How Harvard Business School Prepared For a Hybrid Classroom

Laveta Brigham

A Harvard business School class with masks and social distancing during COVIC This fall, many MBA students didn’t return to campus like usual. Faced with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, business schools around the country shifted the classroom environment to hybrid or fully online models. At Harvard Business School, […]

A Harvard business School class with masks and social distancing during COVIC

This fall, many MBA students didn’t return to campus like usual.

Faced with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, business schools around the country shifted the classroom environment to hybrid or fully online models.

At Harvard Business School, school officials were faced with the challenge of preserving the classroom environment and its legendary “case study method” as COVID-19 restrictions prevented students from congregating fully in a classroom setting.

So, HBS created the Virtual Teaching Task Force – a committee of HBS officials tasked with figuring out how to transition the classroom environment online and ensure everything runs smoothly.

“The task force team created a culture of community with two key concepts,” Professor Srikant Datar, who leads the task force, says in an HBS interview. “One, we were going to succeed or fail as a team. There was no individual ever at fault—if a piece of technology would not work, it was not because IT failed, it was because the task force failed. Two, the need to be patient, flexible, and adaptable. The state of things is not going to be perfect; we all need to be a bit forgiving.”


Like many b-schools, HBS was faced with the challenge of adapting to a quick timeline as states across the nation enforced shutdown restriction in early March to try and curb the spread of COVID-19.

At HBS, the task force faced obstacles such as figuring out how to ensure class materials and the board would be visible for online students and those in the classroom. On top of that, there was the challenge of identifying students with masks on Zoom. Moreover, classroom environments had to have health protocols with proper sanitization measures in place.


Regardless if students were remote or in-person, the task force wanted to ensure all students had an equal and fair learning environment.

Other main directives for the task force included maintaining the integrity of the classroom environment and the case study method, supporting a familiar teaching environment, and keeping the community safe.

The task force created a weekly design and feedback process with 50 to 1000 HBS community members from faculty to students in order to test concepts of design thinking.

“You want to get users into the experience as soon as possible. You realize all sorts of things that you would never have thought of otherwise. Bring in a lot of users, think as a team, constantly iterate,” Datar tells HBS.

The task force also wanted to ensure the integrity of the case study method would remain intact for all students, whether online or in-person. To create such an environment, it needed to deliberately think about aspects of the classroom space – from the seating to the acoustics.

“These spaces are almost as sacred as any on campus,” Steve Erwin, senior director of planning and design, tells HBS. “The case method and the section gatherings are a fundamental identity of HBS. Everything in the classroom—from the type of chair to the placement of the screens to acoustics—is about optimizing the conversation between the students and faculty. We don’t take any aspect of that critical dynamic lightly.”

With an optimized space and the help of technology like high quality cameras and audio signal processors, the task force was able to create an equal classroom experience for all its students.

“This completely homegrown piece of the design is probably one of the most essential aspects of the hybrid experience—it engages remote students and makes them feel more a part of the classroom experience,” Audio Visual Design Engineer Justin Fowler tells HBS.

And for professors, the new hybrid classroom – while new – still preserves elements of a real classroom environment. Just safer.

“It felt very safe, and I immediately felt at home—give me chalk and a blackboard and I’m in my comfort zone. Zoom is a great technology, but I find myself very distracted—I can’t read emotions and make eye contact. In the hybrid classroom, I can focus on the case,” Professor V.G. Narayanan tells HBS. “Even with only 10 students in the classroom, they act as a microcosm of the full class—you can pick up on all the non-verbal cues. They’re wearing masks, but they’re leaning forward, leaning backwards, you can see their engagement and if they’re connecting with you and the case. There are so many things in the hybrid classroom that stay true to the original case method.”

Sources: HBS, P&Q

Harvard Business School. File photo

The 2+2 program at Harvard Business School is a unique opportunity for students to apply to HBS on a deferred basis. Students accepted into the program spend at least two years working followed by two years in the regular HBS MBA program.

While extremely valuable, an MBA from HBS doesn’t come cheaply with a total cost of roughly $111,818. And while students can receive financial aid, some of the details around aid can be confusing.

HBS admissions staff recently broke down a few myths when it comes to financial aid for 2+2 students and what applicants need to know about the process overall.


At HBS, the process for applying for admission and financial aid differ greatly. In fact, they’re completely separate processes.

“…our students, including 2+2 candidates, submit a financial aid application after they have been admitted to the MBA program,” according to HBS admissions staff.

Applicants can learn more about the admission process here and the financial aid process here.


When it comes to eligibility, applicants often assume HBS only considers current income when assessing financial aid.

However, the financial aid office looks at an applicant’s income and assets from the three years prior to matriculation.

“That means, that as a 2+2 student, you will not complete your financial aid application until the spring before you enroll in the MBA program,” according to HBS admissions staff. “In other words, you may not submit your financial aid application until 2-4 years after you have been admitted.”


While 2+2 in a unique program that differs from the traditional MBA, applicants can rest assured that 2+2 admits are still eligible for all the same need-based aid as traditional MBA candidates.

“Roughly 50% of our students receive financial assistance in the form of need-based scholarships that do not need to be repaid, and our average scholarship award is $42,000 per academic year,” according to HBS admissions staff.

Sources: HBS, HBS, HBS

Social distancing in the hallways of Harvard Business School buildings

This year, HBS enrolled its smallest MBA class in decades with just 732 students, roughly 200 fewer than a typical MBA class.

There are various reasons for the decrease in class size, with an application slump being the biggest. However, one thing has not changed: the notoriously rigorous admission standards. P&Q estimated that the acceptance rate at HBS this year was just 13%.

Getting into HBS is no easy feat. However, there are elements of your application that can make a huge difference. Acing the interview process is one of them.

Karla Cohen is an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions and former Associate Director of Doctoral Programs at HBS and MBA interview board member for the HBS MBA program. She recently broke down how applicants can ace the HBS interview offering some insider advice into the process. ‘


The interview process is an opportunity for applicants to tell their story to admissions officers.

Cohen recommends that applicants use their resume as a starting point. However, she notes that this isn’t simply a time to list out your work experience but rather an opportunity to explain a clear rationale for certain decisions.

“Your ability to articulate your thinking behind each of those decisions is essential, along with your ambitions and motivations beyond the MBA,” Cohen writes.


HBS wants to hear your story, but they also want to know why you want to attend their b-school.

“You’ll need to be convincing and logical, not only about why an MBA, but why now, and how an HBS degree will serve as a catalyst for your own post-MBA success,” Cohen writes. “Many times candidates focus on leadership, and while that’s part of what HBS is known for, don’t forget that at its core HBS is a general management program, not a leadership school.”


Authenticity is key when it comes to the interview. Cohen’s line of advice? Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

“The better prepared you are to articulate how you made certain decisions and choices, and what you were actually thinking, the more persuasive and believable you will be,” she writes. “Be yourself – it’s your unique rational, thought process and perspectives that distinguish you from others of an identical or similar profile.”

Sources: Fortuna Admissions, P&Q


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