By Denisse Romero
A couple of months ago I was given the opportunity to audit a business course offered by Notre Dame Online, the online branch of the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business. Notre Dame Online offers a few Executive Certificates including Certificates in Business Administration, Leadership and Management, and Negotiation. I chose to take the Conflict Management course part of the Negotiation program. Why? Well, I’ve always thought this to be an interesting topic, but it’s also a topic that involves lots of people and communication skills that may not be as easy to convey in an online format, so I wanted to see how Notre Dame Online was facing this challenge. Here is my experience as an online student auditing this course. I hope this helps some prospective students thinking about taking online business courses.
The course includes topics such as Conflict Management Strategies, Managing Hostility and Aggression, Communication and Relationships, Having Difficult Conversations, Dealing with Difficult People, Mediation and other related topics. The course lasts about 8 weeks. Each week, a new topic is covered via video lectures and practice-based exercises that reinforce and help students apply learned strategies.
More than Business
My favorite topic was Communication and Relationships. It covers relationships that go beyond teams and business units. It covers married couples or couples in general, the conflict when exchange imbalances occur, and the strategies that can be put in place. Right after listening to the course, I decided to put in practice a couple of the strategies from the lecture. The results were amazing…my brother who was a witness of the “conflict” taking place at that moment was surprised and asked me, “How did you do it? What did you do?” I replied, “Well, I’m auditing a Conflict Management course and it’s given me insight on different ways to handle conflicts.” So, even if you are not in the business world, these strategies will come in handy in any professional or personal situation.
The course is delivered 100% online via video lectures, simulation exercises and course materials. Dr. Gaylen Paulson, who is the main lecturer for this course, starts every lecture with a smile and a tone in his voice that instantly motivates you and gets you in the mood to learn and discover. I certainly enjoyed all his examples, especially the ones based on his real life difficult encounters. As much as I enjoyed the lectures, the visual/hands-on learner in me was desperately wanting more visual slides and video simulations where students or actors would model the conflict and the potential solutions that could be successful in that situation. Dr. Pete DeLisle, one of the course lecturers, did a great job with slides that were a bit more visual; however I felt that overall, the course was a bit lacking in this aspect. The course does offer simulation exercises where students work with other classmates and role-play the problem and come up with solutions. Simulation Debriefs offer the opportunity to watch a lecturer facilitate a group discussion on the simulation assignment. These videos are definitely insightful, but I kept wishing for more visuals and opportunities for course participants to interact with one another on a forum/discussion board and exchange ideas and solutions. This interaction could eventually lead to the development of a community of practice that can go beyond the course, the classroom and provide a support and exchange group for years to come.
The technology is based on the course website, which includes lectures via audio and video, lecture summaries, syllabus, class roster, email access, discussion boards, and chat. The first week covers an introduction on how to navigate the course website and what to expect in the course. The very first item on the course syllabus is an Orientation Module, which explains exactly how to use the website in the weeks to come.
Although the course website is easy to use, I did experience a few issues when attempting to watch the video lectures. When clicking on the link for the lecture, a new screen would pop up stating “Connecting to Server” for several minutes without ever actually connecting. The only way I was able to access the lectures was via the “Download Media” link. Once you got to the Download Media section, there were 2 different ways to download the lecture. The first was as an audio file and the second as a video file. I tried both options but preferred the video file, as you could see the lecturer and his slides at the same time. The audio file would open into Windows Media Player, while the video file could be viewed via QuickTime Player. After contacting Tech Support, I found out that the problem had to do with my firewall, therefore locations with high firewall settings would have limited access to the course video player.
Now that I’ve explained some of the issues that I encountered, let’s go back to the features. The class roster was a nice touch. It gave information on my fellow classmates and the course lecturers. It is always nice to have the option to be able to know your classmates. There is a Chat Room and a Message Board. Unfortunately, at first, I wasn’t able to sign in due to the firewall issue. After resolving the firewall issue, I was able to login, but surprisingly there was no activity at all. This was disappointing since I was expecting to see more interaction and exchange among course participants, maybe even a community facilitator.
Overall, besides a few technological glitches, the course interface is easy to navigate, and the content can be accessed through a variety of channels. Is the technology perfect? No. Is it usable and can I learn with it? Yes.
Online learning is growing at a rapid pace and as it grows, there are still a few components that need to be developed in order to effectively meet students’ expectations and achieve learning objectives. Despite the technological glitches and lack of synchronous or asynchronous discussion via chat or message boards, Notre Dame Online provides a solid curriculum, practical lectures, and distinguished professors. Taking the Conflict Management course has definitely helped me see new ways to approach a problem and deal with difficult people in my personal and professional life. So what’s next for Notre Dame Online? Perhaps a Global Online MBA? We’ll just have to wait and see.