<iframe src="https://5923915.fls.doubleclick.net/activityi;src=5923915;type=hbx_core;cat=hbx_b0;dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=;ord=1;num=1?" width="1" height="1" frameborder="0" style="display:none">
HBX Business Blog

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at an HBX Live Production

Posted by Dustin Hilt on November 17, 2016 at 9:39 AM


As Programming Manager for HBX Live, I oversee the development and delivery of programs via our virtual classroom. For those who are not already familiar, HBX Live was designed to reproduce the intimacy and synchronous interaction of Harvard Business School’s famed case study method in a digital environment.

Participants from around the globe can log in concurrently and join real-time, case-based sessions. In our custom-designed studio, a high-resolution video wall mimics the amphitheater-style seating of an HBS classroom, where up to 60 participants are displayed on individual screens simultaneously. 

Since I started this role, I have been approached countless times by participants, potential partners, and individuals at Harvard and other colleges and universities with the same question – what does it take to run a class in a one-of-a-kind virtual classroom?

The short answer is a lot of coffee, a lot of coordination, and an awesome team. The long answer? Keep reading for a behind-the-scenes look at a recent session.

5:30 AM – Wake Up Call / HBX Live Runs on Dunkin


Most HBX Live sessions reach learners around the world – it isn’t unusual to see 20 or more countries represented in the virtual classroom. One challenge, of course, is finding a time that works for as many time zones as possible.

In this case, it meant a very early morning (I set alarms for 5:30 AM, 5:35 AM, and 5:40 AM just in case…) to reach participants in Japan, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Australia, and a host of other nations before the end of their day. As a result, you can usually find most members of the team at the Dunkin Donuts across the street from the studio before the morning officially begins.

6:30 AM – Bringing the Virtual Studio “Online”

Even though HBX Live is part of Harvard Business School, the virtual classroom is located in a studio at WGBH, the local public broadcaster. Because our approach to producing each session borrows aspects from film and television, this location provides access to the talent necessary to support each session and the infrastructure needed to host the 60-participant video wall and other aspects of the virtual classroom.

Between sessions, we power down the video wall and collapse the set so that another program can film in the studio. When the team arrives at the studio, the classroom is offline. The first step in our process involves some heavy lifting to put everything back together again.

7:00 AM – Production Meeting


Once the studio is online, we pull the entire team (including any guests we have in the studio) together to review the rundown for the production.

Before the session, the producer reviews the outline and other materials provided by the faculty member to create a minute-by-minute breakdown of the session. This provides team the information that they need to oversee the production of the session from the control room.

7:30 AM – Faculty Meeting

After the production meeting, a member of the team meets with the faculty member for the session and review the plan for the class. At this point, we have already had multiple pre-session conversations focused on the capabilities of the studio and the faculty member’s plans for the session. We use the majority of this time to confirm important details (such as the use of polling, chat, or multimedia) to make sure that everyone is on the same page so that the HBX Live team is prepared to provide support from the control room as needed.

8:00 AM – Participant Onboarding

A half an hour before the session starts, we "open the doors" to the virtual classroom so that participants can take their seats. On the video wall in the studio, photos of each participant start to flicker and become gateways to locations around the world. In the past few weeks alone, I’ve had an opportunity to see rainforests, beaches, the skyline of New York City, and the Eiffel Tower through the webcams of individuals sharing a slice of the view from their homes or offices.

As each person connects, a member of our team takes a few moments to check in with them. As much as we appreciate the opportunity to learn more about each participant (and ask about the view), the onboarding period also serves another purpose – it provides one more chance for our team to check each person’s audio and video connection to ensure that they are able to have a productive session.

8:30 AM – Class Begins

At the end of the onboarding period, the faculty member takes the floor to start the session. While they focus on the content, the HBX Live team is working behind the scenes to make sure that all the other details are in place.

In the control room above the studio, a wall of monitors shows the feed from the webcams of all sixty participants and all six cameras on the studio floor. The producer and director keep an eye on the production rundown and watch the actions of the faculty member closely, making decisions about how to present each minute of the session to participants.

This might include switching between cameras or changing the layout to include shots from the webcams of participants who are engaging in a discussion with each other and/or the faculty member. Given the pace of discussions at Harvard Business School, the team in the control room must be incredibly fast and laser-focused on the session.

Down in the studio, a handheld camera operator moves around the floor, taking direction from the control room to capture shots of the faculty member that are outside of the scope of the mounted cameras. From the side of the stage, another member of the team monitors and controls the audio for each participant. This role is critical, as it allows HBX Live to feel more like a physical classroom than a conference call or web conference.

