February 1998 // Case Studies
What's Happening with Information Technology in Management Education: Hype, Hope, and Reality
by Barbara Horgan
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Barbara Horgan "What's Happening with Information Technology in Management Education: Hype, Hope, and Reality" The Technology Source, February 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Why Information Technology Is Important

Most business schools recognize the importance of information technology (IT) by having their own technology staff and facilities dedicated to management education. Business schools are highly competitive and want to be on the leading edge of technology. They also recognize that their purpose is the education of future managers who will need to operate effectively in an information technology-oriented economy. Michael Spence, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, stresses the importance of IT to career advancement when he meets with incoming students: "We are trying to prepare them to be the best managers they can be, and these are the skills they are going to need to have" (Crowley, 1997, p.114).

Linking business planning and IT planning—looking for ways to affect the company's bottom line through information technology—is becoming increasingly important. Business schools need to educate their students to recognize the strategic value of IT. Information technology also provides business schools with additional ways to involve their students more directly with corporations and corporate executives, and vice versa. Technologies such as video conferencing, the Web, and e-mail can facilitate connections with top executives without necessitating their physical presence. Access to company information online (through Web pages and other sources) allows students to "learn important concepts like cash flow analysis, capital budgeting, investment, and risk analysis...by using real-world data of well-known companies rather than textbook problems dealing with hypothetical companies and fictitious data" (Premkumar, Ramamurthy & King, 1997, p.378).

What's Happening Now: Web Pages of Business Schools

One way to look at the infusion of IT into the curriculum is to examine how business schools portray their IT use on the Web. The Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth has a Web page that provides easy access to the home pages of other business schools through a handy alphabetic index. Browsing through these web pages gives some sense of the IT resources being provided to support instruction and research. Robust, ubiquitous networking and facilities designed for flexibility and multimedia are critical to successful integration of information technology. In addition, deployment of comprehensive intranets and online courses appears essential to remaining competitive.

New Facilities/Infrastructure: a Few Examples

Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School Web pages are replete with descriptions of the new Whittemore Wing for Information Technology, described as "the most flexible and highly networked learning space in any business school". The pages link to a few public relations articles that describe the genesis and purpose of the building. Flexible use is key; to this end, the Wing features different rooms that can be configured for either computer labs, video conferencing, or simulation. The learning lab, separate from the computing lab, can be either a regular classroom or a lab with a capacity of 70 students, 400 network ports, 95 computers and four video conferencing sites. Computing support services are located adjacent to both of these rooms.

In designing this new learning space, Dartmouth chose the fast path, "a design-build program that involved fast turnaround of concepts and plans". Given the rapid pace of change in technology and the fierceness of competition among business schools, this strategy is a necessity. Flexibility should be a priority as well, so that a new system does not become outdated as technology develops. Providing spaces for teams to function interactively is key. Whether at a more traditional desk, or in new lounge chairs with swing-up desktops and side tables wired for power and data, students will be connected to each other, to faculty, and to data resources around the world.

The articles on Tuck don't simply describe the technology. They mention how the new Wing "dovetails perfectly with Tuck's other strategies—namely, to share teaching and research resources with academic and corporate partners worldwide and to extend the Tuck education to alumni after graduation." In keeping with these goals, Tuck is importing and exporting classes from the Far East and Europe, hosting virtual visiting executives, and offering research seminars at multiple locations. Dean Paul Danos links the new capabilities to the School's goals and functions: "placement and career development services, executive education, lifelong learning, distance and asynchronous learning."

Dartmouth is not the only school touting its new facilities or infrastructure. Boston University's School of Management dedicated a new home, the Rafik B. Hariri building, with emphasis on its customers, teamwork and technology: "Technology abounds with every student seating position in the building having an active data port (almost 4000 in all). Voice, data and video can be received or transmitted to or from every classroom to other locations on campus or elsewhere in the world. Similarly the 22,000 square-foot management library incorporates the latest electronic reference and database access…".

The need to wire every seat for data access is a common theme in IT resource planning for business schools. Building a new network infrastructure at Harvard, though, was coupled with a plan for designing a new system for the Business School that would change the way students and faculty accessed information, as well as the ways in which they communicated with each other, and the world.

When Dean Kim Clark came to the Harvard Business School in late 1995, he wanted to update the old IT infrastructure and build a new one based on several principles: open standards; a simple and flexible platform; universally web-based applications; rapid prototyping; and in-house development. Those were the technical goals, or the IT architecture. Because of these standards, the vision of using the school's intranet as the primary vehicle of communication within one year was realized:

When a Harvard MBA student logs onto the intranet, for example, a personal World Wide Web page is created on the fly. Class materials and assignments are pulled from Oracle databases and matched with the student's schedule. None of the information is static; it changes each day (Mullich, 1997, p. 27).

