OEB 2016: Smart Universities

The topic for the “smart universities”* panel might seem a bit distant from social work but the presentations were interesting in themselves and at the same time raised some issues which could be relevant for future developments in education. Here I’ll base my post on the presentations by Dorthe Lund of DTU, Denmark, and Maarten van Steen, University of Twente – Twente incidentally has a BA programme in public administration which has some parallels with the professional BA offered by UC Lillebælt.

One point of departure was the design of “smart” campusses, defined as environments where academic staff and students had access to the infrastructure of the campus and were able to pull data about the use of various kinds of infrastructure from different kinds of data gathering devices, like eg. “smart” lampposts or sensors placed in libraries or similar kinds of semi-public environments. This gave students access to data which would allow them to search for patterns in everyday behaviour and develop solutions which could be appliced in practice. As Dorthe Lund noted, the introduction of a “smart” campus also meant that teachers and students had to find ways to collaborate with janitorial and administrative staff in the design and implementation of projects.

Two general points were relevant to both presentations.

The first relates to the physical settings of education: Here both DTU and UoT had worked with designing specialised workshop-areas on campus as a supplement to (or even a replacement of) more traditional classrooms. This would allow groups of students to collaborate on the development and design of different types of projects. We should also note that even if “campus” has become a popular term for any kind of location with academic and educational facilities, Twente is more like the traditional US (or Oxbridge) type of campus with a mix of (student) housing, leisure activities and academic facilities.

The second obviously relates to privacy and the integrity of data collected on the smart campusses. Here universities and other HE institutions have to balance the possiblities of surveillance technology with the legal and ethical issues raised by mass surveillance. At the OEB 2015 Cory Doctorow adressed some of these issues and his speech is still available on YouTube.

*I’m a bit allergic to “smart” as a buzzword, hence the quotation marks