We’re fascinated by the Education sector which is experiencing some of the biggest changes its ever known. Universities and schools are not just concerned about their teaching capabilities but are increasingly examining the extent to which they can provide a holistic “student experience”. Which obviously raises some interesting questions – to what extent are students, customers? Do students know what they actually need or are we in danger of submitting to what they say they want? In an environment which tends to be run by digital immigrants (at best) but attended by digital natives – is there a subtle shift in the power dynamic? When student loans are at an all-time high, are students right to explore alternatives which shorten their time at University? As a result of these shifting sands across the sector, we have been watching carefully. Undoubtedly technology is a core driver and enabler of much of the change but many institutions are exploring new and different ideas beyond that. Here are just six that caught our attention over the last few weeks:
Many people are familiar with Google’s 20% Time project – where team members were able to spend 20% of their workweek on their own personal passion project. Google recently stopped this practice but its legacy lives on at York School in Monterey California. Under the inspirational guidance of Kevin Brookhouser, York School offers what they called 20Time – where school children can spend 20% of their time working on whatever they want. It is not compulsory and not every teacher needs to offer it but if they do, then a child can pursue a project about something they are passionate about for an hour every day. Projects have included inventing a device which turns paper sheet music with the touch of a foot pedal; or a YouTube series embracing the love of reading or a recycling project which teaches people to be more socially conscious consumers. The kids learn to draw up business plans, set a budget, write an elevator pitch and blog about their progress. Older students (e.g. 10th grade and above) are also asked to give a speech on their project once a year. Brookhouser is keen to point out that sometimes there is no progress but the school embraces that equally because sometimes learning happens even more effectively when things don’t go quite as planned. Read more here.
Whilst the York School approach helps to enable students get the most of their lives, the Muse School has even loftier goals – to create a school which is genuinely environmental and helps all their students understand how they can positively impact their place in the world. And when you take into account that their students are aged from 5-17, this is even more impressive. According to a recent ranking, the cafeteria at Muse is not just the greenest school canteen but it is the greenest restaurant in the world. The school grows its own food, composts whatever it can and the entire kitchen runs on solar power. Its menu is entirely vegan – something that not all parents were entirely comfortable with and caused some departures but were soon replaced by more environmentally-conscious students. Find out more here.
We are also starting to see a reimagining of student living space – ironically enough influenced by trends such as co-living which are often called “dorms for adults”. David Belt, founder of Macro Sea has recently launched a subsidiary of his property development firm which will operate a network of five connected dorms in New York and Europe. His approach to designing the environment was to “treat our resident students as guests rather than wards of an institution…. This was implemented by really caring about and designing great community spaces”. For a start the spaces look impressive – with its use of air and light and rooms with trendy recycled furniture. It is also described as a “vertical campus” in that residences, classrooms, dining facilities and common spaces are all under one roof. What’s interesting though – is not just the imaginative décor which waves goodbye to cell-like rooms and sticky table tennis tables – but the concept of the connected dorm. When all five properties have been completed, student residents will be able to book rooms in other buildings in the network when they travel. Berlin is completed, construction is already under way in Barcelona, land has been purchased in New York and locations in Rome and Paris also planned within 5 years.
We’ve considered sustainability and the environment, so it seems natural to consider health. We put forward what we think is a rather controversial idea but one that potentially is a sign of things to come. Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma has recently announced that it will require new students to wear Fitbits in order for their professors to determine whether they have met their University-mandated 10,000 steps per day. All sorts of questions crop up about access to personal information and the University says that only relevant health teachers will have access to the data and that in itself is very limited. It does raise a bigger issue around how wearable technology may be used in education and the challenge for institutions in treading the fine line between guiding students and becoming ‘big brother’.
Whilst students may worry, understandably, about data privacy, a far more pressing concern for most students is their ability to pay their tuition. For this reason, Universities – particularly in the US – are increasingly offering the option to earn college credits in high school in order to graduate earlier (thereby saving a considerable amount of money). Students can earn credits by enrolling in courses such as the International Baccalaureate. We do wonder though if that slightly defeats the object of going to University. After all – isn’t part of the purpose of attending University to experience the full rites of passage of becoming an adult with the multitude of experiences that it brings? Read more here.
A San Francisco start-up, called Degreed, is also offering a potential alternative to a full academic lifetime. It describes its mission as being to “jailbreak the degree”. Essentially it scores and validates a whole host of different learning inputs. So for example, it may add your courses from University to an online course you did at ITunesU to give you an aggregate score. It also wants to recognise that learning doesn’t just happen whilst someone is at University and believes that its way of tracking and accumulating results means that it encourages lifelong learning. The challenge though is that formal education is exactly that i.e. formalised – making it much easier to assess independently and therefore accredit, whereas some of these other possible learning options may be less objective. The question is particularly relevant when it comes to recruitment. Does the overall learning score start to dilute the formal learning that a student has done? Will it have credibility with potential employers? Certainly some would argue that the sector is ripe for some disruption but it would clearly seem to be early days. Degreed’s real growth in the last year or so has been within corporate institutions who have been keen to use it as a tool to support individual personal development. Find out more here.
We hope you enjoyed this latest TMI-Spy round-up. Follow us for more customer experience trends across a range of industries or if you would like us to support you in creating your own differentiated customer experiences please contact us on +44 (0) 1926 833027.
This article was first published on LinkedIn.