As director of Academic Technologies at Babson College, Eric Palson MBA’09 stood facing a challenge that only he and his team could solve.
The task: move Babson’s in-person classes fully online. In a matter of days.
Palson was in a meeting when he first heard the news. He spoke with us to give a behind-the-scenes look at what it means to bring the College fully online.
What was your reaction to learning classes would be moved online?
“I was glad that President Spinelli made us one of the first schools to go fully online. The early decision allowed us to plan better and ensure that students and faculty had more time to get things in order. We knew this was going to be a tremendous amount of work and a big change for many on campus.”
How did you approach this opportunity?
“I first thought about our excellent faculty who have taught blended MBA classes and our fully online classes. I knew they would be faculty we could lean on. I knew faculty training, getting them up to speed on the various technologies, was going to be our top priority. The next step was to get my team, the Academic Technology Innovation Center (ATI Center), ready and put together a plan.”
How did you put that plan into action?
We quickly learned there were almost 650 courses across both the graduate and undergraduate schools, and well over 300 faculty to prepare. Many of the faculty had already been trained through our Blended Fellow program, and another group had taught in Blended and had some—or in some cases a lot—of experience. But, we still had a very large group of faculty who have never taught in this manner. We quickly converted all our training efforts to moving courses online. We also had to get all our documentation in order so faculty and students could have how-to guides and videos that made the process easier.
How did your coordinate all the moving parts?
“I am lucky to work with some amazing people. I have an outstanding and very professional team in the ATI Center. And, I am also lucky to work as part of the overall Information Technology Services Department (ITSD).
“The only way to coordinate a project this big was to divide and hope to conquer. One of the challenges was that we had to do this while respecting social distancing and the need for many to work from home. Fortunately, the tools we were using to do this were the same tools we were training the faculty and students on—so it moved faster than we anticipated. People were really forced into using the tools—and the best way to learn any of these tools is to practice. We have all been getting a lot of practice using tools like Webex and Webex Teams—that is for sure!”
What lessons can we learn from this experience?
“It takes a village—and a whole lot of communication! Just when you think you have reached everyone with your message, you need to push it out again. Leaning on faculty to help one another was critical for our success. And, it was so heart-warming and a true testament of our faculty to see the willingness to help one another and provide insights.
“This has been described as a revolutionary time for higher education and the world. I truly believe we will not see education the same way ever again after this is all over. I am confident that Babson will learn from this experience and find some positives in this crazy period of time. I am seeing many positives already. We are filled with entrepreneurs and forward thinkers and we will continue to lean on those kinds of people to get us through these challenging times.”