Rethinking the campus experience

30/09/2020 - 14:00

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A local startup is helping universities overcome the challenge of providing positive student outcomes during the pandemic.

Rethinking the campus experience
Campus Intuition has worked with institutions including UWA and the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus (pictured), as they deal with reduced student numbers caused by COVID-19. Photo: Samantha Hall

As has been the case for many workplaces, universities have been massively disrupted by the global response to COVID-19. 

With many courses now being delivered online, universities are being forced to rethink the role campuses play in the university experience and student life.  

Based in Fremantle and London, Campus Intuition is well placed to address these new challenges. 

Campus Intuition combines a data-driven approach with the groundbreaking application of UX (user experience) principles to the built environment to enable universities to meaningfully improve the student experience.

The startup is already working with major universities in Australia (including The University of Western Australia and the University of Melbourne) and the UK, with its findings leading to improvements to existing facilities at one campus worth more than $3 million.

Campus Intuition co-founder and principal director Samantha Hall said this focus on the student experience and what students really wanted would be vital in the immediate future.

“I think we’re going to see more of a focus on the student experience now because it’s going to be really competitive to get students, especially domestically,” Dr Hall, a 2020 40under40 winner told Business News.

“I think the campus has to become really compelling. And it’s not so much about creating great teaching spaces, because we’re probably not going to see any more big lecture theatres going in. Lectures are going to change.” 

For example, Campus Intuition was focused on finding new ways and spaces for students to learn together in person, given the limitations of an entirely online experience. 

“I visited the University of Adelaide and I sat there watching students in the student hub watching lectures on the TV together,” Dr Hall said.

“[Y]ou still have people around you and you get a lot from pausing and going ‘Oh, did you get that point?’ and having that serendipitous interaction with either your tutor or with the people around you.”

UX for buildings

This focus on student behaviours and needs comes from Dr Hall’s unique combination of her academic research background with time working in the startup world. 

She said she had an “absolute epiphany” seeing how UX was best practice in the design of digital spaces, but how the same approach was completely absent in the design of physical spaces. 

There hadn’t been the same focus on user needs and behaviours in the built environment, Dr Hall said, which was something Campus Intuition was working to shift.

Campus Experience Index

Campus Intuition’s other unique approach is its ability to gather highly accurate data from students using its own bespoke software platform. Called the Campus Experience Index, it allows students to rate and comment on various aspects of the campus.

The difference in this approach is the focus on existing things that are immediately actionable, such as fixing a specific lecture room or adding laptop charging stations somewhere else.

“The way you ask questions is really important,” Dr Hall said.

“What I see in so many building planning projects is they ask a lot about the future. What would you like in your university? What would you like to see in this building? 

“People can’t give you a really good answer.

“They haven’t experienced something before. They lie, they make things up, they think, ‘Well, what do you want to hear?’ So you end up with kind of unreliable data.”

Data-driven design 

Dr Hall and her team are also working with universities to use the data gathered to create human-based design guidelines to better guide future designs, for example new cafes, teaching spaces or libraries. 

“So when the uni has a contractor on board they say, ‘Hey, these are our design guidelines that have come from our students. You have to meet this criteria’.” 

What’s next?

So what does the near future look like for university campuses? 

“I don’t think for five years we’re going to see the legacy $120 million buildings on campus; I think what we’re going to see is a focus to how can we improve our existing campus and make it the best that we can,” Dr Hall said.

Let’s do what we can with what we have.” 

Which is probably a good approach to many things these days.

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