Hello to HyFlex Learning: video drives uptake to leading Japanese business school

Andy Stone, Mar 2, 2022
Illustrations: Andy Stone

Waseda Business School
(Graduate School of Business and Finance, Waseda University)

  • Location: Tokyo, Japan
  • Sector: Education
  • Website: Waseda.jp

Tokyo’s Waseda University is experiencing a post­ pandemic uplift in applications to its world-renowned international business school owing to its adoption of HyFlex teaching and a bulk order of Neat Boards.

The Waseda Business School (Graduate School of Business and Finance, Waseda University), which was established in 1973, attracts students worldwide for its variety of courses, including MBA and MSc in Finance programs. But like similar establishments across the globe, Covid-19 severely affected its ability to reach and teach its students.

“We were forced to suddenly shift from face-to-face classes to online classes,” remembers Associate Professor Kanetaka Maki. “From the fall of 2020 we gradually resumed face-to-face classes, but our international students continued to find it difficult to come to Japan. We quickly realized we needed to offer highly-flexible classes that combined face-to-face and online classes.”

Associate Professor Kanetaka Maki

Hello to HyFlex

The school quickly pivoted to the HyFlex (hybrid/flexible) teaching model, which affords students the option of attending lectures in the classroom, online, or a mix of both. However, the shift to this new educational model was not an easy transition.

“Setting up the online element before each class was just too much work,” said Associate Professor Maki. “With between 15 and 20 students per classroom, it was tough to position everyone so their faces would be visible within the PC camera. In addition, to ensure everyone could hear, we had to wire in three microphones and lots of cables. We even had to ask the students to help set it all up.”

Dr. Noriatsu Kudo

To resolve these issues. the school enlisted an independent advisor to source a practical, cost-effective and quick-to-implement solution. Enter Noriatsu Kudo.

Dr. Kudo, a specialist in international distance learning, immediately began researching hardware options, working to a stringent and sometimes surprising set of criteria.

“We focused our efforts on offering high-quality online classes to anyone, anywhere,” recalls Dr. Kudo. “Classes are in multiple buildings and some instructors are not good with IT skills. So, the minimum requirements were that the tools be mobile and easy to set up.”

By combining technology such as Neat Board with our teaching know-how, we will differentiate ourselves and become more competitive internationally.

Associate Professor Kanetaka Maki

Choosing the right device

The chosen solution had to feature a large enough screen to be clearly visible to the students and be portable and compact enough to fit in the school’s elevators.

“We compared Neat Board with products from other manufactures that ranged from 55 to 75-inch screen size, but Neat Board’s 65-inch screen was ideal for us,” added Dr Kudo. “It balanced large screen accessibility with portability.”

Once the school had installed its four new Neat Boards. Associate Professor Maki immediately noticed the many advantages of leveraging a one-device solution. He lists just some of them below…

Associate Professor Maki’s benefits of Neat Board

  • Setting up the system used to take over 15 minutes, now it takes just three minutes. It’s just a matter of wheeling the Neat Board into position and switching it on.
  • The microphone clearly picks up comments from students at the back of the classroom. Plus, the camera automatically tracks each speaker, so our remote students get a more realistic classroom experience.
  • The recording function offers a significant advantage for students who can’t come to class, such as those participating from areas with considerable time-zone differences and students with disabilities.
  • Unlike projectors, we can freely move the Neat Boards around, so any desk/chair arrangement is possible. If we create a circular seating arrangement, it’s easier to have an equal discussion and improve the class’s creativity.
  • Finally, from an instructor’s point of view, the distractions in a HyFlex class are dramatically reduced. so that’s a big help!

In the future, we may increase the number of Neat Boards. We’re also considering installing Neat Bars in fixed desks and horseshoe-shaped classrooms.

Dr. Noriatsu Kudo

Embracing new ways of teaching

Fortune favors the brave – or at least those willing to invest time, money and thought into new ways of teaching – and the recent increase in applications for Waseda Business School’s entrance exams is a testament to its progressive strategy. However, the school is aware that it needs to remain competitive.

“Business schools cannot survive without HyFlex classes,” warns Associate Professor Maki. “Online classes have completely changed the way we teach. By combining technology such as Neat Board with our teaching know-how, we will differentiate ourselves and become more competitive internationally.”

Helping students engage

So, the school’s administration and instructors are all for the HyFlex approach, but what of the students? We quizzed Japanese MBA student Tetsuhiro Shimodaira about his experience of HyFlex learning and Neat Board.

“I find Neat Board very useful because it picks up the voices of everyone around me and automatically changes the layout of the screen by tracking the speaker.” says Mr. Shimodaira.

“The face of the person you’re talking to is also displayed larger than in real life, so you feel as if the person is right there, making engagement far more interactive than a PC.” Adds the student.

MBA student Tetsuhiro Shimodaira
MBA student Immaculate Kobutetsi

Meanwhile, fellow MBA student, Ugandan remote-learner Immaculate Kobutetsi, is grateful for the school’s technology uptake.

“I appreciate the investment the school has made in modern equipment for hybrid classes,” says Ms Kobutetsi. “I had a difficult time coming to Japan due to Covid-19 restrictions. The HyFlex classes are very beneficial for students who still can’t travel to Japan.”

What of the future?

Well, we’ll leave that for Dr. Kudo to assess, “In the future, we may increase the number of Neat Boards. We’re also considering installing Neat Bars on fixed desks and in horseshoe-shaped classrooms.”

For information on Waseda Business School (Graduate School of Business and Finance, Waseda University), please visit: waseda.jp.

The Waseda Business School (Graduate School of Business and Finance, Waseda University) uses Neat Boards in their Tokyo campus. Neat Board is the complete meeting room package in a simple and elegant all-in-one device. With its immersive 65-inch multi-touch screen, powerful audio system and versatile wide-angle camera, Neat Board gives you a collaboration experience beyond video meetings and wireless content sharing by enabling annotations and whiteboarding.

More on Neat Board