Pedagogy is in flux and so is the way universities are delivering education

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Photo courtesy of Monash University

Universities need to meet students’ changing needs and they need strong business skills and design skills to do so. The end of “chalk and talk” is coupled with the drive to sustainability and demands for the best technology.

It’s not the easiest brief these days, designing education buildings for students who are often more engaged with the internet, when “talk and chalk” is way over, and when institutions have to sell themselves and prove financial success in an industry worth over $28 billion and growing fast.

Pedagogy is in flux. It’s more like upheaval actually. Academics must give lectures that can be accessed at home, or on the bus or train, and in competition with the world that can be accessed through the internet. 

It’s more like upheaval actually. Academics must give lectures that can be accessed at home, or on the bus or train, and in competition with the world that can be accessed through the internet. 

To many, the hallowed halls of learning seem distant, as they are forced to mark according to “objective” metrics that leave little room for innovation or creativity. 

So where does sustainable campus design fit into this? Ask, and while there’s talk of passive design, use of timber, greening and evocative native landscaping, the conversation seems to segue into the (other) urgent challenges of the learning environment. 

Students want to know more has been invested in their future

Jocelyn Chiew,
Monash University

According to Jocelyn Chiew, manager of Campus Design, Quality and Planning at Monash University in Melbourne, students are discerning, and universities are “beholden to a number of criteria” – one of which, thankfully, is ecological sustainability.

“Students are looking for that – they want to know more has been invested in the future, that the services they are spending money on are sustainable and contribute positively to the long-term future of the planet,” she says.

All new campus buildings at Monash University rate highly in Green Star certification and the university is working towards achieving Passive House standards. Because they are large precincts in single ownership, universities are in a good position to break new ground, Chiew says.

Cognitive building is the next big thing

Emerging models of sustainable development are “smart campuses” or “smart buildings”, coupled with the ambition to be didactic.

It is something universities are fixated on at the moment – the next big thing. A “cognitive building” involves the integration of technology into design and function to get real time data on how buildings perform in terms of human experience but also how many resources they use up, how they perform environmentally. 

For new buildings for the Faculties of Engineering and Information Technology building, Monash is working with Grimshaw Architects and Honeywell Engineers to embed measurement technology to be used to guide future decisions. 

“As incubators for research, innovation and enterprise, contemporary universities look for ways to display, promote and advance learning,” Chiew says. 

“The integration of physical and digital environments to deliver ‘smart campuses’ will enable universities to deliver on these ambitions in new ways that can also help further sustainable development agendas.” 

Giant touch screens and other technologies can attract students

Technology in the bio-medical building sees students gather around “a CIS-type study table”. 

Students can touch it and zoom in on it. Imagine something like a large iPad to fit 10 people around it, complete with a touch screen. 

Are large lecture halls a thing of the past?
Photo courtesy of Woods Bagot

Emerging themes are collaborative learning, with technology that values discursive teaching styles, peer-to-peer learning and learning in the round.  It can also allow academic leaders to home in on any group or person, and learning to be shared and broadcast interstate and overseas. 

Recent library redevelopments at Monash are embedded with smart technologies that assist users to find available study spaces and resources, including meeting rooms and computers, in real time. Other buildings on the campus are equipped with digital screens that track and display each facility’s energy consumption and increasingly, production.

Chiew says change is about “campus activation” right through from a “borrow cup” program, which allows students to use and deposit reusable cups at special hubs, through to a new bio­medical building, with its own solar array and battery, that are a part of the campus microgrid.

The array and microgrid are part of the university’s Net Zero Initiative, which seeks to reduce energy consumption and ensure all energy on campus is from renewable sources by 2030, Chiew says. 

University campuses are about more than just academia

Marina Carroll,
Architectus

The firm of Architectus is the “sector expert” with regard to higher education, claims principal Marina Carroll, having designed buildings and led strategic projects at Australia’s major universities, private and public, sometimes in collaboration with other firms, some in New Zealand.

“What we are talking about is socially and ecologically sustainable thinking about community needs and use, outside of just academic pursuit. 

“At the Australian Catholic University (where the firm is working on a strategic “design vision”), it’s about translating their philosophy into on-campus experience, about the whole person globally, and conveying that. 

“There is investment in the spaces between buildings, with gardens and recreation space to create sustainable communities for students and staff and others coming onto campus, to achieve an environment that makes them safe and happy. At ACU, sustainability is a big piece of that.”

“They see students as ethical leaders in society.”

“It’s not cut-throat ambition. The courses are aligned more to future proofing.” 

“People attract people”

At Macquarie University, 1000 beds of student housing are being moved right into the campus centre, as part of creating an on-site community with buildings in use around the clock. “People attract people,” Carroll says. 

At UNSW, a competition design brief for the new chancellor’s building prepared by Architectus includes spaces for teachers and students so there’s “a common campus”.

It’s about opening up as a business organisation and that feeling of understanding what’s happening and how it operates

Traditionally these are very exclusive buildings. “It’s about opening up as a business organisation and that feeling of understanding what’s happening and how it operates,” Carroll explains.

