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Interview with Dr. Henry C. Lucas

Recently we interviewed Dr. Henry C. Lucas, Professor of Information Systems at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. We asked a number of questions of Dr. Lucas around his opinion of online courses which you can find below.

Tell Us About Yourself

I’m a convert! Up until about 4-5 years ago, I was opposed to online education andof the reason for it was what the for profit schools have done to give it a really badname. That was something that deterred me from it. Then I saw for the first time aproduct called Adobe Connect and then I realized that it could be possible to have aquality online education with interaction between faculty and students. And so Ibecame a strong believer in that. I came back from my sabbatical and I startedmaking noises here, and what is really warp speed for a university, 2 years afterthat, we started an online MBA program with synchrative classes with the students. That was a year ago January, so we will be graduating a class at the end of thiscoming academic year. That program is going very well, with up over 100 students. It’s also about the size of our next incoming glass. The school that I saw doing thiswas UNC Chapel Hill. They have over 600 students in their online MBA programnow, and that dwarfs their full time program. That is a bit about me going to onlineeducation, and the University of Maryland started out with an agreement withCoursera to provide MOOCS, and when the call came around for that I thought that itwas really important for the business school and for my academic profession (myfield is information technology) to have a MOOC. So I put one together called“Surviving Disruptive Technologies”, which was based on the research I had donefor a book that came out a couple of years ago on that same subject. So that was amajor undertaking and I learned a lot from Coursera about how to prepareasynchronous material for students, things like keeping it short, using a tabletcomputer to annotate slides and trying to keep something going on the screen all ofthe time. So I used that to blend my full time course that I taught. I also took thesecond offering of the MOOC and offered it as a full credit course here by havingonline synchronous classes and having extra work for the students to do beyondwhat else in the MOOC. I wanted to make sure I knew and understood all of thesesaspects so I have done online, I have done blended and I have done a MOOC.

How important is it to have a synchronous component to an online course?followed by:Should it be completely synchronous or do you think a hybrid between asynchronous and asynchronous would be ideal?I can give you my thoughts today, but they may be different tomorrow!! I am aboutto publish a book within the next few months entitled “Technology and theDisruption of Higher Education: Saving the American University”. I view all of thesethings as highly disruptive to our current business model, which hasn’t changed inthe last 500 years. So the real question becomes, “Can you do the same jobasynchronously that you can with synchronous communications included. And Ithink the jury is still out on that. My own belief up until now has been that you doneed the synchronous interaction with faculty and part of that is selfish. I didn’t gointo teaching to communicate with students via email and chat rooms. I like theinteraction with students. I think students like the interaction too, but there may bea very large market out there for students for which that is not that important. Thetrouble is, I’m not sure you develop a lot of insight by reading something, orlistening to me talk in a prepared format, but you might develop insight fromdiscussing issued with your classmates or faculty member. Again, I don’t know forsure if that’s the case. I have seen some very nicely produced asynchronous coursesthat appear to be very successful. If you go on YouTube, there’s some advertisingfor CORe X , which is 3 courses that Harvard’s Business school is offering. Fromwhat I hear, they have 30 people producing these things, and that’s not faculty. Just30 staff members doing the production. They have tried to move the case method toan asynchronous environment where you are asked questions in the middle of adiscussion that you have a certain amount of time to respond to. The thing I don’tknow about that is what happens to the answers? You run into the issue of gradingthousands of students at a time. So for right now, I’m a big believer in thesynchronous part. I think it takes more advantage of the technology. I have found inthe online course that I teach in our online MBA program the students I think reallylike to have that opportunity to meet together online, but that doesn’t say that therewill be a segment of the population for whom a really well done totally synchronousprogram works. Maybe more of the working student who is part time. And I also seea huge opportunity here which I don’t feel is being exploited, and maybe it wouldtake a company such as Learnpower because Universities are not in that businessand I’m not sure community colleges can, but we hear a lot of stories about ashortage in skilled workers, blue collar workers, and I think that this would be anatural way for someone to obtain the skills to become an electrician, or a plumberor something like that where maybe you have a “kit” that you send out, and youpractice while watching 15-20 minute videos on the subject, and start the road to becoming an apprentice in that area.

Right now, knowing what you know, if you were starting from scratch, what wouldbe the first few things you would do to start your online class?I think the first thing you need to do is figure out what the objectives are for theclass, what you are trying to accomplish in the class. For me, I start out with theoverall structure of the class. So what are the major topics that I want to cover? And then within each of those topics I would need to figure out the information topresent. The biggest resistance to any of this is the faculty. Without question, atleast on the university level. I think what they are most afraid of is that their valueis only seen as a lecturer, and they don’t think about the other things that they do interms of structuring the class, determining what material has to go into it, puttinginto pieces, and explaining it to the students. I would go through that process andeventually if I trickled down, I would get to the specifics that I would like to cover ineach 6-8 minute video. At the same time I would be looking for what we call here“curating videos”, that is finding things that exist already, so that not everything ismy lecturing, but in fact it would be a video from a Ted Talk, or something else thatwould cover some of the material.

