In part one of my post on, How students will learn in the future, I discussed the level of technology available in a first grade classroom and how changes in teaching tools will shape the way those students will learn once they reach college in 2025.
As a full service design firm designing higher education facilities we must think about what the future might bring for our buildings that are built to last 50 to 100 years. Traditionally, we design buildings for a function, notably a specific function that will last a long time. However, with the ability to connect to the Internet and all its knowledge through mobile devices and with the ability to collaborate with anyone around the world, the specific function of the building may be in continuous change. The “notable function” of the building will be less specific. In my judgment, the notable function of the building will be “adaptability." As we have seen with Moore’s law for computing speed, the rate of change continues to accelerate, especially in the world of higher education where the greatest young thinkers are collaborating on the world's stage with the use of technology.
The buildings we design for this new paradigm must be able to adapt to rapid change. We must understand that higher education is becoming seamless in function and independent from location. A chemical engineering student can design an experiment and safely conduct the experiment on his computer in the virtual world as he sits next to a group of individuals discussing political science. The political science discussion could include others from around the world who are connected to the conversation electronically.
So, how do we design buildings that can be so adaptable? The design professional needs to understand the concept of adaptability and what that means for the building. Infrastructure systems must be robust and diversified and routed so they can be easily accessed, maintained and changed. There should be room for growth and defined access routes for future technology that has yet to be developed. The structure should be designed to infringe less on the ability to change wall locations, configuration and weight distribution. Buildings need to become more sustainable with an emphasis on using less energy and creating less waste as changes are made within the facility. Although we might not know exactly what will be changing or what new technology will be arriving, we do know that change within the building is inevitable.
As the Promethean board has changed the way first grades learn, the adaptable higher education building will continuously change the way college students learn. The only real difference between the first grader and the college student is the level and speed at which they learn. Keeping up with the high rate of technology change that will facilitate higher education learning will be the real challenge.