Big Data 4Dx: Sloan Online Course Taps Avatars

by Nancy DuVergne Smith on August 19, 2013

in Alumni Life, Classroom, Management

Guest Blogger: Monica Kelley, Alumni Association intern

Webinars are old news at MIT, but the Sloan School of Management is taking online instruction to a new dimension. Last spring, Sloan launched a new Executive Education program called Big Data 4Dx, an online version of its popular program Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler. Unlike online courses where participants watch lectures, Big Data 4Dx uses AvayaLive EngageTM, a web-based, immersive collaboration environment that allows participants to interact with each other in a virtual classroom.The next two-day session—both in person and online—is set for October.

Online students participate as avatars in the Big Data 4Dx course.

Online students and faculty participate as avatars in the Big Data 4Dx course.

The online course is offered concurrently with the classroom course, which allows online participants to observe the lecture in real time. In the virtual classroom, the live lecture and presentation materials can be viewed on three screens. Each online participant has a personal avatar that can move around the room to view the screens and engage with other online participants. Professors Erik Brynjolfsson PhD ’91 and Sandy Pentland PhD ’82 also assume avatars and join the online participants in the virtual auditorium. The virtual auditorium is projected on screen in the campus classroom so participants using both platforms can interact.

What is 4D? AvayaLive EngageTM uses technology that allows participants to become “directionally attuned” to the location and proximity of sounds in the virtual environment. Thus, a conversation between avatars standing nearby will sound louder than one on the opposite side of the virtual space. Despite a few early kinks, the program received positive reviews from online participants.

Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst believes this innovation complements rather than competes with classroom instruction. “This is a cutting-edge way to deliver interactive, dynamic programs to more participants around the world, and opens the door to even more formats for our programming. The traditional model will remain, but this type of virtual component is the direction of the future.”

The next course is scheduled for October 15-16.

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