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  • Writer's pictureTracy Marquis

Live/Learn Academic Communities amidst COVID-19

With the future of education systems in flux, colleges, universities, and boarding schools are grappling with the best way bring students back onto campus this Fall. Healthcare officials have emphasized the need to physically distance from one another and to be conscientious of frequently touched surfaces.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), while not changing their guidance, recently clarified their guidelines around touch surfaces, indicating that while the disease can be transmitted communally through surfaces, it is not very likely. This leaves physical distances as the best way to prevent the spread of disease. 

Campus environments were developed to bring people together, and as such, present a particularly challenging environment in which to implement physical distancing.  Many solutions have been posed, all of which contend with a compromised academic experience and/or a limited number of students. We believe that the academic experience can be enhanced, while protecting the population on campus. 

In order to entice first year students to enter residential colleges and universities, two important things need to happen:

  1. Students need to feel a sense of having a real college experience, one that cannot be simulated in their childhood homes.

  2. Parents need to be reassured that their children will be safe away from home.

We have chosen to look more closely at the Live/Learn environment found in honors colleges and affinity houses as a potential solution. These are historically coveted opportunities, because they offer students a welcoming close-knit community in which to develop into adults. This can be particularly valuable for first-year students, entering a new and sometimes daunting environment. 

Combine the live/learn community with a carefully structured tiered system of interacting groups, and each community becomes its own isolation team.  Students would be housed together based on academic or extracurricular interests in what we will call a "housing pod" or a “nest”.  Multiple nests can be combined to create an "academic unit", and each academic unit is assigned its' own designated learning spaces. Students within each academic unit might take 2-3 core courses together. Meanwhile, electives, large seminars and other courses that attract a more diverse population can be taken on-line. Academic units could also support intramural sports, musical performances, shared viewing of outside lectures, and other social activities.

This model maximizes student experience and limits the spread of disease across campus. It assumes that when the virus strikes, it will be contained by housing pod or academic unit, and thus has a much more limited impact that it might otherwise. 

Please note that we are Architects, and not healthcare experts. As designers with specialties in institutional design, including higher education, K-12, and healthcare, we are critical thinkers that work with the challenges of the physical world on a daily basis, specifically in campus environments.

The reality of these concepts will vary from campus to campus, as each institution is unique in their infrastructure and pedagogy. Any solution must be tailored specifically to the institution and their available resources. 

Stay tuned for our next ideas.

About the Authors:

Lisa and Tracy both work in the design and construction industry in the Greater Boston Area. Tracy Marquis, AIA, LEED AP is the Owner/Architect at Marquis Architecture, and Lisa Goodwin Robbins, RA, CCS, LEED AP is an Architect and specifier with Kalin Associates. With shared expertise and interests, their paths have crossed frequently, leading to friendship, mutual respect, and opportunities for thought experiments such as this one.

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