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RIT Ready: Moving Forward Into Fall
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Blog » Faculty Stories: Neil Hair and Serving a Client in an Online Environment

Marybeth Koon—Students in the online executive marketing EMBA program pose a range of unique challenges for Neil Hair, executive director of the Innovative Learning Institute and associate professor of the E. Philip Saunders College of Business. In addition to completing courses in a compressed time while working full-time in demanding jobs, they are often widely dispersed around the globe. However, they are also experienced, motivated students who are able to work independently, and are ready to work on real-life problems. The problem for Neil was replicating experiential interaction with real-world clients for this group of experienced students in a way that was just as rigorous, engaging, and interactive as working with a real client. He accomplishes this through a combination of online meetings and a true-to-life case study client. “What makes the course unique is the use of the ‘client’ and the blend of technology aimed at imparting the knowledge executive students need to complete the course and their understanding of strategic marketing processes.”

A High-Touch Online Environment

Neil shares, “These are busy executives, most of them very senior, which means that they’re incredibly time-starved. But they’re also incredibly dedicated toward solving the problems that we present to them. So it provides a unique set of constraints…”

Marketing students in the EMBA program need to experience the back and forth collaboration that is needed to develop an effective marketing strategy. Along with working in their groups, though, they also have to gain skill in understanding and applying what they hear from their client. Neil wants to make sure that, in an online environment, students don’t miss out on the personal coaching and feedback they need to develop these skills.

He also adds, “One of the things that RIT does very well is connect on a one-to-one basis with many of our students. At the advanced stage where these students are—returning students, many of them alums—they may be used to a certain way of learning and interacting with instructors.”

Facilitating Case-Based Learning

At the EMBA level, students are able to make the most of experiential learning. To support that experience, Neil has designed a realistic case study client, Sal’s Shoe Castle, to serve as a basis for applying the marketing theory the students learn about in weekly lectures. Neil explains, “We meet live using Adobe Connect to discuss issues facing the client and expand on the marketing problems presented. My approach makes extensive use of web cams and audio, with live captioning support where needed. Students also work in their study teams, meeting weekly in their own Adobe Connect meeting rooms. This culminates in a final presentation aimed at the client.” (Figure 1)
More information on web conferencing

screen capture of Adobe Connect session
Figure 1

Neil also works with a facilitator to help identify problems the groups may be facing, since they are working in such a short time period. These facilitators act as “micro-tutors” to make sure that students grasp the material and are applying themselves to the assignments.  During the final presentations, Neil acts as the client, “Sal.” In fact, during the entire course, Neil views his relationship with the class as more of an executive coach, rather than a regular instructor–a technique that connects with this group of students. He notes that “the traditional student-professor relationship is very different in this environment.”

An Effective Course Experience

Both the course and Neil have received consistently high course evaluations from a group of very demanding students. The course is well known for applying rigorous techniques, using technology to enhance the learning experience.  Neil sees his effectiveness with students as a result of his ability to have one-to-one and one-to-group real-time interactions with his students (Figure 2).  He credits Academic Technology and Media Services in the Innovative Learning Institute with helping him both facilitate globally distributed students synchronously and for developing strategies to prolong the life of the work he does online.  “I’m quite proud of the fact that many of the students I work with end up falling in love with the subject and really becoming quite passionate about what we’re trying to impart within this process.”

Screen capture of Adobe Connect session
Figure 2


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