Category Archives: Higher Education

Thoughts on campus planning

In studying campus planning I often think about the choices that have been made without overseeing all the consequences. Decision makers in a campus planning process encounter options they are not always aware off, at the start. Of course they have to make choices all the time, but it is nearly impossible to oversee all the consequences for the people who will live, study and work on campus.

Last November I was asked to contribute to a seminar on the High-Tech Campus Eindhoven (HTCE) as a breeding place, how to better utilize its potential. I asked myself what would make an R&D campus a breeding place?

Most times a breeding place is associated with artist studios. Municipalities like to have hotbeds of creativity in vacant buildings, squatters’ strongholds or fringes of the city. Most people would not immediately think of high-tech environment, with clean rooms that cost a fortune. But apparently the organisation of the seminar thought that something is missing at the HTCE. Could that be the breeding place factor? And what are the characteristics of a hotbed of talent and innovation?

You can describe a breeding place as a melting pot: an environment where a lot of people come together and interact.  Social interaction is an important generator of ideas. And social interaction through face-to-face communication is still many times more efficient than computer mediated communication. Therefore the presence of people on campus is essential and thus people should like to come to campus. Which is not always obvious in a notorious homeworking organisation like for example a university. And it might be also a challenge for other type of organisations in the war on talent.

Social interaction is important for people as social beings but even more for generating new ideas. Getting new ideas will be more promising between people who do not see each other on a daily basis or who not belong to one’s inner circle. How can we accomplish this? Everybody knows the function of the coffee machine and accompanying conversation. But there are more possibilities. Of course the culture of the organisation is important. Facilitating leisure activities enables social interaction too. But what can be the contribution of campus design by its spatial layout and programming?

In the concept of HTCE the owner opted for a separate facilities building for this reason. They call this building The Strip, the heart of the campus. People are so to speak forced to leave their building to go for lunch, relax, conferencing etc.  And by doing so they might very well meet other people. The question is does it work like this?

‘The beating heart of the campus is The Strip. By centralising the shared social facilities in one building with its distinctive elongated and transparent form, the Campus provides an ideal location for Open Innovation. Sharing ideas, experiences and knowledge was never easier.’ (HTCE acquisition folder, p. 2, retrieved 140106 from:

The performance of a central facility for social interaction is one of the topics I study in the case study on the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. Here I found that large parts of the staff rather take lunch from home and eat it at their desk. Suppose this too is the case in HTCE, the strip will miss its goal. Although it might be possible that the packed lunch from home is a typical Dutch habit and a central lunch facility will work out with many foreigners on campus.

But imagine how do people go from their workplace to The Strip? Along the 15km footpath ‘(..) to experience peace and quiet in heavy work schedules’ according to the acquisition folder? (p.2) How cosy and attractive are these footpaths anyway? What about the plinths of the buildings? Is there something going on? And who goes out for a walk if it happens to rain? In short the question is if the campus is ‘walkable’ enough? A requirement of space we nowadays propose to cities.

This dilemma between a central meeting point at distance or a facility in every building brings us to thoughts on more dilemmas the campus manager or developer stands for. I like to elaborate on them in order to get more insight on the topic of a campus as a place to be: to be continued.


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How MOOCs will influence campus design

The New York Times called 2012 the year of the MOOCs[i]. The Dutch Minister of Education recently pointed out the developments in digital education and I myself followed courses on Coursera and wondered how these massive open online courses or MOOCs will influence the design of the campus. Since the investments that universities have to make in order to keep the campus up to date are substantial, the required renewals should be as effective as possible. Technology makes it easy to work or study at home, but empty offices and lecture halls do not contribute to the conviction that resources are used efficiently. I presume that the success of MOOCs will have consequences for the need of big lecture halls. Let’s have a closer look on these MOOCs.

According to Wikipedia ‘A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and TAs. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education.’ (Wikipedia 2013-5-12)[ii] A lot more can be found on the internet. Nevertheless I restrict myself mainly to a key publication by Sir John Daniel[iii] to finally indicate some consequences for university real estate at the end of this paper. Therefor I will not elaborate on the pedagogical consequences of teaching methods, quality and cost aspects but concentrate first on a general background.

The first course that was called a MOOC was at the University of Manitoba by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008. (Wikipedia) (Daniel, p.3) Daniel describes the history of MOOC; he distinguishes two kinds of MOOCs: the xMOOC and the cMOOC. The cMOOCs are based on connectivism with a totally open platform. ‘(…) participants set their own learning goals and type of engagement. (…) the fact that the platform is totally open, means that they probably aren’t very easy to make any money from.’(Lugton, 2012)[iv] Udacity, Coursera and edX are examples of xMOOCs. They have also discussion forums but ‘the centre of the course is the instructor-guided lesson. Each student’s journey/trajectory through the course is linear and based on the absorption and understanding of fixed competencies. Learning is seen as something that can be tested and certified’. (Lugton, 2012) The development of MOOCs is very well displayed in the diagram of Phil Hill.[v] On the right side the challenges are displayed as recognized at this time.

