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What happens when a hospitality management school goes online?

EHL Lausanne
A class using virtual reality at EHL Lausanne. Source: EHL Group

Last March, following Switzerland’s declaration of a state of emergency due to COVID-19, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) had to close its campus. International students were sent home. Teaching had to move online.

As one of the best hospitality management schools in the world, its digital transition has resulted in some exemplary stats: 7,000 hours of online lessons and 2,440 virtual campus visits were hosted within six weeks of closing; and 12,000 online exams administered to 1,545 students in 90 countries within 12 weeks. A hotline handled any hiccups and reassured students of the new process and instructions.

In 2021, EHL has plans to make this temporary fix permanent, i.e. building a virtual campus to accompany its outposts in Lausanne and Passugg in Switzerland, and in Singapore. It will include virtual reality (VR), a collaboration with Dreamscape, GDPR-compliant anti-fraud proctoring software and environmentally-friendlier online exams. We caught up with EHL Group’s Chief Operating Officer and Deputy CEOMaxime Medina to learn more:

1. Hi! Tell us more about yourself. What sparked a career pivot to hospitality management and education?

After managing large-scale international projects and gaining a great deal of practical experience in a wide variety of fields (from industrial production in the luxury industry, to international NGOs and the educational industry), I had the chance to work as a consultant for EHL in 2008.

Medina has been the COO and deputy CEO for EHL Group since 2019. The group encompasses a portfolio of specialized business units that deliver hospitality management education and innovation worldwide. Source: EHL Group

At that time, I oversaw the design and alignment of EHL educational programmes based on the EU Bologna standards. After completing this project, EHL offered me a senior position to manage its cross-disciplinary mission, with the aim of introducing a new culture on processing and managing projects at EHL.

This is how I started my career with the best hospitality management university in the world. Since 2019, I have been the COO and deputy CEO of EHL Group, where I lead the major digitalisation phase of the group and establish a transversal governance model supporting the digital strategy.

2. One of the biggest drawbacks to online learning is the lack of engagement. Can you describe three ways EHL overcomes this, with specific examples, please?

We know that the classroom experience works best when it reflects students’ normal social interactions. If normal life is built on digital interactions, students are likely to respond well to this setting for learning. Interactivity promotes student engagement and here are a couple of examples:

  • use of gamification via Game-Based Learning (GBL) techniques: finance course simulation games in groups (article here)
  • use of virtual reality: Housekeeping Virtual Reality course (article available here)

3. Tell us more about EHL’s virtual campus. Are there spaces to collaborate, study and hang out at? How do they work?

The virtual campus we imagine will offer an entirely new, different experience with a separate and adapted offering. The virtual campus is an additional dimension in the digital education space. It aims to address the aspects of social interactions and behaviours that are lost when students go digital with their education.

It also addresses a problem caused by digitalisation: the tunnel effect. This happens when students are alone in their study rooms and enter online learning (synchronous or asynchronous), jumping from one course to another or meetings to meetings without any physical constraints. They end up learning continuously with very few breaks in between.

A virtual campus must bring back the good constraints of the physical environment as necessary. These include making the time to walk from one room to another, meeting friends on the way to a different room and having coffee breaks with friends, etc. A virtual campus should also enable students to do things that they cannot do in the real world – for example, walking to the [virtual] bars at our Lausanne or Singapore campus and having a drink and chatting with other students they meet. Thus, they are able to establish a natural social exchange without the need to set up digital appointments.

EHL Lausanne

EHL’s Asia Pacific branch campus is housed in the former Kinloss House, once a boarding school for the children of British soldiers. Source: EHL Group

4. How does EHL use VR in training in hospitality management? Can you provide some examples in your Bachelor’s in Hospitality and MBA programme please?

An example of using VR in our training is our Housekeeping Virtual Reality course, which started in February 2019. It is a game where a team of five students work together — only one student wears the Oculus glasses, while the others view what he/she is looking at on a screen. The whole team is involved from the start of the experience, allowing them to collaboratively experience first-hand the best and worst examples of hotel housekeeping.

5. Tell us more about EHL’s online exam process. How does it work?

 EHL Lausanne

Founded in 1893, EHL now has over 25,000 alumni worldwide and over 120 nationalities among its students. Source: EHL Group

In mid-March 2020, EHL shut down its campus to follow Swiss government restrictions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Foreign students were sent home. At the time, EHL did not have the set-up to test students remotely. With students from more than 120 countries, it was necessary to find a solution.

EHL realised that it was a unique opportunity to be a pioneer in remote exams for higher education in the region. A proctoring software allowed EHL to successfully move its exams online. An anti-cheat artificial intelligence system guaranteed the integrity of the assessment by verifying students’ identities, blocking other computer functions while the tests were ongoing, and analysing sounds and movements around the students. We also needed to ensure that we could maintain EHL’s quality, brand and seriousness of reputation.

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