Insights from Distance Delivery Shape Trajectory of Next Carson Coug Residential Program
Illustration by Gustaf Ö Hjalmars
As “Zoom University” became the norm during the global pandemic, Carson College faculty creatively found ways to innovate instruction and help students find jobs and internships during a recession. They adapted well because of the college’s many years of experience in distance delivery.
During this time, the proportion of business majors increased, and the number of nonbusiness majors served continued to grow. The college’s leadership in the online space also helped position it as the top school in the Pacific Northwest for online business education.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
Lessons learned during distance delivery of a face-to-face undergraduate program
The Next Carson Coug (TNCC) program focuses on the professional skills needed to be competitive in tomorrow’s business world. It was designed for on-campus students as well as Global Campus (100 percent online) students. During COVID, on-campus students moved to Zoom delivery.
“We were pioneers in video conference classes, having used them for over 30 years to connect campuses. Our ability to pivot into the Zoom space was better because of this history,” says Tom Tripp, senior associate dean for academic affairs. “But a course designed to be delivered totally online is very different than a course designed to be face-to-face that’s suddenly switched to a Zoom format.”
Faculty gained additional insights about distance and face-to-face instruction. Students who preferred face-toface were less comfortable shifting to Zoom. Some exhibited Zoom fatigue and anxiety, as well as “back of the class” disengagement. Students who shut their video camera off during a Zoom class, for example, figuratively moved themselves to the back of the class.
“TNCC wants students present—it’s part of the design and why we reduced class sizes. We want to metaphorically move disengaged, ‘back of the classroom’ students toward the front of the classroom,” says Tripp.
Faculty also noted the flexibility distance delivery allows can be complicated.
On one hand, distance delivery enabled faculty to expand their teaching repertoires. For example, David Whidbee, chair of the Department of Finance and Management Science, organized 22 guest speaker events for his financial management course, something he couldn’t have done in an in-person class. On the other hand, while class recordings and livestreaming benefited ill students, attendance plummeted when all students had that level of flexibility, says Tripp.
Some TNCC students who didn’t get a face-to-face experience had to work harder to develop the habits expected of them, especially in the areas of communication, leadership, and professionalism.
Brian Patrick, ASWSU president and a junior studying business, realized this on his own. “Most of my business classes were engaged on Zoom, but many of my core classes weren’t, especially in breakout rooms. People would just shut off their cameras and mics,” he says. He took charge of his learning experience and moved back to his Pullman fraternity, where he created his own professional habits. “I treated every day as if I were going to class—I studied in the sunroom from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and also did my homework there with a small group of others,” he says. “I didn’t realize how much I missed the face-to-face experience.”
Carson innovation abounds after Zoom experience
Armed with these new perspectives, the college is collectively creating innovative teaching approaches and programs.
As one example, Michelle Carter, associate professor of management, is implementing contract grading. “I sensed at the end of the 2020–21 school year many students were tired and a bit disconnected from learning,” she says. “I wanted to get them actively involved; when they feel they’re in control of their grades, they are often more motivated.”
A new teaching lunch hour allows faculty to discuss teaching techniques, new cases, and solutions to students’ challenges.
Jason Porter, scholarly assistant professor of accounting, is leading the college in expanding the use of case studies in the curriculum, particularly cases about Pacific Northwest businesses. “Case studies are one the most effective ways to challenge and assess our students,” he says.
Tripp oversaw classroom upgrades to enhance discussion and group work. “The tiered seating enables students to see and hear each other and me,” says Hana Johnson, assistant professor of management. “This makes them more accountable, and the layout simply encourages conversation.”
What’s ahead for Carson Cougs
The college is developing learning opportunities to supplement TNCC’s vision of producing career-ready graduates, says Chip Hunter, college dean.
Brand new programs include a Center for Professional Sales at Pullman, an annual marketing symposium, online professional certificates, a corporate scholars pilot focused on solving senior industry living challenges, and a study abroad program in Dubai.
Individual departments are also building on the TNCC platform. The Department of Accounting is developing a menu of career options and tracks under the guidance of a dedicated career advisor and support from two anonymous endowment gifts totaling $5 million. The Department of Finance and Management Science is evolving its three unique tracks—personal finance, financial services, and financial analysis—aimed at increasing all WSU students’financial literacy and career preparation.
“During this challenging time, faculty did not simply ‘get by,’” says Hunter. “They kept the focus on rigor, keeping students engaged, and ensuring a Carson College degree maintains its value for tomorrow’s graduates.”