Several multi-ethnic young adults sitting in a college classroom, wearing face masks

AACSB Quick-Take Survey on COVID-19: Preparing for a New Student Experience

As the start of new academic sessions approach, many schools are planning different learning and engagement methods to accommodate our extraordinary times.

AACSB’s most recent survey focused on the ways the student experience will change in light of coronavirus mitigation efforts on campuses, leading many schools to offer some form of online learning. A total of 129 AACSB member schools participated in the survey, with a regional breakdown of 60 percent in the Americas, 21 percent in Asia Pacific, and 19 percent in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).

The student experience will be changed in a variety of ways, but plainly, the biggest change will be that most students will not be taking all of their coursework (or any of it, in some cases) on a physical campus. Eighty-seven percent of respondents indicated that they will offer a mix of virtual and in-person learning. The hybrid approach can take on a number of different forms, with some schools offering staggered (or rotating) schedules for students, others conducting only certain courses in person (such as those with small class sizes that allow for social distancing), and a wide variety of other arrangements that meet the schools’ various needs. Eleven percent of respondents indicated that they will offer only virtual/online learning options, leaving just 2 percent offering only face-to-face classes.

Face-to-Face Measures

For schools offering at least some form of face-to-face learning, some measures for mitigating spread of the virus are nearly universal, such as boosting sanitation regimens, spacing desks apart, and requiring students and faculty to wear protective face masks.

Mitigation Measure Percentage
Increased cleaning and sanitation regimen 90%
Student desks being spaced apart 87%
Mandatory mask usage for students 80%
Mandatory mask usage for faculty 75%
Staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes 67%
No sharing of in-class objects (such as classroom supplies) 47%
Plexiglass separators between students 13%
N=115

There is little deviation from these measures when looking at the results from a regional perspective, with these basic efforts implemented quite commonly in all parts of the world.

Study Abroad Cancelations and Postponements

While the mitigation measures may change the feel of the in-classroom experience, they likely will not have a direct impact on educational content itself. But that does not mean students won’t experience differences with their coursework.

Experiential activities, particularly those that have typically relied on travel or face-to-face engagement, are changing, as well. As an example, 62 percent of study abroad trips have been postponed or canceled, with another 14 percent under consideration for postponement or cancelation. Fifteen percent of schools shared that they are working on replacing the trip abroad with another type of experience that does not require foreign travel. Some are doing this through a simulated/virtual trip abroad (9 percent), a local excursion (1 percent), or some other form of alternative experience (5 percent). Just 8 percent of respondents indicated that no changes are yet being made to their existing study abroad treks. A couple of members elaborated on their particular contexts and experiences:

While Thunderbird does relatively few study-abroad activities, most of our master's students do engage in overseas internships, which have been highly impacted by the coronavirus. The number of internships first dropped dramatically back in March, and then quite a few companies enabled our students to do virtual internships with them. So, the overseas internship program has survived, but it is largely virtual this year. Our expectation is that it will return to full in-person and on-site operation next year. We are most pleased that so many companies figured out that it was worth the effort to do virtual interactions, since they still want to use the internships as a filtering method for hiring master's graduates.

—Robert Grosse, Past President, Academy of International Business and Director, Latin America, Thunderbird School of Global Management

With COVID-19 moving so much teaching virtual, there are some unique opportunities to infuse additional international experiences into the curriculum. For example, under more usual circumstances, I would have invited into my classroom executive guests from Helsinki, where my school is located. Now that much of my teaching is virtual, I am considering corporate guests from all over the world. I am also considering doing a collaborative project with a school in China for a class I teach in November-December, as schools are more open to such virtual collaborations during COVID times. Thus, while COVID-19 is truly problematic for the international experiences of our students in the short term, there are some opportunities which are also emerging.

—Carl Fey, Professor of International Business at Aalto University, Former Dean of Nottingham University Business School, China

The Online Experience

Many schools indicated that their students are concerned about their ability to achieve networking goals in the new virtual environment—both with their peers and with potential employers. Fifty-eight percent of schools reported that their students are somewhat concerned, while 20 percent said their students are very concerned about networking opportunities. Concerns were most pronounced in the Americas, where 87 percent of respondents reported at least some level of concern (72 percent in Asia Pacific and a relatively low 50 percent in EMEA).

