Ahead of its time

UND College of Business & Public Administration celebrates 100 years of business classes at the forefront of technology

Denny Elbert

Through his journey from student to dean — and now as a part-time graduate professor — Denny Elbert has seen UND stay ahead of new trends in teaching and learning. Photo by Shawna Schill.

The brickwork on the exterior of the University of North Dakota’s Gamble Hall is different from the surrounding structures.

Passersby may not notice at first, but a pattern of missing bricks tells a story of the business school’s past — an ode to the now-phased-out Hollerith punch card system used for data processing. It’s a story Denny Elbert, dean emeritus of the College of Business & Public Administration (CoBPA), loves to share.

Margaret Williams.

Current College of Business & Public Administration Dean Margaret Williams.

“Over the years, people have been curious,” Elbert said. “When I became the dean (in 1997), I did a little more digging.”

Elbert is familiar with this punch card technology. It was top-of-the-line when he was a UND undergraduate business student in 1967-68, the year of Gamble’s construction.

“It was just on the front edge of technology,” Elbert said “It was all about the card system, and so students would be seen running around with brown paper boxes with trays of cards to do the simplest things. If you had one out of sequence, or dropped your box, you were toast.”

Through his journey from student to dean — and now as a part-time graduate professor — Elbert has seen UND stay ahead of new trends in teaching and learning.

Now, as UND business classes enter their centennial year in 2017, the school continues to find ways to incorporate the newest technology into its classrooms to prepare students for the careers of the future.

“I started with chalkboards and then we went to whiteboards and then flip charts,” he said. “I think it’s exciting. I think the more improvements you have, the better off you’re going to be. That’s the world we live in today.”

UND business students

UND business students are encouraged to work collaboratively, as they would in the so-called “real world,” in classrooms that are filled with technology that allows them to interact with other students who are taking the same classes from a distance. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Making connections

If you ask Michelle Garske, CoBPA director of graduate programs and accreditation, UND’s business school today is at the forefront of classroom interaction and technology.

Gamble Hall houses several hybrid classrooms that are set up specifically to allow interaction from online students. They include multiple monitors, microphones affixed to the ceiling, and Adobe Connect web conferencing software.

For CoBPA, interactive capabilities for online graduate students are critical. According to Garske, 70 to 90 percent of the college’s grad students are distance learners.

“Within our graduate programs, our optimal number of students is often beyond the reach of what we can recruit and attract in the community, so the distance programs have been huge for all of our grad programs. All of them have a majority of distance students, so technology is very important,” Garske said.

Although many universities offer graduate degrees through online courses, Garske points out that UND’s synchronous program allows for a real classroom experience.

“There are tons of Master of Business Administration programs like that out there, but people really value having the touch and the connection,” Garske said. “It’s an innovative way for alumni who leave Grand Forks to be able to still stick with their alma mater and get their graduate degree, and be able to come back and interact with faculty they may have known before.”

UND Model Office, 1917

This image of a “model office,” circa 1916 or 1917, shows the setting where pre-World War I UND business students practiced their collaboration skills. Image from The Centennial history book.

Changing landscape

Another point of pride for Garske lies behind the door of Gamble 145, where a new SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) classroom was just completed for the fall 2016 semester. It allows students to watch a lecture online on their own time, and then come to class to work collaboratively with their classmates on what would have been called “homework” in the past. Senior marketing and communication major Peter Monsrud loves the real-world environment the SCALE-UP classroom provides his Relationship Marketing class.

“You really have to rely on your teammates, and I feel I learn more from collaboration and discussion with my classmates than I do from lectures,” Monsrud said.

Gamble Hall, 1970

UND business students walk to and from classes in 1970 outside Gamble Hall, shortly after construction was completed on the business school headquarters.

Among the seating clusters and screens, distance students also are immersed digitally in the SCALE-UP classroom, adding another level of interaction. Monsrud knows this new way of learning will mold him into a better marketer.

“In business, nothing is individual,” he said. “You will always be on a team working with other people toward a common goal. The more practice we get working in teams in the classroom setting, the more it benefits our professional development.”

“My hope is that students, faculty and staff can move and adapt quickly together, because I think that the landscape is changing quickly, “Garske said. “I think adaptability will really be key.”

[NOTE:  The “missing bricks” pattern on the east face of Gamble Hall spells out “University of North Dakota” in Hollerith card code.  There’s a one-line reference to this in the Wikipedia article on Hollerith code.  Below the pattern, the name of the building, Gamble Hall, appears on a stone panel in the shape of a Hollerith punch card]