HIGHER EDUCATION/ A WORLD OF CHANGE

Did you earn your college degree back in the 20th century?

Then perhaps you remember a freshman History of Ideas lecture at 8am—the one you sat through with 300 other sleepy students. Your professor stood at a podium and chalked words on a blackboard while students scribbled notes and dozed. Remember the card catalog at the library? Call slips? Typewriters? Maybe you had a pager to keep in touch with friends. Or, perhaps you had to rely on pay phones or the wall-mounted phone in your dorm room.

All of that is ancient history. On today’s college campuses, students cross the quad plugged into iPods and texting friends on smartphones; sometimes lugging a laptop or tablet to a study group rather than a spiral notebook and No.2 pencil. Students register for classes online, watch video lectures while lounging at the student union and search the Internet for data related to their research project. Teachers must adjust their methods to students who grew up in a technology-rich world that has perhaps trained them to absorb and process information differently… or has it? One thing is certain: once again, technology is driving change.

“What new wonders undreamt of in our time will we have wrought in another generation and another?”

- Carl Sagan

A review of learning in the 21st century reveals significant patterns of change in how our educational institutions are training young men and women to become our next thinkers, innovators and leaders in business, technology, medicine, media and other fields. A look at what’s happening on campus also prefigures how the generation known as Digital Natives will perform at work, as well as how the workplace is likely to evolve in the near future.

When questioned about the office of the future, we always suggest that people tour a local university. The activity in the classroom, the lecture hall, library and student union are precursors to life at work in terms of behavior, expectations, values and the use of physical space. Tomorrow’s graduates will, once again, alter the dynamics of work and the landscape of the office.

As an article published on the Fast Company Co.Design web site points out, notable corporate innovators like Google, Pixar and IDEO “embrace creativity, play, and collaboration— values that also inform their physical spaces.” Such companies recognize that creativity and play (the core of learning) also spark innovation. At the same time, schools look to “corporate powerhouses” like Google to find new ways to engage and inspire students.

“1,500 CEOs [have] identified creativity as the number-one leadership competency in our complex global marketplace. We can no longer afford to teach our kids or design their schoolhouses the way we used to if we’re to maintain a competitive edge. In looking at various exemplary workplaces such as IDEO, Google, and Pixar, we can glean valuable lessons about effective educational approaches and the spaces that support them.”[1]

This paper will address some basic questions: What do we know about today’s Digital Native student? How is technology changing the way students learn—and teachers teach? What are its potential benefits—and its limitations? And, how do you accommodate change within traditional buildings, often legacy buildings with historical significance? How do you accommodate change within legacy buildings with historical significance? How do you design space to serve a 21st century student body, faculty and curriculum?

In the world of business, we also need to ask, how do we design a workplace that will attract these Digital Natives or Generation Z and make the most of their talents and skills? Competition for top tier students is intense. Companies are “shopping” for the best and the brightest, but students also want to know what a potential employer can offer in terms of opportunity, compensation and life experience. Just as students will choose one university over another based on the sense of place and community that it offers, the novice designer, engineer or analyst looks for a rewarding work environment that will support his or her professional goals and personal proclivities.


How have modern-day students changed from previous generations? How do 21st-century student, faculty, technology and curriculum changes impact interior planning? How do classrooms adapt to changes in learning and teaching? How do we accommodate change within heritage buildings? In business, how do we design workplaces to attract today’s Digital Natives and maximize their skill set?

All of these topics and more are covered in a new research piece written by Teknion and Gensler.
Explore current and emerging trends in higher education while discovering parallels to the modern workplace with emphasis on flexibility, sustainability and communication technologies.