The Charger Blog

Business Professor Says Remote Learning Cultivates Students’ Entrepreneurial Mindset, Fosters Innovation

Brian A. Marks, J.D., Ph.D., senior lecturer in the Department of Economics and Business Analytics, is leading a team of professors that quickly moved 10 sections of an introductory Business and Entrepreneurship course to a remote format and, within days, had a plan to make the culminating business plan competition a live online event.

March 30, 2020

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer

Image of Brian A. Marks's Business and Entrepreneurship Zoom classroom.
A look at one of Brian A. Marks's Business and Entrepreneurship Zoom classrooms.

The one thing you don’t plan on when you’re in the middle of your Business and Entrepreneurship class – live on Zoom – is having one of your dogs start barking – and not stop.

Or you’re in Microeconomics, trying to share a point about possible economic solutions to the widespread problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the WiFi in the house suddenly gets glitchy.

Or you need to do some project planning with your Business Expo team in an online breakout room, and everyone in the family is working from home, studying, taking classes, involved in their own phone conferencing, and you have to hunt around for a quiet spot to call your own.

"This has been an eye opener that anything unexpected can really happen, and this has helped me be more flexible, adapting to changing assignments and using different platforms," says Peyton Lott ’23, a business management major who recalled some of the challenges she’s overcome in her remote learning. "I’ve found I’m ready to roll with anything that comes my way."

"Dr. Marks makes it so interactive that it’s almost exactly the same as being in the classroom."Peyton Lott ’23

One of her first online classes was microeconomics taught by Brian A. Marks J.D., Ph.D., a senior lecturer in the Department of Business Analytics and executive director of the University’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program.

"Dr. Marks makes it so interactive that it’s almost exactly the same as being in the classroom," says Lott.

"He encourages us to find ways to move past challenges," adds Alexandra Kettyle ’23, a marketing major.

‘Just another challenge that provide opportunities’

That kind of nimble thinking and creative problem solving is at the center of the Business and Entrepreneurship course Lott and Kettyle are taking.

And it is the approach Dr. Marks has had since he found himself coordinating the move of 10 sections of the introductory Business and Entrepreneurship course to remote learning earlier this month amid the University’s decision to institute online learning for the remainder of the semester due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Marks was ready. He’d already taught his students to use Zoom and conducted some classes online back in January. He also brings 30 years of work in the tech industry.

Image of Alexandra Kettyle ’23.
Alexandra Kettyle ’23 working remotely.

"Moving the program to remote delivery is just another challenge that provides opportunities," Dr. Marks says. "This is not a solo enterprise, but a team of instructors, who have an entrepreneurial mindset."

He and the faculty team of Mike Driscoll, MBA; Jan Jones, Ph.D.; George King, J.D.; Mike Maguire; and David Sacco, MBA, with the support of Dean Brian Kench, Ph.D. and Associate Dean Chuck Skipton, Ph.D., quickly had a plan in place.

"This team has met periodically on Sunday nights since the start of the semester to discuss insights from the prior week, and identify any potential issues in the coming weeks," Marks says. They quickly leveraged a design thinking approach and developed a plan that allowed each instructor flexibility on how they would deliver the content.

Some, like Dr. Marks, are offering synchronous classes, with students meeting online via Zoom, while others are offering asynchronous classes that include online discussion boards

They were also immediately thinking about how to move forward – live online - with the course’s capstone project, the Nicholson Business Plan Competition and Expo in which the 180 students taking the course, working in teams, create viable business plans, simulating what it would take to launch their own company, culminating with a poster and pitch competition. He is using the challenges as an opportunity for growth – for him and his students.

"Nothing like putting into practice what we teach," Dr. Marks says.

‘Nothing better than real-life experience’

It is, Dr. Marks says, an extraordinary time to be teaching Business and Entrepreneurship, Microeconomics, and Game Theory because so much of what is happening in the world is relevant.

"While we often use illustrations from history, there is nothing better than real-life experience to understand subject matter content," he says. "Given the current environment, students do not have to search for news stories that may be relevant, it is on the front-page, so-to-speak. In addition, students are living the political, economic, and business implications of the environment, which is at the core of what we are exploring in the classroom, now the virtual classroom."

"While we often use illustrations from history, there is nothing better than real-life experience to understand subject matter content."Brian A. Marks, J.D., Ph.D.

Michael Calabrese ’21, a sport management major, says it’s engrossing looking at the pandemic through the lens of game theory. "Just the other night we were discussing various social dilemmas, the mutual interdependence of decisions in everyday life as related to public or personal situations, and the potential outcomes," Calabrese says.

"We were discussing how COVID-19 presented us with what is called the ‘Assurance Game’ or ‘Stag Hunt Game’ when it comes to social distancing. If everyone buys in, we will see the best result for everyone," he adds. "Even though, that is the socially optimal outcome and an equilibrium, there are always some who will not join the majority at first, which is an alternative equilibrium. In time, we will see which way the individual members of society move."

‘We have to be adaptable’

In addition to encouraging his students to make connections between what they are reading in the media and seeing on social media to what they are learning in class, Dr. Marks is sharing strategies for ways to be successful learning from home, encouraging his students to create routines and to reach out to their professors, classmates, and friends online.

His classes emphasize face to face interaction with Zoom video and audio features and he uses a shared on-screen slide deck, a shared whiteboard for real-time notes, group and private chats, and the hand raising feature so he can call on students directly. "It’s important that we can all see each other," he says.

Kettyle, the first year marketing major, says Dr. Marks encourages her and her classmates to continually think up new strategies – like how to get around no longer meeting three times a week in person with their business expo teams. "It’s a learning curve," she says.

"This experience is definitely something that all of us at the University are going to take with us."Alexandra Kettyle ’23

"But, Dr. Marks has made it super accessible, and we’ve already had breakout meetings just with our teams. That’s important because we all want to learn but our teams are still competing against one another, so we want to keep some of our ideas to ourselves. We conference together, and Dr. Marks comes into the group and checks to see how we are doing."

This week he added another layer of complexity to the project, asking each team to consider how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect their product. "It’s important that we look at that because the coronavirus is affecting everything," Kettyle says. "He gives us so much to think about.

"This experience is definitely something that all of us at the University are going to take with us," she continues. "Each generation has something drastic that happens during their lives, and the coronavirus happening during college is a moment for us to learn from. We are learning to communicate differently and to work within the boundaries of social distance. We have to be adaptable. That’s what it’s all about."

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