Business schools are working actively to assuage these concerns by offering a bevy of virtually supported engagement options aimed at enhancing student networking. Setting up virtual social events was commonly reported. Hosting virtual career fairs and corporate networking events was also commonly reported; many schools mentioned using video conference and chat applications with speakers from industry to continue engaging them with students on a regular basis.

Similarly, students are being encouraged to continue interacting with one another throughout the term using a variety of tools, including asynchronous messaging boards, learning management systems, chat and video conferencing applications, and others. Group work may be somewhat different in a virtual environment, but it was frequently cited as being an important component for creating an engaging virtual experience, as it encourages students to network with one another as they work through their tasks.

Schools are getting creative in how they will adapt experiential learning to a virtual or socially distanced setting. But, as evidenced by some schools pivoting to alternative experiences for their study abroad programs and student networking, schools are experimenting with a variety of tools to boost engagement in the virtual classroom.

Engagement Tool Used Percentage
Mobile learning 52%
Expanded office hours for faculty 41%
Micro/incremental content to modularize coursework 33%
Student mentors (student to faculty/staff) 28%
Gamification (point scoring, competition, games) 24%
Chat bots (automated messaging systems) 23%
Buddy system (student to student) 18%
N=120

To start with, 41 percent of schools reported expanding faculty office hours, providing students with more opportunities to have live discussions with their instructors at times that may suit their schedules. In a similar way, schools are also aiming to offer students more options when it comes to the platform they use to access educational content, with 52 percent of schools reporting utilization of mobile learning—content designed to be accessed via smartphone or tablet—for their upcoming term.

As a complement to this approach, one-third of respondents reported implementing micro/incremental content, to break up the curriculum into more manageable pieces, which pairs well with mobile-designed coursework, particularly for learners who are not completing all of the content in a single sitting, or are on the move. Mobile and micro-learning was in recent years becoming a popular discussion item among business schools as a possibility for the future, and it will be useful to monitor how the move to online for many schools may shift the trajectory for this learning style.

Effective Practices for Delivering Online Education

Many respondents shared that, while empowering a strong learning experience is critical, a successful student experience is predicated on the ability of faculty members to deliver. As such, in an open-ended question about effective practices to improve the learning experience, faculty training of some kind was the most widely cited activity.

Infrastructure changes, such as improving an LMS or implementing some new form of technology/program (such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom) was another commonly reported practice. Pedagogical shifts, be they the implementing gamification, offering student incentives for participating in online lectures, or utilizing a flipped classroom approach, were reported quite often, as well.

Some respondents mentioned the encouragement of asynchronous learning as an effective practice for improving the online experience, allowing students to engage in content at a time that suits their schedule. Yet, other respondents shared opposing viewpoints, noting their strict adherence to synchronous learning and the value of continuing live interaction as a means for boosting engagement.

The following are a few noteworthy effective practices identified by respondents:

We are implementing peer review for online coursework by a peer faculty reviewer through a campus center for teaching and learning to enhance effectiveness of the online course and teaching.
We have started an undergraduate teacher's assistant (TA) program where well qualified and specially trained students will work with faculty to improve the design of courses, communications between faculty and students in the course, and activities that will enhance engagement. The student perspective will greatly improve online course design.
We have faculty creating podcasts with alumni, developing active learning spaces online, and more. The experimentation and conversations that are happening are inspiring.
All faculty teaching fully online were expected to attend a seminar series on engaging students through distance education this summer. Those indicating a lack of familiarity or comfort with teaching in a distance education format also attended a series of presentations this summer and were assigned a mentor to help them create their course online. Faculty were also invited to attend a system-wide two-week boot camp on teaching online.
Faculty are engaging in peer-to-peer education on best practices related to online teaching. We've also had virtual sessions from our center for teaching and learning, as well as sessions on academic integrity in the online environment.

Continuing Forward

The student experience has been upended in some ways by the pandemic, with large changes to educational delivery vehicle, study abroad, and course completion. Yet, despite the challenges these changes pose, business schools are adapting quickly, offering a variety of innovative options to best replicate (and in some cases improve upon) their face-to-face programs in an online environment.

It will be useful to track these changes, to see which remain long term and which are merely temporary measures used as a stopgap bridge until students can return to campus.


Elliot DavisElliot Davis is manager of research at AACSB and is based in the Tampa, Florida, office.