The virtual campus: Defining a social (digital) learning space

By Sahra-Josephine Hjorth, CEO and co-founder 

 

Has COVID-19 changed the immersive college experience forever? How do we redefine the online university as a beacon of networking, collaboration, and innovation? And is a virtual campus the new normal?


 

Reflecting on my own university experience, learning, personal development, and academic ups and downs it is almost impossible not to think about my attachment to the physical campus and the people I met through my classes and dorm living.

 

Reinventing the immersive college experience
Shortly after I moved to a female-only hall at college in Washington DC, I got into an argument on the quad. I wasn’t looking for a fight, but while waiting for my Chinese food (chicken fried rice) delivery I overheard a heated argument about Israel and Palestine. I fiercely disagreed with the direction the winning argument was headed (having had a public stance on this issue since I was 13 years old) and interjected myself in the conversation. And I met Josh, with whom I have fiercely disagreed for 15 years now, despite us living on different continents today.

 

I got into an argument on the quad. I wasn’t looking for a fight, but while waiting for my Chinese food (chicken fried rice) delivery I overheard a heated argument about Israel and Palestine.

 

With the current move towards remote teaching, I am not sure how the next generation of students will find their Josh. The DNA of an immersive college experience has to this day been defined by the physical campus and surrounding activities. It is the focal point of interaction, relationships are formed through random interactions, being placed in the same classes, waiting in line at the bookstore, locking yourself up with your study group during finals, sleeping on the floor of the library, or even eating candy and drinking beer past midnight.

 

Now, educational institutions need to put in time and funding into designing their digital learning spaces, the same way they spend millions on the physical infrastructure of a college campus. Instead of designing what the future of the physical campus will be, we need to start defining and designing what the virtual campus will be like.

 

In an article published by the Guardian, Cambridge has been credited as the first university to move all of its lectures online, for the entire 2020-2021 academic year. Now, educational institutions need to put in time and funding into designing their digital learning spaces, the same way they spend millions on the physical infrastructure of a college campus. Instead of designing what the future of the physical campus will be, we need to start defining and designing what the virtual campus will be like.

 

We need to completely redefine what a virtual campus could look like. Very few schools have been in a hurry to define their digital campus experience before COVID-19. This decision has in many ways been driven by the fear that a virtual college experience forces them to cut their admission price point. This is a very valid fear and calls for new thinking around how tuition is priced globally.

 

Are steps being taken to digitize welcome week, campus counseling, and the random meetings on the quad? Who will be the first to allow students to meet at their college library and hang out using virtual reality?

 

When redefining the virtual college experience, how can we ensure that students’ emotional needs and the desire to form strong social connections are actually being met? Are steps being taken to digitize welcome week, campus counseling, and the random meetings on the quad? Who will be the first to allow students to meet at their college library and hang out using virtual reality? And what may we learn from dating apps and other matching technologies to potentially match new friends and help with the formation of study groups?

 

A truly immersive virtual campus needs to enable social learning and community engagement. This vision is actually why we started CanopyLAB; our mission has always been to ensure that online learning is engaging, social and fosters a sense of community among remote learners no matter where they are in the world. Today, five years later in my capacity as CEO of CanopyLAB I’m dedicated to working closely together with research communities, thought leaders, and the global edtech community in identifying ways to improve the virtual college experience, and I would love to hear your ideas on the matter!

 

Connect with me on twitter (@Sahra_Josephine) to continue the conversation!

 


At CanopyLAB we designed a simple and social platform for digital learning experiences.

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