28.08.18

Immersive admittance at the International School of Brussels

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The International School of Brussels has created an interactive ‘room within a room’ to transform its admittance process, and the immediate results are impressive. Paul Milligan speaks to those involved.

The International School of Brussels (ISB) is one of the world’s most prestigious schools, providing international education to 1,500 students between the ages of 3 and 18 from 65 countries around the world (many students are children of delegates from the nearby EU parliament).  Dr David Willows, director of advancement at ISB, was the driving force behind a desire to transform the admissions experience, to make it far more of a collaborative introduction to the school and to deliver an interactive platform to frame what learning looks like at the school.  “We wanted to reimagine the schools admissions process in ways that would not only provide a powerful experience for prospective families but also create a space that facilitated a collaborative admissions environment that enabled families to truly consider what type of learning environment they wanted for their children.”

In January this year the ISB opened the ISB Experience Room, which was the culmination of years of research and thinking into how to match the admissions process to the educational ethos of the school.  The requirement for change was rooted in a belief that admissions should be a learning experience for families when choosing a school.  The design for the Experience Room also took into consideration evidence that people have different thinking styles when making these sorts of decisions.

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To deliver this objective, creative designers Urben Technologies was tasked with creating the Experience Room.  Urben became involved through a previous relationship with architects TP Bennett, and worked on the project for six months.   The ISB wanted to create an interactive space that addressed three specific areas says Sebastian Thorpe, senior account executive from Urben.   “The building is historic and has a very fragile nature, so there were restrictions around what could and couldn’t be installed.  We had issues around a floor that couldn’t support excessive weights.  So that was problem number one.”

The ISB is housed in a 19th century chateau in the Belgian capital, and has multiple building restrictions placed on it, including that it couldn’t be compromised with any fixed installations or have excessive weight placed on floors not suitable for load bearing. The second aim was to take students on a journey, “Dr Willows’ feels the admissions process has always been done the same way – you sit there with your parents behind a desk – it’s not really an engaging process in which the students don’t learn very much.   His belief is to reverse that and flip it on its head and take students on a journey.  How do you get all the members of the family involved? That then brings in video conferencing into the equation.” The space needed to provide a visual experience of life at ISB, and bring staff, students and parents into the admissions conversation, whether they were physically present in the Experience Room or not. 

The third part of the client brief that Urben had to overcome was the difficulties in working in a historic chateau. “Because of the nature of the building but also the client’s requirements we needed to blend modern and traditional elements,” adds Thorpe.

The historic nature of the building led to a radical approach to installation as head of production and manufacture at Urben, Rene Exner explains; “The difficulty of the installation came down to the floor. Due to previous renovations, and the design of the building, we couldn’t screw or drill into the floor as we would normally would. Our challenge was finding a way to distribute the weight evenly over a larger surface space.” Together with architects TP Bennett a stand-alone AV experience was created within the interior of the room that could effectively distribute the weight of the unit to a manageable level.  High-end furniture supplier Casali created a glass and metal structure housed within a structure, using 3mm base plates to support the Urben Media Wall with specialised pins. This approach resolved the structural challenges of the installation.

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The choice of the right collaborative technology for the Experience Room was down to two factors; easy of use and responsiveness of the surface. Urben chose Prysm digital collaboration software with the Prysm X30 appliance to run an Avocor F Series 4K 84-in interactive touchscreen display to create an immersive journey.  At the heart of the Experience is an interactive game which invites the family to get up out of their seats and interact together.  The principle of the game is to view a series of cards and the family chooses the card that is most important to them and then rank them in importance.

The 10 points of touch available on the Avocor display means more than one person can use the screen at the same time.   Thorpe details how the room is being used by Dr Willows and the admissions staff, “What they do is drag in different resources during a meeting with prospective clients.  Dr Willows has created a complete journey that he takes the students through, during the journey he will drag and drop in various content depending on how the conversation is going.  What they have done is pre-load videos i.e. on the logistics on attending the school (what bus the students need to catch etc).  
Prysm was a clear choice Thorpe says, for two reasons, “Because of the annotation feature, and the ease we can load all that content onto one platform.  What is important when having meetings with parents looking at new schools is that you want to take collateral away with you.  In Prysm direct from the software you can take screenshots and email straight to parents.  Using the screen you can annotate PDFs and with one or two clicks you can email that content to parents.  We find the parents are much more likely to reference that than giving them a paper brochure when they leave.”  Dr Willows even came to Urben’s UK office to do some product testing himself, before deciding on the Prysm system.

Urben trained Dr Willows to use the Prysm software, and now supports the technology remotely.  The end result is a very happy client and a proven ROI, since using the Experience Room the ISB has had an 11% increase on admissions year-on-year form the same period in 2017. And Dr Willows is clearly delighted with the finished product, “We are now doing something that has never been done before, I don’t think there is an admissions office in the world that has an experience room like this.  What we are finding is that it differentiates us, and uniquely positions us in the competitive landscape.”

Kit List

Avocor F-8410 84-in 4K touchscreen display
Panasonic AW-HE2 HD camera
Prysm X30 appliance
Revolabs FLX conference microphones
Urben Technologies Media Wall