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Ghent University

Empowering the Leaders of Tomorrow

 

It’s hard to remember what life was like before the Internet. Estimates of the number of companies that now conduct business online vary wildly – ranging from tens of thousands into multiple millions. There is however agreement from many sources that the trillion-dollar ecommerce industry has the potential to grow at a double-digit percentage each year for the foreseeable future.

Where do tomorrow’s entrepreneurs go to assimilate the knowledge and skills necessary to become the next Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg? A 200-year-old university located in the Flemish-speaking town of Ghent would not be the most obvious of answers but this Belgian institution is rapidly becoming an influential leader in the high-stakes digital revolution.

Marketing in the Digital Age 

A catalyst for Ghent University’s rise in prominence was a decision made by the faculty of economics and business administration to create a new master’s program centered around marketing in the digital age. The course examines business models from various industries and focuses on the tactics needed to launch a successful digital marketing campaign, including building traffic, leveraging mobile and social media channels, and the fundamentals of website development and management. Attention also is given to monitoring, measuring, and optimizing digital initiatives to maximize the desired outcomes.

To lead the charge, the faculty’s dean reached out to Sarah Steenhaut, a well-published marketing veteran and senior consultant with a celebrated Belgian marketing communications agency, Callebaut & Co. As lecturer-in-charge, Professor Steenhaut was given full control of course content, delivery and venue. She recounted, “Digital marketing is really exciting; from the very outset I decided that every aspect of the course should convey a similar sense of energy, innovation and be leading-edge.”

New Course, New Approach

One of the creative concepts that Professor Steenhaut elected to utilize was blended learning. The approach leverages multi-media content from numerous sources – such as online resources, videos, articles, slide decks, discussion boards, and research materials – and delivers it using a combination of digital and traditional channels. Learning forums can include face-to-face, remote, group and self-guided options, with students frequently empowered to decide on the most appropriate method to achieve their goals.

Professor Steenhaut recalled, “I had previously attended a business seminar at a local facility favored by many high-tech and entrepreneurial companies. What really stuck in my mind was the massive video wall used by the presenter, which on further enquiry turned out to be the Prysm Visual Workplace.”

She continued, “So when I started to design the digital marketing course my ultimate aim was to identify a platform that could amalgamate the discrete elements: I realized I could achieve this with the Prysm Application Suite in a way that would optimally stimulate communication, collaboration and learning.”

Technology as an Enabler

It was important to the Professor that students would view her course as being very different from the traditional higher education classes. She explained, “I want to highlight the paradigm shift that is taking place in the business world; to open my students’ eyes to the power of technology and what can be achieved. The Prysm Application Suite really helps me accomplish this by reinforcing the sense of vibrancy and energy that I’m striving for, and by and immersing the students in multimedia content in a way that they can easily work with across a variety of platforms.”

One of several unique aspects of Prysm Application Suite is the ability to create individual workspaces within a wholly secure environment. Professor Steenhaut used this functionality to provide students with a collaborative online workspace including a dedicated area to post questions, comments, and points for discussion. “Students can be very reluctant to speak up – especially in a new class – but the Prysm environment immediately enabled them to interact with each other and get real-time responses to anything that was on their minds,” she noted.

Another important factor for the Professor was ease-of-use, she observed, “For any technology to be properly embraced it has to be accessible. With its sheer size and visual impact, the Prysm wall can initially feel overwhelming but the instant you touch the surface – the gestures, the menus, moving content – everything quickly becomes really intuitive and very natural. It takes no time at all for a user to become 100% comfortable.” 

The ability of remote participants to fully engage in class sessions is seen as a big benefit by the university, opening up the opportunity for distance learning and involving guest speakers from outside of the local area. “We already have representation from several countries and we’re looking to attract even more international participation. The Prysm Application Suite helps us to cross borders and offer the same immersive experience to students on the other side of the world,” stated the Professor.

Elevated Impact

Another innovative characteristic of the University of Ghent’s digital marketing course is that it utilizes a “flipped classroom” approach. This concept replaces traditional lectures with more student-centered learning strategies – such as and group discussions, and hands-on, interactive and problem-based learning – both inside, and away from, the classroom. “With relatively short periods of time in the classroom, it’s really critical that key messages are delivered clearly and effectively,” commented Professor Steenhaut. “The Prysm video wall enables me to share content – from literally any source – in a highly dynamic and interactive way. I can infuse real-life experiences throughout the course to create a truly immersive, compelling experience for the students.”

She added, “I really enjoy that instead of just being consumers of course content, because Prysm enables real-time collaboration and interaction, my students can actually help co-create content. In turn, this deepens their engagement with the course and what they personally get out of it: It’s just wonderful.”

Professor Steenhaut concluded, “The Prysm Application Suite with the wall has a significant and immediate impact on every person that enters my classroom; they know from the start that this is going to be something special. Prysm increases the efficiency of people working together – even if they are in different places across the world – and I’m convinced that we are exposing our students today to the pervasive workplace of tomorrow.”