Applications of our virtual environment
A number of our faculty and PhD students are doing research within the virtual environment. It can be much easier and less costly to set up experiments in Second Life rather than in real life, and this medium lends itself particularly well to research on marketing, consumer behavior or social norms. In conjunction with our behavioral lab in Paris, we have several academic research projects currently under way.
We have held classes in our Second Life campus for our MBA and Executive MBA programs. We have also created small meeting rooms adapted to peercoaching groups or teamwork so that our participants can connect up at any time, avatar to avatar. Our receptionists, who are present on our campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, are also logged on to our reception desk in Second Life in real time, so they can greet visitors, give information and act as hosts for our virtual events.
Second Life has proved to be extremely useful for events where our alumni cannot always attend. We have held alumni reunions with live video streaming in order to reach out to our friends across the globe who are unable to join us. The virtual amphitheater is also projected up in the real amphitheater so that both audiences feel part of the same event, and virtual participants can send in their questions to make it fully interactive.
About every two to three months we hold MBA information and master class sessions in Second Life, to communicate with potential candidates who are not necessarily able to visit our campuses in person. This also allows us to target some geographic regions we do not necessarily have the opportunity to visit as often as we would like, and to provide the information we would normally share during face-to-face meetings. There are even some advantages to virtual versus real-life participation. For example, in the virtual classroom, a participant does not have to be in the front row or be particularly extrovert to ask questions, and we find that it levels out the interaction as everyone is equal behind their computer. People who might be slightly reluctant to raise their hand in a real audience are able to type in a question and receive a personalized response in real time. During the session, prospective MBA participants also get the chance to meet alumni and current students and can ask them questions directly. This aspect is more easily organized in Second Life.
Nowadays, virtual worlds such as Second Life play a significant part in the digital marketplace and have a real impact on the economy. So, twice a year, we run B2B marketing classes, where MBA participants have to create an avatar and meet in the virtual classroom to present their teamwork. They have to research business applications within the virtual world by going there directly.
Many major international corporations, including some of our key clients, have a virtual presence and are actively using Second Life to develop their business activities. For example, Coca-Cola has a virtual island for marketing purposes, Alstom has used it for recruiting initiatives, and BP recently held a virtual awards ceremony in Second Life with senior managers across the globe, to avoid the cost and disruption of participants having to travel. So there are some obvious cost-effective applications, and despite recent disenchantment with Second Life because some organizations have experimented and decided to withdraw their presence, it is still amazing to realize that over US$1 million are being spent in user-to-user transactions on a daily basis. Apparently, this money is being spent on goods (both real and virtual) and transactions within the virtual world, but in addition there is a huge amount of related business being generated, such as services to design and build the virtual spaces.
It is a fascinating and original way for students to understand business trends and learn about new technologies, by actually immersing themselves in the environment, rather than just reading about it: “Our campus on Second Life certainly puts us at the forefront of new technology and helps us to cut down on travel and physical building expenses”.6
I am a firm believer that networking is a big part of any educational experience and therefore I do not anticipate that we at INSEAD will move to fully remote programs where the participants never physically meet each other or the faculty members. But I do believe that there is a lot we can do within our programs to supplement physical meetings. Virtual environments are a relatively easy and low-cost way to stay connected and for us to offer follow-up solutions.
Millennials are also concerned about ethics. As a result, another main objective of business schools today is to make tomorrow’s leaders holistic, sensible, responsible and genuinely concerned about their society and community.
As business changes, business schools must meet the demands of the workplace. We have to give more curriculum importance to social responsibility, ethical thinking and ecological content. It is vital that everyone realizes that good ethics equals good business. If business schools do not focus more on ethics now, the present concern we all have over business ethics will fade away. It is time to highlight the limits of financial reasoning and concentrate on whether companies make ethical decisions, and to scrutinize the unethical side of business. Our future leaders must set an example and we must adhere to corporate codes of conduct.
Some Harvard Business School students launched the MBA Oath7 in 2009, which asked MBAs to sign up to take an oath. Whether one is for or against such an oath, this step shows the way that business schools are heading.
MBAs themselves are more aware about the world they live in and many are planning to join not-for-profit organizations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or even to set up their own social entrepreneurship business after graduating. Many recent graduates say that social innovation offerings and field courses have the strongest impact on them during their MBA course and are often the reason behind their choice of business school.
Many businesses are also competing to be on the annual list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.8 Companies are contending through setting impressive examples by developing social objectives which become a part of their core business and lead to the development of new products, competencies, business models and innovative processes.
Business schools are also experimenting with innovative programs. Partnerships are being fostered which team private companies with NGOs, and our MBAs are integrated into project teams. These kinds of projects are unique and offer practical experience, which can be extremely valuable to future leaders.
In just a decade, business schools, along with business, have made exceptional progress to become socially responsible. These steps will be an important basis for future distinctive MBA programs.