Technology Transforms a B-School: A Case Study

Business schools, perhaps more than any other institution of higher learning, recognize the importance of information technology - for enhancing teaching skills with multimedia presentations, extending their reach via distance learning, and servicing their students by recording classes and making them available online. Powerful technology is also an important draw for prospective students, and the top business schools are highly competitive.

But there is another reason for technology's leading role at business schools. Future managers will need to operate effectively in an information technology economy. Students must become facile with technology before they graduate to the corporate ranks.

Information technology is blurring the distinction between learning inside and outside of the classroom. With network connections at every seat, students form connections to real businesses, real business data and real business executives.

Among the most technologically advanced - the 800-pound gorilla of IT in business schools - is The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The school's new 324,000 sq.-ft. Jon M. Huntsman Hall includes 48 classrooms, 57 group study rooms, a colloquium on the building's top floor and a 300-seat auditorium on the ground floor - all equipped with technology that was mandated by the school to be at once "pervasive and transparent."

Huntsman Hall, which serves 4,600 undergraduate and MBA students, offers hardware and software systems that nudge technology use to a new level. It is not that any one piece is groundbreaking. Rather, it is the extent of utilization that is impressive.

Huntsman Hall is intended to be the ultimate wired classroom building. Since its completion in the fall of 2002, classrooms and other facilities within the school outside of Huntsman Hall have been upgraded to the same technology standards.

Each of Huntsman Hall's spaces provides videoconferencing, multiple projection screens and a range of multimedia capabilities. Linkages from Wharton's main campus in Philadelphia to Wharton West in San Francisco are done via Internet 2. Mean-while, classes and executive education programs at the school's allied institution, INSEAD, in France and Singapore, are available via videoconferencing and Internet connections.

Digital video and audio recording in each of the classrooms and in public areas allows instructors to archive classroom proceedings and viewing materials directly to Wharton's intranet Website. The result is an audio/video library that students, instructors and alumni can access. This live and stored multimedia flows freely within the Wharton community and beyond, carried on the LAN, Internet and other links. This is especially useful for those who missed a class session, want to review materials or watch important videoconferences between students and business leaders.

To make it easy for instructors to manage all of this technology, Shen Milsom & Wilke designed a lectern that is used in each of the classrooms. This incorporates a computer keyboard, laptop ports, a microphone and a master control system that adjusts audiovisual equipment, lights and room settings. Instructors may opt for pre-set room profiles or they can defer to technicians in a central technology control room.

Electronic whiteboards in the group study rooms are set up to enable the information on the whiteboard to be stored, e-mailed or posted to the Web. Outside the classroom, plasma screens are located in most public areas and are used for information display.

MBA programs, particularly those that offer a strong concentration in technology, are more popular than ever. And Wharton is consistently rated near the top of the list of business schools in the world by such publications as the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and, interestingly, ComputerWorld.

The wealth of technology at Wharton not only contributes to the quality of its MBA program, it helps ensure that graduating students and executives enter the business world able to combine good management techniques and technology innovation. Jon M. Huntsman Hall's architect was Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, New York. Multimedia, telecommunications and audiovisual designed by Shen Milsom & Wilke, New York.

Jon Burris is a partner at Shen Milsom & Wilke with expertise in educational technology. He was project manager for The Wharton School.