Virtual Reality 2020 Back-to-School Challenge
Grenoble Ecole de Management stretches the boundaries of technology with a virtual reality Back-to-School Challenge, immersing its first-year Master’s in Management students.
Call to Action
The world of work for Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) graduates will be radically different from what it is today. That was already true before the COVID-19 crisis. The school therefore aims to open its students not only to the fundamentals of how a company works but also to new ways of looking at business, through lenses such as geopolitics, economic peace, technology for the common good, artificial intelligence, gender equality, the fight against climate change, responsible consumption, and more.
The training students follow at GEM consequently puts them in real-life experimental situations, thanks to the talents of our teachers, our experiential labs, our serious games, and our hybrid courses in France and abroad. This year, GEM welcomed its new Master’s in Management students in a fully online setting, with the transition to an ecological and zero-waste school at the heart of all activities.
Among the new initiatives are a virtual welcome forum, an online Acts for Sustainability Challenge, virtual campus visits including the innovative GEM Labs campus, and, finally, a voluminous Back-to-School Challenge. This year’s Back-to-School Challenge took place online and immersed students in projects that have impact on the six societal and environmental priority areas identified by GEM during the COVID crisis: health, work, energy, food, education, and the city.
The innovation lies in the virtual reality Back-to-School Challenge, in which nearly 700 first-year students of GEM participated in September 2020. To start the challenge, students completed an escape-room game to find out what the theme would be: "New Deals to think and impact the world." The students used clues scattered around the virtual campus of GEM. They then had nine days combining courses and virtual reality workshops to learn how to use the controversy approach in negotiations to propose a "new deal," concerning one of the six societal and environmental issues GEM defined during the COVID crisis.
Students’ propositions had to be new, useful, and feasible, and needed to involve stakeholders of the Grenoble ecosystem. A virtual exhibition of 144 stands that took place at the end of this period allowed the students to share their results and to pitch their new-deal projects in front of a panel of professionals, school administrators with various backgrounds, and representatives from six major corporate partners of the school. Several panel members were recognized experts on the given themes and designated as main “witnesses.” They participated, presented, and interacted with the students regarding their own new-deal projects.
Overall, in this virtual campus, the students worked in teams, resolved challenges, searched for data and information, created avatars and coats of arms, discussed and interacted, met professionals, and even danced, all as part of the pedagogical framework.
First-year students came together in the main auditorium of the new digital campus using a customized avatar to represent themselves. During the challenge, students interacted and collaborated continuously with the GEM teams involved. The challenge simultaneously sensitized students to the notion of responsible communication, copyrights, and more.
Students discovered that they developed an interest in a subject while exploring it methodically and collectively and ended up preparing actively for the final exhibition. Moreover, the artistic avatar activity prompted our students to implement creative techniques to manage their self-image, perception, authenticity, and coherence in the digital world, as well as collective identity and shared values.
We have seen a strong team spirit among professors who tutored the student groups in this new setting. GEM research teams met with the students, helping them develop their research and initiating discussions on the transformation of business and society. In “Meet the expert,” teams of first year-teachers and professionals offered students a pedagogical introduction and prolonged practical perspective on a single subject matter.
To ensure the engagement of external stakeholders, the pitch-panels included professionals and representatives from major corporate partners who participated, presented, and interacted with the students regarding their own new-deal projects. GEM involved a local organization to leverage its artistic expertise and enhance the learning experience. GEM foresees bundling all 144 projects into a white paper to share widely with all citizens of its local ecosystem.