Coherence in business

June, 2015

Jos van Hilligersberg has been a professor at UT since 2005 and is chairman of the department that deals with research and education within the educational tracks Industrial Engineering and Management (IEM) and Business & IT (BIT). At one time, he has also studied computer science. Currently, Jos is conducting projects in the area of supply chain integration. Jos is the module coordinator for module 7 ‘From product design to online business’, a module in which IEM and BIT students set up a supply chain for their own company. Koos Sipma and Robert van Steenbergen are second-year IEM students and, in this module, have launched an electronic lock for consumers.


The module has been redesigned from the ground up. "We want to do something entirely new and different," Jos says. The module team has multiple ingredients for this module, such as the desire to do something "entrepreneurial", the idea of a challenge and two participating bachelor programmes. The themes supply chain, ICT, strategy and marketing have to be part of this. That is all possible at this stage in the programme,’ Jos explains. Prior to this, they did more specialist things and we are trying to integrate that in this module." According to Jos, the purpose of the module is to show students how all of the abstract components they have done in their schooling up to that point coordinate with each other in a business. According to the students, this objective is indeed achieved. "We have found out that when you change just one thing, things change in the rest of your business too".


The module is structured in such a way that students are given theory components in phases during brief lectures – concerning supply chain, finance and legal aspects, for example. This theory also includes scientific articles and a small, individual test. The project runs in parallel. The students, in mixed groups, have to set up a company with a website, to which they apply the theory in phases. The students consider this a pleasant and educational structure. "We have noticed that the students want to work on their own projects immediately after these lectures,' Jos says.

One dilemma in this module is the choice between breadth and depth. 'You want to go deep, but some topics pass really quickly'. Furthermore, you want to include a 'hands-on' portion. Jos indicates that it is important to experience the practical application yourself: you can discuss some things - like ERP systems - for ages. However, you cannot truly understand them just by clicking around in the system. During those 10 weeks, you cannot treat everything as thoroughly as you wish. As Jos says, this is always going to be a point of discussion.

Collaboration and student-driven

In the module, the BIT students and IEM students work together in a single group. Koos and Robert say that this is tough sometimes, but also quite instructive. Koos/Robert: 'It is good to experience that it is not just birds of a feather you are working with, but also entirely different people. People in other disciplines also work differently.' The BIT students and IEM students are free to work on the projects as they wish. The students like this. "At first it is a shock - walking into a lecture and having them say: 'think up an idea and, uh, good luck'..." Koos says. ‘I do think this is better than having an assignment already worked out half way and being forced into a particular mind-set. If you look at our results, you will see that things have come out pretty well'. The students do not mind being thrown off the deep end. 'The criteria for the report are quite clear, for example. That is great!' Jos indicates that letting go is a conscious decision. 'We give them a week to think up their business concept and also offer a session on creativity. However, I think that the students have made a decent point that you really need more time for this. Still, if you look at the final results, it is actually better than we had hoped for.’

The Classroom of the Future

The entire module takes place in The Classroom of the Future. The students are quite busy with this. 'On the computer, thinking up and drawing components on the screen… Every choice has its advantages and disadvantages, and whenever the theory offers a new facet, you have to adapt your idea again.’ The adjacent Design Lab is also used. 'Ultimately, we use the laser cutter for the prototype'. Jos is one of the initiators of The Classroom of the Future, inspired by the studios in Silicon Valley. In his view, the space is perfect for these types of modules. 'We still have to discover what the best practices are with the screens and provide the students with more instruction about this'. Nonetheless, he still advises teachers to make use of this space.

In the public closing presentation in The Classroom of the Future, all of the groups present their prototypes, websites and business concepts.


The most important tip Jos gives to other teachers concerning his experience with this module is: 'Even if you think it will not work, integrate the theory and the project very directly, so that the project does not just hang in the air without context'. Jos admits that they have been extremely sceptical about integrating "sustainability" into the module. In the end, it works out quite well. By making a real link between theory and the project, the module is much more pleasant - both for the students and for the teacher!'