Students these days learn online, listen to lectures at home or on buses and trains and come to campus for engaging experiences – “the tough stuff.” 

An example is Melbourne University’s Arts West, a building that is more like a museum, with “object-based learning” where you can pick up an artefact or transcript, and hold it. 

At some universities, courses like midwifery are taught in digital immersion spaces through augmented virtual experience.

TAFE in NSW was considering virtual welding to be taught before real welding. 

In the new spaces, there are no traditional lecture theatres. Everyone is in small groups working together, and one good thing, Carroll says, is that there’s no opportunity to be on your phone in the back row.

Superlabs, on the other hand, can have up to 200 students in a large format lab, with visual and audio links from the academic leader to every student individually, providing “really purposeful teaching”. 

Future proofing may involve a grid that can support classes of 30, 60 or 90, low tech spaces with day to day flexibility, divided by acoustically treated curtains. 

Generous ceiling heights allow for future technologies to be built in. In some cases, “fat pipes” have been installed to leave capacity in the system for technology to change over time. Change is premised around BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), not technology hardwired in. 

Private cars are falling out of favour

Some students believe, “We have bought our last cars,” says Carroll. 

Students believe, “We have bought our last cars”

Despite a huge demand for parking, Architectus argues in favour of reducing car-parking, using a future projections app which shows much less private car use, with the use of car sharing instead and with the prospect of driverless cars looming. 

Sustainability as brand identity

Universities, she says, see sustainability as part of their brand identity and “purposeful space”, for example, a photovoltaics building that “lives and breathes” that ethos will draw them in. 

Carroll is very proud of Architectus’s Incubator at Macquarie University. 

Constructed in a very short time frame and totally re-usable, it’s 1000 square metres, offering free desk space and facilities for start-ups for students with business ideas.

Natural ventilation includes high level windows operating automatically to ensure thermal comfort and fresh air supply, façade glazing and other measures which have ensured a temperature range of 19-26 degrees. 

The LED lighting is controlled by motion sensors. A photovoltaic system supplies about 65 per cent of electricity. 

The Incubator has proven to be a “magnet for students” and industry, Carroll says.

Dr Ben Cleveland,
University of Melbourne

All new educational buildings, schools as well, will in the future incorporate big display screens with building data continuously updating energy and water consumption, believes Dr Ben Cleveland, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning and associate director of the Learning Environments Applied Research Network at the University of Melbourne.

As at Monash, academics in Cleveland’s faculty are working on building information management to further integrate data logging into the fabric of buildings, so that more information is collected to see what other efficiencies can be gained.

Melbourne School of Design is a state-of-the-art exemplar of sustainability

The award-winning Melbourne School of Design does all this already. It is widely regarded as a state-of-the-art exemplar of sustainability, making the building itself instrumental in education, or “living sustainability, big ideas”.

It has all the passive design advantages, including good thermal mass, orientation, and more, such as “mixed mode” systems for heating and air conditioning, triggered only when required and not to excess.

Environmental innovation is, Cleveland says, an “interesting tightrope to walk”. While his experience relates mostly to schools, the same issues play out in higher education. 

“How do you lock down opportunities to do things that are not proven?”

Upfront costs may be seen initially as high, but if viewed over 20 years and across huge portfolios, the energy savings are very significant,” advises Cleveland.

“The other thing is that people with different roles in the system have different perspectives. Those in admin roles sometimes just want to roll out what’s cheaper, and these issues can present a challenge for the architects in the room. 

Those in admin roles sometimes just want to roll out what’s cheaper, and these issues can present a challenge for the architects in the room

“Lastly, in the past, the sense of architecture and civic presence was more highly valued and more money was spent on that. Today, however, the funds aren’t there to create a grand presence, and if all the money were to go into the façade, yet the environment was second rate, that wouldn’t be a good outcome.”

Human experience should come first

“Ecological sustainability should never override the occupants’ lived experience.”

Cleveland also believes that if a building is not fit for purpose, it is highly problematic. “Ultimately it has to be about the human experience. Say you have natural cross ventilation, because sound travels what about acoustics? One of the hidden issues is sound transfer. 

“Ultimately it has to be about the human experience,” says Cleveland.
Photo courtesy of Melbourne

“There have to be compromises. You think of the individual’s experience and start from there, that’s not a bad place to begin. When one perspective is too strongly the focus, a building doesn’t work. 

“You have to make very well-informed decisions about what compromises to make. It’s all part of responding to environmental pressures in any large community.” 

Cleveland talks about “loose fit design” – buildings that work now but are not too expensive to reconfigure, with relatively clean floor plates and where services running on exteriors are easier to modify, and which possess, like many office buildings, a core for lifts and stairs. 

Engineers, educators, architects and landscape people need to work in unison on issues such as building orientation, creation of courtyards, more shade, and more opportunities for trees to flower to create a better campus experience, he concludes.

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