New hub on campus: Where learning is headed and what it means for the college campus

It seems that the most recent buildings to pop up on college campuses are trying to do more than just support academics. They are acting as hubs for all sorts of on-campus activities, writes Gensler's David Broz.

September 17, 2014 |
GenslerOn

The University of Kansas School of Business. Image Gensler

It seems that the most recent buildings to pop up on college campuses are trying to do more than just support academics. They are acting as hubs for all sorts of on-campus activities.

No longer content with serving as typical workhorse facilities geared towards faculty offices and classrooms, these buildings tout extroverted spaces for interaction and collaboration. More often than not they are saturated with “soft” spaces like innovative work zones, engaging student services centers, vibrant student lounges, and hip coffee stops. 

These buildings combine the properties of student unions, traditional academic buildings, and incubators. They are places where students go to class, gather between classes, interact with peers, and find that special kind of inspiration particular to the college experience.

So now that campuses are embracing a new building type—I like to call it the vibrant campus academic hub—what implications does this hold for campuses and classrooms? 

Across the globe, Gensler’s education practice is working to answer the same question from our clients, no matter their size, caliber, or location: Aside from seamless, cutting-edge technology, sleek surfaces, and flexible furniture, what does the classroom of the future look like? Will the classroom as we know it today even exist in 20 years? 

Or, as a recent NPR story by so aptly put it: How do you design a school that won’t be obsolete in 20 years, when no one has any idea what tech or teaching might look like in five?

That last point could be the source of significant blog debate, and really highlights an important inflection that has been occurring before eyes over the past few years. Think back to the world in 2007, before the iPhone gave users rapid access to information. Or imagine 2004, when we made a phone call to tell our friends to describe what we did last night. 

In contrast, social media today provides minute-to-minute updates through tweets and photos. We are constantly engulfed with information about everything from the latest foodie dish to which ball game just finished to a description of a terrible customer experience someone just had at a local hotel. Perpetual connectivity means students can Google a definition rather than raise their hand (and feel embarrassed) to admit they don’t know what a word means.

Simultaneous to the on-campus digital revolution is the professional social media craze, which has created new job types. Many leading consumer brands now employ Chief Listening Officers to help sift through the online noise to uncover valuable information. C-suite level executives oversee teams tasked at “sniffing” the Internet for social media postings about their company’s products. 

A leading car rental program monitors bad social media posts and attempts to resolve services issues before a complaint call reaches a call center. A leading computer hardware company attempts to understand the direction of consumer sentiment by sifting through more than 25,000 company mentions a week on social media. 

By proactively responding to and resolving cases surfaced from online postings, social media customer service agents have an 80 percent success rate at converting irate customers to satisfied brand promoters. These companies recognize that customers are more likely to post a customer service complaint online prior to phoning in such a complaint. By surveying social media, they are able to nip problems in the bud before they spiral into problems of overall brand perception.

A decade ago, the number one question from academic clients at the start of a new project was “how can we keep the Internet out of the classroom?” Thankfully that request has dwindled. Colleges now welcome rapidly shifting technologies and Internet innovations into learning spaces.

The main driver of campus design is still the preeminence of learning, and colleges will always look for ways to support learning in collaborative environments that foster interaction and critical thinking. With classroom walls disappearing, and technology that enables learning to permeate all parts of campus – from podcasts in the dorm room to streaming video on the quad – the significance of the questions first posed (how do we design campuses and classrooms for the future) emerges. This is a conversation that will continue for the foreseeable future.

While every institution is unique, students at all universities encounter many of the same challenges and opportunities. A campus is a place to come together to learn, socialize and grow, and it is our responsibility as design professionals to ask the right questions so that we can create spaces capable of accommodating the next big thing (whatever that may be).

And to help us accomplish this, we are interested in your thoughts and your answers to the following questions:

What will the future learning environment truly look like?

Will Flipped Classrooms change the Academic Campus? Where will these students be able to concentrate for 50 minute podcasts? Is it the dorm room? Will the 300 seat lecture hall still be in high demand?

How will Social Media change education – beyond badges and patches, can collaborative learning be enhanced by digital interaction? Can it bring a more global perspective to our isolated learning institutions?

We look forward to continuing the dialogue.

About the Author

David Broz is the Education & Culture Leader with Gensler. He is very involved in his community, sitting on nearly a dozen not-for-profit boards and committees, ranging from "Placemaking in the Loop" to "Multicultural Scholars Program at the University of Kansas." A common thread runs through his work and his volunteer efforts: the desire to create great spaces to live, work, and play that respond to today's social and economic realities. Contact him at david_broz@gensler.com. Read more posts by Broz.

 

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