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How the global pandemic reshaped the HBA experience

  • Cory Nagler
  • |
  • Aug 4, 2020
How the global pandemic reshaped the HBA experience

Cory Nagler is going into HBA2 this fall. In his blog below, he writes about his experience with online classes as an HBA1 student during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the better part of the past year, my time as an HBA1 was shaped by the supportive and engaging environment of my classroom experience. Ivey provided me with a uniquely immersive education through the case method, numerous conferences, and social events. Right off the bat, I felt like part of a family with my fellow Section 7 classmates. I always felt like I could openly share ideas and get good feedback from my peers and instructors without fear of judgment. Creating such a close-knit community of students in a program known for being hyper-competitive is no easy feat. That made it all the harder to learn in March that classes would move online to help facilitate appropriate physical distancing measures during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Like many of my peers, I was worried about how this change would affect the in-person education I had become so accustomed to. Would the case method work in an online setting? What would this mean for grading? Were exams still happening? Mostly, though, I was disappointed to miss out on an extra few weeks with my new Ivey family. The announcement was so sudden that it felt like everything I had come to love about the HBA program was being ripped away without an opportunity to say goodbye.

Moving to a virtual classroom

I was inspired to write this piece after reading about how Janice Byrne, my intersession professor during the New Venture Creation entrepreneurship class, responded to teaching in a virtual setting.

Even with the quick transition to online classes, I learned a lot in this course by interacting with my peers through Zoom and listening to the experiences of many successful entrepreneurs. While I’m thankful for what I learned in this online course, there is no doubt the move to digital classes brought many challenges for everyone involved.

I thought there would be value in sharing, from a student’s perspective, some of the lessons I learned during this time. These are only my personal takeaways from the past couple of months, but I suspect they will resonate with some of my classmates.

Most learning happens outside the classroom

When I first heard that classes would be held over Zoom, I assumed that missing the in-person classes would be the hardest part. Although the discussion portion was different when not in a room with your professors and peers, I found the hardest part was missing out on things outside of classes. The HBA program is highly collaborative and I missed being able to easily approach my peers after class to clarify difficult concepts, or spending hours being semi-productive studying for exams while goofing around with friends. Personal connections are a big part of the learning process and that is something I didn’t fully appreciate until it was taken away.

In conjunction with the move to Zoom classes, we also lost the numerous conferences, networking opportunities, clubs, and other events remaining in the school year. These events oftentimes provide the opportunity to apply concepts learned in class and hear from speakers with different perspectives from those at formal Ivey events. I was genuinely impressed with how quickly the program pivoted to a virtual setting, but it still felt like some of that Ivey magic was lost in those final weeks.

Change is inevitable, but it’s not always easy

As Ivey moved its classes online, I was eager to get going and finish the remainder of the semester. However, I didn’t anticipate just how difficult this change would be. We had to adjust to online classes while completing numerous assignments on top of an already tough course load for contribution. It was also difficult to settle into a regular study routine without the obligation to come into a physical classroom every day. When it came time to complete a 48-hour group report for Marketing class, I was thankful to work with my classmates one last time, but it’s hard to coordinate a big project online, especially with a tight deadline.

The toughest part for me was managing exams. It felt lonely abandoning my usual study groups to observe physical distancing, and the gravity of the situation oftentimes made it difficult to find motivation for studying. We were granted nine hours instead of the usual four to write most of the case exams, but it was completely exhausting, both mentally and physically, to spend so much time on a case-based exam. The exams themselves were no different than usual, but when you are graded relative to your peers, you felt you had to take the extra time.

Of course, the changes were not all bad. Online classes created more opportunity to share opinions through the chat function on Zoom and it was nice to work from the comfort of home. In a lot of ways this new setting provided flexibility, but that was usually overshadowed by the uncertainty and stress surrounding all the changes happening at once.

A time for reflection

The COVID-19 pandemic forced change so suddenly that it feels like years, rather than months, since I was last in a classroom surrounded by friends. One side effect of this hasty transition is that it forced me to reflect on what is important. When it comes to education, I’ve always had the mindset that the learning process is more important than the results, but the added stress of worrying how the virus might affect me and friends or family made a couple of extra percentage points on an assignment seem even more insignificant. I recognize that, for many students, including me, grades can have implications for scholarship eligibility, graduate school applications, and job prospects. However, recent events have been a reminder that grades don’t define who you are and the result of any one assessment is unlikely to shape future success.

Ivey really cares about its students

During the six-week period between when spring classes moved online to when I finally finished my summer course, I have been impressed with the care given to supporting students like myself through a time of crisis.The effort I’ve seen instructors put into their teaching during the switch to online classes shows how much they genuinely want their students to succeed. All the guest speakers, extra review sessions, and detailed email responses to questions went a long way towards making the shift more palatable. Although I wish I could have back those six weeks of classes, it was reassuring to feel like there were people rooting for us during this craziness.

Looking ahead to my HBA2 year, I’m both excited and nervous to see what the future holds as the HBA program continues to adapt to the uncertainty of these times. I hope the next cohort of HBA1 students know we’re rooting for them, too.