Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The University Campus of the Future: What Will it Look Like?

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by Professor David Lamond, Pro Vice Chancellor (Offshore Development) at Victoria University, The Conversation:

FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: We continue our series on the rise of online and blended learning and how free online courses are set to transform the higher education sector. Today Victoria University’s David Lamond looks at how online education will change the university campus.

Article after article on online education predicts that bricks and mortar universities are set to be replaced by “clicks and mortar.”

The sudden popularity of the MOOC (or Massive Open Online Course) - where brand name universities offer the same courses available to fee paying students for free, online - has seen some experts question the need for university campuses at all.

While it may be a little premature to write off the need for a campus entirely, there’s no doubt online mobile education is set to radically alter university architecture.

Exaggerated warnings

For those with long memories, the predictions of empty universities may sound familiar. In the 1990s, the same was said about the demise of the central business district (CBD). With teleworkers working from home and sending the fruits of their labour across the internet, the CBD would become redundant.

Of course, these prophecies were proved greatly exaggerated.

There are two significant reasons why the university campus, like the CBD, will survive. First, humans are social and political animals that need spaces to interact with each other. Just as Facebook and Twitter have not stopped people congregating in public places to socialise, online education won’t mean students will stop going to a university space to learn.

Second is the University Vice-Chancellor’s edifice complex - a “my building is bigger than your building” mentality. Universities will continue to compete to attract students and academics by building ever more impressive facilities.

What’s needed

But how should university campuses change given the new dynamics of online education? And can the edifice complex - the desire for great spaces - be harnessed to create a learning environment fit for the 21st century?

Let me say first of all that I welcome the transformation that is set to take place in university learning and the new ideas, technologies and opportunities that it will bring.

Physical changes can help enhance this learning experience and universities will start to compete to offer more and more technologically and student friendly spaces.

A step in the right direction has been the creation of collaborative learning spaces, most often referred to as “learning commons”. These spaces are much more suited to the new dynamics of online and student-centred learning than the lecture theatre.

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