Macquarie Business School’s Master of Applied Finance has a proud history, valued highly by alumni and industry, rated #1 in Australia by QS, and delivered face-to-face. Lindesay Brine, Director from the Macquarie Applied Finance Centre explains how they are in the process of converting the delivery of the course to a blended learning format. This will ensure the program can maintain the interactive applied elements while at the same time making the program available to students outside of Sydney and Melbourne.
Master of Applied Finance: time for a change?
For over 30 years Macquarie Business School’s Master of Applied Finance has educated more than 5,500 people, who have used what they have learnt to further their career, and some have gone on to senior management roles in the finance sector.
In 2019 we reviewed the course in view of the changing nature of work and industry and decided to introduce more online elements allowing face-to-face classes to focus on application.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic upended our course delivery, necessitating a rapid move to 100% online. Like many at Macquarie Business School, this was a difficult, but manageable process. Support from our Learning & Teaching teams was instrumental in making this happen and ensuring students were supported. Everyone was generally happy with the work completed, though many students were keen to return to face-to-face classes. The positive experience raised the prospect of remote learning. As we delved into the literature and learned guidance, hybrid or choice delivery emerged as a distinct possibility.
TECHE resources were especially useful in reviewing the possibilities, particularly the articles on MQBS blended synchronous classes and from Matt Bower. We also learned a lot from Transforming Assessment webinars and Harvard Business Publications Education. These resources enabled us to identify the cognitive overload in the existing electives (students’ learning was previously rushed, crammed into the latter half of the term) and the desire for a model of asynchronous and synchronous elements over a longer period.
The story so far…
We are nearly through Term 2, delivering the first of the new units and early student feedback is positive. The weekly structure eases students into the content. The activities and resources allow students to engage with the content in different ways in a structured and logical sequence. The short recordings enable students to watch/listen, try it out, then re-watch if they need to ensure they have the concepts.
One student commented: “the short sharp videos are great for concentration and absorption of material.”
Another student: “It allows you to concentrate in 15-20mins blocks and, if need be, repeat the segments and reviewing sections for the quiz or quiz review.”
The synchronous Q&A sessions enable current, relevant events to be discussed, worked examples examined and questions about assessments, content or current issues answered. As one student noted: “I enjoy that I can digest the material on my own and then ask questions in the Q&A session rather than having face to face time trying to learn to integrate a long lecture.”
Students are also organising study groups to meet and discuss topics in person, at City Campus in Sydney, and virtually in Melbourne.
Improving the course
Improving the Master of Applied Finance courses to commence Term 2 2021 required simplifying all core and elective units (around 12 units over a full year) to operate over a 10-week term earning 10 credit points required considerable effort. We designed the units to address the cognitive overload and based on our online learning experience during lockdown and experiments with hybrid classes, the units would balance asynchronous and synchronous activities, where the synchronous activities could be completed in person or online. At Macquarie University these classes are referred to as blended, while others brand them as choice classes. Students can choose attending in person or online if they are in Sydney, but elsewhere attend online. The challenge is to ensure students are still engaged and interact. Some students are interstate or overseas; these options meet their need to attend remotely.
We have rethought and revamped all core and elective units. We have constructed new electives from one or more previous units substantially changing the teaching methods. Previously only some core units had weekly activities. Now the weekly activities encompass asynchronous work and synchronous online sessions such as webinars or Q&A sessions. Asynchronous activities combine short videos and weekly exercises, while the webinars/Q&A sessions develop on the weekly activities using relevant examples.
Each unit has two synchronous blended weekend classes, focussed on application and using tools, techniques, and concepts in real-world situations. In running these classes, we are building on the experience we gained through running experimented blended classes in Term 4 2020. There are challenges using rooms designed for face-to-face learning for blended classes, but we are ready to meet those challenges.
Developing the units has required a huge effort by the Convenors and the Learning Futures team in the Macquarie Business School. It is fantastic to see the positive feedback on the approach taken. The next step is to assess the hybrid weekend classes work and build in improvements: I am looking forward to seeing the feedback, and welcome comments and suggestions on this key change. Staff who have any further questions can contact Lindesay Brine, Director, Macquarie Applied Finance Centre.
Further information about the program can be found on the Master of Applied Finance website. Enrolment is now open for Term 4 2021.