by Mark S. Valenti CTS, President/CEO, The Sextant Group and John A. Cook CTS, Vice President, The Sextant Group

Active communities of practice are prototyping new models for learning and research to foster new relationships among learners, faculty, and mentors. In turn, these new directions are reshaping the design of programs and facilities and the resource allocations necessary to support them.

1. A new generation of learners is coming to higher education with habits of mind and spirit nurtured through Web 2.0 environments.

The embracing of cell phones and the“Web 1.0 was an explosive exploration of new business models, new technologies and services…and new ways to go bankrupt.” Internet in the early ’90s began to change peoples’ expectations of the physical environment. Both technologies were plagued by intermittent performance, clumsy human interfaces, and difficult form factors. A combination of both cost and performance confined these new technologies to the dual realms of business and research, where ROI (or no need for ROI) made early adoption possible. Nevertheless, activities that were once confined to specific places (the office, the lab) began to shift.

In higher education, information was still largely physical in nature and conveyed through traditional means such as books in libraries, lectures in classrooms, and hands-on experiences in labs. Students often studied alone, and instructors were typically viewed as the authority. Other forms of media such as audio and video were just beginning to digitize, but the distribution method was still via physical means – disks and tapes. Distance learning, where available, typically used a broadcast television model (and, indeed, many similar technologies and infrastructures) to deliver education to remote students, and began the dissolution of the sense of “place” for education. Both systems and operations were complex and required trained operators and technical support.

In the latter ’90s the emergence of the web browser, low-cost digital projectors, the affordable laptop computer, and email as a mass communications medium together began to point the way to a new communications paradigm. Further, people were beginning to develop a “computer fluency” that was leading to more sophisticated applications and business opportunities. Web 1.0, as it’s known, was an explosive exploration of new business models, new technologies and services, and new ways to go bankrupt.

These technologies were adopted rapidly and in wholesale fashion in higher education. “Smart classrooms” went from prototype to mainstream in about five years and by 2001 web access in the classroom, while not ubiquitous, was a clearly defined goal for most institutions of higher learning. In many instances, though, the new technology did not alter the traditional teacher-student relationship. Most classrooms were defined by the instructor’s physical location, and most technology simply improved (sometimes) upon existing media, substituting PowerPoint™ for 35mm slides and overhead transparencies. But, the lightning was out of the bottle.

Classrooms occasionally began to connect with each other as Internet-based communication supplanted traditional video links. Students began to connect with each other (and the teacher) as email became a common means of communication. In fact, many instructors, still in a position of “authority,” became overwhelmed by the time management challenge posed by hundreds and hundreds of student emails. Students’ expectations, fed by the essential human hunger for “more, faster,” were increasingly difficult to meet. In many ways, the “Amenities Race” had begun on campuses across the United States.

The “dot.com” crash of 2001-2002 tempered the spending frenzy and brought sense and order back to an information technology market fraught with over-production, vaporware, and dysfunctional technology. As the dust cleared it became evident that a real revolution in technology was underway and Learning 2.0 was about to emerge.

2. Ubiquitous, smart, mobile devices make every space a learning space.

The development of affordable, rich media-enabled portable communications devices in the early part of this decade has genuinely begun to change the landscape of learning space. Affordable, powerful laptop computers anchor one end of the spectrum and rich-media enabled wireless devices anchor the other. The Apple iPod is the iconic technology that changed perceptions about the uses to which this class of devices could be turned. Duke University was perhaps first to “If a student can find a comfortable seat with a network connection and access to food and drink, let the fun – and work, and study – begin!”integrate such technology into its campus technology fabric by issuing free iPods to incoming freshmen in 2004. Since then, the notion of podcasting has become mainstream, and thousands of courses have become digital. Development of resources such as Apple’s iTunes University have enabled learning institutions to offload the management and distribution of course materials.

In addition, the commensurate development of wireless Ethernet, 3G communications networks and digital television have resulted in rapid advances in rich media applications and user-friendly tools for content creation and consumption that can be carried anywhere. Activities that were once relegated to the classroom have diffused across campus, with result that many campus buildings have become “fused use” facilities. Libraries, student centers, residence halls, classroom buildings and research facilities exhibit elements of technology-enabled collaboration in both formal and informal space. Essentially, if a student can find a comfortable seat with a network connection and access to food and drink, let the fun – and work, and study – begin! In the early days of Wi-Fi, at least one campus even experimented with wireless network access on the campus loop buses.

