Finding Balance with a Multimodal Approach to Higher Ed Student Experience
Whether it’s a focus on technology or outdoor learning, being flexible to the needs of lifelong learners is key.
At GMB, we recognize that it is important to design for longevity and constructing educational environments that will last 50 years or more. As educational designers, we are challenged to imagine how we can modify existing structures that accommodate the learning students need now, while maintaining the longevity of these buildings on an ever-evolving campus. We also need to consider how we can create multipurpose places where schools of thought intersect and intertwine, fostering connection and collaboration with other human beings. Creating interprofessional relationships bolsters career readiness and can spark interest in new disciplines that encourage learning for a lifetime. Currently, a unique intersection in schools of thought is emerging between advances in the latest technology, getting back to basics with outdoor learning and a renewed focus on mental health and wellness.
Technology is ever changing with new and innovative advancements that aim to enhance instruction and student learning. At Ivy Tech’s East Chicago Welding Lab, the use of technology is changing the way they teach welding, what they are calling a 22nd century growing industry. A new way to immerse students in welding techniques is through the college’s new virtual welding simulators. Bays of virtual reality (VR) welding trainers, equipped with TV monitors on the wall, mirror the small virtual display unit so instructors, peers from the class, and other building users can see the technology in use. With realistic sounds and sparks, demonstrations and replay mode, the VR system enhances welding curriculum with safe, teachable training for all levels of students. When balancing a variety of learning styles with hands-on skills training, virtual learning and in-person instruction, technologies can bring students together in a way that provides an equitable experience for all learners.
However, it's no coincidence that an emphasis on outdoor learning in higher education settings is also in focus. In what is perhaps a counter pendulum swing to the technology generation, we’re seeing health and wellbeing facilities and spaces being designed on college campuses everywhere. From outdoor meditation gardens and labyrinths with no WiFi signal, to spaces in residence halls and academic buildings that offer quiet personal time for contemplation, rejuvenation, and creation. A new residential master plan GMB completed included a new green space on campus with the purpose to foster additional opportunities for student connection and community-building, with features like a hammock park and outdoor firepits. As designers, we’re challenged with creating places where students and faculty alike can balance both their virtual and physical worlds.
The higher education student profile is changing, especially for lifelong learners. As an organization committed to continuous learning that creates an endless possibility of discovery, and growth, GMB believes the benefits extend far beyond individuals. We believe the next version of student experience is multidisciplinary, balanced, and offers students variety and choice in learning. By planning and designing a campus for in-person, hybrid and asynchronous student experiences, colleges and universities have the potential to serve learners of all ages better than they ever have before.
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Thom is a project lead and architect with GMB. He sees architecture as a journey to discover a client’s needs and goals resulting in an environment that exceeds their expectations.
David Wilkins leads GMB's Higher Education practice. His strengths lie in long-range planning, identifying institutional drivers, then connecting those to a practical plan for campus development. He is passionate about how spaces can inspire people and embody a school's mission in a tactical way.
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