Harvard Business School Debuts HBX Live, a New Kind of Online Classroom

Harvard’s new online classroom will combine the interactivity of a live seminar with the flexibility of online learning.

illustration by arthur mount

illustration by arthur mount

Starting this summer, what once was a plain ol’ WGBH studio will become a virtual classroom that may revolutionize the way we think about online education. Dubbed HBX Live, the new Harvard Business School collaboration with the public broadcaster will use the space in the same manner as a traditional lecture hall—with a professor at the front presiding over a semicircle of 60 screens, each one a stand-in for an off-site student. The initiative will debut as part of the business school’s new online learning platform, HBX, which launches this month.

“We went out and created [it] ourselves because there weren’t any that allowed us to do what we wanted to do,” says Bharat Anand, faculty chair for HBX. “Taking a camera in a physical classroom and streaming that online wasn’t appealing to us.” Instead, he says, they’re thinking “about how we can reproduce the magic of an HBS classroom online.” In other words, more student- teacher interaction—and more accountability—than a traditional Web course.

The unique configuration of the room will allow virtual participants to view up to 59 others via an interactive Web page, encouraging communication and virtual hand-raising. Although the first few sessions won’t be open to the public (alumni and current students have first dibs), Anand and his colleagues have big plans for HBX Live’s future applications— lectures with speakers from around the globe, for example, or training sessions for executives at large companies who don’t want to travel.

“[We’re going] to start interacting with people like we’ve never done before,” he says. “You sit anywhere in the world and we come to you.”