Education is ultimately about enabling individuals to realise their full potential. It is meant to be a transformative experience, and it needs to take place in a physical environment which enables and encourages the optimum outcome for each student. Whilst acknowledging operational and functional requirements, it is this educational goal that should primarily drive a vision for the future of our educational establishments, and their wider campus as places that are intrinsic to this transformative processEducational establishments must continue to develop their campus’s built and natural environments to reflect current pedagogical practices, as well as meeting the expectations of prospective students and professionals. Upgrading of campus digital learning facilities must be keep pace with industry standards if educational institutions are to produce graduates with cutting edge skills and the expertise to be innovative in the UK’s rapidly evolving digital industries where the pace of change is fast and old technologies quickly become outdated.Delivery of this infrastructure is particularly crucial in higher education establishments where the campus environment and facilities on offer are key to attracting the most talented students, ensuring courses run cost effectively to full capacity and therefore secure ongoing funding.The design challenge for professionals is twofold: Firstly, given the pace of innovation and change in modern times how do we future-proof the designed environment to adapt to change, avoid obsoletion and provide longevity for clients?Secondly, how can innovation in the design of the educational environment support the development of the digital skills and connections required by local businesses and growth industries to fulfill their growth ambitions?In 2018 the digitech sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the rest of the UK economy, with overall sector value increased by £14 billion from £170bn in 2016 to £184bn in 2017.(1) Britain is leading Europe in tech investment, in 2017 it attracted $7.8 billion of funding, almost double the amount received in 2016, compared to France and Germany’s combined total of $6 billion. The Prime Minister reaffirmed that the UK’s leadership is set to grow as the governments modern Industrial Strategy delivers a package of benefits to drive further investment in centres of UK expertise including government funding incentives, and greater access to talent and data under new plans.(2)Currently, some 2.1 million people are now employed in the digital tech economy and a new digital tech job is created in the UK every 50 minutes.(3) This makes the digital technology industry a major driver of the UK economy and sets the imperative to boost industry skills and productivity in the East.Norwich has a fast growing digital tech economy and is becoming a thriving digital hub, attracting and creating digital tech businesses such as Rainbird AI, Validus-IVC and Epos Now.(4) Located directly on the A11, Norwich has the opportunity to form the educational breeding ground and gateway to the wider A11 Norwich – Cambridge Tech Corridor. This corridor has the potential to bringing with it thousands of jobs and more than £500 million in investment.(5) This advantageous positioning renders the creation of a local digi-tech savvy workforce a strong focus of the education agenda for Norwich in order to capitalise on the opportunity it represents to fuel the growth the sector within the city.The catalysation of growth in this strategically important sector a requires the nurturing of talent in the next generation of digital technology professionals by providing specialist industry focussed training, skills and business development to support their development.Ideally situated for the establishment of a Digi-Tech centre of educational excellence, the creation of a flagship Digi-Tech Hub in Norwich with first class educational facilities for the delivery of innovative educational programmes designed to meet the skill requirements and drive innovation within the dynamic and rapidly evolving digital tech industry is vital to the future of the local economy.So, in answer to the questions posed at the beginning of this article, the design of future-proofed campus environments that have the flexibility to adapt to keep pace with changes in digital technologies must be multi-faceted in its approach.
1. Design in digital infrastructureThe next generation of digital educational spaces need to create an immersive digital-technology environment embedded with future-proof ICT infrastructure which delivers both the capacity and capability to support the latest technology and the provides space to grow and upgrade as necessary to stay at the forefront of teaching ion terms of technological innovation. Achieving this requires a collaborative approach to pool specialist knowledge in order to find innovative ways to deliver cutting edge infrastructure coordinated between architects, project managers and IT specialists to achieve a joined-up result.2. Flexibility and adaptability: Anticipate and design for changeIn response to changing student profiles and ever-evolving educational policies, educational institutions are coming under increasing pressure to be flexible and dynamic in order to meet government and industry demands and student expectations.Educational spaces and facilities should be designed not just in response to the current needs of teachers and students but to also accommodate changes and fluctuations to student numbers, courses, educational programming and focus over the coming years. Multidisciplinary practices, accustomed to approaching issues from differing perspectives, are perhaps at an advantage when it comes to designing spaces that can meet the diverse needs of a variety of stakeholders, including education professionals, full time, adult and apprentice students.As for designing to support the development of the digital skills and connections, the campus built environment is critical to supporting the development of new relationships and collaborations which lead to innovation, new business start-ups and the development of a completive advantage for both educational institutions and the industry sectors which are reliant on the talents and skills of graduates supplied to them by universities and colleges.3. Create social learning and networking spacesSocial leaning is now recognised by leading universities such as Havard (6) and the University of Sheffield as being essential to creating an engaging leaning environment where people have opportunities to connect and collaborate. Consequently both universities have invested heavily in the design and programming of their campus environments in order to create opportunities for the kind of social interaction that facilitate making connections and foster collaborations across faculties in order to sustain their reputations as lading innovative universities.
