all over the world.

Let me give you a personal example. A couple of days ago, I made the attempt to create something new in times of crisis: Carsten´s Management Forum – a digital discussion round focusing on Management topics like Innovation, Digitalisation, Changemanagement, Entrepreneurship and other similar topics.

Creating new discussion formats

It took place the end of March and I was thrilled to have a peak of 23 participants from all over Europe discussing, how we can view this crisis as an entrepreneurial chance. We all enjoyed a wonderful discussion!

I was so happy to see current and former students of mine, from all universities I am teaching at, come together: my home university Hochschule de Bayerischen Wirtschaft (HDBW), HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, MIP Politecnico di Milano, Fachhochschule Vorarlberg and ABC Business Academy. It was a great event and it sent a clear message: Crisis doesn’t keep us from being creative! So now we will be making this a weekly event. Once again, crisis created turbo innovation. And a lot of interaction, brainteasing and personal growth.

“Just go ahead and discuss, provide a room for personal growth and most of all: be yourself.”

What has been a valuable lesson that you have learned over the past two weeks that you can pass on to colleagues preparing to switch up their course format?

Just do it! Don´t fall into the “analysis paralysis” trap. Take your class and try to make as much of what you are normally do in class also happen in your virtual class. All this so-called expert advice like doing an online survey where students can use their mobile phones in order to create interaction is not necessary!

Just go ahead and discuss, provide a room for personal growth and most of all: be yourself. Don’t try to change. If you are, like me, a very lively guy in class, go for it. It can all be done. Just do it – you will make it!