Are campuses still relevant now that students can learn anywhere, anytime?
Much has been made in recent years about whether online learning will see the demise of the university campus as a primary place of teaching and learning.
Certainly the pace of change in technology-enabled learning is rapid and it is changing how students learn.
This proliferation of mobile technology combined with an explosion in online course delivery signals a fundamental shift in the way students are choosing to learn – anywhere, anytime.
Rather than viewing this as a threat to traditional university campuses, however, these new technologies can actually make the campus even more important and relevant – provided campuses evolve in parallel.
“The interesting thing about technology is that it’s actually given students the opportunity to use their time on campus more productively,” says HASSELL Principal Mark Roehrs who has been designing education and research buildings for more than 20 years.
“With wireless technology, laptops, iPads and smart phones, students can get connected and learn informally in the time between formal lectures and tutorials.
“The challenge for us as designers of education facilities is to create informal spaces that cater to the new and expanded menu of informal learning modes,” says Mark.
It’s not simply about creating convenient environments that allow students to ‘plug in’ with the latest technology though.
As campuses compete with a multitude of alternative learning settings the real challenge is to create on-campus spaces that compare favourably with options like studying in a cafe or park using wi-fi or avoiding campus life altogether by opting for online education.
“If you can create spaces on campus where students feel comfortable, where they’ve got access to shaded outdoor areas, natural light indoors, a decent cup of coffee, a comfortable place to rest, study alone or in a group…that’s the sort of stuff that’s going to stop people going to competitors which aren’t just universities but are other social experiences and settings,” says HASSELL Principal David Gulland.
The key to creating spaces that actually attract students is to listen very closely to what students want and involve them at every step of the design process.
The recently completed A$42 million University of Adelaide Hub Central is an example of a student-centred design approach which is working to create a lively and relevant campus experience.
“We recognised that students can now choose to learn anytime, anywhere through technology enabled learning platforms,” says University of Adelaide Programme Director e-Experience Kendra Backstrom.
“And we created this flexible 24/7 meeting and learning spaces to respond to that,” says Kendra.
The University conducted 9,000 individual hours of student consultation to make sure Hub Central would become a place where students would congregate because they wanted to – not because they had to.
“The students we consulted made it clear that feeling a part of the university and having a sense of belonging to its community contributed significantly to their university experience,” says Kendra.
A recent survey showed an overwhelmingly positive response to the Learning Hub from more than 80 per cent of students – many of whom are now regulars within the space. In fact 59% of students surveyed said they spend between one and five more hours on campus each day since Hub Central opened.
This compares to statistics that formed the original business case for the new space and showed a significant number of staff and students leaving the campus between formal lectures and tutorials. For example, before Hub Central existed 87% of students and staff moved off campus just to eat lunch.
“What this tells us as designers is that there is an opportunity for informal learning spaces to enliven campuses – even in the face of the technological revolution – and that student and staff consultation is critical to the success of these spaces,” says HASSELL Principal Mariano DeDuonni who was part of the learning hub design team.
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