Fresh ideas about design
I recently attended the SCUP Annual International Conference in Pittsburgh on July 13-16 with about 1500 other members and attendees. SCUP, the Society for College and University Planning, has been the premier planning forum for higher education for 49 years. It is also an excellent conference venue to keep abreast of emerging trends on campuses and the impacts of educational institutions on their surrounding communities.
These institutions, both large and small, drive local economies and are expected to prepare good citizens who serve their communities well and who are also able to compete in the expanding global economy. This includes community colleges, which continue to grow as affordable entry level and technical work force training and re-training centers for their local communities. As an active Trustee and former Chair of my local community college for 17 years, I see the increasing need for an accessible, affordable, non-traditional educational pathway to learning, regardless of pursuing an academic curriculum or advancing in a technical trade. SCUP Conferences now include trends and developments at community colleges where about half of higher education students now first enroll.
At the SCUP conference, words like “transformation,” “innovation,” “collaboration,” “experiential learning” and “social learning” were spoken frequently by keynote speakers and in a vast array of sessions highlighting case studies of cutting-edge learning environments. One speaker thought the introduction of the “microphone” had the first real impact on the traditional lecture hall size and number of seats, limited previously by the lecturer’s natural voice projection. This was followed by “audio-visual” technology development and enhancements available to the instructor but initially still in the lecture format. My generation used slide rules, learned to draw, render and construct perspectives by hand and fell asleep in darkened lecture halls of 100 students. Some of these old school traditions may still have value but a sea change of “transformation” and “social learning” landed on campuses with the current generation of students and is accelerating with new technologies.
Many students today may feel they are stagnating in traditional lecture halls and classroom settings and instead are taking advantage of initiatives using the internet and powerful search engines. One very diligent student found a way to take advantage of free online courses offered by FEMA due to the Katrina disaster. He was able to achieve a two-year associate degree without ever attending a traditional campus or paying any tuition. Another student formed an internet study group of 120 online participants across the entire country to share research and form project study teams. Many colleges and universities are developing “active learning centers” or multi-disciplinary collaboration centers on their campuses, where flexible space, clusters of movable furniture and wireless technology enhance student interaction and initiatives to share and collaborate. “STEAM” programs have added the creative Arts mix to the STEM initiative to broaden and diversify learning outcomes in labs and classrooms.
Social media, social learning and student-initiated learning is recognized today as a given reality by most faculty and campuses or at least those that plan to adapt and survive. I must admit though that one of the conference speakers made a very simple diagram that I believe touched all who heard it, perhaps partly in a nostalgic way. He said that we should never forget the learning triangle of teacher, student and artifact; the powerful impact of a generous teacher and eager student sharing an inspired learning moment or conversation that is recorded and remembered sometimes forever. These moments may happen in the classroom, lab or at the snack bar between classes and will always be treasured.
Top photo: Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, designed by Strada, epitomizes a collaborative learning space that fosters innovation across disciplines, from science to the arts. Middle image: Rendering of Nexus Interactive Classroom at Philadelphia University.
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