by Parke Rhoads
Those of us entrenched in the higher education design have sensed a shift in how students are learning, and teachers are teaching, but in the last six months it has gotten the attention of the world. COVID-19 may be the catalyst, but the end result is where we were headed, and needed to, anyway.
As institutions continue to adapt to the disruptions of COVID-19, conversations about “trends” and “what’s next” seem to start and end with more questions than answers. In this moment, the trends may be those questions themselves:
Is This the Death of the Classroom?
No. And yes. There is no substitute to the power of learning together. We should not rush to extremes based on current events; the spring 2020 semester was more about emergency response. Like classroom curriculum, good remote or online learning takes time, craft, preparation, intention.
For some applications there may be no equal for tangibility (such as a sculpture studio or learning on specialty lab equipment) or real-time group dynamics, but we already have decades of research to support that many traditional pedagogies (such as lecture) are either poor conduits for learning or may be better executed in some other path. The “why” of the classroom may never change, but the “how” is an increasingly diverse and useful path to explore in education.
How Do We Create the Learning Environment of the Future?
Treating technology as FFE is in the past. We are beyond the building and we simply can’t survive on emergency response teaching. We are discovering that the real trend for technology in education is that it is no longer about buying boxes or installing screens but, rather, how we understand and leverage all the collaboration tools of this digital era (bridging between the physical and the digital/virtual) to facilitate learning.
Learning will happen in the classroom, at the kitchen table, and around the world. The learning ecosystem needs designers who understand how to connect skills of the future to the learning and technology tools of today. In the realm of academic technology, we are increasingly recruiting the tools of the user experience and experience design to define the needs of stakeholders across the physical and virtual learning landscape. Teaching and learning, as well as our physical spaces, are now about the experience and how we can innovate upon those things to encourage collaborative learning.
Experience design leads to questions like, “Is our goal to have students fill seats or do they want to learn essential skills for their future?” This likely starts with spaces and technological tools that bring together colleagues or students equitably, within the room and from anywhere in the world, and still feel as connected as we would have in a traditional classroom.
Over the next months, we will see students moving back and forth from physical to remote learning. “Hybrid” is what some are calling it, but the experience (and planning) may be more accurately framed as “constant disruption,” requiring institutions to grow out of “reaction mode” into agile spaces and practices.
The short-term defense includes spaces that have a dedicated screen/camera/microphone for remote participants, but it’s time to begin asking ourselves (and others), “What really needs to happen here, now vs anywhere, anytime?” We feel that the institutions that can embrace a well-thought-out hybrid atmosphere, where learning flows seamlessly but purposefully between the physical and virtual, will be more successful. For instance, some institutions are quickly realizing that programs with good remote learning programs can increase enrollment without needing to increase physical space. Others are scrambling to adapt classrooms for the rapid, perpetual innovation of digital-based learning and how that will impact the visualization and collaboration tools we will use when we collaborate face-to-face. These pressures alone are enough to shift the future of design in higher ed institutions and beyond. Are we ready for it?
Parke Rhoads is a principal and higher-education practice leader for Vantage Technology Consulting Group.