6. The Future of the Campus

6.1. Identifying the Unique Characteristics of Face-To-Face Teaching in a Digital World

Sanjay Sarma, Director of MIT’s Office of Digital Learning, made an attempt at MIT’s LINC 2013 conference to identify the difference between campus-based and online learning, and in particular MOOCs. He made the distinction between MOOCs as open courses available to anyone, reflecting the highest level of knowledge in particular subject areas, and the ‘magic’ of the on-campus experience, which he claimed is distinctly different from the online experience (Sarma, 2013).

He argued that it is difficult to define or pin down the magic that takes place on-campus, but referred to:

  • ‘In-the-corridor’ conversations between faculty and staff
  • Hands-on engineering with other students outside of lectures and scheduled labs
  • The informal learning that takes place between students in close proximity to one another

There are a couple of other characteristics that Sarma hinted at but did not mention explicitly in his presentation:

  • The very high standard of the students admitted to MIT, who ‘push’ each other to even higher standards.
  • The importance of social networks developed by students at MIT that provide opportunities later in life.

Easy and frequent access to laboratories is a serious contender for the uniqueness of campus-based learning, as this is difficult to provide online, although there is an increasing number of developments in remote labs and the use of simulations. Opportunities for finding future spouses is another contender. Probably the most important though is access to social contacts that can further your career.

I leave it to you to judge whether these are unique features of face-to-face teaching, or whether the key advantages of a campus experience are more specific to expensive and highly selective elite institutions. For most teachers and instructors, though, more concrete and more general pedagogical advantages for face-to-face teaching need to be identified.