eCampus of the Month: Redesigning learning spaces for digital-age students

By Larry Conrad
July 11th, 2011

UNC's Learning Spaces 2020 initiative could make computer labs and classrooms more appealing to students.

Our “eCampus of the Month” for July-August is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is redesigning its learning spaces to encourage 21st-century teaching and learning. Here, Larry Conrad, vice chancellor for information technology and chief technology officer, describes UNC Chapel Hill’s ed-tech vision and its keys to success.

How does your campus use technology to advance student learning?

Like their peers throughout higher education, faculty members at UNC Chapel Hill are experimenting with a wide range of technology-enabled solutions for improving student learning.

Areas of emphasis include courseware products to support large course redesign, the use of mobile computing to make large lectures more interactive, promoting student engagement and collaboration through Web 2.0 applications, and open-source course management systems.

Perhaps in no area is the university taking a more comprehensive approach than its initiative to re-envision learning spaces. The university’s Learning Spaces 2020 initiative emphasizes function over form, with the goal of having learning considerations play a greater role in the way we design, support, and make use of our campus learning spaces.

Emerging technologies play a role in this initiative, but it is the reconfiguration of mature technologies that is making learning space renovation cost-effective and scalable. Out of the gate, Learning Spaces 2020 is focusing on two primary campus learning spaces.

Learning space No. 1: Computer labs

Evidence: Our data show that students are mostly using lab computers to print, and printing stations now can be distributed across campus; mobile computing trends are making desktop labs obsolete; and students tell us that they want more spaces that support small-group collaboration.

Action: We are pursuing plans to replace traditional labs with study/collaborative space; the number of public access computers is being reduced; value is being added to new labs by integrating select library services and student life amenities (e.g., coffee); and a virtual computing lab service is in place that makes it possible for students to access most lab software from any network-ready device.

Key technologies: Interactive whiteboards and plug-and-play displays that support student collaboration; virtual computing platform.

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