Universities are very dynamic environments when faculty are liberated to think about new educational and research possibilities. Space needs continuously arise.
Over the past few weeks, discussions on the so-called Master Plan of the university have begun. They have asked the question of what new academic initiatives might occupy new space and how that space needs to be configured.
It is a time of great innovation in US higher education. Many of the state universities, the backbone of the world’s finest ecology of higher education, have received year-after-year budget cuts. They are under direct threats. The option of tuition increases has either been eliminated by state legislative intervention or by weak demand from families strapped by flat salaries. Small private liberal arts colleges with limited endowments are also threatened; some are closing. Existential threats are spurs to innovation, and it is occurring at a very rapid rate.
Adoption of flipped courses is changing what students do inside classrooms. Intensive project-based learning has led to more use of laboratory or studio-based space. Blended courses with online components have led to more use of ad hoc small-group space, with integrated technology infrastructures. Learning management systems are designed to be digital one-stop shops for all materials students need to pursue a course. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi permits students to work in spaces that also act as social meeting space. The boundary between class and non-class, work and non-work, is blurring on campuses in the same way that it is blurring outside of universities.
Electronic portfolios of class work managed by students create integrated documentation of the progress of the student’s education. Social media platforms surrounding classes are fora for the intellectual exchanges supplementing class exercises – the 21st century mode of reflection and synthesis. Students are voluntarily supplementing the organized class learning with Kahn Academy and Lynda.com targeted educational videos. The Federal Government is seeking ways of certifying the learning accessible in coding academies and other focused learning centers.
On the research side, almost all major institutions that fund research are shifting to the big unsolved problems. Interdisciplinary teams increasingly spend time outside their faculty offices in shared space for these teams – a home for kindred souls who share common interests but different home disciplines. Sometimes the university teams are supplemented by researchers in partner organizations. New digital and computational approaches are arising in many fields.
Change is afoot.
In the midst of this we need to imagine the space needs of Georgetown 10 and 20 years hence. What space designs will meet the needs of our research teams working on key interdisciplinary problems? Should we plan for space occupied by Georgetown research partnering organizations? What space designs prompt the unplanned interactions of faculty with symbiotic scholarly interests? What space is best suited for the nurturing of interdisciplinary educational programs?
What is the needed mix of flexible group workspace and traditional classrooms with fixed desks and a lecture podium? What technology is needed for different group activities in the space they will occupy? What space will research-based learning need? How much time will students and faculty be off-campus, working together in experiential learning situations? What is the future of classes now taught in large lecture halls?
These are the kinds of questions we all need to address.
Several months ago, President DeGioia doubled-down on the role of place in the future of Georgetown. The decision renewed the commitment to deep formation of young minds that requires face-to-face interaction with faculty mentors and peers. This strength of Georgetown must be preserved in the future. But the space in which it is conducted must also reflect the use of new pedagogical designs and of new learning technologies that Georgetown faculty require. Over the coming weeks we’ll seek input from larger groups of faculty and staff on “the space of the future” at Georgetown.