The Evolving Digital Curriculum

How four schools are keeping their curricula on top of technological trends in business.

EVEN AS TASK forces begin their analysis of best practices in digital education, as part of the Management Curriculum in the Digital Era initiative, business schools continue to refine their own approaches. Here is a sampling of ways that the schools featured in this article are integrating technological training into their curricula:

Layering programs. The Stevens Institute of Technology has created a curriculum where larger degree programs are layered atop short preparatory courses. These courses include software boot camps and one-credit lab courses in topics such as Python, R, SAS, Hadoop, Matlab, and Bloomberg Market Concepts. Moreover, Stevens faculty seek to help students build their technological skills in most courses, so that by the time they graduate, they will be prepared to learn new skills at any time.

Brennan Casey is pursuing a master’s degree at Stevens while he works at “Nearly every course we take is lined with some kind of technology or tool that we have to learn,” he says. “When something new comes along, I’ll be able to learn it.”

Stevens also offers an undergraduate major in accounting and analytics, and over the last five years the school has introduced courses in applied analytics, deep learning, digital innovation, creativity and innovation, data analytics and machine learning, social network analytics, web mining, cognitive computing, data visualization, and data stream analytics and the Internet of Things. The school has launched master’s programs in financial engineering and financial analytics, as well as a new PhD program in data science, offered jointly with the department of computer science.

To further support its course content, the school organizes conferences and other events focused on digital technology and innovation, from blockchain to artificial intelligence to cybersecurity. Each year, for example, students in Stevens’ master’s program in business intelligence and analytics attend a networking event where they showcase their data-driven research projects to an audience of more than 100 employers and recruiters. “Our corporate partners tell us that they view their interactions with our students as a way to keep themselves informed of the latest trends in digital technology,” says Gregory Prastacos.

Integrating departmental efforts. Each department at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business (HSB) in Waco, Texas, incorporates digital technologies into its courses in different ways. For example, the department of management information systems (MIS) offers a cybersecurity concentration, and the entrepreneurship department offers courses in technology entrepreneurship.

In addition, the business school offers certificate programs in business analytics and cybersecurity at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It has introduced several artificial intelligence courses within the business school, as well as a mobile app development course that has no prerequisites and is open to any major.

HSB also is among those schools that are delivering the KPMG Master’s in Accounting with Data and Analytics. Through this program, “students can gain hands-on experience with tools similar to those they will use early in their professional careers on audit engagements and other projects,” explains Cindy Riemenschneider. She points out that the accounting partnership with KPMG also allows HSB faculty to obtain the insights of professionals at KPMG on the skills students will need to be career-ready upon graduation.

HSB works to expose students to emerging technologies early in their programs. For instance, as part of HSB’s introduction to management information systems course, students work in groups of three to five to conduct research on emerging technologies such as blockchain, autonomous vehicles, virtual and augmented reality, quantum computing, ethics in complex algorithms, the Internet of Things, and drones. Each team delivers a 30-minute presentation on its assigned technology to the entire class, explaining the technology’s potential impact on businesses, individuals, and society; its potential business value; legal and regulatory issues; privacy and ethics issues; and barriers to acceptance.

These students—most of whom are not MIS majors—tell faculty that they had no idea how pervasive and complex these new tools are becoming, says Riemenschneider. They suddenly realize, she adds, that they will be the ones making decisions to determine the timing, ethics, and regulation of many of these technologies.

Transforming educational delivery. BI Norwegian Business School has designed a collection of webinars, all of which emphasize digital interaction. These webinars support the flipped-classroom model, in which students view tutorial videos before class in quantitative topics such as mathematics, statistics, economics, finance, and accounting, freeing up face-to-face time in class for reflection on and the application of theoretical concepts.

The business school also has launched a bachelor’s program and a two-year master’s program in business analytics. The master’s program includes the participation of companies such as the SAS Institute; representatives from companies such as Facebook, Google, and those in the fintech sector contribute to the school’s other programs and participate on program-level advisory boards. “We want to ensure that companies are included in both the shaping of the curriculum and the delivery of courses and projects,” says Bendik Samuelsen. He adds that plans are in the works for the school to establish a new academic department of data science, which will look at the field through a business lens.

On the strategic level, in 2018, BI Norwegian became part of the Future of Management Education (FOME) alliance, which also includes Imperial College Business School in the U.K., ESMT Berlin in Germany, Singapore Management University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business, EDHEC Business School in France, and Western University’s Ivey Business School in Canada. FOME partner schools will work together to create new technologically enhanced pedagogies and provide faculty with training in using new digital tools for teaching. The partner schools will use Insendi, an online platform designed at Imperial, to deliver face-to-face, experiential, and online educational experiences.

BI Norwegian will eventually integrate digital technologies into its programs at all levels, says Samuelsen, in both their content and delivery. However, he recognizes that the level of skills required will vary by discipline and career focus. “We will leave it to the program directors and faculty to operationalize how this is done,” he says. “Clearly, digital transformation means something different in an MSc in business analytics than in an MSc in leadership and organizational psychology. It is complex and varied.”

Adopting a pervasive digital mindset. The University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business recently announced that it was phasing out its face-to-face full-time MBA to place its full attention on its iMBA offered fully online. (Read “Gies College Makes a Strategic Shift with Its MBA” from the September/October 2019 issue of BizEd.) This move reflects an increasing emphasis on encouraging everyone at the school to adopt a digital mindset in all that they do.

Faculty also are working to integrate technology into the curriculum in a number of ways. One group of professors has created a virtual reality application that has been used in an accounting course on tax. Another has developed a blockchain simulator that provides insights into the future of supply chain management. At the university level, UI’s Deloitte Foundation Center for Business Analytics shares its research with institutions worldwide to help drive curricular innovation around data analytics, explains Robert Brunner, director of the center.

In addition, Gies College recently developed a data analytics track within its master’s of accountancy program. At the undergraduate level, last year the school began transitioning its curriculum so that all sophomores take a year of data analytics courses. The school’s faculty wanted to ensure that undergraduates gained significant exposure to tools like Excel and Tableau and became comfortable using these tools to perform statistical analyses. Students also will take an introduction to programming course, using Python as well as data storage and analysis techniques appropriate for large data sets.

In Gies’ Digital Making Seminar, business students and peers from fine arts and engineering are introduced to “human design principles” to prototype and build products for individuals living with disabilities. Last year, students used 3D modeling to develop a tread that attaches to prosthetic legs to keep users from falling on ice.

By emphasizing multiple points of exposure to emerging technologies, Gies faculty will lay the foundation for the redesign of other higher-level courses, says Brunner. The objective is for students to come into those advanced courses ready to apply a new set of technical skills.

Over time, the goal is to make Gies’ entire curriculum more “data-aware,” he adds. “Over the next few years, I expect we will develop considerably more new curricular elements and tools as we train our students to embrace technology and see disruption as an opening for a new business opportunity. Long term, I see our work in disruption creating opportunities for interdisciplinary student teams to incubate ideas and develop products that may cross the threshold to startup.”

This article originally appeared as "The Evolving Curriculum: What's Happening Now?" in BizEd's January/February 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].