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NEW DELHI: Having worked for three years with automaker Maruti Suzuki, Delhi-based Akshat Arora decided to go back to college and broaden his perspective with an MBA. He studied hard, sometimes clocking 12 hours a day while juggling work, and in November last year, got into Indian School of Business (ISB). But, all his plans—both of studying in campus with the brightest minds and partying with them on weekends—had to be shelved. Thanks to the covid-19 outbreak, Arora’s course was first deferred, then moved online from June.

“It was a huge disappointment. I had been so excited about going back to college but I’ve found the online classes are great too," says Arora, who has adjusted to classes online and is now running for the post of student council president. The elections, just like the examinations and other activities, will be conducted online.

Arora and the class of 2021 in ISB and in other business schools are all going through a similar experience—and they’re picking up new skills that could just serve them well in a world of remote work and physical distancing. “We’re the student cohort that will become a case study after the covid situation comes under control," says Sri Sai Ram Tangirala, one of Arora’s batchmates. “We are in a unique position."

Rather than wait for things “to get back to normal", they’re re-inventing a new MBA experience. The B-schools organize webinars and classes, but students have taken it upon themselves to do more with group study and networking sessions as well as hang outs, all done virtually. Discussions are continued on Telegram groups—for the whole batch and for multiple interest groups.

“During our zoom sessions daily, we take turns to talk. This is actually better, because if we were on campus, I doubt we’d each get so much individual attention," says Rishabh Baid, a resident of Chhattisgarh, who’s just started online classes at IIM-Ahmedabad. Even before classes began, he’d met classmates and professors online. Professors held informal sessions online, where students got to know them. They were split into mentor-mentee groups online, with two mentors for every nine students.

Tangirala says networking online lacks the same impact of meeting someone in person. He reached out to alumni and professors, and helped organize ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions with alumni from the 2016-17 batch. He says these were especially helpful to prepare them for life after ISB, and therefore work out what they’d need to do to compensate for the lack of in-person classes.

To do projects, the class is split into teams of five, says Sujit Kumar Mahato, another ISB student. “During orientation week, we were brought up to speed on managing multiple tasks, prioritizing, and teaming up while being in different cities. So, it hasn’t been too tough to schedule tasks," he says.

For professors too, this has been a different experience—some were unsure since they’d never taught online, others were concerned that classes that depend on case studies would not be as effective online. IIMB set up a committee to drive digital learning with faculty who had experience of online teaching. “Initially classes ran longer to cover the same content, but as professors and students gained experience, the efficiency levels have stabilized to being nearly equivalent to in-class work," says Professor G Raghuram, Director, IIM-B.

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