Optimizing Campus Space to Create a Better Student Experience

Colleges and universities are rethinking the traditional use of space, taking innovative approaches, and using analytics and advanced scheduling technologies to optimize their existing resources.

With pressure to attract the best students, achieve high institutional rankings, and increase alumni donations, colleges and universities are continually looking for ways to get to the head of the class.
One of the key ways institutions are differentiating themselves is through the student experience. Savvy universities are working to create an experience that rivals the consumer experience. One way to accomplish this is by enabling students to easily and seamlessly access the space and resources they need to support their educational, recreational, and social needs.  

Following are some best practices that college and university facilities managers are implementing to accomplish this:

Focusing on student success. It’s important for students to have a space that makes it conducive for them to learn and do their best work, which may vary for different students, or at different times to address changing needs. To best accommodate these needs, offer a variety of options, such as places on campus for quiet study and group projects, or make it easy for students to do their work after hours. It’s also important to make it easy for students to reserve space through mobile devices or online portals.

Think outside the box and consider innovative approaches to help them succeed, particularly at times of stress, such as during final exam week. For example, as a healthy alternative to all-nighters and large quantities of energy drinks and caffeine, consider installing nap pods as a resource for your students. Studies have shown that naps can increase cognitive abilities, memory, and creativity while reducing stress. Forward-thinking organizations like Google, Huffington Post, and NASA are using them effectively.

Designing your own workspace and play space. Studies from Craig Knight and Alexander Haslam at the University of Exeter in England showed that designing your own workspace has a positive impact on your happiness, health, and productivity. Once students reserve a space, enable them to create their own study or workspace environment by choosing from options available on campus. For example, they can choose spaces for study, brainstorming, or club activities; set-ups such as desks, cubicles, or bean bags; resources such as digital whiteboards, refreshments, or more.

Also make it easy for them to participate in recreational and wellness activities by booking athletic fields, tennis/basketballs courts, yoga classes, and more. Letting students choose their environment not only empowers them, but also enables them to study, work, or socialize in the way that suits them best.

Rethinking traditional space. The age-old perception of the school library as a quiet place has been rapidly changing. The University of Michigan’s Taubman’s Health Sciences Library has undergone a major change, becoming a hub for learning and collaboration—with no books in sight. While students can still check out books that are stored off-site, the environment has been transformed to an activity-filled space that promotes learning, research, and creativity. The library features a café, 3D virtual model of a cadaver, rooms equipped with digital whiteboard tables and walls for collaboration, as well as quiet areas for individual study. These changes were made to accommodate an evolving medical school curriculum that is catering to a variety of learning styles while making the best use of space to meet student needs. Consider how spaces are being used in your facilities and whether they are best fulfilling your current needs and goals.

Using analytics to optimize space. With high real estate, construction, and maintenance costs, space on campus is at a premium. It’s critical for facility managers to understand how their space is being used and find ways to optimize it. Forward-thinking facility managers are applying analytics to space and asset utilization to gain insight into which spaces are being under- or overutilized. Armed with this information, they can rethink and redesign space to meet the changing needs of students, faculty, and other constituents, helping to ensure that the space they need is more available when they need it.

In addition, optimizing space is not just a good business decision, it’s the green thing to do. When you factor in all the energy that buildings require, they are responsible for about 39 percent of CO2 emissions. Optimizing space more efficiently can help support your campus sustainability goals.

Making everything easy, mobile, intuitive. Digital transformation is part of every school’s mandate to provide an efficient, innovative, and responsive environment for students, and resource scheduling is no exception. Resource scheduling technology provides an easy, intuitive way for students to request—and facility managers to manage and analyze—space, resources, and assets no matter where they are located, through browsers and mobile devices. This allows students to set up the work environments they need and schedule space, people, and resources. It expedites collaboration, increases productivity, and avoids the wasted time of tracking down the resources they need or getting to a meeting only to find that another student group has already booked it. In addition to mobile and browser access, touch screens around campus provide another way to create, change, or cancel bookings, and they reinforce the image of the campus as a digital environment. Facility mangers are placing digital signage on rooms and in other areas to allow students to check existing bookings and extend their reservation time by simply touching the screen. Touch screens can also be set up to release a room to others if students don’t check in by a designated time.

In today’s competitive college environment, campuses can stand out by creating an excellent student experience that supports the ways students learn, collaborate, and socialize. They are rethinking the traditional use of space, taking innovative approaches, and using analytics and advanced scheduling technologies to optimize the spaces they have. By doing this, facility managers can not only help their institutions stand out in the competitive higher education marketplace, but they can also raise their own stature as well, by helping to strategically save time, money, and college resources.

About the Author

John Anderson is CEO of Smartway2, which provides next-generation workplace scheduling solutions for universities and other institutions and enterprises. He can be reached via email or LinkedIn.

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