Future University – Edge Zones
By Bill Porter – January 2013
I’ve been thinking a bit about the future of the university, and it seems to me that a new model may be emerging, one that has something of the traditional sanctuary of a place of learning, but that innovatively engages communities, both local and international. There will, of course, have to be those preserves where students and teachers can contemplate their experience and learn together, but there must also be what, for the moment, one might think of as an edge zone where interactions of many kinds might take place. The aim of the edge zone should be to encourage the sorts of interactions and collaborative learning experiences among these several communities, which would be valuable in themselves as well as inform the core and advanced curricula.
The edge zone should have many differentiated components. Each component should have physical, virtual, and organizational dimensions: places conducive to collaboration and mutual learning, virtual networks and software support to facilitate access and communication, both locally, and internationally, and an active staff promoting these activities and staying in touch with the wide variety of communities that are thought to be a part of this new model of the university.
Edge Zone Components
To illustrate the idea here are five possible components of the edge zone:
This could have temporary exhibits as well as growing permanent collection of artifacts, photographs, stories/videos of important historical episodes, and stories of extraordinary organizations. It would have an active staff dedicated to outreach and to the definition of new communities they could attract. It would have a virtual presence, both for the purpose of being appreciated from afar and for the purpose of tapping the vast amounts of material located internationally. It would project the image and preserve the history of the university, its products of work, as well as its targeted objectives. It could be used by students and faculty as well as by visiting faculty and entrepreneurs – members of any of the participating communities – to show their work and the problems they are trying to address.
2. Library/interactive knowledge center
Taking full advantage of the Internet and of its access to materials and publications, it would also become an archive of the works produced locally, and it would provide settings in which members of different communities could independently and in collaboration seek deeper understanding.
3. Innovation center
The edge zone could have a variety of settings from a casual drop-in lounge/cafe, to meeting rooms well equipped with video and computer services, work places that would support collaborative interdisciplinary and inter-organizational teams, and learning laboratories where students and faculty could collaborate with entrepreneurs in projects that could result in further commercial development or independent start-ups
4. Expertise/consultant center
This could be a focus and clearinghouse for talent drawn locally and from elsewhere upon which people could draw for specialized advice. Fields might include various specialized areas, networking and management strategy, learning and teaching strategy, and career research and guidance, both for students and for members of the participating communities.
This would be open to the public and a resource to the rest of the components in the edge zone, as well as to the rest of the university. It should be carefully integrated into the urban design of the local community to be inviting to all the communities the university hopes to serve as well as to the general public.
Implications for the Future University
This edge zone has objectives and some components that are not part of a traditional university and that imply the creation of organizational forms not normally present. The objectives include ideas of interactive learning, collaborative problem solving, and integration of diverse communities, and of establishing both a local and an international presence.
For existing universities an edge zone might include some new and innovative programs from within the university with non-traditional activities drawn from other institutions. These could be combined into existing and new facilities that created a strong relationship with the surrounding community. The edge zone might well form part of a network of open and interactive places inviting the juxtaposition and interaction among diverse groups throughout the university.
For a new university the edge zone would mean an expansion and possibly transformation of a traditional university program, which could be especially powerful for the initial stages. After the initial formation of the university, including some of the technological infrastructure and a core staff, some edge zone activities could start immediately upon completion of the first facilities or even in existing facilities. All this could build the reputation of the university as a place of collaborative learning while its teaching and research components are being developed and enlarged over the years.