“The University has in recent years provided increasing numbers of high quality informal meeting spaces particularly where interdisciplinary discussions can take place. These spaces are essential in a modern research based University which is relying upon innovation between disciplines in order to explore the potential for new research and development. Similar high quality external spaces are lacking and will form a vital component of our Masterplan.” (7) Sheffield University, 2015A 2011 study by the University of Queensland confirmed that social learning spaces can contribute to enhanced student engagement by fostering active learning, social interaction and belonging amongst tertiary students and suggested that the design of these spaces is integral to students’ perceptions of social learning spaces.The creation of social leaning spaces and break-out areas for collaborative learning spaces where students can meet with guest speakers, industry experts and other students on different courses is key to creating a dynamic learning environment that reflects the modern day workplace environment. These spaces create settings where a dialogue can be created between people with a variety of digital tech skill specialisms, facilitating the meeting and exchange of ideas, and through doing so spark new ideas and collaborations that drive innovation.Pro:works take a holistic view of education that considers the student’s learning experience and learning outside of scheduled classes. Attention is given to the total leaning environment, including how pedestrian flows and landscape design can be directed and shaped to bring people from different learning disciples together into shared social spaces to create new flexible platforms for both formal learning and informal social encounters across the campus to extend leaning opportunities beyond the confines of classroom walls. As a multi-disciplinary team, Pro:works have the in-house expertise required to integrate these informal social leaning environments to work alongside more traditional classroom areas and computing labs and facilities, staff and storage areas to ensure a robust and seamless integration of both educational and functional facilities to create truly innovative places for learning.4. Incubate on campusStudent – industry collaborations can be fostered with the provision of on-site digi-tech start-up incubation units which provide talented students, graduates and local businesses with dedicated spaces start up new ventures. These spaces become part of the educational service offering key to attracting students and inviting digital start ups. The integration of education and industry on campus can improve employment prospects and create a fluid transition from college to workplace within a supportive environment. Strong connections and recruitment opportunities can be forged with local companies who can provide a continuous feedback loop on graduates skills sets and emerging skill needs within the digitech industry which can be used to guide the development of courses to ensure they remain at the forefront of digital-technology education.5. CollaborateComplex projects, often run to tight delivery timescales require specialist expertise from multiple consultants in order to find creative and innovative solutions to projects within the constraints of the projects required timeframe. This is why a collaborative approach between a network of trusted experts with long standing relationships creates cost effective knowledge sharing that can lead to innovation and facilitate the management of project to bring them to a close on time and on budget. This is the Pro:works collaborative approach. As a multi-disciplinary team with a diverse complimentary skill set, Pro:works are skilled at design, project management and co-ordination as industry specialists.A flexible company business model allows us to be adaptable in our approach to meeting the challenges of the fast-paced digital era. As such we are well versed in flexible approaches to design that create relationships which allow for adaptability and move with the times. This kind of flexibility is at the core of our ethos and is translated into our designs to create educational spaces and working practices that can evolve over time to meet the needs of students now and in the future. This design approach facilitates our education sector clients in gaining the competitive edge that allows them to emerge as market-leading educators for the digital generation and to have the flexibility within their built environments to accommodate change to maintain this competitive advantage to support growth and innovation.
James Lee Burgess
CEO and Founder XLwerks