Digital First: How the Tufts Online MSEM Adapted to a Changing Educational Landscape
On the other side of the reflective glass wrapping the newly constructed Joyce Cummings Center, aspiring innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs across the world learn to thrive in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. Tufts Gordon Institute’s MS in Engineering Management (MSEM) program has been providing award-winning education and training to rising tech leaders for over 30 years, with program graduates experiencing accelerated career growth in a highly competitive industry.
Balancing a demanding full-time job with the educational requirements of a master’s degree has always been a challenge that TGI is keenly aware of. As companies tackle new challenges brought on by globalization and the workforce becomes distributed, commuting to campus for class sessions scheduled may not always fit in with work and familial responsibilities. Seeking to alleviate these difficulties, increase accessibility, and meet the moment, TGI began developing a fully online version of the MSEM that launched in 2020.
Leading the charge on this initiative was Sam Liggero, PhD, Academic Director of the MSEM. Designing an online program from the ground up was an opportunity to implement instructional practices that best served MSEM students. While the curricular heart of the program has always been the development of highly applicable business skills, the programmatic heart has been about convenience and flexibility for its students. Sam saw the fully online MSEM as a chance to maximize that convenience and flexibility while maintaining program quality through best-in-class online learning.
For Sam, it was essential that the online MSEM continue to offer students the takeaway that was most valuable all along: the same-day skills they needed to succeed in their roles. “The program gives students tools they can bring with them to the workplace the very next day,” Sam said. “The MSEM has always been student-oriented, and a fully-online option is a natural evolution for meeting their needs.”
The online MSEM began its first semester in January of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic heighted the need for quality online education. Although a significant challenge itself, the pandemic also highlighted what set the online MSEM apart. The online MSEM implemented best practices in online learning, opting for shorter, focused video learning material that students could digest at their own pace rather than longer pre-recorded lectures or Zoom classes. These shorter videos are supplemented with reading materials, discussion boards, and the occasional synchronous virtual class session.
However, TGI also recognized that flexibility applies to the variety of course offerings available to students. To tap into the hands-on benefits and networking opportunities of in-person instruction, Immersive Experiences were launched as a one-credit elective. An Immersive is a weekend-long deep dive into a particular topic – such as leadership or innovation – featuring workshops, case analyses, and social activities to build students’ skill sets and professional networks.
This structure and variety not only maintained the educational value of courses in their online format but also afforded MSEM students a new level of convenience. With the bulk of teaching materials available to students at their own pace – and an evening rush hour commute out of the picture – the degree was accessible to more students than ever. The online MSEM thus seamlessly meshed into the lifestyle of its students, with a major reduction in schedule friction.
With a growing interest in remote learning, the MSEM program has seen steady growth in its online student population. Faculty have been hard at work adopting and learning new tools and pedagogical techniques to continue to provide a best-in-class online experience to students. Sam sees the future of the online MSEM as a constant improvement on the aspects of the program that are already successful, as well as the inception and addition of new course topics and educational opportunities that help students excel in an ever-changing workplace.