Universities have been redesigning their campuses and classrooms to suit how people want to teach and learn in the 2020s.
Spaces now accommodate remote and on-site students at the same time, and there’s a greater leaning towards collaborative learning.
Why the changes? What makes an optimal university campus experience in the post-COVID era? And after lockdowns and travel restrictions caused pain for universities globally, what other disruptions could be on the horizon?
Hear from Dinesh Acharya, who heads JLL's higher education consulting business, and David Bruce, space planning and development manager at Monash University.
Host: Rebecca Kent, content director, JLL.
Universities have been redesigning their campuses and classrooms to suit how people now want to teach and learn.
New spaces are accommodating remote and on-site students at the same time, and there’s also a shift towards collaborative learning.
This has been a gradual evolution, but the Covid pandemic has really propelled the change. Forced lockdowns and a disrupted flow of international students has forced universities to reassess how to attract the brightest minds, valuable partnerships, and more revenue streams in a highly competitive landscape.
So, what makes an optimal university campus experience in the post-COVID era? We’ll find out.
I’m Rebecca Kent, host of this JLL Perspectives podcast.
Joining me on this episode are David Bruce, space planning and development manager at Monash University.
Hello, how are we?
Very good, thanks for joining us. And Dinesh Acharya, who heads the higher education consulting business at JLL.
Dinesh, how is the university campus is changing?
I can think back to when I was in university and the typical approach was there would be a lot of lectures or classrooms where a facilitator would impart their knowledge to the class and you would take notes. That's what they call didactic learning.
But increasingly, universities are trying to encourage much more active forms of learning where students are working in groups and learning from peers. I would add that the past couple of years has seen an evolution in terms of hybrid learning and virtual learning. Some universities have had to run courses fully online or fully virtually. And they've had to adopt new technologies to be able to do that.
As students start to return, we imagine that we’re going to see hybrid learning environments where some students are present in the class and universities will need to have technologies to allow virtual or remote participants to be able to dial in and have an equitable experience. That's going to be a really unique challenge for universities to deal with. That is, how do they make sure that they’re delivering value for students, whether they're on site or engaging virtually.
Thanks, Dinesh. David, how is Monash University addressing the trends that Dinesh has just outlined there?
What’s changed over time is a shift from teaching to discovery. Spaces are reflecting that. We're no longer having that didactic approach, where someone's going to stand here and talk to you and you're going to listen, or you're going to just sit in an office and do your work in isolation. It's moving to a culture of discovery for our students now which continues in the journey from student, to postgraduate, to higher degree by research student, to academic. It’s about creating environments that will support interaction during that discovery, and the learning the collaboration that enables it.
The Learning and Teaching Building, on our Clayton campus, in Victoria, is one of the jewels in Monash’s asset portfolio. We've had visitors from all over the world to come and see it because a lot of people have, over the past decade, tried to work out what the flipped classroom is and what a collaborative space is. To this end we have a truly remarkable space in the Learning and Teaching Building. It was designed before COVID. We came up with a very collaborative area with technology that supported that collaboration. It was also able to support the hybrid teaching environment, where we could bring people online into these spaces as well. That hybrid teaching was something that worked well throughout the COVID restrictions.
While we designed many of our spaces a number of years ago, we've evolved them into collaborative lab learning environments. The Learning and Teaching Building was rolled through with a lot of other refurbishments we've done in spaces. That’s in teaching. But workplaces are now the new frontline for where we are looking to redevelop and move away from reactive redevelopments (bearing in mind a lot of our assets were built in the 60s and other universities are even older) and taking a proactive approach, having a clear strategy around what workplace will be able to support our workforce.
Just to go back a second, David, what’s a flipped classroom?
The flipped classroom was this phrase that was used probably five to 10 years ago, though no-one really understood it. A flipped classroom was saying, you’re not having someone didactically talking to a bunch of students, such as in a lecture theatre. But a lot of the spaces that were smaller and meant to be collaborative were still just someone standing up in front of a group of people in rows of chairs or tables. We’re turning didactic spaces into a truly collaborative spaces where we have cohorts of, say, six students on a table. That cohort of six can work together while you have other cohorts of six in spaces that can extend to spaces with a capacity of 30, 60, 90 or 120. Even at that capacity they still keep that collaborative aspect, and the technology in there supports our lecturers to be able to group people together and enable them to work through problems and collaborate.