Phil Hill 2012

(Phil Hill, 2012)

These challenges: the question if MOOCs ever can make money, problems as accreditation, certification, course completion rate (10 %!( Daniel p.14)) and student authentication are described by Daniel in relation to the (changing) attitude of universities towards the development of e-learning. Daniel refers to failed experiments with online courses like AllLearn and Fathom early this century, by well-known universities who lost a lot of money on it, which makes some universities rather reluctant on this topic (p.12ff). Although some of these universities have joined the actual MOOC development again, lots of universities are still afraid that this development of e-learning is just another hype, and question the business model of MOOCs.

In respect to the earning possibilities the latest trend of xMOOCs like Coursera is promising. They are experimenting with Career Services to match students and head-hunters. Coursera recruits employers on their website with: ‘If you’re an employer who would like to hire the intellectually curious and hardworking students who take courses with Coursera’ (…)’[vi] This could turn into a profitable and competitive advantage in respect to some universities.

The question is: what should universities do? I would say: Join in; invest in your teachers and software. But rethink well how to deal with the difference in tuition fees of real life universities and MOOCs, and differences in grading. I agree with Dua, Bates and others:

‘While no one can predict the future, it seems likely that we are heading toward two versions of hybrid learning experiences in higher education. The first would still be campus-centric, with technology allowing a more efficient and effective reengineering of the learning experience, with lectures moving exclusively online, and with class time reserved for small-group problem solving and conversation. The other hybrid mode would be digital-centric (and much less costly), with a core online component supplemented, perhaps, by self-organized study groups, as we see happening already in MOOCs. Some digital-centric options may be associated with traditionally accredited college brands; others may live purely in the world of alternative credentials. Students from wealthier families and those with adequate financial aid may prefer the residential experience (and the lifelong personal networks that come with it). But the cost–value equation will shift so rapidly in the years ahead, and employers will develop so great a stake in the new system they help design, that millions of students will probably flourish without ever setting foot on traditional campuses.’ (Dua, 2013) [vii] ‘Online and hybrid learning provides a chance to re-think the role and purpose of the whole university campus, as well as what we should be doing in classrooms when students have online learning available anytime and anywhere.’(Bates, 2013)[viii]

MOOCs and hybrid learning will change the campus. The current problems with the MOOC concept will be overcome and universities have to determine their strategy regarding this development. Universities, who have already problems to fully schedule their big lecture halls profitable, may reconsider their need. Big lecture halls will only be used in case a star professor will show up. Seminars, workshops, tutorials and laboratories will stay, at least for the time being. Thus we will see a mix of face-to-face learning and e-learning in universities. As a consequence of the high differences in tuition fees the residential model can take advantage of the price and quality differences and focus on the rich and or very talented. Universities with a coherent (hybrid) educational programme will have an advantage as face-to-face communication is still more efficient than virtual communication and informal encounters on a university still inspire scholars and students. In a physical environment where you can see literally your fellow students struggle, to master the learning material, it is more motivating to practice beyond your own abilities.[ix]

Whatever the MOOC development will do, campuses will change but stay, due to their importance as informal meeting place, social network, marriage market and hotbed of talent. The importance of the physical place will get larger but smaller in size. Facilitating casual meetings will be given space. There is still a lot of work to do for designers, planners and university boards!

[i] Pappano, Laura “The year of the MOOC” New York Times, Educational Life, November 2, 2012, Correction: November 11, 2012 Web. Accessed 2013-5-26 <>

[ii] Wikipedia, “Massive open online course”. Web. Accessed: 2013-5-12 <>

“The term MOOC was coined in 2008 during a course called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” that was presented to 25 tuition-paying students in Extended Education at the University of Manitoba in addition to 2,300 other students from the general public who took the online class free of charge. All course content was available through RSS feeds, and learners could participate with their choice of tools: threaded discussions in Moodle, blog posts, Second Life, and synchronous online meetings. The term was coined by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island, and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education in response to the course designed and led by George Siemens of Athabasca University and Stephen Downes of the National Research Council (Canada).”

[iii] Daniel, Sir John, 2012 “Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility” Online learning and distance education resources, moderated by Tony Bates, research associate, contact North. Contact North. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

Sir John Daniel, former President & Chief Executive Officer Commonwealth of Learning

‘Sir John Daniel served as President and C.E.O. of COL from 2004 to 2012. He is now working on a variety of international projects, notably as Education Master in the Beijing DeTao Masters Academy, China and Chair of the UWC (United World Colleges) International Board.’

