September 25, 2001
International executive program continues despite recent events
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue University's Krannert Executive Education Programs used distance-learning technology to continue one of their multinational programs after the World Trade Center bombing halted international air travel.
"When terrorists attacked our nation, we had just begun a two-week residential session in The Netherlands as part of our International Masters (MBA) in Management Program," said Wilbur G. Lewellen, Herbert C. Krannert Distinguished Professor of Management and director of executive education programs.
"I was scheduled to fly there on Friday (9/14) to teach a course in international finance to more than 50 of our executive students who had already traveled from 10 different countries from the U.S., South America, Asia and other parts of Europe to attend the session."
Following that Tuesdays (9/11) tragic events, Lewellen stayed in constant contact with his European partners and with his travel agent.
"Our counterparts in The Netherlands, as well as our already-assembled student group, fully expected me to be there, teaching my course first thing the following Monday morning," Lewellen said.
"When I left the office on Thursday afternoon, I told my staff I was leaving to pack, would drive to the airport on Friday, but probably would not know until the last minute if Id be able to fly or not."
His travel agent actually made the decision for him, calling early Friday to say that the international flight would not depart.
"We needed a quick back-up plan," said Lewellen, "and it appeared that our years of experience with distance-learning technology would be key."
The Krannert Schools executive programs were one of the first to use distance-learning delivery of course content back in the early 1980s.
"Much of our use of distance-learning techniques is for delivering online content, including the ability to download assignments and readings off the Web, as well as students online discussion forums," Lewellen said.
"But Krannerts stock-in-trade has always been in-class discussion of business case studies. In fact, thats exactly why I was traveling to Europe, to present in-class lecture materials, and then to follow them up with face-to-face discussion. Our challenge was to deliver all those features, as they were needed right then, in order to overcome such unusual circumstances."
Michael Sheahan, the Krannert School's Executive Education Programs associate director, said, "Bill asked our advice about how we could make good on delivering all aspects of his course. We thought this might be the optimal time to use more of our distance-learning delivery capabilities."
Under the direction of the Krannert School's Executive Education Programs assistant director, Chas DeLa, whose responsibility is information technology, staff members were able to ensure that all of Lewellens lectures and case study discussions could be accommodated through videoconferencing.
"We were confident that our executive classroom in the Krannert Center would be a comfortable teaching environment for Bill to use," DeLa said. "However, our concern was the level of technology at the facilities in Europe."
Ensuring that the site of the program, the De Ruwenberg Conference Center, could accept such programming fell on the shoulders of Krannert Executive Education Program's International Master's in Management program manager, John Lewandowski.
"All of these events happened so quickly, that I knew we had to act immediately," Lewandowski said.
"We were already facing a significant time zone difference, as The Netherlands is seven hours ahead of Indiana. Via e-mail and phone calls, I was able to rally my Dutch partner, Christel Donné, to secure the appropriate equipment to receive our programming. We ran several tests, Bill worked extra hours during the weekend to adapt some of his materials, and all was remarkably, for such a short time frame ready to go at 6 a.m. on Monday."
Lewellen said, "Im not fully convinced that such use of distance learning is always warranted. Although our videoconferencing system allowed me to see and hear all our students in the session, and vice versa, theres still no substitute for the spontaneity of in-class analysis and discussion.
"I believe that suffered a bit in this course. Still, Im quite pleased and proud that our staff members, international partners and students were able to overcome highly unusual circumstances to barely miss a beat in fulfilling our global teaching mission."
DeLa said there are plans to upgrade the equipment and technology at the De Ruwenberg Conference Center to allow better professor-student interaction in the future. Such upgrades will go a long way toward alleviating the limitations that Lewellen described and ensuring more spontaneous discussion for future classes despite thousands of miles between professor and students.
For more information about the Krannert School's degree and non-degree executive programs, see the Web site.
Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: W.G. (Bill) Lewellen, (765) 494-4493, email@example.com
Michael Sheahan, (765) 494-5831, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chas DeLa, (765) 494-9564, email@example.com
John Lewandowski, (765) 496-7979, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com