Rising to the challenge: Teaching an MSc the COVID-19 way
As an academic working on a busy university campus, my days are filled with interactions with our students. We currently have 101 people on the MSc in Strategic Marketing, from 18 countries around the world. Up until two months ago, I would see and speak to them face-to-face during lectures and one-to-one meetings, and would often bump into familiar faces in cafes and corridors on campus.
And so, the last few months have required some adjustment. Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, face-to-face interactions with students have ceased, and all lectures and meetings are taking place online.
While lockdown measures are now being relaxed in the UK and other countries, there remains much global uncertainty about the future. All being well, we are planning to re-open our Cranfield campus for the start of the new academic year, with strict guidelines and a range of physical changes taking place to protect staff and students’ health and safety, and to enable social distancing.
All our courses will be delivered via a combination of face-to-face and online learning, with lectures taking place online and physical meetings limited to small groups where social distancing is possible. On the Strategic Marketing MSc, we are also planning to make available a fully online option, so that students that wish to do so can study for their Cranfield degree from their home country. The School of Management is currently finalising these plans and will be keeping prospective students informed of the specific details related to their chosen course as they progress.
When we moved to online-only course delivery a few months ago, we had to do so quickly. There was no gradual transition, and both staff and students had no option but to move with us.
As course providers, we had to make a lot of decisions in a very short space of time while also seeking to reassure students, many of whom were understandably concerned about the potential impact on their studies. I’m proud of the dedication staff showed to ensuring students’ learning was not compromised, as well as of the way the majority of our students rolled with the changes.
Prior to COVID-19, only one of the 11 MSc modules was delivered entirely online. Eight modules consisted of face-to-face lectures, and the remaining two used both face-to-face and online delivery methods. Currently, all lectures are taking place via Zoom, with tutors making themselves available afterwards to answer questions from students. Our masterclasses have moved online, with our students continuing to benefit from the insight of industry professionals thanks to the technology at our disposal. We also hosted an optional session recently for those considering studying for a PhD after graduation.
We have had to be flexible when it comes to assessments, moving away from formal exams towards different types of assessments, extending assignment deadlines and applying different criteria when marking submissions – for example where projects would have required face-to-face data collection which is not currently possible. This flexibility has also been applied elsewhere, with tutors responding to student requests for meetings and answering questions outside of normal working hours.
To support students in completing their integrated assignments, we recorded audio PowerPoint briefings that could be revisited later, and set up Zoom sessions and an online message board on Padlet to enable students to ask questions and learn from their tutors’ responses to others. A further audio PowerPoint provided afterwards offered general feedback and constructive advice to improve future work.
Where staff members have been furloughed, we have worked hard to support students completing theses under their supervision, including providing a dedicated alternative supervisor and offering extra one-to-one surgery sessions where needed. The thesis module leader Dr Ian Crawford and I have made ourselves available to answer any questions students may have.
I have been encouraging all our students to contact me if they need any help or support, including if they cannot access materials like research papers and case studies due to COVID-19 restrictions, or if they are having any problems with the technology we are using.
We are also doing all we can to maintain a human connection during these uncertain times. Every month, we are hosting an informal online gathering, where students can catch up, join in with quizzes and fun competitions, and share everything from recipes to their different experiences of lockdown.
As always, our aim is to provide a great learning experience and support our students to complete the degrees they so richly deserve. I’m pleased to report that the majority of our students seem to be coping well with the changes, meeting deadlines and achieving high marks for their work. Many have thanked us for our efforts to support them, with some even saying lockdown has benefitted them by removing distractions and allowing them to focus wholeheartedly on their studies.
We continue to explore different technologies that will enable us to not just replicate the learning experience our students receive face-to-face at Cranfield, but to enhance it. Feedback like that received below makes all our hard work worthwhile.
“The past months have been a major readjustment. However, with the help and support [on offer] I was able to submit all my assignments on time and continue working efficiently and effectively towards obtaining my MSc… I feel extremely grateful that despite these times of uncertainty, I was able to work towards promoting my academic and professional development.”
Lily Garefalaki, MSc Strategic Marketing student.
“In the middle of the most important Master’s project, the pandemic has changed our plans. In one week, the management team had to move the course from offline to online. In the beginning, everything seemed stressed and difficult, but the management team quickly adapted, and created new solutions for the conclusion of our [course]. This hard work, together with the constant support and innovative ideas from the faculty, gave me the certainty of the seriousness and professionalism of [the course delivery team].”
Silvia Faria Barny Monteiro, MSc Strategic Marketing student.
“From the moment I joined the university, I felt welcomed and was able to sense the support from MSc Strategic Marketing Team. As a student, I was always kept informed and updated and even when I ever doubted anything, the team were one email away!
When the pandemic started, as an international student, I was frightened, but I’ve never felt more supported even when everything had to be done remotely. The university kept our schedule organised and updates were extended to us via email or video meetings. I will be graduating soon and thus I take this chance to thank MSc Strategic Marketing team for their kindness and wish them all the best!”
Amira Al Wahaibi, MSc Strategic Marketing student.
As a very optimistic person, I always look on the bright side of things, which is why I see this quarantine as a gift of time. As a matter of fact, I made the most of it by studying my class content and taking online courses to learn how to use marketing management tools. I am now an intermediate Hootsuite and Google Analytics user, with a basic knowledge of Mailchimp and Google Ads. In addition, I realised I wanted to get some hands-on experience while writing my dissertation this summer. After weeks of job hunting, I managed to secure an internship starting in June. The company I will be working for is called Journify, which is a startup launching a new app soon. My role as a Social Media Marketing Intern is to create content on all social media pages to promote the app launch.
Andrea Quericio, MSc Strategic Marketing student.
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