Participants' audio is “always on” and balanced from the studio floor. This ensures that participants can respond to cold calls in an instant instead of fumbling to unmute their device. It also means that jokes are met with laughter and particularly insightful comments with murmurs of approval (as opposed to the “wall of silence” you might experience on a conference call).

9:45 AM – Wrapping Up

After a session, the team heads down to the floor to meet with the faculty member. We take a few minutes to debrief on the session, touching base on what worked well and where there might be opportunities to approach the production differently in the future.

In a matter of minutes, we power down the video wall, turn off the cameras and microphones, and collapse the set so that the studio is available for other programming in the studio.

The next item on the agenda?

Head back to the office to get ready for another session. 


About the Author

Dustin is a member of the HBX Live Team, focusing on program development and delivery. He holds a B.A. in Government from Colby College and a Ed.M. in Higher Education from Harvard University. In his spare time, he enjoys reading as many books as possible and worrying about the Washington Nationals.

Topics: HBX Live

Students Provide An Inside Look at HBX Live

Posted by HBX on September 17, 2015 at 9:58 AM

Professor Bharat Anand leads a discussion in the HBX Live studio

HBX Live is our new virtual classroom and one-of-a-kind digital environment that collapses geography and allows participants worldwide to interact in real-time with one another and a faculty member.

We recently held an HBX Live session for some members of our July cohort of HBX CORe and two students, Chris and Saurabh, volunteered to discuss their experiences on the platform. 

Chris is a United States Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in California who is transitioning to business school next fall. In his spare time, he volunteers for The Wingman Foundation. Saurabh is an Operations Business Analyst who enrolled in CORe to perfect the analytical skills and strategies that will allow him to both advance to a senior position and to obtain an MBA.

What was it like logging into HBX Live for the first time?

Chris: When I first logged in, I didn't know what to expect. When I saw everyone's face on the wall, I was shocked. Quickly I realized that HBX has created the best virtual classroom I have seen. The wall reminded me of students sitting in an auditorium listening intently to the professor. I felt like I was in class. The ability of the instructor to look at you, call on you, and hear your response made me nervous, but also made me engage in the virtual classroom much more than I otherwise would. I expected much less and was blown away by the innovative setup.

Saurabh: It was amazing! I was excited to be a part of such a great initiative. The entire experience was immersive, and seeing myself on the wall with others and faculty members was pretty impressive. I guess the only time I have been a part of anything remotely close to this was in a video conference, but HBX Live was at a different level.

How did Live compare to a real classroom?

Chris: Live was the closest thing to a real classroom environment without actually going to class. In fact, one could argue that Live improves on the classroom experience because you can learn from the comfort of anywhere in the world. Since students can login anywhere around the world, the diversity of the students is a big advantage to foster collaborative thinking.

Saurabh: The Live experience was very engaging compared to a real classroom. Discussions and participation were just amazing. The only part that was distracting me was the chat. I too participated in chat but was more interested in what was happening in front of me than following chat. I did participate whenever I was given a chance. No complaints there at all!

What was your favorite part of the experience?

Chris: My favorite part of the experience was meeting [Ace Ticket founder] Jim Holzman and asking him questions about his business experience. In true case study form, each student had the opportunity to learn from Jim by engaging with him on business decisions. I have sat in a case study class offered at a business school, and Live captured the exact same environment. The students were able to ask Jim any question.

Saurabh: I could name many, but the most favorite part was when I could see the faculty member as well as Jim Holzman from Ace Ticket live on stage sharing their experiences. Seeing and listening to the business owner about whom we studied so much was definitely worth an applaud. He not only shared his experiences but took constructive feedback from many of the HBX participants and responded genuinely.

Do you have any other insights or advice for people?

Chris: I would suggest signing up for Live and HBX CORe. The course has been amazing because I am learning the same concepts and am able to discuss the concepts with students who are taking similar courses at other prominent business schools. I have discussed HBX during my job search, and every employer has been very impressed with my knowledge of business analytics and financial accounting. As Live grows and becomes a larger part of the HBX CORe, the course will only get better.

Saurabh: You need to be there to experience it!

Would you want to participate in another Live session?

Chris: Yes!


To learn more about HBX CORe or Live, visit hbx.hbs.edu!

Learn more about HBX CORe
Learn more about HBX Live

Topics: Student Bloggers, HBX Live

Online Education: From Skeptic to Super Fan

Posted by Nitin Nohria on June 22, 2015 at 2:27 PM

Dean Nitin Nohria addresses HBX CORe students at a closing ceremony on November 2, 2014.

