Now that we’ve graduated and most of my MQM classmates and I have entered our permanent vacations from academia, I can honestly say—I miss online classes.
I always knew that when the time came for me to graduate, I would miss the opportunity to be in class, sit next to my teammates, learn from intimidatingly-accomplished yet humble Fuqua professors, and study like it’s my job (because it was). In fact, one of the very reasons I pursued my MQM degree straight out of undergrad was because I was not ready to say goodbye to the classroom. So, it should come as no surprise, that unexpectedly having our last term switch from being in the classroom to virtual teaching left me devastated and anticipating a less-than-optimal outcome.
I certainly could not have anticipated sitting here today (socially distanced from anyone else, of course) as a posterchild for online classes. Yet, here I am. I really do miss my virtual classroom! Zoom plus virtual Team Fuqua ended up being a recipe for new, fun ways of learning, unforeseen advantages, and revealing truths about the strength of our school community.
In my Strategy-track class, my professors Bill Clark and Tony O’Driscoll quickly pivoted with new online practices to make our People Analytics class as engaging as possible. Throughout the course, they kept a dialogue box open where we could share stream-of-consciousness-style reactions to our material like “Wow, I did not know that Zappos will PAY YOU to quit working for them if you’re not a culture-fit,” or “Hmmm, it seems counterintuitive that our technologies and capabilities are growing, yet our skills gap in the labor market is still increasing.” These chats are what guided our class discussions.
Sometimes our chats were insightful and other times they were spouts of jokes and comedic relief, serving as a reminder that we were allowed to have fun over Zoom, just like we would in the normal classroom.
My personal favorite activity was hearing teams pitch recommendations based on weekly assigned cases. Then, enabled by virtual learning, the professors fostered some friendly competition with live voting on our favorite team’s recommendations. This inter-team competition (that counted for nothing but bragging rights) kept us motivated and excited to develop our creative recommendations.
Another class where we faced huge advantages from being online was Business Communications II. Like all our professors during this virtual term, my “Biz Com” professor John Nance had to begin and end his course remotely, meaning he never got to meet his students in person. A class that is inherently anxiety-ridden because of its public speaking component turned out to be an important learning opportunity. John really had a gift for understanding and encouraging us remotely. As he pointed out, this was also a hidden chance to get better at public speaking in a virtual medium, which will likely become the way of the future.
At the end of the term, after only virtual interactions, he committed to help us with any coaching, letters of recommendation, or advice in our immediate or future careers. And John was one of many business communications professors across the program to make these generous promises to our class.
There were many other unexpected perks to having virtual classes. Because we spent less time getting ready and commuting to school every day, my personal life felt significantly more productive. I could fill my time with planning socially-distanced birthday parties, attempting to cook, or running on Duke’s main campus, which I hadn’t appreciated quite as much previously.
In quarantine, even my fifteen-minute class breaks were more productive. I learned how to carefully time a Chick-Fil-A run to get breakfast and return before class resumed. Meanwhile, some of my healthier peers and professors used class breaks to hop on their ellipticals and workout for fifteen minutes. It was amazing that everyone seemed to be highly efficient with their personal time now. On top of the other academic perks, this was a huge, virtual win for us.
Knowing what I know first-hand about my school, it should have come as no surprise that our community would figure out a way to address all the logistical, academic, and emotional nuances of switching to online learning. What Fuqua and all of its constituents had in front of them was a tall order: to gracefully and abruptly transform our beloved, community-based experiences to an equally fulfilling virtual one.
I am incredibly proud to be a member of the first impromptu class taught, and fully graduated, virtually. From our different corners of the world, like everything else at Fuqua, we tackled this unprecedented challenge as the team and family that we are. Knowing we held together through this makes saying goodbye to the school (for now) a little bit easier.