Why the campus is forever

At a time when schools and colleges have adapted to online teaching and learning, are physical campuses relevant anymore?

Published: 29th September 2020 04:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th September 2020 04:26 AM   |  A+A-

I think I am a teacher at heart. I just completed 20 years of teaching as a Visiting Faculty at the Indian School of Business. Add another six years of teaching prior to that across business schools in India and the US, and that’s a quarter of a century of teaching at the PG level.

My 26th year of teaching saw my PG classes witness tumult. Physical classes were just not possible and I had to adapt, just as every student did. Online classes became the new norm. In the beginning, everyone struggled with the new way of doing things, but things eventually fell into place. Today, as PG campuses across India remain closed even as I write, online teaching and online learning is the new way of life. Many predict a fast trot for online teaching and learning. Quite correctly.

The question then arises: Are campuses relevant at all? Will campuses really revive themselves? Will they survive at all? Isn’t online learning a great way to learn?Even as the debate rages, school children across India, and indeed in many parts of the world, have adapted themselves to online classes. Homes have had to invest in desktops, tablets and smartphones, and children all over are now totally attuned to online classes. Just as schools have gone online, tuition teachers have gone online as well. And the world is their market. There is a huge 1:1 teaching and learning market that has emerged over these last six months. Teachers sitting in their homes in Madurai and Mandsaur alike are teaching children in the US and Europe the basics of math and chemistry, at Indian prices. To the teacher, the world has opened up and there is just no time to do much else.

At the level of app-based online learning, ed-tech is booming. Byju’s, Toppr, Vedantu and Unacademy have seen their business booming. Online corporate and executive training ed-tech platforms are doing exceedingly well. Add to it the fact that IIMs and ISBs are all up and open, and learning online is the new way of learning.Back to the old question then. Is the campus really relevant? Let me answer this for education at the PG level first, and let’s see if we can draw parallels to the same for every level, be it college or school.

Where does learning happen? Why is a Stanford a Stanford?
Deans and professors who teach all over the world, and students too will testify to the fact that learning is really of two kinds. The first is the obvious subject-immersive teaching and learning, while the second is what I will call peer-immersive learning. One is top-down and the other is lateral.

While subject-immersive learning happens in classrooms, labs and the many breakout groups professors create for their students, peer-immersive learning is what happens in the dorms, the student-villages, the canteens and the many ‘addas’ students create for themselves. The chats seem informal, but the learning outcomes from these chats are as formal and real as ever. Peer-immersive learning, to that extent, is really the most under-rated reality of them all.

I do strongly believe that the campus is forever. Campuses across the world have gone through calamities of every kind over the decades. The current pandemic is but only one such. The base objective of a campus is to get the best of students together in a cohort. A dissimilar cohort even. The idea is to give them a physical home to house their many thoughts and questions. The idea is to equally offer them an opportunity to build networks and relationships that will last well into the future. The idea is to make them sing together, dance together, contribute together and incidentally learn together as well.

While subject-immersive learning can happen out of a book, a case study or through an online class, peer-immersive learning can happen best on a physical campus, structured with its many nooks just for that purpose.

If I am to peek into my classes, I must say that the entire learning of what I teach happens in many stages across many locations. Within the class, there is a theory lecture where students sit together and listen to me even as they listen to one another. What is raised as a query at times is the prime takeaway from the class. Classes are put together and delivered by professors, but that is only a part of it all. Classes are really curated by the students who live in it physically. Teaching and learning is really as contemporary as that specific moment of group-immersive learning.

Learning then happens within a class, in the corridors that lead to those classes, in the physical huddle of students in breakout groups, on the steps to the gymnasium and most certainly within the proverbial campus canteens.

Without a physical campus to live in, thrive in and study at, learning is really not all that complete. And for that very reason, the campus shall thrive. Yes, campuses will be closed for a while, but when they open once again, there is just one way they will go. Forward into the future.

For teachers and students then, there is just one thing to say. You can take me out of the campus, but you can’t take the campus out of me. To the forever campus then, one that is as physical as you and I!

Harish Bijoor

Brand Guru & Founder,Harish Bijoor Consults

(Email: harishbijoor@hotmail.com)


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