In the fall of 2010, just a few months after I became dean of Harvard Business School, I remember hosting a large meeting where faculty and staff could ask questions and offer feedback. I recall one question in particular: "When will Harvard Business School enter the arena of online education?”

I answered unequivocally: “Not in my lifetime.”

I was wrong, of course, and thanks to the launch of EdX and a remarkably entrepreneurial group of colleagues at HBS, we began work on the project that has become HBX. This month, as we celebrate one year since its launch—during which 4,100 students from 72 countries have experienced our courses—it’s fitting for me to reflect on why I initially misjudged the potential of online education, and why I now believe the technological and pedagogical innovations being pioneered by HBX have the ability to transform the way we teach in all of our programs at Harvard Business School.

My slow acceptance of online education was shaped by two important factors.

First, until a few years ago many of the people promoting online education positioned it as a disruptive innovation which would threaten (or even kill off) campus-based, face-to-face educational programs. While it undoubtedly is shifting the landscape of management education, my belief in the transformative power of an intimate, immersive, residential program that utilizes the case study method—a form of business education created by Harvard Business School nearly a century ago—is profound and unshakeable. The pervasive framing of online education as a threat caused me to react defensively; once I changed my mindset, and began to see it as a supplement and complement to existing educational methods, my attitudes began to change.  My colleagues and I started to view it as an exciting opportunity to extend and enhance our mission rather than as a threat to our survival.

The second factor that limited my imagination was the experience I’d had sampling online courses as they existed in 2010. I had explored the first generation of MOOCs and was unimpressed. After twenty-five years of teaching via the case study method, I prefer deeply interactive classroom discussions to lectures—and uploading videotaped lectures and problem sets into an online setting seemed to me a poor alternative. But as my colleagues and I began to brainstorm how we might bring our engaging case method pedagogy into an online setting, my views changed. I sometimes use the analogy that if someone examined a mobile phone in 1985—when the contraption was the size of a small suitcase—he or she might dismiss the long-term appeal of this transformational technological innovation. Likewise, once I realized how dramatically a team of Harvard Business School faculty and staff could improve on existing methods for online education, I realized that my view had been mistaken, too.

I am enormously proud of the courses that my colleagues at HBX have created. They have found ways to replicate the intimacy and interactivity of the case study method in an online environment, and they have pushed the technology in imaginative ways (and continue to do so). I am eager to watch as they continue to innovate and expand. There is no question that they have delivered on the initial idea: that HBX could extend the mission and reach of Harvard Business School, just as our Executive Education programs and Harvard Business Publishing allow us to deliver teaching and research to thousands of people beyond those who pursue a Harvard MBA.

Our HBX CORe offerings liberate undergraduates to major in subjects of their choosing but still have access to a high-quality introduction to business fundamentals, and they allow companies to hire people without business backgrounds by ensuring new employees have the ability to quickly and efficiently learn the basics in a cost-effective manner. HBX, and HBX Live in particular, also help us to deliver on our promise of lifelong learning, by giving us new way to reach and interact with students and alumni as their careers and educational needs evolve.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that’s come out of HBX is how it is beginning to affect our thinking about the best way to teach live classes utilizing the case study method. Just as lecture-based programs are putting lectures online to “flip the classroom” and deepen in-class discussion, we are exploring ways to use the technologies and methods pioneered by HBX to allow pieces of what we now do in our case discussions to take place online before class, opening up time for a richer classroom experience.

For example, we are exploring ways to use HBX technology to enhance the way we present technical or analytically complex materials before students come to class, freeing professors from the whiteboard and allowing students to master these concepts at a pace that is personally comfortable. In Executive Education, HBX Live has already been put to use in modular programs when participants are not in residence and are distributed all over the globe.

I can’t—and won’t—predict what HBX might look like in the future. I have humility, because I was wrong about online education in the past, and I don’t want to be wrong again. But I have no doubt HBX will continue to be a powerful new vehicle for us to advance our mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world, and at all stages of their lives.

Five years after I said “not in my lifetime,” I now believe that HBX could easily be one of the most important initiatives we undertake at Harvard Business School.

