Right now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, listening and learning are two crucial processes we cannot bypass in favor of exploring and leading. In order to understand the impact this crisis will have on the physical space design of higher education campuses, we must listen and learn from the users who are currently being affected – students.
An Unexpected Transition
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a sudden transition in higher education from in-classroom education to online learning, and students had to vacate campuses and adapt quickly to remote instruction. These mandated quarantines and campus closings are having a strong affect on the student experience and how student behaviors and expectations may change as they are permitted to return to classrooms.
The Inherent Problems With Online Classes
While online classes can be a great supplement, there is simply no substitute for the on-campus student experience. Many students struggle with taking all online classes. Unsurprisingly, it's more difficult to stay motivated and remain on schedule when you aren't in a classroom. Not only that, but online learning also presents a lot of practical hurdles for many majors. After all, it's extremely difficult to effectively replace a complete hands-on learning experience with a laptop.
Online courses also result in limited collaboration opportunities with other students. Not being in the presence of others is definitely a major issue for many students.
Balancing Safety and the Student Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic will likely have both near-term and long effects on schools, especially regarding how they plan for building modifications to bring students back on campus safely, while giving them the best experience possible.
Government protocols and recommendations are dictating the revisions of layouts for classrooms, labs, residence and dining halls. While large auditoriums designed for 150 to 200 people may only be permitted to hold 30 to 40 students. It may also be necessary to redesign labs to hold fewer researchers per bench. Residence halls may need to house fewer students, and cleaning protocols will need to be performed multiple times per day.
In the midst of all of this, the key to moving forward successfully will be creating the on-campus experience students crave—one that enhances the student experience, while keeping everyone safe. This is accomplished by providing thoughtfully designed environments that promote positive behaviors to bring people safely together to collaborate, learn, discover and personally grow through social interactions.