3. The learning perspective

What do learners want that an intelligent campus could help with?

Students care about a number of issues including the quality of teaching and, increasingly, value for money. The perception of quality of teaching for some is related to the number of contact hours, although it is also recognised that independent learning is a crucial skill (ref 2). Other concerns raised centre around the level of anxiety of students, including around leaving home, learning in new ways, managing workloads, building new relationships and networks of friends and finding jobs.

Social media and other communication technologies already play a part in connecting students together, and allowing communication and collaboration on both social and academic topics, with fellow students, staff and others.

What can an intelligent campus do to help?

The potential that intelligent campus offers is to integrate data from different contexts and tools in such a way that the educational environment can respond, perhaps in real time, to issues as they arise, rather than wait for those in difficulties to seek help. Alternatively to make constructive suggestions or help to make informed choices. In particular, the following characteristics have been identified as ones that smart technologies could help support:

  1. socialising with others, whether for academic collaboration, social activities or mutual support
  2. identifying and sharing events and activities
  3. providing real time contextual information that improves decision making
  4. raising issues and problems as they arise and linking to support
  5. moving around the physical environment and accessing facilities easily
  6. making the physical environment more comfortable and healthy

In short, anything that can make life easier for the student, improve their academic progress, enhance their emotional well being or make the environment more comfortable and attractive would be of benefit. This could range from avoiding queues for lunch, or learning in a more appropriate room to choosing the right modules or accessing counselling when needed.

Expectations

In addition, students have expectations about using technology and how and when universities and colleges provide services. This is based in part on their familiarity with devices such as tablets and smartphones, and partly their experience of other organisations and tools that already offer sophisticated services. This could be music or shopping services suggesting what they might like next or knowing which of their friends is attending an event nearby.

Where intelligent campus contributes over and above existing applications on smart handheld devices is the collation of data amongst the student body, including potential segmentation by academic or social group, and integration of this with data about the physical environment and the academic context.

Academic

Questions students may be asking include where is my next lesson, what books would be useful for this topic or when is my tutor free for a chat? Whilst this data may already exist in timetabling apps, shared diaries or reading lists, it is typically not “live”. Perhaps the tutor isn’t physically in their office at the moment due to a delay – the tutor’s location-enabled smartphone may know this, but the student doesn’t!

Equally, the seminar may be allocated a room in the timetabling process, but how appropriate a space is it for the specific learning activities at the time? Perhaps this week there are presentations or a group exercise, or even an impromptu guest speaker looking for a interactive discussion, and the room booking assumes a standard classroom. The room next door may be better and is fully booked but at the time not actually being used due to a change. If the class moved next door, how easy is it to notify students who are late?

Can relevant materials be signposted as new topics emerge during the session, automatically added to the references for the module, with their location in the library? Are there resources in different formats that match my learning style preferences? Could references be differentiated by difficulty relating to an individual student’s understanding of the topics?

Social

Arriving at a new institution can be disorienting and confusing, virtual campus tours can help or sat-nav guided walks, but can these be integrated with personal timetables and interests? What if a personal digital assistant can tell you this is where your first lecture is, and ask if you have thought about the skiing club, they are meeting now in the cafe? What’s on the menu today and what do my friends think of the food?

Connecting with people, interests and activities in a more dynamic, responsive, personalised way could enable the student to integrate into the student community more easily, identify others with shared interests, and highlight opportunities to meet and join in. Equally, data about the student might suggest difficulties and anxieties and lead to suggestions about services of use such as counselling – even make available a live chat instantly.

Looking beyond campus, how do students find out about areas to live, and how do the facilities match their own interests? Information on how to travel to and from campus, when’s the next bus and what’s the traffic like might already be available online. However, what if we combine this with where are good cycle lanes, are there any spaces in the cycle racks this morning or even express interest in the bus after all and one is dispatched as there are other students also asking for it?

Intelligent campus initiatives are often closely linked with services in the wider community including transport and leisure, and other “smart city” projects. Whilst the focus of this guide is on the campus context, there is much to learn from smart cities and the wider world, and the integration with campus data can help smooth the boundaries between life on and off campus and the local community.

Ref 2 HEPI-HEA Student Academic Experience Survey http://www.hepi.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Student-Academic-Experience-Survey-2016.pdf