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M3 Center for Hospitality Turns to Tech to Support Visiting Scholar Program

By Rich Shopes

Cihan Cobanoglu

TAMPA (February 11, 2021) -- The University of South Florida’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is helping international scholars connect with students to enhance their knowledge and career prospects. 

Travel delays sparked by COVID 19 prompted many universities to rethink their visiting scholar programs, causing delays in collaborative research. But the school’s M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation is using specialized software and online technologies to connect graduate students and faculty members with international scholars, advancing valuable research to help hospitality professionals worldwide.

“By using technology and staying flexible and open to alternative research methods we are able to collaborate effectively with our international partners, benefitting not only those researchers but also our faculty and students here on campus,” said Cihan Cobanoglu, a professor and director of the M3 Center. “This has been a boon to our educational and research mission.”

Cobanoglu calls the effort the “Virtual Visiting Scholar Program.”

A part of the Muma College of Business at the university’s Sarasota-Manatee campus, the M3 Center collaborates year-round with visiting scholars, exploring issues that effect hospitality professionals worldwide.

To sustain its research goals during the pandemic, the center turned to online meetings, email, document sharing and software like SmartPLS, which provides statistical testing of causational relationships, and Amazon mTurk and Qualtrics, which provide access to talent for survey collection and analysis.

The center’s high-tech solution is helping scholars as they seek to continue their work assisting the hospitality industry. And while there’s no substitute for face-to-face collaboration, they say the workaround is helping them move forward in their research.

“So far, it’s working out well,” said Seden Dogan, an assistant professor of tourism at Ondokuz Mayis University in Samsun, Turkey. “Even though I am in another country, I’m able to access Qualtrics to create data collection tools, Amazon mTurk to collect data, and USF’s document library to access thousands of documented resources.

“It also gives me a chance to collaborate with M3 Center team members, in particular Dr. Cobanoglu and Dr. Faizan Ali.”

Dogan isn’t new to USF. She visited the Sarasota-Manatee campus in October 2019 to undertake a post-doctoral research project. She quickly became known around campus, assisting other researchers and auditing graduate-level classes.

Dogan’s research focuses on emerging technologies, including robotics and drones, and their potential application in hospitality. Returning to Turkey in the winter, she had every intention of rejoining her research partners in spring 2020 to finish her work. However, as the pandemic took hold, triggering travel delays, she turned to Cobanoglu, Ali and others at the center to explore technological options.

The shift online hasn’t been without hiccups. Connectivity and scheduling issues sometimes arose. “There’s an eight-hour time difference between Turkey and the U.S.,” Dogan said. “Arranging an online meeting can be difficult in terms of the time difference, but we always found a way to manage.”

Plus, the benefits of continued access to data and the center’s researchers outweigh the disadvantages of working long distance. Certainly, Dogan can’t complain about the result: Over the past year, she has published an article with Ali and three other international scholars as well as a conference paper and three book chapters with Cobanoglu.

Additionally, she has two textbooks, two book chapters, six journal articles and another conference paper at various stages of development. She also serves on several thesis committees to assist graduate students such as Abraham Terrah, who’s researching high-tech hotel room amenities.   

Other virtual visiting scholars include Rab-Nawaz Lodhi, an associate professor of management at the University of Central Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan, and recent USF master’s graduate Ken Edwards of Tristar Hotels.

Edwards is helping the center create a certificate program in hotel management along with online classroom materials to assist students at USF and elsewhere.

Lodhi, meanwhile, is helping Ali and several graduate students complete their research projects while also serving as a guest editor at the “Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology,” an SSCI-indexed journal published by the M3 Center.

“So far, I am impressed at how well the program is working out,” Cobanoglu said. “We are in constant communication with each other, and we’re able to review documents at any time without problem.

“There’s no substitute for working side-by-side, but at least this program allows us to continue conducting valuable research to contribute to the health and vibrancy of the hospitality industry,” he said. “I’m very pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish.”