Guest article by Jonas Holmqvist (Kedge Business School)

The current Corona-crisis has profoundly changed society, and this is true also for academia. Most of us, wherever we are, have had to rapidly adapt to teaching online. In this piece, I reflect on this rapid shift to discuss what it has meant for my teaching and supervision, what lessons I have learned and what pieces of advice I might be able to give to other academic colleagues. Before going on, let me say that I am someone who never taught on-line before. Quite the opposite: I emphasize the importance of an interactive class in which students engage through discussions and presentations. I had never even considered an online format, nor would I have expected it to be possible for my courses. Despite this, I soon realized that things worked – not only ‘worked’, I started to find that the swift shift to online pedagogy went really well. I want to underline the three key factors in what has made the shift to online teaching work better than I could ever have imagined. These three factors will be instantly recognizable to all service researchers: institutional support (supporting services), online tools (digital services) and student engagement (“customer” engagement).

1. Institutional support
From the start of the Corona-crisis, the faculty support at Kedge has been phenomenal. As Professor of service marketing, I always emphasize the importance of supporting services to my students, and this crisis highlights what a difference supporting services can do. At Kedge we took a one-week time-out to plan our approach. During that first week, we had both faculty meetings online through Teams and all week long our support team ran intensive courses in the various online pedagogical tools for those colleagues who had not used them. Simultaneously, the IT support worked very hard to reinforce the capacity of our servers to prepare for the massive increase in volume when thousands of other students would go online for their courses. This far, it has worked wonders – I haven’t encountered any technical problems, nor has any colleague I’ve spoken to.

2. Online tools
Since moving online, I rely on a battery of online tools. I cannot really say there is a ‘one-fits-all’, at least not for me. I continue to use Blackboard Learn for all course materials, just as I did before the lockdown. Zoom has been great for group discussions with students. Last week, I would have had 28 final project presentations in class. Instead, each group presented over Zoom, allowing me to attend each presentation in real time, and provide feedback at the end. In addition, I recorded each presentation (with student permission) to put each presentation on Learn so all students can watch all other presentations, just as they would have done in class. Since we all have the camera and the microphone on, it’s almost like talking in class. All the students managed to connect successfully, no problems with sound or video. For my theses supervision, as well as for research meetings, I use Skype. Personally, I find Zoom superior for group discussions while preferring Skype for individual discussions. Finally, for my first online exam, I changed the format to an essay-exam submitted through Urkund. While Learn, Zoom, Skype and Urkund are my main tools, I’ve also attended faculty meetings and even a PhD defense over Teams, and virtual brunch as well as virtual after-works with colleagues using GoToMeeting. (These informal after-works are great to ‘socialize’ even during the lockdown)

3. Student engagement
While grateful for the strong institutional support and positively surprised by the efficiency of the online tools, the best thing by far during these first 3½ weeks of lockdown has been the student engagement! Teaching international classes, with 30-40% international students from all around the world, I knew most international students had left France ahead of the lockdown to return to their countries while most French students had returned to their home cities in France. I admit expected attendance to drop. I was entirely wrong, emphatically so! My first day online, I knew I would have nine hours with 147 students in total. Out of those 147, an astonishing 142 turned up for class (and three of those absent had valid reasons and notified me in advance).
This went up even further the next day, when a full 54/54 students attended. The week afterwards, this was repeated – during those 28 final presentations with a total of 129 students, just one(!) student was absent. As we keep the same course schedule as we would have had in class, it’s of course a bit of a challenge – but my students in Asia and Australia stay up after midnight, student in North and South America attend at 5am… To me, this engagement is absolutely phenomenal.
Going online has even had some benefits. In class, it’s often a limited number of people who speak, but during both case study supervisions and project presentations, all students really engage. In addition, these online meetings allows me to casually check up on how students are doing, as I take a few minutes before and after each presentation to talk about how they are.

So to sum up, my impressions after the first 3½ weeks online are really positive. Of course teaching remains at its best in class, where students and I can truly interact. I’m rather lucky as I was already more than halfway through my courses when the lockdown came, so I already knew the students. Had we gone online a month before, I would have had major concerns and I understand that it’s difficult for colleagues who are starting new classes. That said, my feeling is that even though we all, regardless of where we are, currently go through a difficult time, not all is gloom. The supporting services at Kedge, the usefulness of the digital tools, and – most of all – the amazing engagement of my students all contribute to make teaching online not only possible but also an enjoyable experience.

Jonas Holmqvist
Professor of Service Marketing
Kedge Business School
Bordeaux, France