Smart campuses aim to improve higher education
Higher education drives innovation, equipping tomorrow’s leaders with the tools they need to shape the future. As digital natives make up a larger portion of the student body, these institutions themselves are transforming into something more innovative. The growing smart campus trend is perhaps the peak of this shift.
Ironically, although colleges and universities foster the innovators of tomorrow, they’ve fallen behind other businesses in terms of disruption. Now, as digital technologies continue to dominate society, change is unavoidable. Higher education institutions across the nation are starting to embrace digital transformation through the smart campus.
What Is a Smart Campus?
The term “smart campus” is a broad one, covering a variety of technologies and processes. Generally speaking, though, it refers to the practice of integrating internet-connected devices throughout an institution. These campuses use a wide network of IoT technologies and digital services to make learning and campus life more engaging, safe and equitable.
One prominent example is California State University Long Beach’s Smart Campus Initiative, launched in 2016. This program includes a digital wayfinding service to direct students to classes and mobile app-based dorm access. Digital signs can update in real-time to communicate announcements or emergency updates.
The concept is almost identical to a smart city but on a smaller, more focused scale. While this a relatively new trend, it’s one with significant potential. Here’s how it can improve various aspects of higher education.
Enabling Flexible Learning Experiences
One of the hallmarks of a smart campus is how it fosters flexible, hybrid learning experiences. Traditional classroom setups aren’t always equitable, often failing to account for students with different needs. Universities can address this problem by embracing technologies like videoconferencing, cloud services and AI.
Cameras and microphones in classrooms can let instructors livestream their lectures so off-campus students can virtually attend. Schools could also keep these recordings accessible for a few days so anyone who missed class can go back and experience them. Natural language processing (NLP) services could translate dialogue into text in real-time to make it easier to understand for some students.
These changes make higher education more accessible and account for the needs of new or changing fields. For example, many universities now offer IoT programs, a subject that doesn’t necessarily require in-person experiences. Embracing hybrid learning through technology provides a modern educational option for this field.
Improving On-Campus Safety
Another crucial advantage of smart campuses is that they can offer more security. The Clery Act requires colleges to provide students with emergency communication services and be transparent about on-campus crime. Digital communication tools are the ideal solution here, thanks to their speed and flexibility.
Many campuses have stations where students can immediately contact safety staff or the police. App-based systems can take this a step further, letting them notify authorities through a single text or button press. Similarly, the administration can use these services to send out mass alerts to all affected students and staff in real-time.
A 2019 Deloitte report on smart campuses mentions location intelligence and gunshot sensors as possible safety tools, too. These systems could help safety officials pinpoint where an emergency is, facilitating faster responses. Automated features could let them send out alerts immediately when they detect an emergency.
Fostering Higher Quality of Life
A smart campus can also improve students’ quality of life, impacting both their health and education. College students, especially freshmen, can feel uncomfortable and disconnected on campus, leading to decreased academic performance. While technology alone can’t eliminate this problem, it can help mitigate it.
More than 30% of American college students, including 69% of freshmen, report feeling homesick. Hybrid learning experiences would let students attend college from home. In addition, mesh Wi-Fi networks and fiber optic internet would improve services like video calling for on-campus students to visit relatives and friends virtually.
While 60% of college students report feeling overwhelming anxiety, only 20% use on-campus mental health resources. Connected technologies could make these more accessible. For example, apps give students a readily available way to set up appointments. Similarly, the same tech that enables remote learning could let students seek help without the stigma of in-person visits.
Supporting Data-Based Decision-Making
As campuses implement more of these technologies, they’ll have additional points to gather data. This wealth of information can guide more equitable, purpose-driven decision-making. On-campus data can reveal opportunities for improvement in everything from transportation to inclusion initiatives.
For example, students could use their IDs to access parking lots, buses and other on-campus transportation infrastructure. As they do this, it would generate data about in-demand parking, bus arrival times and more. Campus administration could then analyze this information to see where they need to improve to make parking and on-campus travel more efficient.
Similarly, if classes used more online resources, it would give schools data on student behavior and performance. This could reveal if some professors, departments or courses have any inherent biases hindering some students’ progress. Understanding these problems is the first step in creating more effective diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Smart Campuses Benefit Both Students and Staff
The smart campus brings advantages that other businesses experience to higher education. These technologies will improve visibility, safety, efficiency, comfort and engagement for anyone on campus. Students will benefit from more accessible, engaging programs while staff enjoy higher student performance and better communication.
Given this concept’s novelty, schools likely haven’t yet discovered all these technologies have to offer. As more schools embrace the smart campus movement, new opportunities and use cases will emerge. Higher education as a whole will improve in virtually every aspect.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over 4 years experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.