Tales from the Lockdown #11: Saul Klein, Gustavson School of Business
01 June 2020
In this series of conversations, our guests talk to Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro about what they're learning during the pandemic and what future they're imagining.
Saul Klein is Dean at Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada
What aren’t we talking enough about during this crisis?
We’re not talking enough about what comes after the crisis. Will we revert back to the way things were before? Do we want that to happen? We need to be talking about change in a more positive way. How do we rebuild better? How do we respond to the divided world we find ourselves in? It has been said that we should never let a good crisis go to waste and this is one of those moments - to think about what kind of future we want to create.
Has your school’s mission shifted in any way with this pandemic?
Our mission has really sharpened. How do we teach values like equality and mobility in a world that’s threatened by xenophobia and populism, for example?
At the Gustavson School of Business social responsibility is one of our pillars and some of the initiatives we had been working on have gained a new sense of urgency.
One of those is the Victoria Forum, which we are running this year in collaboration with the Senate of Canada, bringing together global leaders, policymakers, social innovators and academia. We’ve pivoted the 2020 edition to look at how to bridge the divides that have been exposed and exacerbated in the wake of the global pandemic, using lenses of turf, trust and truth.
We’ve been running one other initiative over the past 6 years, that involves a large piece of data collection looking at consumer trust in brands. This year, we ran an additional study on trust during the pandemic, identifying those organisations that really do good things in a consistent and impactful way. We're looking at how they treated employees during the pandemic, how they worked with their communities, and so forth. Trust is a key value for us to build a better society and is also a huge asset for organisations.
What’s surprised you the most once normality disappeared and your organisation had to adapt to a different reality?
It was amazing how quickly people were able to adapt and rally around our School’s goals. One of our principles was not to disrupt student’s academic journeys and a second was to ensure the learning experience continued to be engaging and interactive even in this new online environment.
For that to happen it was important that faculty could focus on delivering lectures and not worry about the technology. So, there is always a moderator in every class, a staff member who connects with faculty before each session, discusses what their needs are and then manages the technical aspects of the class so that the instructor can completely focus on teaching. It’s been very enriching: a lot of our moderators are professional services staff who wouldn’t normally attend lectures, and now they’re getting to know the work we do as a School better. Faculty are also sitting in on each other’s classes and sharing their experiences with each other.
What else are you experimenting with in online delivery, and what’s been positive about it?
We’re learning more about flipped classrooms, and the use of asynchronous delivery to augment synchronous sessions. This is turning out to be our busiest summer ever, as we are serving students who would normally be working.
We are planning a variety of innovations in our student experience for the fall term, which will also be online, trying to create an online experience that is as strong as the face to face one. It includes rethinking exchange programmes with partner universities around the world. Some of them are open to incoming students, others aren’t ready to do so just yet. We’re looking at creative solutions like international cohorts that can be co-taught by faculty at different institutions
Canada is a magnet for migration; in our School that translates into a blend of domestic students, including first generation students from somewhere else, and international students. In our postgraduate programmes more than half of our students can be from overseas, while at the undergraduate level about three-quarters are domestic. It’s important for us to design cross-cultural learning into the online experience. How do we make sure our domestics students learn from the reality elsewhere if they’re not going to be travelling there this term? Even if we pull off something online out of a temporary need, it may be a foundation that we’ll carry into the future to deepen our international approach.
What are you more mindful these days?
Wellbeing is a real priority for our teams. Some colleagues are feeling isolated; others lack the privacy or facilities to work from home in the way they were accustomed to before; still others have challenges around childcare and spousal unemployment.
We’ve put a lot of thought into our culture too. We have a flat structure and lots of consensus at our School and want to retain that sense of community. Our coffee mornings are better attended now than they were before, we get 60 people or so showing up twice a week whereas in the building we’d only get 20 to 25 at any one point. We’re also opening virtual meeting rooms before the meetings start and leaving them open after so people can catch up as they would if we were back on campus. We have break out rooms that people can go into to recreate those smaller discussions. Our different teams meet every morning and I’m popping into those meetings far more than I used to.
What have you learnt about yourself?
This period has reinforced the need to be creative and do things differently. And it’s forced me to think about the nature of our community, and how we best work together. I’m communicating more often and more regularly than when in the office. People are looking for reassurance, even more than they’re looking for information sometimes. In the past a lot of my communications might have been task-based whereas now the contact time I have with colleagues is often centered on supporting them.
Photo: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.