Teaching and Learning on the Campus of Tomorrow

As Staffordshire University, and plenty of other institutions, press ahead with estates plans to redevelop their physical estate, this seems  a good time to take stock of what a university of the future might look like.

There have been plenty of apocalyptic visions of the future- for instance “An Avalanche is Coming“, the prediction of only a small number of universities existing world wide and all the predictions of technology led disruptions. Many of these have previously been reported on, dismissively, on this blog.

This article tries to look at some recent publications and ideas, and then links these to what the student of the future might look like, , how that student might want to learn in future, what this means for how we teach and what it means for campuses.

Since the beginning of universities, we have operated on the principle of “the sage on the stage”, and despite increases in student centred learning, small group working etc, this model is still prevalent and in part drives the way in which we timetable teaching and interactions between staff and students and our buildings. Thre’s not a huge difference between the 14th Century and the 21st, as these pictures show:


(from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg)


(from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Debconf5_lecture.jpg)

Universities of The Future – some scenarios

A recent publication “Living and Learning in 2034, A Higher Education Futures Project” by University Alliance and Unite Group looks at a possibly dystopian future for HE and what students of the future might want. Since Unite are a property services company, who provide student accommodation, clearly they have a significant interest in how students will study in future.

This publication tries to carry out some scenario planning 20 years into the future, and identifies 10 trends to shape learning in the UK:

A shift in the global economy
Continued to change to public funding for HE
Demographic Change
Ongoing impacts of the financial crisis
stakeholder expectations
Technological Change
Access to information
Climate change
Megacities and local communities

A range of universities is proposed in the report as follows:

unite - ecosystem


Any university be able to look at his and decide which sectors they can see themselves operating in.

Four scenarios are proposed for the future, with ideas about the implications for future living and learning: (all taken from report, not modified)

Scenario One: Living WellReturn to economic growth and collaborative society UK industry is world-leading.• Careers may be considered early on in life, but with a broader scope of flexibility and innovation.• Employers form long-term relationships with universities and seek graduates with many skills and qualifications.

• University seen as a necessary rite of passage to create innovative and collaborative graduates.

• Students have room to explore, but not to be complacent. They look for productive spaces and convenience so they are not bogged down by irrelevant issues.

• Accommodation is energy efficient as a matter of course. It is also expected to include a full range of digital connectivity.

There are many opportunities for both students and academics to collaborate internationally with other institutions.

• Overseas student numbers have increased, keen on physically attending UK universities in order to capitalise on a wealth of opportunities and connections.

• Postgraduate enrolment becomes the norm an increases significantly.

Scenario Two: Community CentreSustained Economic Stagnation and Collaborative Society Learning is rationed and the need to keep costs down is key, while meeting economic priorities.• Part-time learning combined with employment becomes a norm.• Full-time students do not expect to be guaranteed accommodation and more will be living at home to manage costs.

• Students will seek new ways to find success. Social entrepreneurial spirit becomes more of a norm and community initiatives allow many of these ideas to thrive.

UK businesses still have skills, expertise and relationships, but they have become nervous and risk averse. However they play a big role

in working with government to determine the type of skills needed in the economy.

• Unemployment has risen, but so has voluntarism. Communities are strong and people get involved in a wide range of local projects. Local initiatives such as trading schemes, co-operatives and credit unions are on the rise.

• Government has limited funds to invest in infrastructure and cities are suffering as a result.

• Public skills development programmes are popular but there aren’t enough jobs. The most talented choose to leave the UK to find work.

• Full-time student numbers are lower, but significant numbers still study.

• The student accommodation market is changing and the wise players

diversified a decade ago to take advantage of a broader range of market opportunities.

Scenario Three: Digital IslandsStagnating economy and competitive society Students will look to local universities for cost-effective training toward a chosen career. Expectations are for a quick turnaround, with more full-time degrees being delivered in 18 months.• The ‘student experience’ is utilitarian. Students are seeking a route to employment and they engage in activities with direct and tangible benefits.• Inequality between those in ‘elite’ institutions and those in local universities is pronounced. There are fewer universities; many institutions have merged.

• Curricula have narrowed and there is less scope for non-applied subjects. Full-time degrees are delivered in 18 months.

