01 Mar 2017

The Big Ambition Behind Educational Innovation


If a blueprint existed for educational innovation in the MBA Program, it would be informed by one guiding principle: create opportunities for students to identify and pursue their passions and to make a positive difference in the world.

“The ideal is that on the last day of their careers, our alumni would look back and say, ‘This education enabled me to lead a fulfilling life that I couldn’t have led otherwise.’ That’s the big ambition here,” says HBS’s Felix Oberholzer-Gee, the Andreas Andresen Professor of Business Administration and senior associ ate dean and chair of the MBA Program.

Innovation has been in the School’s DNA since it introduced the case method for management education almost a century ago. Sometimes innovation is about creating bold, new ideas, as happened when the field method was introduced to provide students more hands-on experience with real business challenges. From designing a new yearlong required course on Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development to building “hive” class rooms that support the associated teamwork and projects, the first year of the MBA Program was transformed. In the ensuing years the field method has been brought to the Elective Curriculum, with both immersive and extended field course offerings that require students to deepen their understanding of the “knowing” and “doing” of business leadership.

Innovation can also happen on a smaller scale, through gradual but persistent refining and refreshing. The second-year Elective Curriculum, for instance, functions like an R&D lab. In any given year, as many as five to ten new courses are introduced, typically drawing on the leading-edge research of the faculty members teaching them—on topics ranging from data analytics to reimagining capitalism. Even continuing courses incorporate anywhere from 10 to 50 percent new content or more, ensuring that students are engaging with business situations that are both timely and relevant.

Within and beyond the MBA Program, online learning, which has gained a significant foothold at HBS with the 2014 launch of HBX (highlighted in this issue of IMPACT), is yet another example of educational innovation. Going forward, the School is exploring ways to creatively integrate its three pedagogical strands—case, field, and digital — so that faculty members are able to draw on each in determining how best to convey tools, concepts, and insights.

Alumni play an integral role in advancing educational innovation at the School. “I’m amazed at how passionate our alumni are about ensuring that HBS is the best it can be,” says Oberholzer-Gee. “Yes, they provide financial resources, for which we are deeply grateful. But we also rely on intellectual stimulus from the alumni community—the insights they share, the engagement they have with our students—that ultimately powers innovation at HBS. We couldn’t do without both kinds of alumni support.”

(photo by Evgenia Eliseeva)

“Some people might say, ‘Why would you want to change anything?’ But part of the obligation of the School’ s leadership is to nudge people — to constantly improve and change and make the experience even better.”

Felix Oberholzer-Gee, the Andreas Andresen Professor of Business Administration and senior associate dean and chair of the MBA Program


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