Dinesh, you were involved in designing the Learning and Teaching Building. What else do you consider as some of its outstanding features?
There are some amazing spaces from a learning and teaching perspective. I might just touch on one, but David, feel free to jump in. The learning-in-the-round space is a really unique space. It’s an immersive, active learning environment where you have a round room and a facilitator can effectively walk the floor, with tables radiating from a central point. All of the tables have writable surfaces with cameras above. And there's also the ability to display information on a central screen in the middle of the room, as well as around the room. This means a facilitator can call up any group’s work at any point in time and this will allow students to learn from their peers. So it's a non-hierarchical space.
Monash University is a unique global university. Increasingly, there's this concept of the global classroom, where coursework may be taught out of Australia and students might be dialing in from overseas. Or vice versa. You might have coursework led out of Malaysia, with students dialing in. These types of setups allow that global classroom and students to be connected from multiple locations.
What you hit on there was the hybrid teaching place. The fact that we have been doing that to get us through COVID is one thing. But post COVID, it has the ability to create the global teaching space, where we can have the hybrid classroom. But it's not just global, it's also about rural, and being able to engage rural areas in our teaching as much as our local students.
The Learning and Teaching Building having writable surfaces is critical. Those writable surfaces on the tables, on the walls, and having the document camera zooming in, gives a student the capacity to pull up their mobile phone, check out a website and share it with the class on a big screen using a zoomed-in camera. Having individuals be able to demonstrate an idea on this level changes the way our academics are able to teach. For example, you can have someone doing exercises on one side of the room writing down a whole lot of theories, while someone on the other side of the room does the same. With a simple press of a button you can have your document cameras showing one person’s writable surface up on the big screens, and then another person presses a button to show their writable surface. That level of collaboration and interaction is something that you've just never seen in older classrooms. It provides more interactivity and innovation. We haven't even seen the academics use this technology to all of its potential. But they’re innovative and they'll work out new ways of using this technology to create even better lesson plans as it evolves.
How fantastic. Thanks, David. And Dinesh, David touched earlier on the workplace side of universities, as opposed to teaching spaces. Campuses have to provide both, obviously. But with the workplace element, how do you approach that differently to, say, city offices, which themselves are undergoing massive changes in light of more flexible working? And who makes up the university workforce?
Through the projects we've been working on with Monash, the stakeholders in the workplace arena are quite diverse. They may include a mix of academics, higher degree by research students – who are postgraduate and masters students, sessional staff and also professional staff.
Professional staff support the administrative functions of the faculties in the schools. They’re probably more akin to what we might see in a corporate environment in that they're quite collaborative in how they operate. Generally, they interact with peers in a group format. And typically, the environments that they operate in tend to be a little bit more open and collaborative.
The other groups, such as academics, are a little bit more diversified in the tasks that they're carrying out. They might be carrying out research, where they are required to do focus work, and that can happen on site or off-site. Another task might be supervising students. That often requires coaching and mentoring. Sometimes there are sensitive conversations that need to be had. In addition, there are also administrative tasks they need to perform. In this hybrid world, that might entail preparing online coursework.
I also mentioned higher degree by research (HDR) students. They tend to do a combination of tasks, such as carrying out research, or supervision on site. But academics and HDR students also have flexibility in terms of how and where they work. The past couple of years has only amplified that. But that flexible and diverse way that they work is always a trait that they’ve had.
The experience that we've had is there tends to be a little bit more resistance to change, particularly in academia than in the corporate world. To a large part, that's because the nature of work, and maybe the cycle of change, has been much faster in the corporate world than in academia. Therefore, there can be sensitivities that some staff have to workplace change.
Right, so how do you deal with that and ensure you’re giving the workforce the spaces they really need?
A really big part of that is taking the time to understand the changing nature of work, the changing nature of learning, and how learning environments are changing and adapting to accommodate.
We have the privilege of seeing this firsthand. But sometimes the users of these environments don't have firsthand experience of how those things are evolving. So one of the big things that David and I have done on different projects is to make sure that we're bringing users along that journey, making sure that they're experiencing how these environments are changing elsewhere.
