• Sarah Luiz

The Age of the SUPERLAB

Updated: May 7, 2021

We are entering the age of the “superlab”. The future is about teaching and training at scale.

Superlabs are multidisciplinary, saturated with technology, able to accommodate much large and small groups, without wasting any space. Spaces are getting smaller, as students no longer need to be in the room. The intent is to create a seamless environment. To be able to ask questions and be part of the session as well. The Teacher can walk around and write on any whiteboard, and it’s all captured on cameras and microphones all around the room. So the whole room is a live session.”

The next frontier is a totally immersive teaching experience. Tools for 3D models and visualizations already exist — now we just have to make them work at scale in the classroom or studio: “Being able to take 3D models and interact with them will become the norm,” says Singh. “We’re maybe five, at most eight years away.”

“Every screen we put in, the first question we get asked is whether it’s a touchscreen. If not, why not? Universities have to use stickers saying ‘This is not a touchscreen’ because people are so used to being able to walk up and do stuff” Roneel Singh, WSP

We need more, better quality education buildings saturated with the latest technology.

INSIDE THE HEADSET Can virtual reality replace real-life experience? Read More

Use facilities more efficiently

Schools and universities could open up their facilities to the community. “Today, many schools are used well before and after the bell rings every day,” says Jason Lembke, principal and K-12 educational leader at DLR Group. “Communities aren’t necessarily willing to put forth large sums of money to multiple government constituencies, such as K-12 institutions and universities. They are looking for commonality and congruency in what those spaces can do for them.” Combining those resources can make them go further.

Another option is to displace school activities to buildings off-campus. Fredrik Bergström, analysis & strategy director at WSP in Sweden, has noticed schools experimenting with new models of provision, particularly in the independent sector: “It’s expensive to build a whole gym, so instead students might use the facilities in a local gym instead. Some schools no longer have a canteen, they give pupils money to eat in discounted local restaurants. They even come to the restaurant in our office.”

A 2006 study of UK universities found that the median space utilization rate was just 27% over the core teaching week. Rooms were used for just over half the time, and when they were used, they were just under half full.

Forge stronger links with industry

By engaging with corporate interests, institutions can secure funding and new opportunities for their students. The University of Warwick’s Manufacturing Group is building a National Automotive Innovation Centre where its academics will work alongside researchers from industry. “It’s a move away from the traditional ‘us and them’ approach,” explains Jonathan Jones, associate director at WSP. “Organizations such as Jaguar Land Rover are seeing a bunch of guys beavering away in universities and they’ve noticed that they’re doing the same as their R&D teams. So they’re collaborating with them directly and funding their experiments, by creating new posts and research projects, and therefore new teaching environments. For the university, it allows them to create a better graduate experience.”

The line between corporate and academic interests will continue to blur. We will see new players, new alliances — and perhaps the expansion of “corporate universities”, established by tech giants to ensure a supply of talented graduates.

“The possibilities are endless,” says Yasser Tufail, project director at WSP in the UAE. “As tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple expand, so does their need for specialist knowledge. Conventional education has largely been unable to meet this demand, as the technology sector has evolved so rapidly. One scenario could be that students are channelled through a structured, tailored corporate curriculum, to become career professionals almost seamlessly. This will not happen overnight and there won’t be a total shift, but it will be part of the mix.”

“Economic growth and technology are globalising the education sector and it’s having a profound impact on leading universities: their biggest challenge today is adapting their estates” Yasser Tufail, WSP

Global partnerships can increase institutions’ appeal in the domestic market, or make them more attractive regional destinations.

Sten Wetterblad is a developer of university buildings in Sweden. His daughter studied at Stockholm’s KTH, but her degree was also awarded by Stanford. “She only went to the US twice, for two or three days. Her exam discussion with her professor was in person, but the rest of the time she had her lessons from Stanford online. She has friends from South Korea, Serbia, Germany — they met just twice but worked together online.”

“We see smaller communities reaching out through technology to e-mentors that might exist anywhere in the world,” says Jason Lembke at DLR Group. “Students can access opportunities beyond what might physically exist in their own communities.”

In the future, institutions could have multiple sister campuses around the world, he adds. “So I’ll be based at my home campus in Nairobi, but I might do a stint at my sister campus in Boston. That will allow me to take greater ownership of my academic career, because the cultural experience I get from travelling and interacting with others beyond my home campus further broadens my perspective.”

“If I have the choice to study a module from my local institution or at MIT out of Massachusetts, there’s a huge differential in terms of prestige” John Holm, SocioDesign

When you can study online, why would you want to go to a campus?

Institutions can have a global presence just by putting their courses online. And students can study at a globally renowned university without even leaving the house. Massive online open courses — or MOOCs — are distance-learning programmes with no entry requirements, completed via the internet, and available to an unlimited number of participants.

MOOCs were invented in 2006. Stanford began offering them in 2011. In 2012, edX was founded by Harvard and MIT, to offer courses from the world’s best institutions. It now has 90 global partners, and more than 1,500 courses. “MOOCs will change the landscape and make this a global market,” says SocioDesign’s Holm. He predicts the education sector’s many small and medium providers will eventually consolidate into a few market-leaders. “Globally branded universities will start to become true global brands. That hasn’t happened before because you always had to go and sit in class.”

Top five MOOCs providers by registered users:

1. Coursera: 23 million

2. edX: 10 million

3. XuetangX: 6 million

4. FutureLearn: 5.3 million

5. Udacity: 4 million

Or to put it another way, the physical buildings and their surroundings will become more important than ever …

In 2016, 58 million students took 6,850 online courses from 700+ universities. 23 million people registered for a MOOC for the first time.

So how can local institutions compete? By focusing on the experience of going to university. State-of-the-art learning spaces, inspiring architecture, affordable but high-quality accommodation, a good atmosphere on campus, a strong sense of community, cafes and bars, sports, leisure and retail … oh, and great teaching too.

As Alex Solk, partner at Sheppard Robson, puts it: “If the collaborative campus experience was optional instead of being essential to a universities' educational offer, wouldn't the Open University model dominate the market place?

INNOVATIVE CAMPUSES AROUND THE WORLD. A few examples of new spaces offering unique learning experiences: Read more

SOURCE: The Impossible


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