This post is a part of our HBX Year One series celebrating the one year anniversary of the public launch of HBX. View all of our HBX Year One posts here

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Courses, HBX Year One, HBX Live

HBX Year One: Reflections from the Faculty Chair

Posted by Bharat Anand on June 20, 2015 at 1:13 PM

The HBX Economics Team Wraps a Studio Shoot - Photo courtesy of StarPilot Productions LLC
Photo courtesy of StarPilot Productions LLC

We are used to creating and launching new educational programs at Harvard Business School. After all, we’ve been doing it for over one hundred years. Yet, when we launched HBX one year ago it was new for us in three respects. First, the courses we offered (HBX CORe, our “fundamentals of business” program, and Disruptive Strategy) were entirely online – something we’d never done before. Second, HBX CORe was offered to a set of learners – undergraduates and non-business graduate students – who we had never served before. Third, the courses were offered on a platform that was entirely new and built from scratch for this purpose.  

We’ve never really had to reinvent all three attributes - a new group of learners, a new “classroom” infrastructure, and a new medium – for a program before. And that’s why we approached the launch of HBX with great excitement, but also great humility.  

The HBX journey itself started even before that - nearly three years ago. Online education was not familiar to us then. It is also fair to say that it was not something most of us felt would seriously impact, or disrupt, our campus programs anytime soon. Yet, we decided to embark on this journey.  

We did so because of the possibilities; because we were passionate about trying to re-imagine participant-based learning online; and because of our mission - to train and educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Creating The HBX Learning Model 

Education is a right. Great education is a privilege that many of us have benefited from in our lives. There were a few simple observations that shaped our efforts at HBX to create a great educational experience online. We believe that education – in any form – can and should be engaging and interactive. That’s the best way to challenge one’s assumptions and beliefs, to learn new and unfamiliar material, and to force one to think. We also believe that education is a social experience, not just an individual one. It’s an experience where we learn with and from others, from teachers and, as importantly, from our peers.  

This map from the HBX platform shows the geographic distribution of CORe learners for our June 2015 cohort
This map shows the geographic distribution of CORe learners for our June 2015 cohort

Those beliefs led us to create an online platform for HBX with many idiosyncratic features. A global map – so that learners could see who else was online. Shared reflections – so they could read how others were processing the same material. Peer help – so they could ask, or answer, questions of others. Real-time updating. Drag and drop exercises. Interactive games. Online cold calls. And many more features. One important rule of thumb we followed was that a learner shouldn’t go by for more than three to five minutes without “doing something” on the platform.  

To create the courses, we borrowed from a teaching approach that we know best: the case method. This was the inspiration for the three principles - storytelling, interactive learning, and social learning – that anchored HBX.  

But while we were borrowing, we also tried, equally hard, to forget what makes our classroom approach work so well. We knew that if we tried to simply reproduce our classroom approach online, we would miss the mark. This was the basis for the “digital-first” philosophy at HBX that has come to define everything we do here. It’s not an idea that we invented. It’s one that we took learnt from the recent history of sectors like media and entertainment, where companies have been trying to digitally transform themselves (and often struggled).  Digital-first is a simple idea - leverage the digital medium for what it is, rather than merely trying to transfer a traditional format online. But it’s one that’s often gone unheeded in online education.  

A Team Effort

Our early conversations involved a handful of HBS faculty and staff. An initiative like HBX, however, doesn’t get created without the incredible efforts of many: our Dean, the rest of the founding faculty team (Jan Hammond, Youngme Moon, VG Narayanan, and Clay Christensen), and our staff team – some drawn from HBS, and several others who simply shared our passion for contributing to something meaningful and creative.  

Finally, there are the HBX learners: more than 4,000 of them in year one for HBX CORe, coming from over 450 universities, and 72 countries; over a dozen cohorts of learners for Disruptive Strategy. The group of learners has been incredibly diverse. (To quote one learner’s description, “their path to HBX is something you would usually find in a Tom Hanks movie”). They’ve been humorous, they’ve been grateful. They’ve given generous feedback, which has been invaluable as we continue to refine and innovate on everything we do. They have brought engagement, passion, and a remarkable sense of collaboration to the HBX learning experience in a way we never imagined. They’ve been pioneers as well in our online journey. We owe a deep gratitude to all of them.  

Some Highlights from Year One

There are several moments that I personally remember well from our first year at HBX. There was the day we opened our website for applications – and wondered whether anyone would sign up for a paid online program on a platform they’d never seen or heard of before. There was the activity on the first day that we launched CORe (June 11, 2014), when over 300 participants uploaded their profile pictures and information, generating over 13,000 profile views. (It turns out that they really just wanted to check each other out).  There was the end of that first day when, at around 9 pm, we noticed that one learner - a Harvard biology major - had, incredibly, completed the first module for all three CORe courses. At around the same time, she reached out with an email to us, describing the reason behind her marathon stretch on the platform that day: “it is so hard to tear myself away from the modules”, she wrote. “Thank you for creating such an amazing experience.” That was probably the first moment we felt that HBX might actually work.  