• There is little optimism in Britain. Personal debt has increased, pensions have decreased and jobs are not well paid. Britain’s industrial base is significantly weakened.

• Consumer choice is driven by necessity and price. Consumption is efficient.

• Business is short-termist. Training and education are regarded as a cost rather than an investment. There is little or no innovation.

• HE’s purpose is training for employment. Local employers commission courses from FE/HE partnerships according to workforce needs.

• Students from the cities favour going to their local universities and demand for accommodation has fallen.

• Postgraduate education has declined.

• There is little differentiation of accommodation by quality or service; basic property management is all that is required to be a provider.

• Uncertainty and reactivity can create fluctuations in student numbers

year on year. As such, successful accommodation providers have the flexibility to expand or reduce capacity as required.

Scenario Four: Whatiwant.comGrowing economy and a competitive society Students demand many different ways to interact and meet their learning needs.• Specialisation is common, but with individual student interests in mind.• Education is part of a much bigger picture for many students. The old accusations of lazy students are practically forgotten now. Total

downtime is rare and most activities have good reason and vested interests behind them.

• Digital technologies are integrated into everyday life. Fast and reliable access is taken for granted.

• All-in-one packages with inclusive services are favoured to help save both time and money.

• Students are keen to find the best experience and quality of teaching possible. Some are willing to pay more if they consider it a useful investment for their future.

• Accommodation varies in price, but is always well serviced. For those who can afford it, exclusive features and luxury space can be purchased at a premium.

From this kind of scenario planning, and linking this to what we actually know about our economy and institution, we can start to consider what we need to offer in terns of learning and teaching in the future – proactively developing our offer.

Learning and Teaching of Tomorrow

We already seen the reports from Graham Gibbs and many others saying that the lecture s dead. We’ve also read the predictions that MOOCs will change the world as we know it.

Thankfully there’s been a move away from the hyperbolic or hysterical news stories in recent months, with a more measured understanding appearing of how we can use technology and adapt learning and teaching practice to provide better outcomes.

In this article from InsideHigherEd, by Pamela Barnett, a critique is given of teh current trend for the “flipped classroom” and an explanation of why some lectures are still needed, but that an approach that she describes as “scrambled” is the most apprpriate. I think many of this will recognse this as “blended learning”, so nothing necessarily new, but its useful to see a clear critique of the flipped classroom concept, which is as rigidly defined as teh old didactic model.

Even Anant Agarwal (founder of EdX) acknowledges in this TED talk of the real benefit of using a MOOC to support blended learning (and in doing so identifies a possible revenue stream). He rightly recognises the need for us to understand the technological savvy of our students and a need for us to embrace this and to ensure learning is embedded through technology in students’ lives. Agarwal talks of re-imagining education, moving away from lecture theatres, to e-spaces, t using tablets, moving away from actual dormitories to digital dormitories.

Possible Impacts for Us

In a MOOC that I took on Surviving Disruptive Technologies, I looked at the near term future of a university and the impact that the use of educational technology, including MOOCs would have. I considered the type of students we might recruit in the future, how they may not want to bear the cost of studying on campus for three years and how this would affect estates, technology etc.(A copy of my assigner is available on request!)

When I look at my ideas again, in the light of the scenarios presented by University Alliance and Unite Group, and the ability for technology to lay a major part n how we deliver education of the future, I would suggest the following:

  • We identify what kind of university we want to be, and how in each of the scenarios we would need to operate.The potential change is much broader than the change to learning and teaching practice. It could have an impact on the patterns of learning that students engage with, and this would have a dramatic effect on the shape of a future campus. This goes beyond teaching accommodation. What do we need to do about student residence? Sports? Social facilities? Staff offices?
  • We look at the ways in which we plan to deliver learning and teaching in 5 years time, supported by technology, and in response to the possible kinds of students we will attract
  • We understand how we need to change and stop some of our current learning and teaching practices
  • We consider what the University should physically look like in the future.

This has been a bit of a future-gazing article. I don;t pretend to have the answers, but I’ll be working with my networks in the University and outside to start thinking of ways to develop some of this thinking. My first action is a now regular meeting with the Deputy Director in Information Services where we will be assessing the impact of new and near to market technologies to support learning and teaching.