How can we preserve the sense of community on campus as the need to physically be present decreases? – Helen Ansell

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By 2026 new history will have been created, breakthroughs will have been made in the sciences and new great artists, writers and composers will have come into prominence. However, the core content studied in many subjects is unlikely to have changed significantly. What may have had a more dramatic change is the delivery method of that content.

Why would students physically attend a lecture when they could simply watch it remotely from their bedroom?

Why would students physically attend a seminar when it could take place via a web chat or online chat forum?

Why would students physically attend a problems class when the solutions could be obtained online anyway?

From an academic perspective, it seems likely that students could participate in all of these types of class in a remote location and still be able to demonstrate that they have achieved the same learning outcomes as they would have if they’d attended the sessions on campus. For modules where no specific resources, such as lab equipment, were required, the entire course could be taught online. Indeed, many courses which are taught entirely online are already available around the world.

From a practical perspective, the University could expand its student population further without needing as many additional teaching spaces. Lecturers could deliver a session to hundreds of people from their office. Students would not necessarily need to live near to the campus and could potentially only visit a few times per year.

But what could we lose if students were largely physically absent from the University?

I graduated in 2016 and during my time as an undergraduate here I always felt a great sense of belonging to my course, department and the wider University. Groups of students would hang out between lectures, discuss questions for problems classes and meet up to work through past exam questions together. These things would have been unlikely to have happened had we not been physically in the same lectures and classes together.

Would we lose the sense of community among the student population if a greater emphasis was put on remote learning and online courses?

Will students lose some of the opportunities to get to know their fellow course mates, who could potentially have become lifelong friends?

It seems likely that if more courses move to have larger components online and that student contact is reduced, additional initiatives would need to be launched in order to preserve or re-establish some of the important social aspects of undertaking a degree. We need to ensure that as we integrate technology and virtual learning into the University, we also work to ensure that students don’t end up feeling detached from the University community.

Helen Ansell
EPS Student Experience and 2016 UoB Physics Graduate

3 thoughts on “How can we preserve the sense of community on campus as the need to physically be present decreases? – Helen Ansell”

  1. This is one of the big challenges we face as we look ahead to the future design of university education. How can we optimise the benefits of online and campus-based ‘physically present’ learning? As Helen asks:

    ‘Would we lose the sense of community among the student population if a greater emphasis was put on remote learning and online courses?’

    ‘Will students lose some of the opportunities to get to know their fellow course mates, who could potentially have become lifelong friends?’

    These are important questions for the next generation of students. I wonder what this generation of students thinks?

  2. A common complaint among students concerns the lack of social and working spaces for their programme/department/school. If we want students to feel that they are part of a community it makes sense to ensure that each programme/departmental cohort has a space that it can call its own.

  3. University education is much more than learning a set of skills, it is about the development of a new mindset. A thriving community of scholars – – students and faculty – – is the essential component of this process, much more so than any particular topic or pedagogical technique. It is the reason why Universities will never be obsoleted by technology. It is the reason why young people will always want to join them.

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