Will our campuses and our teaching methods emerge completely transformed from the pandemic?
This was the question put to a panel of domain directors during a session at Times Higher Education‘s THE Campus Live this week titled “Merging the Physical and Digital Realms: Has the Amphitheater as We Know It Gone for Good?”
Nick Coakley, director of estate management and development at York St John University, said he was “very skeptical of the general assumption that incoming undergraduates will have undergone a highly digital education at the over the past couple of years and so we can offer a continuation of that. I was quite surprised last weekend to speak to a group of potential students at an open house and there was a point of view unanimous enough that they were completely fed up with digital education – probably confirmed by the fact that our open house was more crowded than any before in our history They wanted to come and see the facilities.
Mike Clark, director of campus infrastructure at Trinity College Dublin, was also wary of “the gut reaction to the pandemic that everything was going to change, there was going to be bigger elevators, more stairs. It has already eroded. Students would continue to want to benefit from the kind of social communities offered by universities, even if it was “a really hard thing to ‘bottle’ and market.” Yet the point is, “if your campus is not welcoming, it will impact your ability to recruit. “
For Alistair Burg-Broquere, director of facilities and estates at the University of Bedfordshire, there were important questions about who took responsibility for critical changes in infrastructure and pedagogy.
In his own institution, for example, there was “the opportunity to transform a 240-seat amphitheater into a 120-seat amphitheater,” which would open up possibilities for break and group work spaces mid-term. But “should succession managers lead by example, by highlighting good practices that are happening in other institutions, or should they leave it to academics to say ‘We want this’. If their educational mindset is very traditional, they may not see this inspiring opportunity to create this new learning space. Should we almost impose it on academics? Who owns the problem? “
It was here that Covid turned out to be a blessing in disguise, suggested Stephanie Marshall, vice president of education at Queen Mary University in London, speaking to the audience.
“Our education strategy is co-created with a range of stakeholders,” she explained, including domains and IT. The pandemic had forced them to “act together – and now physical and digital goods really underpin our educational strategy.”
In the past, Mr. Cloakey agreed, “Trying to get people to agree on pedagogy was like keeping cats. It didn’t give us much to work with, but Covid meant we had to make a decision. “
At least in that sense, echoed Mr Clark, “The pandemic has been a boost to our industry.”