President's Report 2006 | Teaching

Learning gets a new look

Dr. Sudhir Saha teaches his Organizational Theory students, despite the nearly 4,000 kilometres that separate them. (Photo by Chris Hammond)

By Aimee Sheppard

When 17 business students set out for a semester at Memorial's Harlow campus in January 2006, they expected to learn about doing business in other countries. However, they had no idea that would lead them back to the Business Administration Building in St. John's where they took a course via videoconferencing and learned first-hand about communicating across borders and boundaries.

Organizational Theory 5301 is a core course for B.Comm.(Co-op) students and due to the structured nature of their program it must be taken in Term V, which also coincides with the optional study semester at Harlow. To iron out the wrinkles in the schedule, the Faculty of Business Administration turned to Memorial's Office of Professional Development and TETRA (OPD/TETRA) for assistance. The solution was a videoconferencing system that is proving to benefit several groups.

"We are fortunate to have the technologies here at Memorial to support videoconferencing provincially, nationally and internationally. It's always rewarding when we are able to assist initiatives such as this," said Mike Mooney, senior consultant, OPD/TETRA. With its multi-point bridge OPD/TETRA can connect to more than 70 sites within the province and worldwide. The system provides users with the ability to meet face-to-face and exchange multimedia presentations in either point-to-point or multi-point configurations.

While some students have used the videoconferencing before for their co-op interviews, they admit the technology does require a different approach to classroom learning. As one student explained, this new format requires more independent learning. Dr. Sudhir Saha agrees. While he's comfortable lecturing a TV screen, he has had to modify how he would normally teach the course. "I've tried to build in more interactivity," he said. "The course involves participating in an online discussion forum and posting their case analyses online so others can comment on them. I don't want any of my students to come into my class and just sit there. It's almost my sacred duty to get them involved."

"Teaching via video is really a pleasure for me," said Dr. Saha, who was one of the first professors at Memorial to teach via audioconferencing and the Internet. "When I first started teaching distance courses, I stood in front of a little mike in a room by myself. I always thought it would be so much easier to connect with my students if only I could see their faces."

"These students are pioneers," added Dennis Flynn, the faculty's IT manager.

"Videoconferencing is now one more tool we have in the toolbox for learning." And the faculty is working to make the most of their new acquisition. In addition to student-focused applications such as lectures, co-op job interviews, and case team practices, the faculty is also considering how the wider community could benefit from this international linkage.

On Feb. 16, 2006, Noreen Doyle, ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of Europe's Most Successful Business Women, visited the Harlow campus to talk to students there. Members of the business community also attended the videoconference on the St. John's campus. Ms. Doyle recently completed a term as first vice-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and spoke about banking in Eastern Europe, transitioning economies, and different business environments.

Dr. Gary Gorman, dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, said great strides have been made toward internationalizing the curriculum and the faculty. "We've received support from ACOA that enabled us to acquire this technology and hire our new Fellow in International Business, Mike Burns. These initiatives are opening up several opportunities for us to connect our local community to leaders around the world."