These developments together have caused the nature of what occurs during regularly scheduled classes to change, and therefore, users’ (both teacher and student) expectations of the learning space. Students are rapidly changing from consumer to “prosumer,” and faculty are transforming from lecturer to facilitator and even “experience designer.” Now, finally, instructional technologies are combining with a technologically literate user base to support active, engaged learning.

3. Educators re-consider learning, learning environments and collaborative environments and discover new approaches.

Paradoxically, these new learning technologies support pedagogical practices that had been known by educators for decades. This is evidenced by renewed interest in Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Experiences” and the increasing use of technology to simulate real-world environments. “Rich media” audio/video systems have been introduced to capture class proceedings, combining video of the instructor with supporting graphics, audio and chat-room information for on-demand viewing either prior to attending class or for later consumption. The web is used to deliver content that was previously the lecture, freeing valuable class time for more active and collaborative learning. The “Smart Rooms” that blanket our campuses, at an annual cost of $5B in North America, began the transformation from classrooms that automate the lecture to learning and collaborative spaces supporting more active and effective learning activities.

The proliferation of robust networks combined with more powerful content creation tools and audio/video capture systems for on-line information delivery enables mass customization for higher education. Further, once the course materials are digital, the incremental cost of course delivery drops significantly, potentially leading to a future where every student has a personal and unique educational experience. This is leading to wholesale course redesign efforts where the course is disassembled and recreated with technology integral to, and not as a layer upon, the course delivery. Course redesign is perhaps best exemplified by the National Center for Academic Transformation and its partner institutions.

Of course, NetGen students, armed with laptops, smart phones and the expectations of on-demand availability, are willing participants. Ubiquitous mobile technologies, “Collaborative spaces are moving from “found” space (in corridors and stairwells) to planned space, not just small group workrooms, but also into the classroom.typically purchased and supported by the students, are making every space a learning space, creating incredible opportunities and risks for higher ed institutions.

The result is the piloting of innovative spaces on campuses that support lecture, often with two or more simultaneous projected images, but also allow students to gather in small groups and work collaboratively, sharing images and files from laptops, using flat-panel displays as the communal work surface. Collaborative spaces are moving from “found” space (in corridors and stairwells) to planned space, not just small group workrooms, but also into the classroom. These spaces are often referred to as “Studio” or “Black Box” classrooms. Flexibility has become the new buzzword in learning space design. Further, demand for flexibility directly results in demand for more net space per student.

And, as explorations into new kinds of real space are increasing in frequency, interest in virtual space is growing rapidly. On-line virtual environments such as Second Life® offer institutions an entirely new way to deliver courses that scales in ways unrelated to available classroom seats. The New Media Consortium is an excellent example of how institutions are pooling their resources to explore this new world. While currently fraught with difficulties typical of emerging technologies, it seems certain that the economics of such learning environments will prevail as we move into the 21st century’s second decade.

Both of these developments – demand for flexibility and the rise of virtual environments – have serious implications for traditional space planning models and course delivery cost structures. It also argues for a tighter correlation between strategic technology planning and other institutional planning activities.

4. This has forced a rethinking of facilities design and campus master planning.

These new learning environments have a significant impact on campus master planning. The traditional classroom designs and associated formulas simply no longer apply to today’s learning spaces.

• The digital display defines the learning space. What was once a scarce resource due to high cost – either projector or flat panel display – has become the essential resource. Further, additional large screen displays are often desired by faculty and students but challenge traditional architectural models.

• The concepts of “Studio” spaces and “Black Box” classrooms, and collaborative groups within classrooms, require more additional square footage per student.

• Emergent developments in course redesign are demonstrating lower course delivery costs and improved learning outcomes. This argues for a reallocation of capital investment away from large lecture facilities and toward a technology-driven delivery model.

• Virtual environments, in conjunction with serious gaming technologies, are emerging to challenge real space as viable environments for learning.

When technology is used to replace the traditional lecture class time, opportunities emerge to re-think the activities that occur when students and faculty meet face-to-face. Future planning activities must take these developments into account to develop effective strategies for the campus of the future.

5. A new Space/Schedule/Style Paradigm

The Higher Education community has been fortunate over the years – and uniquely positioned – to dictate to its customers the Space of its choosing according to a Schedule of its choosing in a learning Style of its choosing.

This luxury has started to erode as the tech-savvy NetGen learners, with the expectations of on-demand and personalized learning, will clearly prefer to learn in a Space of their choosing, according to a Schedule of their choosing and in a learning Style of their choosing. They will vote with their tuition dollars for the institutions that fulfill these expectations.

The institution that plans for this future will prosper.