C21U Facilities Initiative

FotC.140217Overview – Reports of the impending death of universities and their campuses, as such, are premature and overstated.  The digital transformation of higher education is beginning to upend traditional business models and campus facilities practices are being disrupted.  From office and classroom to library and laboratory the academic experience of students and faculty members is being disrupted and fragmented.

Digital technologies are changing the physical (face-to-face) relationships between student and instructor; between instructor and institution; and between student and institution.  Universities that adapt their business models and scales to the digital context can thrive as they improve learning and research effectiveness.  Institutions over-invested in bricks and mortar will be at a significant competitive disadvantage.

The focus of the C21U Facilities Initiative is on forecasting the facilities implications of digital transformation for Georgia Tech and other Georgia colleges and universities.  Research methods include hosting a set of dialogues with leading thinkers and academic administrators to explore the physical future of colleges and universities throughout the country.

Future of the Campus Workshops – During the Spring Semester 2014, C21U is organizing a series of workshops in which representatives from a variety of University System of Georgia institutions meet to identify facilities and infrastructure implications deriving from digital transformation.

Sessions include provosts, librarians, deans, teaching excellence advocates, student life administrators, information technologists, and business/finance executives as well as facilities administrators and campus planners.  These workshops are intended to foster an awareness and exploration of the potential implications for each institution, and initiate the process of planning that will better prepare institutions to adapt and thrive in an increasingly digital (nonphysical) future.

Physical campuses can remain viable by providing qualities that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.  This value proposition lies in providing an intentional balance of scheduled spaces (classrooms and offices) and unscheduled spaces (libraries and study spaces) to support an increasingly transient community of students and faculty.

Outcomes – The results of the workshops and related investigations are being presented in several venues including the Society of College and University Planning.  An early preliminary draft was presented at the North Central Regional SCUP conference in St. Louis in October 2013 titled:  The Paradox of the 21st Century Campus.

The results of the C21U Facilities Initiative will be presented at the National SCUP conference in Pittsburgh in July 2014 titled:  Clicks, Bricks and Campus.

Developing A Research Agenda for the Campus of the Future – Campus Leaders [Provosts and presidents] are beginning to ask such tough questions as how much campus is actually needed.  Campus planners are caught between decisions of building or not building.  A research agenda, generated from the Future of the Campus workshops with institutional representatives identifies issues and lays out alternative approaches that each institution can explore as they adjust their facilities trajectories.

Even for those choosing to retain a traditional residential model, the digital transformation of higher education is changing the methods and means of teaching, learning, scholarship, research, communications and unmooring all from conventional notions of place.

Initial conversations have been organized around the rubric of learning environments, libraries, infrastructure, research and campus community.

Going Forward: Next Steps – It is hard to find anyone who thinks his or her own undergraduate campus will cease to be.  While few deny the impacts of digital transformation driven change, almost none see it impacting the survival of the institution they know the best.

At a recent Society of College and University Planning conference attendees were asked why their campus would or would not exist in 2040.  One brave soul said their campus would morph into a “multi-purpose innovation/business/research park”.  Key reasons given for campus survival:

  1. Our campus is too big to fail,
  2. There will always be enough market demand to attend our campus,
  3. Our campus is sufficiently adaptable and resilient
  4. Our campus has a unique mission that will continue to be valued.

It’s as if these places will go on forever.  Can this be right?

The C21U Facilities Initiative engages this question with critical inquiry and exploration.  Survival in an increasingly digital and placeless environment mean campuses must be more than a collection of familiar physical artifacts and stage sets for live action reality shows.

Following the 2013-2014 Facilities Initiative, C21U will prioritize pursuit of the research agenda developed in order to better inform the digital transformation of the physical campus in support of higher education in the 21st Century.

Critiques Appreciated