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

Over the last three years, we have committed ourselves to the importance of gathering use and assessment data at both the project and service level. Service use and cost data are critical to our ability to control costs and to smoothly transition between legacy and emerging technology solutions. Having a firm handle on service costs and variables has also facilitated our ability to consider handing over certain services to other campus providers.

Assessment is a required component of all of our instructional improvement projects.

Well-conceived and timely input from students and faculty is critical to determining whether or not a project is worth investing more in or is simply a one-off experiment that is unlikely to gain traction. In a tough budget climate, especially, we have learned that instructional improvement projects with supporting data tend to move to the front of the line.

What’s your best ed-tech advice to colleagues?

Cost savings, standardization, and consistency are even more important during economic downturns, but efficiency should not be the primary factor driving learning space design decisions. Instead, evidence-based pedagogy and student learning preferences should be driving discussions about learning space design.

The challenge for technology advocates is to find a middle ground between the efficiencies realized through standardization and the instructional improvement opportunities afforded by innovation. For example, building the high-tech “classroom of the future” is unlikely to have an institutional impact unless it can be replicated and supported at a reasonable cost, regardless of the instructional benefits. As service providers, we must learn to constructively resist defaulting to a customer service orientation that often equates more/newer with better.

At the end of the day, it is critical that we reflect on what we’re trying to accomplish. Some of the learning support models we have depended on for many years need to be reviewed to ensure that they are still relevant today. Initiatives such as UNC-Chapel Hill’s Learning Spaces 2020 nest carefully evaluated pilot projects in a forward-looking strategic framework. Every innovative pilot, whether or not it’s successful, informs our ultimate path.

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