Vlerick Business School successfully transitions company projects to online

With the spread of COVID-19 and encouraged social distancing, business schools globally have faced tough decisions on whether to shift their teaching to a fully online model or cancel classes all together. This becomes an even more difficult decision when it comes to programmes and classes that involve interaction with external companies, such as our Global Supply Chain Strategy Bootcamp together with our Prime Foundation Partner Lineas. Thanks to our extensive experience with online learning and everyone’s flexibility and willingness to make this work, we successfully transitioned the bootcamp to online.

The project

This bootcamp teaches students from Masters programmes key skills in supply chain management, including a real-life business case with European rail freight & logistics company, Lineas, which was set to take place at their premises. After careful consideration, we decided that despite challenges that have arisen since the outbreak of COVID-19, this project could still go ahead virtually through Zoom, and the transition has proved extremely successful.

The project with Lineas is centred on digital transformation, specifically how to make decisions in a world of big data. It involves a deep dive challenge on data-driven decision making, where students are tasked with creating a dashboard that can be used by the execution committee of Lineas to make data-driven decisions.

Transitioning online

After taking the decision to move the bootcamp online, the response from students has been impeccable. Students have been able to do everything they would offline in a virtual setting, such as virtual lunch meetings, intermediate reporting, and working in (virtual) breakout rooms. Our online platform has been open 24/7, and we’ve pulled out all the stops to make this possible. Some international Masters students had already flown home, and this proved a great opportunity to showcase that no matter where students are in the world, it is easy and possible to collaborate effectively.

Robert Boute, professor of operations management and lead of the bootcamp says, “‘I must admit it is much more demanding and energy consuming than regular teaching. The dependency on technology working all the time gives extra stress, but I did everything I usually do in class: sending the students to breakouts, visiting them one by one, just like you do on campus. When you see the students all the time in front of you, you can address them just like you do in class.

We used the Zoom connection daily for a brief kick-off meeting in the morning, and thereafter I assigned them to their respective breakouts. I assigned one of my students to be the host of the meeting, as I could not be online all the time (and he could administer the breakouts, etc.), Zoom has proved very effective in transitioning this bootcamp to online.”

Company perspective

Lineas representatives have also joined in on the virtual experience, having informal lunch meetings with the students, and daily intermediate student presentations and Q&A, where each shared their screens. The company has been impressed with the adaptability of both students and Vlerick, and also the remote platforms we have been using for this challenge.

Jeroen Spruyt, Director Assets and Network Operations at Lineas says, “We could have easily cancelled the supply chain bootcamp planned at our premises. But letting down 20 students eager to work on our data and gain insight was not an option. Thanks to all the Vlerick Masters students working from all over the world, Lineas employees for digital availability for Q&A's, special thanks to Vlerick and its professors for challenging our business approach with a group of eager students.

Zoom has provided a real-life example of pushing our technology to the extreme. We loved the virtual breakout rooms and the virtual backgrounds with pictures of our operations to show the students how we work. Meanwhile our loco’s, wagons & network kept moving goods throughout Europe and we switch to full homeworking (including dispatching center). This shows the great agility of the Lineas Freight Force and Vlerick Business School too.”

At the end of the week, students have virtually presented their results from the project to part of the executive team including the CEO & COO. Other participants included Lineas business analysts and controlling organisation. It’s safe to say though this project has been virtual, it has certainly been a real-life challenge for the students, professors, the business school and Lineas, but one that all participants have adapted to effectively and successfully.

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