ricardo-perez.jpgProf. Dr. Ricardo Perez Garrido talks about how IE faculty and students of IEâ??s Master in Telecom & Digital Business, as the pioneers in business schools, explore new ways of teaching and learning in virtual social networking platform Second Life.
Prof. Dr. Perez is the Program Director of this Master which is supported by companies like Accenture, Cisco, Nokia and Telefónica.

Prof. Dr. Perez, what are reasons behind IE’s initiative to use virtual platform as alternative teaching method?
We want to be ahead of the game in terms of understanding the link between technology and society, and given the growing adoption of these type of platforms for leisure and work, we cannot be left out of this trend. In fact, we want to be able to lead this challenging environment as we have done in the past with other collaborative technologies, and help companies, communities and society in general understand its relevance, impact and feasibility as learning and sharing tool.

How does IE promote and facilitate teaching on a virtual platform?
We have created an island and provided professors with the technical help needed to explore this virtual world as just another platform for their teaching. In fact several training sessions of the Master in Telecom & Digital Business have already taken place in this environment with great results, at least in terms of identifying potential and limitations of the platform.
During this process, what are reactions from students and teaching faculties?
This is completely new for all. For now, only a small percentage of students are part of Second Life or other online virtual worlds, and the same case applies for faculty. But in fact, given the identification of this phenomenon as a global trend, both students and faculty are eager and willing to try the new tool and accept the good and bad things that being a pioneer means.When utilizing such a new platform to teach or study, what are possible reasons that make participants like it?
There is an element of identification that connects directly with the familiarity with this type of environment that many students now have. They have been living and interacting with videogames of different sorts for all their lives, and learning and experiencing in such an environment is not so different. Also the high degree of personalization of these tools allows you to create something that is part of what you want to convey to the world. So it mixes imagination, experience and capabilities already developed in a great, not yet fully explored by its nature, tool.
What are reasons that some other people don´t like it?
It happens with many radical innovations. An important sector of society identifies it as not good enough, or linked to activities they donâ??t like. Take the internet or even radio or TV in its time. They were identified as something that could never be widely adopted, and could only hurt society and its basic assumptions of what is good and desirable. They are now a crucial part of our lives and communication tools used by government, companies and all social institutions that you could think of. It might be the case that we have in front of us the next great change in communication for the following 30 years. But it is also too radical for some, and they take the position of neglecting it, in many cases even without the experience of trying it just for one time.

In fact, when people communicate in a virtual world, there are always obstacles in terms of communication speed, motivation, convenience, interaction, efficiency, etc. Is there any efficient solution for such kind of difficulties?
No. Technology is moving so fast that these problems will be obsolete fast. Voice has been introduced this year in Second Life, and other platforms have better user interfaces. Probably the evolution of the platform â??to separate it from just one company- will make them available in all devices, anytime, anywhere. It might be a huge change in our conceptualization of communication and social exchange. But we are only at the initial stages of this change. Our role as a bridge between research and business/society is to explore its evolution and help out identifying the opportunities and risks.

In your opinion, for the virtual platform like Second Life, what is the huge potential as an education tool for business schools?
I think that the level of interaction it provides as a substitutive for in-person meetings when they are not possible goes way beyond to what we have today. But to be honest at this stage our work is more exploration that anything else. What we are finding is that those that are familiar with this type of tools immediately identify the platform as a means for meetings, interaction and collaboration. That leads to some conclusions in terms of what type of communities can be ready to adopt this solutions as collaboration tools. In fact many technical organizations already use them, and we will see more and more in the near future. As the videogame generations keep coming to B-schools, we will se this familiarity in a higher percentage of participants, and they will demand these type of tools in substitution of traditional cases or role playing. Is a similar path that the one previously seen for multimedia contents: they were disregarded as just a nice way to present stuff, and they are now an important part of any B-school experience.

As for participants (students, professors) and the virtual platform, what kind of preparations should they have to be able to achieve the success?
Familiarity with the user interface is key. It is not easy to control avatars, so we are preparing a set of exercises to help out with that. In fact there are not any big preparations to be made, just jump and explore by yourself this new world of opportunityâ?¦ and try to have fun in the process.

Being Director of this innovative program, what is the Master in Telecom & Digital Business about?

The program was born from the requests of our industry partners. We work closely with telecom, technology and media companies, leaders in the world, and we were helping them in the development of the skills needed to manage those companies in a changing environment, with technology and business models evolving rapidly and deeply affecting their revenue models. We created the program with the collaboration and advice of leading companies like Nokia, Accenture, Cisco and Telefónica, based on the skills they needed â??and also their clients. We are at the forefront of the industry, exploring how new companies, business models and the new customers are challenging traditional conceptions about communications, media or social interaction. We have specific innovation projects with some of our sponsors, that create continuous contact between our students and these companies.

What are the contributions of the industry leaders like Cisco, Nokia and Telefonica?
To strengthen the links that tie us to the industry and expose the students to the corporate reality of some of the leading companies transforming the industry, we hace designed the proximity to corporate reality program. It comprises both conferences by industry leaders and a study trip to Silicon Valley, where, in previous years, we have been exposed to top executives in companies like Google, Electronic Arts, Cisco, HP, Sun Microsystems, Accenture or Ideo. The fact that we can feel the work ethics and openly talk to executives about their dayly jobs, makes this experience a great value for our students.
One of our sponsors is especially active regarding their collaboration with the course. Nokia has engaged for the second year in a Innovation Challenge with our students. We will explore with Nokia new business models connected to their strategy of being leaders in services for the multimedia/mobile internet. This is a great opportunity for our students, who will be close to a world leader in the subject at the same time that they hone their entrepreneurial skills, which are at the center of the IE experience.

If you wish to learn more about the Master in Telecom & Digital Business, please visit our web: www.master-telecom.ie.edu.

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