WHU General

Status Report #wekeepWHUrunning

A Report on WHU’s Digital Transformation

WHU has been going through a digital transformation and innovative disruption impelled by the advent of the corona crisis. Professor Dr. Markus Rudolf, Dean of WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, draws up a status report on the implemented measures of digitalization at WHU so far. 

The past weeks and months have proven that we are ready for a digital age. The coronavirus pandemic, which has started with new challenges, has turned out to provide many opportunities for WHU. Our community, consisting of the faculty, students, staff, and alumni, has been showing great effort, great courage, and great commitment to mastering the current situation and in keeping WHU running. 

In the Bachelor in International Business Administration Program, the Master of Science Programs, and the Full-Time and Part-Time MBA Programs, WHU was the first German business school to convert its classroom courses to digital formats at very short notice. Lectures were adapted instantly, and, as a result, students could continue their studies seamlessly. To translate the classroom lectures into digital formats, our professors have a portfolio of different solutions and tools at their disposal: from recordings in the lecture hall or at home to webcasts and interactive online lectures. They all reflect the highly interactive and personal type of teaching typical for WHU. Since the digital switchover, WHU counted a total of 1,542 online sessions, 2,286,561 meeting minutes, and almost 30,000 participants have been registered.

As for our higher education, switching from face-to-face to online formats in the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA and Executive Education programs was not as easy as in the other programs. The demands and needs differ in those programs and the participants, who are even more diverse than in our other programs, often benefit most from the personal, professional, and cultural exchange, as well as networking opportunities. This exchange is hardly possible to guarantee to the same extent in online formats, that is why we evaluated various options and found individualized solutions: In the EMBA program, some modules have been postponed to a later date. Nevertheless, it is our goal to resume in-person teaching, with the required distance regulations, with the majority of the participants on site. Those who arrive from other continents and still have travel restrictions will be connected to the lecture hall using the latest technology. In the Executive Education portfolio, some modules of our Open and Customized Programs were held digitally, e.g., in our program with SPOAC and our one-week program for MBA students of the Milikin University. The faculty is building on proficiency, knowledge, and experiences, together with the Center of Digitalization and the IT department, to adapt online teaching to the needs of students and their professional environment. As a result, WHU successfully expanded its Executive Education portfolio by online formats in the areas of negotiation, design thinking, and coaching.

To give our community and the public an additional value and share our faculty’s knowledge in weathering and fighting the crisis, we initiated several initiatives. On the platform “WHU Experts on Corona: We share our knowledge,” WHU presents a range of the contributions of our professors who shared their expertise with the public in different formats, for instance, videos, online sessions, interviews, and editorial contributions in the media. We explain the impacts of the crisis, give an outlook of the changes from different economic perspectives, and propose innovative solutions in the different fields. As for online sessions, WHU created a series on “Business in a post-corona world”, the Forum Mittelstand online session series “Zukunftsstrategien für den Mittelstand” together with IHK Koblenz, and an online session series with the alumni of the CIO Leadership Excellence Programs. In our "Business in a post-corona world" online sessions alone, we had 13 sessions and over 2,500 participants in 7 weeks.

Despite the need of getting used to the new circumstances, WHU’s students liked the digital solutions WHU offered. In an interview on our website, one Bachelor student reflects: “The high degree of interactivity made it one of the best lectures I have ever attended.” A student from the Part-Time MBA program adds, “It has felt more communicative and less disruptive. With the chat function, you can post questions during the lecture, and sometimes we answer each other without interrupting the professor. The technology works well and helps the classes to run smoothly. It’s just a different way of learning - you have to be ready to adapt.”  

Not only did WHU adapt its teaching to online formats, but it also changed its exams. As an alternative to in-class exams, students could take “Take at Home Exams”, timed, proctored examinations, “Take Home Exams”, timed, not proctored exams or asynchronous assignments like case studies or essays, and synchronous assignments such as presentations and oral exams. In total, WHU converted 36 BSc and MSc exams to the alternative methods of examination above and enabled many students to take their exams and finish their term in time. Stefanie Berrang from WHU’s Examination Office summarizes the experiences: “Only a few students reported technical issues or difficulties in adhering to deadlines but in general, we had the impression that the students were happy and relieved to be able to complete their semester without delays despite Corona.” Flat hierarchies and entrepreneurial thinking at WHU have ensured that classroom courses or lectures could be moved into virtual space immediately. 

The continuation of the so-called daily business at our school was, of course, only possible due to the students’ and the faculty’s vigor and drive to master the challenge. Not only the students but also WHU itself can benefit from this. I quote my colleague Professor Christian Schlereth, from the Chair of Digital Marketing: "The professors at WHU had already developed unique course concepts beyond traditional frontal teaching. These concepts have great potential to be delivered online as well. In addition, there is a great chance that the digital course offerings will make the campus even more integrative and the student body even more diverse, because we can reach a broader target group with them." 

Digitalization has found its way into our everyday lives. At WHU, not only teaching is running digitally, but also the staff is working from home, and events and conferences are taking place virtually. For instance, the career centers shifted their counseling appointments from face-to-face to online and COVID-19 even digitized the experience abroad. The new intake of the MBA Program celebrated its program start as a virtual conference and mastered the annual Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge online. Due to the trust in each other and their commitment, the MBA students were able to enlarge their leadership and teamwork skills, and successfully raised donations of €16,166.16 for the charity Welthungerhilfe. Furthermore, WHU received great reactions from its community to the campaign #wekeepWHUrunning, in which students, faculty, and staff shared their highlights of working from home, meeting virtually, and coping with the situation while managing the crisis individually.

No matter what initial hindrances the crisis involved, we at WHU followed our motto "Excellence in Management Education" and used the chances of the digital transformation for our advantages. Just like companies and every individual, WHU draws its lessons from the current situation, builds on these experiences to emerge digitally stronger from the crisis and create an impact for the future of education. As for the coming fall term, we assure you that we will be able to welcome our new intakes and to offer our classes, either in hybrid lectures or in digital formats. In the meantime, we are doing our best to improve your WHU experience and continue to feel the WHU spirit.  

I would like to thank each one in the community for the great support and trust we in the executive committee have been experiencing throughout the past months. I am convinced that together, we will hold up high the courage and commitment, which have brought us more together in these times of distance and challenges. 

Stay safe and stay healthy. 

Yours sincerely, 

Markus Rudolf