Students now view the famous Harvard case studies online. These are supplemented by video clips of real executives, faculty tours and "online simulations to study how changes in production schedules affect revenues and inventory." David Upton, an associate professor who teaches technology and operations management, says that the "intranet's biggest benefit is bringing the outside world into the classroom" (Mullich, 1997, p. 27). Equally impressive, though, is how Harvard has managed to avoid support problems through training and designing their system for ease of use. Because of an English interface developed for the system, professors do not have to learn HTML.

In and Out of the Classroom

Upton's comment about bringing the world into the classroom is telling. Information technology is blurring the distinction between in- and out-of-classroom learning. With network connections at every seat, the student may be learning "out of the classroom" while sitting in a classroom. For management students this is especially important because they can form connections to real businesses, real business data and real business executives very early in their careers.

Almost all business schools have computing labs and classrooms specifically designed for use of technology. Their Web pages describe these in an attempt to attract new students with the lure of well-equipped facilities and services. For many institutions, however, all classrooms are becoming technology classrooms, and docking stations are replacing desktop units as student ownership of computers is either required or strongly encouraged (the University of California at Irvine provides a $1,000 subsidy to students who purchase the standard laptop). The goal of anytime/anywhere teaching and learning means that any space is a learning space. Because students cannot afford high-powered graphics workstations, extensive software libraries, expensive peripherals and video conferencing equipment, however, specialized labs will still be important.

For example, one lab that focuses on software rather than hardware is the GSIA FAST lab at Carnegie Mellon, which contains special software that simulates real-time trading, connects to Reuters Data Service and includes real-time stock information as well as current international news. M.I.T. also has a computerized trading room for the Sloan School of Management. Multimedia labs are often designed for preparing presentations with equipment not available on most laptop or desktop computers. Another special use lab is the group lab at UCLA's Anderson School, which is used to facilitate groups working on team projects.

Harvard Business School offers both a Research and Technology Lab—-which functions as a simultaneous experience classroom as well as a walk-in facility and controlled environment for experimentation with "cutting-edge technology solutions"—-and a Research and Technology Classroom. The Haas School of Business at Berkeley has a computer classroom, known as the Interactive Learning Center, which supports the development of new teaching methods using combinations of interactive technologies, as well as a Multimedia Lab and Media Center for video technology.

Video conferencing is increasingly a standard technology component in business schools. This technology is used for a range of purposes: to connect to visiting executives; to access remote locations for data retrieval or for class offerings; or to conduct remote interviews. The University of Michigan Business School Computing Services Web pages describe their video conferencing classroom as an important School resource for programs and projects.

It's just one step from introducing video conferencing to providing an online MBA program, either whole or in part. A 1996 Wall Street Journal article entitled "Schools Boot Up to Offer On-line MBAs" (Lublin, 1996) listed such programs at Dartmouth, Duke, the University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana, Queen's University in Ontario, the University of Michigan, and Purdue University. The Babcock Intranet at Wake Forest University has links to "On-line Courses", and University On-line, Inc. is partnering with the business schools of top universities to offer online MBA courses (Lublin, 1996).

While the WSJ article claims that "Distance learning via video conferencing and the Internet holds the greatest potential for reshaping business schools," Harvard's Upton claims that "distance learning isn't what we are all about … as a student you should feel the hot breath of the instructor on your face" (Mullich, 1997, p. 27). Yet Harvard does offer a form of distance learning to its students every day as they access information from anywhere at any time.


The hope for information technology in business schools is that it will be truly integrated into both day-to-day operations and the curriculum. Despite the hype of public relations articles and web sites, though, IT is still often just an add-on rather than an integral part of education. Even schools listed as among the "Top 25 Techno-MBA's" (Maglitta, 1995) do not use information technology throughout their programs. Beth Pilch, a recent MBA graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, rated fourth out of the Top 25, said that IT use was prevalent only in MIS classes. Her computing use primarily involved word processing, spreadsheets, statistics packages and e-mail—in other words, use of applications, rather than integrated use of technology throughout the curriculum.

Send mailGeorge Bateman at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business agrees that IT use is not spread across the curriculum, but depends on the MIS presence. His estimate of the most common uses of information technology is similar to what Ms. Pilch describes: word processing dominates, followed by electronic mail and use of the Web. Spreadsheets also are common, but modeling and simulation are used much less, and database use is near the bottom of the list. He didn't even mention courseware development.

Building a robust IT infrastructure, like Harvard, Boston University, and Dartmouth did, is a first step. Integration of IT will only happen when business schools transform the way they operate and interact with students, executives, information, and companies throughout the world using the tools of technology.


Crowley, A. (April 21, 1997). These students are in a class of their own. PC Week 14, (16), 114.

Premkumar, G., Ramamurthy, K. & King, W. R. (1993). Computer supported instruction and student characteristics: an experimental study. Educational Computing Research 9, (3), 378.

Mullich, J. (January 27, 1997).Teaching Harvard new tricks. PC Week,14 (4), 27.

Lublin, J. S. (Sep. 24, 1996). Schools boot up to offer on-line MBAs. Wall Street Journal, B1.

Maglitta, J. (December 4, 1995). Top 25 techno-MBAs. Computerworld, 29, 49.

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