Elizabethtown MBA program to have enhanced virtual presence

Mitchell Grogg

WKU is expanding its offerings for a professional master’s in business administration program to Elizabethtown starting fall 2013.

Bob Hatfield, associate dean of Graduate Programs and Research for the Gordon Ford College of Business, said this idea has been discussed for years.

“We have had inquiries over that time from people who would like us to serve that area,” Hatfield said.

He said the program has already been successful in Owensboro. He also noted that this new program is set to use a remote teaching method known as telepresence.

This will show a life-size picture of professors and students in another room, as if looking into a window to another class, to be able to work with people in another location.

“It’s not your grandmother’s TV,” Hatfield said. “What we create is something that’s not been created on this campus before. It is a window into that other room, and the room tightly controlled.”

The telepresence system is designed with high-definition video monitors that allow the people appearing on them to be life-size, to help create the “window” effect.

Tamela Smith, manager of Interactive Video Services, said the setup also includes overhead microphones in the ceiling of the telepresence rooms for a more natural atmosphere.

“We try to make it look easy, but there’s a lot behind the scenes that goes into it,” she said.

Part of the story behind the scenes is the technology. Ready-made telepresence systems run between $300,000 and $500,000 per room. The one built by WKU’s IT department came in closer to $100,000 in costs for the electronic equipment.

Keeping the cost down was one of the challenges involved in the project, according to Interactive Video Services Engineer Todd Hughes. He adds, however, that it has been one of his most fun projects.

“It’s very much more a non-classroom learning environment, more so than a collaborative learning environment,” he said.

These classrooms are designed to resemble conference rooms more than the traditional lecture halls.

“There’s no sage on the stage approach,” said Hatfield.

Smith adds that the interactive and remote-learning nature is a help to people who want to pursue another degree, but also have full-time jobs.

“We can bring it to them without them having to travel,” she said, noting it would have been difficult for her to pursue her own continuing education had she not taken classes in Bowling Green.

Hatfield said he expects to have between eight and 20 students enrolled in the Elizabethtown professional MBA program fall 2013.