‘Do we need new places for learning?’

I joined a webinar last month from Steelcase in Germany which was thought provoking and slightly comforting in that it confirmed we are all in the same perplexing situation about what our university will look like in the future. But this is short post on the key points discussed.

The short answer is yes. But how that manifests itself will be puzzled about for some time as universities struggle with the complexity and enormity of potential shifts in how HEI’s operate. The session was delivered by two academics and an architect in Germany and staged by Steelcase, an International furniture company. A paper has been published here, with a forward describing the 4 C’s, mentioned here before, as essential attributes for students in the 21st Century; Collaboration, Critical thinking, Creativity and Communication Skills.

Right now, we are experiencing unprecedented changes in our lives and at university. The webinar took the views of three panellists on the response of higher education to the Covid-19 crisis which I thought had some aspects that are relevant to highlight here for our own thoughts and planning.

Do you think that we still need a physical campus as we know it?

Prof. Ulrich Weinberg Director School of Design Thinking at Hasso-Plattner-Institute, Potsdam, was clear, he said that we have to create a new environment, but we shouldn’t have lecture theatres anymore as an outdated model of the last century, we do need large spaces but not for lectures. We need labs. to meet and test things out, generate ideas, the same as in the digital space as well as for face to face. So we should ask ourselves, what is really necessary after this crisis?

Werner Frosch, Partner & Managing Director Munich, Architect agreed, it is easy to substitute lecture theatres, universities should change their models to work in groups, to reflect on webinar learnings, as we all learn by discussing, we develop our own thoughts by talking in groups.

“We also have to foster the social spaces in universities, in the cities where you can meet and interact physically as human beings. You do not need the 200 seats auditorium anymore where 250 people want to sit in. They can all join virtually, very comfortably from a laptop from home.”

Judith Hojer, Network Manager at University of Coburg, agreed that informality was the future, we should think new, why doesn’t a space look like a living room? We should ask ourselves, can we do this more informally?

What are the skills needed for the future?

A key skill Judith believe that all of us should have is empathy, not so easy to develop in a digital environment. Especially as we have different problems with working at home, such as having children around, who might jump into view as a hologram in that room.

Ulrich responded by stating that breaking education down into little pieces with a common silo mentality from schools is not a holistic view. What our education system should focus on is to encourage students to be aware of what their talents are. What are your skills? What do you want to achieve? What can you improve? These were key findings for the last 13 years according to Ulrich, universities should rethink their models towards more contemplation, more creative teamwork and less individual competition.

Werner summarised his answer using what I call the F-word, but in the right context, flexibility of spaces is the key, [perhaps the idea of long-life loose fit here?] virtual tools need to adapt and improve, it is irritating if you cant see others on the conference call, so we must still provide spaces for human interaction, but with a shift to more social spaces, where people feel comfortable for what Universities provide on campus.

This post has been published here at City, University of London.