But it’s also about taking a first principles approach and saying, ‘How has work changed? How have the expectations of your role changed? How might they evolve over time and therefore, how can we best accommodate some of these changes?’ and involve people in the process of conceiving their new work environments.
If you try and blanket out a workplace model, and you try and lump everyone together, you will lose your academic population straight away, because there is a unique nature to academia. They are focused based workers. And that is the difference between the professional staff.
At Monash, we're not trying to pull our academic out of offices. We understand and respect the type of work they do and we're leaving them in those cellular environments. But what we are understanding is the individual focus that there has been in the past in academia, where they've been the single arbiters of knowledge – and they actually used to compete with each other for research grants – that's changed. It's now become a collaborative focus.
And it's cooperation and innovation that drives that evolution and the growth for the faculties in the universities. So in creating those corporate environments to support that, that's where the change comes.
We are using our workspaces and workplaces to attract the best of the best. And that involves not just the offices, but the research spaces. And all of the supporting amenity. That comes down to things like retail. When you're in the office, that's only one part of your workplace. Where you go and grab your coffee is another part of the workplace. Where you can go and sit down and have a meal with someone else who can collaborate is again another part of the workforce.
What do you think some of the biggest challenges facing universities are?
one of the biggest ones is clearly the environment right now. And it's such a core focus. And we hear all these stories right now around insurers insuring for one in 100 storm that's happening a couple of times a year now. And what's becoming the new norm is going to impact on the way we live and work on a regular basis.
We can never crystal ball, but the idea of doing research to best understand and mitigate those risks that are coming forward, is what we're looking to do in a university sense. And in the planning sense for our buildings, we're looking to do the same level of deep dive understanding so we have the best ability to pivot and change and have the most flexible environments to do that.
I might just add a few themes. David touched on sustainability, or climate change. Obviously, there are risks associated with that and there's also regulatory change that might evolve off the back of that, which may require organisations to have assets that are performing at certain benchmarks.
There's financial risk, and every organisation needs to manage this. For example, over the past couple of years, there's been massive disruption in the education sector in terms of international student impacts. Therefore, many organisations, I'm sure, will be looking at creating a more resilient basis if such a thing was to happen in the future.
There's also technology disruption. Technology continues to evolve at an accelerating rate. And there are real questions about how learning environments may evolve in the future. Will we see more immersive learning environments? Will we enter the metaverse and be engaging and learning in the virtual realm? What impact will that have for the physical campus?
I think there are also shifts or changes in workforce expectations. Will we have workers on campus? Will we have a mix of virtual workers across different geographies? There are impacts from a campus perspective in terms of how we'd need to think about planning.
One of the big challenges with hybrid learning and hybrid work is it's a bit of an unknown as to how intensively the campus and campus buildings will be used in the future. One of the things we're seeing, and JLL is actively involved in rolling out with our clients, is new kinds of technologies. Sensor technologies for example, that allow you to monitor how buildings are being occupied over time. This is really important because we know for organisations and schools and faculties their requirements will change over time. People come, people go and headcounts fluctuate. It's really important to understand the dynamics not just over the course of a year, but over the course of a month, or a week, or a day. Understanding those patterns allow you to create a vibrant work environment and campus environment for people, and it can also ensure that you're optimising your assets.
Thank you, both for some great insights there. Is there anything you’d like to add on the topic of post-COVID university campuses before we wrap up?
One thing I'll bring up is understanding that the end user is just one part of your customer segment.
When we were looking at Monash’s transformation, one thing that was critical was that we were trying to get a solution that co-designed with our academic population as the users. But they are part of the faculty, and that part of the business. We needed the faculty itself to also be aligned with this. And then the faculty is part of the university. And the faculty’s business needs to be aligned with the university's business.
But between those three customers of the university, the faculty and the individual people, there are always going to be distinct changes and differences in the way they think. Alignment behind those three is critical. And it was a pathway that we took as well around ensuring we had strategic alignment between the individuals, the faculty and the university. So having something that we were able to make sure ticked the boxes of all of those three key stakeholders was also a key part of the success of the project and a key part of success of any project as well.
Definitely. Thank you, David. And thank you, Dinesh for shedding some light on the evolving campus experiences.
You’re listening to JLL’s Perspectives podcast. I’m Rebecca Kent. Thanks for listening.