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What is the future of university? With the rise of digital learning, will there be a need for physical campuses? What will campuses look like? What do emerging technologies mean for universities?

The future of Australian universities is a key interest area for CEC. Facing disruption from online educational resources such as MOOC’s and vocational training, universities need to consider how emerging technologies and trends can disrupt their practice, and where they should be focussing their resources in order to stay relevant.

Our approach

Over the course of 4 days, we set out on a design challenge to imagine what an ideal future university experience would look like. We employed future casting methods and researched into trends and disruptions to support our ideas. These scenarios were designed with student needs in mind, through a pragmatic research approach.

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Our future state

We identified three key needs:

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Need 1. Ensure students are fit to learn throughout their experience.

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University can be an overwhelming time, and students are often juggling multiple commitments. Student drop-out rates are still at a high, with ⅓ students dropping out without finishing their study within 6 years [1]. It is essential that universities provide proactive, ongoing support so that students are mentally and physically fit to get the most out of their time at university.

For example, universities can utilise student journey analytics to identify “at-risk” points in the student experience, enabling a more accurate and targeted way to proactively offer support services to students in need, with tighter feedback loops. Additionally, a chatbot can be utilised as a reflective tool, allowing the student to recognise and track areas of development in their learning, with recommendations to available support services. The chatbot would have the ability to identify if the student’s state wasn’t improving, triggering a discussion with an actual counsellor.

Need 2. Support the diverse mindsets of students and learning methods.

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The pace of development of online learning platforms has exceeded the classroom teaching experience. With the wide range of knowledge sharing platforms and disruptive learning tools, universities need to reinvent their offering to better suit the ongoing development needs of students by providing alternate methods to learning.

Imagine if students were able to enter a virtual world of education that engaged students in a way that suited their preferred mode of learning. For example, interactive learners will be able to learn course content through an engaging quest, and those wanting to practice a pitch can do so in front of an audience that gives real time feedback. By leveraging these emerging technologies, universities can offer students the tools to be able to design and experience their own working environment or learning method to suit their needs.

Need 3. Integrate a social, interdisciplinary component to enhance the learning experience.

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Universities often intend to place emphasis on teaching students within their industry profession. However, organisations are becoming less siloed as problems are becoming more complex and networked [2]. Varied ways of working and collaborating with different disciplines are recognised as effective problem solving tools. Universities need to upskill students in their ability to work adaptively with those from different epistemological perspectives to generate new insights, new market value, and more innovative outcomes. Recognising how to navigate ambiguous and complex environments, as well as how to communicate with those from other industries is vital for students to flourish in life outside of university and outside the realm of traditional workplaces. If this is becoming the new reality of industry, then why not create these conditions in an educational context where it is safe to fail and explore interdisciplinary practices. Employers are placing greater importance on how their employees demonstrate teamwork and emotional intelligence more so than hard skills or IQ [3].

Our process

Day 1: Understanding and planning

Our first day began with us working to understand our problem and create a plan. It was essential to apply a future looking lens over our research and insight generation.

We used expert design and research to identify:

  • An ecosystem map illustrating key elements of the system.
  • The key factors we needed to consider.
  • The key trends affecting the industry.
  • The key disruptors affecting the industry.
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Our research enabled us to broadly understand the larger and relative systems that we were designing in by employing systemic design techniques. This included the role that universities play in society, as well as the relevant trends and disruptions. After considering this ecosystem, we were able to dive deep into understanding the student experience and how this can shape the future. We produced a research plan and questions to validate our first day of thinking.

 

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Day 2. Research and synthesis

Our research approach consisted of customer interviews and intercepts of students at universities to understand why they chose their university and what they value at a university.
We conducted 15 interviews with students and one academic over the course of half a day. Given the limited time, the 4 of us split ourselves over two universities, and called existing networks who are current and alumni to gain their perspective. Finally we supplemented our research with expert design, drawing on our own university experience. We identified 6 areas of importance with current associated pain points and asked students to rank their importance in a card sorting exercise.

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Day 3. Ideation

From our qualitative research, each problem area was translated into a set of underlying needs that students desire for an amazing university experience. Next we translated these needs into opportunities. With each need, the team rapidly ideated solutions. We validated their potential by mapping them against emerging trends. Some alternative ideas we came up with included:

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In order to make our list mutually exclusive but collectively exhaustive, we refined and reframed these into 3 deeper areas of need defined in our future state.

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So what’s next for universities?

Universities are competing with educational platforms on a global scale. Careers and job titles are changing rapidly, and students are seeking new experiences in their learning separate from metric evaluation. We need to think critically about how we can set up the right conditions for success, so that students develop attitudes and mindsets fit for the future of the workplace. Therefore, it is vital that universities begin to consider the key student needs of today, and leverage modern technologies and capabilities integrated with systemic thinking to grow their strategy and ensure they are not left behind.

Our team

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