NO CLASSROOMS, JUST EXPERIENCES: “free thinking” the future of higher ed

April 9, 2014, 4:56 pm

I’m serving on a “Student Experience Task Force”— which among other things is exploring the relationship between residence halls, classrooms, laboratories, dining facilities, student centers, libraries, gyms, and outdoor spaces across my campus—with an eye toward long-term strategies. This is a yearlong process.

Our first assignment was to “free think” one possibility twenty to thirty years from now. These ideas were not expected to be grounded in reality— but to intentionally be provocative, disruptive, or transformative.


Virginia Tech: Burchard Hall. A desk for every student

Mine was to do away with classrooms. Instead of lecture halls I would give every student their own desk or workbench—similar to what you find in architecture departments. There is an amazing community that forms around these programs and I think emulating that experience would be a powerful distinctive educational format.

I imagine large spaces filled with desks, group rooms, and lounge areas where students read, write, work on projects, socialize, mentor each other, and collaborate. Maybe during certain semesters they are grouped together by similar disciplines  — and during other semesters they are mixed up—so you’d have engineers, poets, and biochemists all colliding together daily, formally and informally.

At certain times of the week various faculty would spend one-on-one time with each student in their building or zones or via cohort– but these instructors also address groups in shared spaces. Each student would have a personalized curriculum, but also transdisciplinary team projects. They would also have service learning or client-based projects to work on collectively. I could imagine “experiences” rather than “classes.” Take for instance something like a Kickstarter or other crowd-funded project in which students would have to conceive of an idea, find funding, and then together develop, design, and deliver an outcome. I could see this type of pedagogical infrastructure enabling a good mix of theoretical and applied learning.

So when the students are not at their assigned desks/tables/benches they attend other “experiences” around campus— in laboratories, studios, media centers, workshops, performance stages, exhibit halls, libraries, cafes, lounges, and so on.

No classrooms—just experiences. That was my pitch.

More on the concept:

Virginia Tech: Burchard Hall from virginiatech on Vimeo.


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