The University is currently reviewing the residences strategy to develop residences which will serve students for the next 30 years. This is an eon in technology terms, but my role in the process is to develop ideas for residential technologies. The following is taken from my report as a member of the residences Facilities Working Group:
Our aim is to provide facilities which are:
- Attractive – attract students to study here and live in our accommodation
- Convenient – be quick and easy to use,
- Good value for money – what the students want, at favourable cost to alternatives
- Reliable – high availability
- Pervasive – present everywhere, and compatible with any device
The phrase Digital Native is used to describe the generation of young people who have grown up with the Internet. It is present throughout their experiences:
- Social life - arranged via Facebook.
- Entertainment - downloaded music and movies.
- Work - Google is the first reference tool for any research.
- Communication - Texting and instant messaging.
What else do we need to provide? We currently offer IPTV. Three years ago 70% of students surveyed wanted such a service. Now it is in place maybe 20% actually use it. Why? It is now a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’. The BBC & ITV websites offer live TV directly. Live TV is being superseded by TV on demand. Alternatives have overtaken the service we provided. Similar arguments may be made for Voice over IP (VOIP) services such as Skype having replaced usage of traditional phone handsets in rooms.
There are still some reasons to offer entertainment & communications services ourselves. In particular the university can act as a trusted guide and provide an easy, convenient option. Students and parents may appreciate this guidance and knowing that a service is there. We must remember though the real risk though that whatever we provide will be overtaken. Our student laptop purchase scheme was intended as just such a convenient trusted guide, but gets little use.
What does this leave us? What do we need to provide apart from a pipe to the Internet?
- We embed technology in the building spaces.
- We provide location specific services
- We provide facilities that students can’t provide for themselves (too large, too expensive)
- We encourage a productive mix of student-owned and University-owned technologies
We won’t provide games consoles, but should provide large flat panel displays and projectors. These are fixed location-specific facilities. In lounges students will connect a games console to a large flat panel for social gaming. In group study rooms students will use a PC and projector provided for presentations and collaborative group work.
We should carefully consider how much technology to embed in student bedrooms. Such technology is expensive and quickly becomes obsolete. Currently the dominant feature in a student room is often a large pinboard covered in posters and photos. In time will the pinboard be replaced by a digital paper display or low energy flat panel? Currently these are prohibitively
expensive, but in five years time?
There will still be an important role for University-provided PCs and printers in public areas. Students own laptops are unreliable. Students appreciate well-maintained hardware that just works. We need to think about different forms of public computer provision, not just the traditional PC lab. Again we should encourage the mix of personally-owned and University-owned technology. Can you send photos straight to the printer from your cameraphone? Can you connect to the scanner from your laptop? Can you connect your iPod to a public PC to download a podcast of yesterdays lecture?