Wharton Prof. David Bell Talks about EMBA Classroom Experience

Executive MBA students at Wharton have the same faculty, curriculum and program hours as our full-time MBA students. However, the classroom experience is different, as EMBA students tend to be more advanced in their careers. In a recent Webinar, we asked Prof. David Bell, who focuses on internet retail marketing, about teaching EMBA students both in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Here’s an edited portion of that Webinar:

Q. What do you enjoy most about teaching EMBA classes?

I really enjoy the quality of the peer group environment. Students are very knowledgeable and collaborative. I also like how they really value the time they spend in school. Everyone is extremely busy so being at school is somewhat of a treat. They have a very high classroom engagement level.

Q. You’ve spent a lot of time lately in our San Francisco classrooms. What do you like about teaching there?

First, who doesn’t like to go to San Francisco? We have a wonderful campus there. Second, I like being there because of the tech ecosystem not only in the Bay Area, but nearby regions too. I can bring in great alumni guest speakers. We have many entrepreneurs and VCs who can share their experiences with our students.

Q. What should students expect in your classroom?

As a Wharton EMBA student, you’re part of an elite group, but it’s also an interactive and supportive group. That’s because students bring a wealth of experience. They are here because they really want to be here and learn things they can apply to their jobs. You also can expect faculty to bring our academic experience into the classroom as well as our work with companies that are implementing ideas from our research.

Q. How do you typically run your EMBA classes?

In my classes, we discuss the latest research and important theories on how decisions are made, how people behave and operate, and how those things are related to empirical studies and data. We also discuss trends and how they relate to theories. And we use corporate examples through discussions, case studies and guest speakers. In addition, many of my colleagues use simulations.

Q. Do you find that you learn from EMBA students?

Absolutely! It’s a very rich learning environment. Some of my research is influenced by EMBA students.

Q. Can you tell us about the mini-courses called Global Modular Courses (GMCs)?

I’ll give you an example. Prof. Marshall Fisher runs a GMC on global supply chains and he takes a group of undergraduate, full-time MBA and EMBA students to China to visit factories and learn how things operate in that environment. We also recently had a GMC on luxury and fashion retail in Milan. We spent about half of the time outside of the classroom and even visited the flagship store of Stuart Weitzman, who is a Wharton alumnus.

Q. How do professors interact with EMBA students outside of the classroom?

When we’re in San Francisco, for example, we’re there the entire weekend so we eat meals and attend events together. We may even go to a baseball game or the Wharton bar together. There are many informal discussions that occur. When we’re not on campus, we connect through emails because we’re still accessible. We really try to get to know our students on both coasts.

Q. Do you ever advise students on startups?

Yes, that is one of the most fun parts of the job. I really enjoy sitting down with students and being their sounding board, and sometimes my involvement results in research.

Q. Can you tell us about Coursera and how those MOOCs (massive online open courses) are unique?

While it’s challenging to teach an online course because you don’t get cues from a live audience, it’s rewarding to see the level of engagement from students all around the world.

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