Finally, there’ve been the results so far: 85% completion rates for our courses. Engagement scores for our online courses that are similar what we experience in many of our residential programs. What we’ve learnt is not just that online engagement can be very high. Many of these online experiences are now translating, remarkably, into offline ones. Students are organizing meet-ups in different cities. They are forming study groups. Some are looking to collaborate with peers on new ventures. They are getting to know each other in ways we had hoped for, but could not envision.  

These experiences have made something else clear to us that we did not believe three years ago: learning through the online medium is surely not destined to be an inferior experience to the classroom medium. The combination of technology and creative pedagogy can spawn remarkable engagement and experiences there too.  

Starting A Journey

This fall, for the first time, more than 300 of our matriculating MBA students will have experienced learning through HBX before they arrive on campus. A month ago, for the first time, some of our alumni experienced HBX Live, our innovative studio that enables case discussions at a distance. We are looking to integrate HBX offerings and platforms into our existing executive education programs, and into our traditional channels for disseminating research. Our faculty colleagues are creating new courses. Our alumni are eager to see what we are doing with technology in rethinking teaching and learning. It’s only been a year, but it’s clear that the impact of these efforts on our own campus will grow over time.  

This probably shouldn’t have been surprising to any of us. Technology, after all, is just an enabler. It’s a means, not an end. And what we’ve learnt so far is that it can be a powerful enabler of learning, of teaching, and of research – indeed, of nearly everything we do in a university.  

Year one of HBX has been a real roller-coaster ride. The astonishing, and sobering, part of it all is that we are probably far closer to the starting point than the finish line in the story of how technology might revolutionize education.  

We hope that our efforts at HBX will ultimately transform the educational experience of everyone who comes to our campus to learn. We also hope that our efforts can touch and impact new learners around the world who might never set foot on our campus. More than anything, we hope that the educational experiences we are delivering through HBX impacts learners not just through the content being offered there, but by serving as a springboard for new ideas, creative solutions, and better things – a springboard that enables our learners to make a difference in the world.

This post is a part of our HBX Year One series celebrating the one year anniversary of the public launch of HBX. View all of our HBX Year One posts here

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Courses, HBX Year One, HBX Live

HBX Live: The First Year [Infographic]

Posted by HBX on June 19, 2015 at 9:08 AM


There is another aspect of HBX that we haven't shared much about yet.  For the last two years, a small team of faculty, staff and technology experts has been working to create an incredible new space: HBX Live, a virtual classroom that connects 60 students from anywhere in the world to a professor in Boston for a dynamic and engaging HBS-style discussion. 

How does it work?  Participants from around the globe can log in and join real-time, case-based sessions with HBS faculty, who teach from the HBX Live studio on the Boston campus of public broadcaster, WGBH.  In the studio, high resolution monitors are arrayed to mimic the tiers of an HBS classroom.  Sessions are expertly “produced” using still and roaming cameras—so realistically that we have had participants break out in a sweat as they experience a professor moving toward them for a cold call.  

The HBX Live team was thrilled to see their hard work come together as people remotely connected to the first beta session last year. "It was really powerful to see participants dialed in from different time zones and countries at the same time, and faculty noted that the experience was even more immersive than teaching in a traditional classroom," said Cristina de la Cierva, HBX Live Product Manager. "We immediately saw the impact of this new platform and are excited for all that is to come!"

The team spent most of the past year conducting additional beta sessions, refining the production model and calibrating the technology. For Ross Pearo, Director of HBX CORe, a highlight was watching the first cohort of CORe students participate in a Live session last year and interact in real-time. "It was amazing to see all these people who had only met the CORe faculty through the CORe platform having the chance to interact with them in person on HBX Live," he said. "The engagement of all the participants was really incredible to watch."

We also welcomed groups of Executive Education participants and Harvard Business School alumni from the classes of 2000, 2005, and 2010 into the studio this year. So far, feedback has been very positive overall and we look forward to rolling out more broadly to alumni and Executive Education, as well as exploring new uses altogether with HBX Live.  

Here are some highlights (and a few factoids about HBX Live)...

HBX Live - the first year by the numbers

This post is a part of our HBX Year One series celebrating the one year anniversary of the public launch of HBX. Don't miss our other infographics on HBX, CORe, and Courses! 

Topics: HBX Year One, HBX Live