When you are creating a class, is there a percentage of outside resources that youuse in your course?I generally have created most of the content myself, but I have been thinking abouttrying to substitute more external talks. One of the issues in a business school thatis unique is that students listen more closely when a CEO talks than when a facultymember talks! So if I can find a CEO lecture someplace that is saying somethingabout technology and strategy then I am going to jump on that. It really depends onwhat is available out there. For most of us who have been teaching a long time, wethink most about our own material then slowly add material from the outside.Do you have any specific technology that you love to use when creating content?Yes! It’s called an instructional designer!! (Laugh) I use PowerPoint, and myPowerPoints are adequate, after our instructional designer works on them, they arebeautiful! In terms of technology, I started out using Camtasia for making videos. That’s avery industrial strength program. I had a tough time recommending it to otherpeople. There is also Screencast-o-matic which I have been using andrecommending to people. You can do reasonable editing with this program. Quitefrankly, if you are doing an 8-minute video and you screw up, it’s probably easier todo it over rather than edit it. We are actually making another MOOC called “Business Basics for Everyone” to tryto help spread our educational mission, and to spread the brand of the school. Sowe are having between 15-18 faculty members each give short talks about theirfield and what’s involved in accounting, finance, information technology, and so on. For that we have bought several Lenova Yoga Computers and did screencasts onthem. That’s what I have been using more recently for making videos. We are alsousing Adobe Connect for our online classes. With this program, we have decided tolimit the amount of students on the screen to 25 because everyone has a window,and we want to have some screen space in case you want to throw up a PowerPointor something like that. I could probably do 30, but would be reluctant to go overthat. I like interaction with the class, which is why I recommend that no one lecturewith Adobe Connect. Lecture should be in the asynchronous part of the course. When you have synchronous, you have much less time than you would have in aphysical class and that’s the time you want an active learning session going on. Has this approach been successful with your student grades and retention?Well, right now we are struggling with what defines success. We have an MBAoversight committee, which has said that we have to carefully evaluate whateveryone is doing in the online program, and see what the results are. And mycomment was, “ Maybe we should do that in our other programs too. Why confine itto just the online program?” In fact we don’t do a lot of measurement but there hasbeen an increased focus on that. Business schools that are accredited areaccredited by a group called American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and now they are changing their criteria. They want to know how are wedeciding what the outcome is? Not just handing someone a degree. For a businessschool, that is really hard because some people would say “Well, it’s your salary andwe should measure grads salaries every 5 years. “ But now you are talking aboutwhat we have done 5-10 years ago, which is not the same as what we are doing now. What is it you want to measure that says that person had some amount of successdue to the degree? The farther they get from the school, the more other factorscome in. So it can be really tough. There are some assessments. There issomething called the Critical Learning Assessment (CLA). That tends to measurecritical thinking so there is talk of maybe giving that to students in their freshmanyear, and then again in their senior year to see if they have improved. But there arepeople that would argue that that’s not the outcome they were looking for. Thatthey were looking for some other outcome. We are too new at this to say anything. We looked at the research that has been done. The consensus seems to be if youtake a physical traditional class on one side, and take a totally online program on theother, and blend it somewhere in the middle, that it’s the best of both worlds.

What has been the biggest benefit to the UMD Business School of offering onlineclasses?I believe it has opened up an entirely new market for us. And for the last 5 years,business school applications have been dropping in the United States. They may beup this year. But there is a concern that there may not be as much interest instudents physically coming to a campus. In the Washington DC area, George MasonUniversity ended its full time MBA program to concentrate on part-time, as didWake Forest University. So there is a concern for the long term forecast of the oncampus MBA. We are really tapping into a new market. We have students in ouronline MBA program from the west coast, so we really cover the entire UnitedStates.

Where do you see online education in the next 5 years, and if institutions don’tadopt online programs to some extent, are they doomed?I guess part of my purpose in writing the book that’s coming out is to talk about thatissue. I think there are going to be schools that fail, and people will look at themand discount them at first. I think the school that could be in the most trouble is thesmall one, particularly a private school, but it could happen to a public as well that ismaybe known within a 100-mile radius to the campus and that’s it. People will nowhave choices like UMD, and many other schools and get exposure to the best facultyaround, then supplement that with MOOKS. They can live at home, work atStarbucks, and it wont cost $100,000 to get a degree. For a lot of people, that is areally nice value proposition. I like the opportunity for students to spend some timeon a campus as undergraduates. But the majority of college students in thiscountry do not do that. It’s the lucky ones that get to do that. The really lucky onesthat get to go to Ivy League. There is an awful amount of students that don’t get todo that. So the smaller college that does not have a national reputation and aworld-class faculty is the one I think is in the most danger right now.

Tell us about the MOOC that you are teaching.One is in development right now, but the one I did a few years ago was quitegratifying. I released all of the upcoming weeks sessions on Sunday. By Sundaynight, the discussion boards were going and some of the students just binged on it. They looked at all of the videos for the week in one day! The discussion boardswere very active. When I got the statistics back from Coursera I had students from150 countries taking the course. I would never reach that audience any other way.

Do you think credits for MOOC courses will eventually become more widelyaccepted?I think we are seeing signs of that now. Arizona State University has been veryaggressive and they came out a few weeks ago and they talked about MOOCS and I’mguessing their faculty would create these. Students can take a series of MOOCS anddecide after they have completed them if they want to pay tuition for them and getcollege credit. And they could cover most of their freshman year that way and thenthey could physically go to a campus after that. University of Illinois has justannounced and MBA program for $20,000 in which you can take some MOOCSinvolved in that. The first school I heard that as doing this was Georgia Tech with aMasters of Science and Computer Science with Udacity They will do the whole MSprogram as MOOCS for $6600.00. Their on campus MS is $40,000 or more. University of Maryland Business Basics for Everyone MOOC will go live in the fall onCoursera.

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