The future campus: Disneyland, Woodstock, soccer, or closed?

Is the best way to, already today, see the future for the “physical” part of a university to visit Disneyland, the Woodstock-festivals, or maybe a big soccer-game between Barcelona and Madrid? Yes, how should a Campus look in a couple of years from today? Let´s compare them and see what secrets we might find here.

It is already clear; Education is becoming more and more digital. By that; also already clear that it is time to start thinking about Campus-areas for the future. What to do with them? Just sell them, transfer them into something totally different, perhaps apartments? Just shut them down, or what?

Already today, it is rather obvious that a lot of things that a Campus-area is providing, can be handled digitally instead. So, why should a student, in the future, physically transport oneself to a Campus? Why should even the employees go there, if also they can work digitally? And if no-one is there, then what?

Everyone that has been to a university in their life have a tendency of already having an opinon on these questions: It is for “socializing”. It could be in order to socialize with student friends. But it could also be to socialize with a teacher, a colleague, or to study in groups.

In all these situations: socializing is the keyword. Or call it perhaps people meeting each other instead.

But, there already exist a lot of great physical places for meetings and socializing. Not to mention social media, and dating sites. It shows the level of competition for someone that wants to enter the business of “socializing and meetings”. These digital solutions are already used – by students, as well as employees. Neither students nor employes are different from other people on the globe.

Starbucks Coffee is also a great place to meet and socialize, and therefore they are also a physical competitor, not the least for small gatherings, like a seriously intellectual conversation between friends. They have good coffee, nice chairs, and, not the least, they play fairly nice music during your stay (I happen to know since I had a long period of sitting at one of their shops writing a book some years ago, even having meetings there. It was at the central railway station, perfectly located in the center of Stockholm. And I was not alone using that shop for that purpose).

And have you notice: most universities don´t play music at their Campuses.

(Well, I personally do, when in a physical room and I happen to do education. But as far as I know, I’m pretty alone doing it among “educators”. And I don’t play random songs, I play music related to the content we are talking about in the room. I actually spend time finding the “right” songs).

By the way, perhaps you did not know but there is not any kind of coffee, any kind of chairs or any kind of music at Starbucks. Starbucks spend extremely much time on these details, and have done so for long. Search at Spotify and discover what playlists they have and there you will see (or check out my playlists).

When thinking in these kind of terms it seems rather obvious for Campus-areas, that in the future wants students, or employees, to physically come, have a lot of things to learn by benchmarking actors like Disneyland, the Woodstock-festivals, or maybe a big soccer-game between Barcelona and Madrid. That is; if they do not dare to benchmark a bit more radical kind of phenomenon, like for instance Burning Man and what you can find here.

But what are actually the differences between these three mentioned benchmarks, and what can we learn from them?

Disneyland: very strong brand. A typical family-kind of thing. But is that, really, what a Campus for a university wants to become in the future? Well, yes, actually why not? There could be huge amounts of families being interested in hanging around at the same place as their own children. So, if your for instance would be a technical university: why not buy a technical Museum, and develop it? Lot of them are also probably rather cheap to buy at this moment.

Some museums are actually already unusually great places for learning. MoMa in New York. The antropological museum in Mexico City. The history museum in Taipei. The museum for photography in Stockholm. There are several museums on the globe to learn great things from, already today. And the point is, with a museum, there you often find unique, physical objects, that are seriously interesting to visit.

In my home town Stockholm there is for instance a Technical museum where you can visit the server that Pirate Bay ones used – the one that not that long ago totally messed up the global music industry. You can go there and knock on it, and knocking on things are somewhat difficult to do when on-line. I have used it myself for a certain purpose already several years. It does not matter if I bring CEOs or young students there I always get the same respond: how small it is. Exactly. Thats the point.

-> More exemples on how physical museeums can be used in order to achieve great learning events.

The Woodstock-festival: Also a strong brand. But maybe a bit messy. So, is that, really, what a Campus at a university wants to become in the future? Well, yes, actually why not? It could be like trying to make the existing Campus-areas a bit more lively than what they are today (maybe skip the worst parts of this analogy). And notice: people that went to Woodstock obviously were willing to travel to a rather dirty old field in nearly “Nowhere”. Why did they? Because there was power, and energy, in Woodstock, and they had well-known musicians on the stage. Keyword is: power and energy.

And by the way; how come Burning Man has become so big? Because…people going there do not only consume, they also create. Co-creation is a pretty strong thing nowadays (totally different from teachers doing one-way-broadcasting, right?)

So, why should a Campus that today is located far out from anywhere give up? Being located far off could actually be great. Maybe even greater than to be located in the middle of an average city. Pick a place close to a nice lake maybe. Or at the top of a mountain. Or, wherever. You get the point. But dont pick a random place.

Barcelona versus Madrid then: Competition among rivals. Who is going to win? I am on Barcelonas side and you are on the Madrid side. Competition has a tendency of getting an audience. Just like “Britain´s got talent”. Or Colosseum in Rome. We love watching them fight. Like Wrestling. People supporting one side, or another side can sometimes even be so strong that supporting as such can become a business of its own. How come? Because we love fights.

Or, it could be a great, energetic, debate between giants. And who would be better suits for hosting the seriously big intellectual debates in the future than the universities?

At least I would come if you fix a debate between…pick any known intellectuals you like with different opinions. And I dont think I am alone. Why you think TED has become big?

So, I really do not see any reason at all why these kind of benchmarks should not be of interest for a Campus. On the contrary, Looking and seriously analyising these benchmarks could actually even be far better management-consulting advise than what one at a first glimpse might assume.

And how should a Campus in the future be able to afford to keep up otherwise? The nice flowers, and great lawns, and old, and often rather cool, buildings they have at this moment is actually rather expensive you know. Would it not be somewhat sad just to close them down in a couple of years, or so?

And far from all universities on the globe are automatically like Cambridge or Oxford in UK, places you already today travel to if you want to get the feeling of “an Apple falling on you head”, Isac Newton, or sit at the same pub, even at the same table, so you can “invent DNA ones again”, Crick and Watson, or bicycle just behind and remember “Stephen Hawkins Wheel-Chair”.

Or, if you instead prefer it, why not try the Tivoli at Copenhagen? The one in the picture above. Their lights during Christmas time is unusually great just to watch jointly with others. And they also provide unique food, “Danish Smörebrod”. It is really a lovely place to be during that time a year. The only problem I have with that particular analogy is: they only light it during the Christmas. So, what shall we do with such kind of Campus during the rest of the year?

Please start getting to know examples like this, before it is to late. Please take the idea of “socializing and meeting” a bit further then just using them as empty buzzwords, because otherwise it will never become “enough” just empty.

And by the way; did you notice that I haven’t cared that much actually about how “buildings do look”. Its the people, and what they do, and how the feel and interact, while utilizing these buildings, that often makes the really big difference. It’s seldom the other way around.

People with buildings exist. But for how long does buildings without people exist?

P.S. Perhaps you think; but how about Libraries and the old tech-labs universities have? Well, then I guess it was some years since you previously visted a physical campus. Libraries of today are already digital, since many years back. And lot of techlabs, like windturbines, steel cooking-equipment and mechanical drilling machines are already gone, since years back. Today, lot of that is just simulated in a laptop. So, an average university of today, physically speaking, look rather similar to an “ict consultancy firm with classrooms on top” and thats it. And now, we just noticed that also classrooms are becoming substituted. That, today, is a big thing for a physical campus. Even a seriously huge thing! If you want to keep them that is. Not everyone wants that You know,

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