Colleges have faced unique challenges in 2020. Many campuses are the physical space in which their students study, work, live, and play.
When COVID-19 emerged, the shutdowns forced higher education institutions to find a path forward. That path included all of the obstacles that workplaces, housing complexes, and schools were subjected to. So what did that path look like, and what changes may become permanent in post-secondary settings?
In this limited blog series, we will take a look at how COVID-19 changed higher education in three areas: classes, physical spaces, and community.
The Chronicle of Higher Education released their latest issue, “Rethinking Campus Spaces: How to Prepare for the Future of Learning and Work” (available for purchase here). In this issue, they spoke with leaders of colleges that had decided to bring people back to campus after the shutdowns in the spring of 2020. This study will provide the framework for this limited blog series.
In part 3, we’ll discuss the changes surrounding the campus community that took place in 2020, and what that will look like post-COVID.
Campus Community and COVID-19
One of the ultimate goals of a college or campus experience is for students to discover and foster the communities they want to be a part of in the future. While the impact of COVID-19 on the community aspect of college campuses is not as easily discernable as the changes in classes or physical space, it is still very present.
One of the best community-building aspects of on-campus interaction is the loss of “productive collisions,” according to Greg Havens, planner and architect for Sasaki Associates.
Productive collisions are the moments that happen in the cafeteria, or the few minutes before or after a class, where students and faculty share more casual discussions of class material that result in new projects or insights being discovered, or new relationships being formed. And these moments are very difficult to replicate using any form of collaboration technology.
So many spaces, like dorm lounge areas, libraries, tech or computer labs, and more are built around the idea that proximity can foster collaboration and also create a sense of community. During the pandemic, colleges had to actively create environments that eliminate these casual interactions in order to maintain safe and socially distant standards.
Student housing is one of the biggest sources of community in college, and that has been heavily impacted by the transitions of most or all classes to online forums. Officials at California State University have found “better retention rates among students who live on campus, with roommates, in their first years.”
2020 has been a tough year for everyone, and college students were just as affected as any other peer group. The desire to go to college is one that can be influenced by many things, but one of the driving forces behind that transition to post-secondary education is the relationships and communities you get to be part of.
When surveyed, “college students ranked community as the second-most important priority for their college experience, after academic matters.” And when asked what the most difficult part of COVID-19 life was, the most popular answer was “separation from friends.”
This is not to detract from the immense effort that administrators and educators have put in to try and mitigate some of these difficulties. Many community-based events have been replicated online, and schools continue to look for unique ways to engage campus crowds safely, with drive-in events and outdoor performances.
Academic advising, mental health appointments, and financial aid services are all being offered online as well since access to campus offices has been throttled down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
So what does the future of the campus community look like?
Building Campus Community after COVID
Many of the solutions that have been implemented throughout the last year will continue to be used long after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. The offering of online administrative and academic advisor services will still be available because having more access to campus-based services is always beneficial.
But community is something we all crave, so the physical and in-person interactions between students, faculty, and staff will come back right alongside all of the online options as well.
It’s very likely that offices and classrooms will continue being restructured to accommodate academic teams, department crossover, and other educational socialization.
As for housing, many colleges are creating or restructuring dorm spaces to accommodate more apartment-style housing and nano suites, but this also means that more emphasis will need to be put on creating new, meaningful areas for students to gather.
Some colleges are even taking steps to lessen the crossover between college students and the college town, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, by adding more restaurant and even grocery store options to campus life. There will likely be a heavy focus on creating more spaces and reasons for students to stay on campus, in the future.
Build the Community You Want, with Collaboration Tools That Support You
Tomorrow’s classroom experience will still need a few things – technology, collaboration, and people. But people and technology aren’t always perfectly matched. So what can you do to build a great community online? Explore Meet Me In The Cloud’s managed services and collaboration services.
Whether you need training and education, event assistance, or other collaboration-based support and services, contact us today.