Blended learning and physical footprint reduction are all the rage in universities and for good reason


The pandemic has forced us to try new ways of doing things, especially in education. The virtual classroom, for example, has proven challenging but also rewarding as it has opened doors to learning opportunities among a wider range of higher education students.

Online learning provides increased safety, more flexible access, and equity among students who are immunocompromised or living with disabilities, as well as those who commute to campus and/or juggle multiple jobs to pay rising tuition fees. schooling. Faculty members caring for elderly parents say they prefer less exposure to contagious diseases that can spread when hundreds of students sit in large lecture halls — and those sitting outside rear anyway look at a monitor. Students who go online for late-hour tutorials appreciate not having to wait for someone to open a locked building.

Institutions that have chosen to end online learning are now finding that students are pushing back for many of these reasons, according to an April 11 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

We can understand and support those who prefer to teach and learn in person for the warmth of live human interaction, but there is no doubt that blended learning has become part of the higher education lexicon. At New York’s Pace University, for example, a new online hub gives faculty members the technology they need to create video content for their classes and the training they need to increase student engagement. students online.

However, the benefits of blended learning go well beyond issues of access and equity.

Prior to COVID-19, colleges and universities across the country were already rethinking and reducing their physical footprint due to the costs of building new facilities and maintaining old ones. The pandemic has accelerated this trend to look more closely at the wise use of existing spaces for long-term sustainability. This is a departure from the default construction and expansion of traditional master plans for many colleges and universities.

At the heart of this issue is what The Chronicle of Education calls “The Overbuilt Campus” in its February 11 online magazine article.

“It costs millions of dollars to build new facilities and millions more to operate and maintain them,” the author points out. Every institution is different, but they all face similar questions in the post-pandemic era of whether it makes more sense to reallocate space and even shrink, rather than conventionally build and expand. with bricks and mortar.

Last week, Daily Camera reporter Annie Mehl wrote an in-depth piece about the University of Colorado at Boulder and its efforts to analyze its wants and needs for physical space in a post-pandemic world. What she found is that CU Boulder is part of this nationwide trend of universities facing maintenance cost backlog issues and making a concerted effort toward blended learning.

CU Boulder has a deferred maintenance backlog of $1.3 billion. The update to the Hellems Arts and Sciences building alone will cost $89.5 million. That’s a lot of money by any measure.

It’s great to hear David Kang, CU Boulder’s Vice Chancellor for Infrastructure and Sustainability, say that our flagship university plans to reinvent its space with blended learning, blended working, and working at distance all playing a part in the future of campus life.

“If we can make better use of our spaces, we don’t need to build new ones,” says Kang. “It’s a philosophy that we definitely embrace. I think the philosophy of how best to use existing spaces is more prevalent than it was in the past. »

We believe that this effort should certainly include further consideration of the reassignment of staff administrative offices to meet the needs of students. The many layers of CU Boulder’s campus bureaucracy include offices and buildings that currently house administrators and support staff who could — and might even prefer — to work remotely.

Today’s high school students have learned online throughout the pandemic and will find blended learning at university to be completely normal; faculty members who integrate blended learning will have their classrooms freed up for more classes, and fewer commuting students and staff also means freed up parking spaces on campus.

What we need most at this point is data. CU Boulder will need to take inventory of its physical space and listen to its students, faculty, and staff to gauge their use and enthusiasm for blended learning. The master plan can easily be changed, and the administrators may well find that the prudent thing is to use the existing space more efficiently rather than constructing more buildings. If COVID-19 hit us five years ago, CU Boulder might have had to rethink its south campus expansion. It’s still possible.

Our university would also be wise to invest in its current enrollment today rather than planning to increase student numbers by the tens of thousands in the future, especially given the large number of students who have already need housing.

Our flagship university is strong and will continue to be competitive as long as it focuses on its core mission and vision, which is “to be a leader in meeting the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century”. This could well include enhanced hybrid learning paired with a smaller physical footprint than it can actually afford to maintain.

— Julie Marshall for the Editorial Board


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