Tag: Center for Digital Education



Sam Chun teaching an Olin executive education course and showing off his work-from-home teaching setup.

Samuel Chun is assistant dean, director of executive education and a professor of management practice for WashU Olin Business School. In his role, he’s collaborating with colleagues from the business school and the Brookings Institution to transform how executive education is delivered during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. He responded to questions for the Olin Blog.

How has the pandemic affected the way your team thinks about executive education?

Well, it’s been a transformation. First of all, the core of our activity until February 2020 was the face-to-face executive education offering that’s been every school’s standard—emphasis on “was.” Obviously, that’s not possible for probably another year or so.

So, everything we’ve managed to save has been converted to some kind of electronic delivery. A few years ago, Professor Tom Fields and I experimented with virtual programming. While it worked well enough, I think the assessment was that without face-to-face, the networking aspect really fell off. Really, until seven months ago, no one actually thought executive education could, or should, be done electronically.

Now there’s no choice: we are all learning how to teach, learn and network in novel ways.

How do you see your offerings evolving over the next few years?

What we’re mostly doing right now is what we call “virtual education.” In essence, that means taking our standard classroom materials and piping it through a platform, like Zoom, or Teams. Once we can get back to face-to-face, I think most of that will go away.

Someday, executive education may offer purely online, asynchronous programming that people can take whenever they want, but that’s a pretty full and competitive space.

So, “online” is probably a longer-term proposition. What we’ll probably develop and keep are “digital executive education” programs, which combine our live [electronic] connections with asynchronous online content. I think that’s a viable—and value-adding—proposition for several of our clients. Digital education will be here to stay.

In a recent Olin town hall, you mentioned that the Center for Digital Education has developed a learning management system for use with outside clients. Tell us more.

Ray Irving and his CDE team have been developing a Canvas-like platform (Learn.Washu) we can use for non-WashU affiliates such as corporate clients. It’s phenomenal, and they’ve made incredible progress since we piloted it during the MBA program’s global immersion experience last year.

It’s got course material storage and delivery, interactive communication features, video capabilities, announcements and a lot more. It helps us integrate our clients into the Olin community, which is something our Washington University systems don’t allow.

On top of that, it will have an alumni/lifelong learning area that will also be accessible to our clients. That’s a kind of continuity that we’re really looking forward to being able to offer.

So where does executive education go from here?

Well, the first priority is to re-engage clients who’ve elected to postpone until the pandemic is over. Basically, I’ve heard our physician community suggest this is not going away anytime soon, so “waiting for this to end” isn’t an acceptable option for any company that wants to keep up with executive development.

The next thing would be to continue expanding our offerings in the digital space. Finally, broadening our geographical (and client) reach is definitely something we’re already pursuing. I think digital education and Learn.Washu will take us a long way towards those goals.

Pictured above: Sam on a break from teaching an executive education course from his home teaching studio.




In December 2018, I reflected in this very column on our plans to bring WashU Olin into a digital space—investing in virtual, online learning experiences. Mere months later, we welcomed Ray Irving and Nina Kim, who built a team and launched our state-of-the-art Center for Digital Learning in the fall.

Nina Kim and Ray Irving

Neither Ray nor Nina nor I could have imagined just how essential their services would become—and how urgently they’d be needed. Not even a semester past the CDE’s launch, the coronavirus pandemic forced a full migration into virtual classrooms.

Our world-class faculty, staff and students have been dynamic and resilient in this unprecedented situation.

“We had always planned to engage faculty in developing online sessions,” said Ray, the CDE’s director. “But that plan had been based on a more gradual transition over the next 12 months—not 200-plus faculty and staff in 10 days.”

When Ray and Nina signed on at Olin, no one could have anticipated a global pandemic that would empty university campuses around the world. But Ray and Nina—and the stellar team that they have recruited, including instructional designers such as Kella Thornton—have leapt into action to provide crucial faculty and staff support and training in online learning at this critical time.

CDE team member Charlie Drexler demonstrates the CDE’s green screen studio to faculty.

“Although online learning is new to Olin, it’s not new to Nina, Kella or myself,” Ray said. The urgency to deliver online learning support was. The CDE team moved hundreds of faculty and staff—many of whom had never used platforms such as Zoom—into a fully digital classroom environment.

“This was an all-hands-on-deck situation,” said Nina, the CDE’s assistant director.

Indeed, it was. Almost immediately, the CDE created collaboration resources with the faculty administration team to ensure a smooth transition for students, instructors and staff. The team scheduled training meetings, created a training program from scratch and provided the necessary resources for faculty, staff and students to remain connected—wherever they might be.

“We fully understand this is the worst possible circumstances,” Ray said, “but we were determined to play the hand that was in front of us.”

They have more than delivered. I’m immensely proud of this team, and of our community’s ability to pull together in this extraordinary moment. More than simply creating an environment where online learning is possible, Ray, Nina and their team—along with our outstanding faculty and staff—have provided the space for our school to truly thrive in difficult times.

“We have heard from multiple students,” said Ashley Macrander, associate dean and director of graduate student services. “They say they are truly enjoying the online classes and think everything has gone very well.”

I’m grateful as well for the teamwork and collaboration the CDE has received from the faculty. “The faculty have been amazing,” Ray said. “They have simply got on with the task in hand, worked with us and made this happen—in extremely short order. I guess that’s what you’d expect of world-class faculty but it’s been truly remarkable to see this happen in real time.”

Tom Fields, professor of accounting, teaches Strategic Cost Analysis via Zoom.

In fact, faculty have banded together on their own, creating a faculty learning group spearheaded by Andrew Knight, professor of organizational behavior. That group suggests new and innovative ways to use Zoom features as well as soliciting support and feedback from students, many of whom are technology experts and are gracious in sharing their insights.

Ten days after moving seamlessly into our new way of teaching, I’m proud to say we have 115 faculty teaching 230 classes across numerous time zones to many hundreds of students. We are ensuring that our students will continue to receive world-class education until such time as we can safely bring them back to campus.

I’m grateful for the foresight of our senior leadership team and the National Council for providing the resources and the talent to assemble the CDE. Most of all, I am grateful for the way the faculty, students and staff have rallied together.

We are getting through this like the world-class school that we are.

Pictured at top: Center for Digital Education team. Back row, left to right: Ray Irving, Wes Murrell, Shawn Bell, Emily Furst; Front row, left to right: Kella Thornton, Nina Kim, Charlie Drexler