Common Wealth of Learning. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

‘Hosted by the Government of Canada and headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is the world’s only intergovernmental organisation solely concerned with the promotion and development of distance education and open learning. COL was created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.’ Common Wealth of Learning Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[iv] Lugton, Martin, “What is a MOOC? What are the different types of MOOC? xMOOCs and cMOOCs” Reflections. Posted on August 23, 2012. WordPress. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[v] Feldstein Michael, [Hill, Phil] “Four Barriers That MOOCs Must Overcome To Build a Sustainable Model” e-Literate. Posted on July 24, 2012 WordPress. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[vi] Jones-Bey, Lal, Business Development ‘Coursera and your career’. Posted December 4, 2012. Coursera. Web. Accessed: 2013-5-20 <>

[vii] Dua, André, 2013. “College for all, Open online courses are changing higher education. Traditional colleges face dangers—and opportunities” Insights & Publications McKinsey&Company. Web. Accessed 2013-5-20


[viii] Bates, Tony “Discussing design models for hybrid/blended learning and the impact on the campus” Online learning and distance education resources, moderated by Tony Bates, research associate, contact North. Contact North. Posted, may 8, 2013. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[ix] Coyle, Daniel (2009) ‘The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How’ (Bantam; New York)

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Why a profitable private company like ASML gets public money

Immediately after it was announced that ASML will establish the Institute of Nanolithography INL in Amsterdam critical remarks appeared in the news and on twitter: two Amsterdam universities and the municipality fund the initiative of the company! Even the word ridiculous was used by a well-known publicist: a profitable company like ASML whose share price has doubled over the last year on the stock market, should not be subsidized by public money.

 On the contrary I would like to argue that it is rather wise of these public institutes to invest money in order to bring in a renowned company. ASML, a high tech chip manufacturer, took initiative to launch INL Research Institute, which will contribute to future chip technology to be used in smartphones, tablets, pc’s etc.

Amsterdam won the beauty contest of Eindhoven with its University of Technology, Nijmegen and the German technology centre in Aachen. The Amsterdam universities, the municipality and research institutes will provide about 50-70 million euro, which is an important contribution to the founding of INL. Compared to the region of Eindhoven where ASML is rooted, there is more intellectual power in Amsterdam and more appeal to international scientists. But still one could wonder why the company has upset their home base to move to the Science Park Amsterdam.

 What is so special about this location?

I was for years involved in the development of the Science Park Amsterdam, a campus where the University of Amsterdam and the municipality jointly developed their property. A campus where education, research and knowledge-intensive business would settle and develop synergy. It is my conviction that a site where excellent students live and study has more to offer than the usual business parks.

The Science Park Amsterdam is not only attractive through the settlement of research institutes, science oriented companies and one of the most powerful internet hubs in the world. But also through the fact that a lot of bright young people live and study here at the faculty of Science or at the Amsterdam University College. Their proximity makes the difference.

 Last year, I visited one of the participating research institutes, AMOLF who do for example research on solar cells in film. The director told me how happy he was with the presence of the students of the Amsterdam University College on Science Park Amsterdam. These students, while living on campus, are bringing in a lot of vivacity. Moreover, there are an equal number of female and male students, which is still rare in a beta environment. AMOLF didn’t have experience with internship of bachelors till recently. They expect however that they awaken a curiosity in these very motivated students that leads in to a possible future career in likewise institutes.

 So much for the attractiveness of this Science Park. The question remains: Why do universities and a municipality that are nowadays confronted with austerity and severe budget cuts invest in the advent of the new institute to Amsterdam competing with Technical university of Eindhoven and Aachen in Germany? Why is it so important to bring in a company like ASML to Amsterdam and more specific to the Science Park?

 Amsterdam, including its universities, will benefit from the new high tech institute associated to the ASML Company, not only for the 100 qualified scientists that will be appointed, but also because of its appeal to other companies. This spin-off effect is necessary as the Science Park has still vacant plots, due to the delayed development as a consequence of the financial crisis. Every new initiative that falls within the focus of the park will get a warm welcome to fill in the empty lots. Moreover it is of huge interest for Amsterdam to create jobs, to attract high potentials for the knowledge institutes and to strengthen the attractiveness of the city and its universities.

 The new institute of ASML fits perfectly in the goal to enhance the interaction between research and business and to offer perspective for the future of the next generation.

The money is well spent!


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The informal meeting place in a university building, the multiple functions of a doorway

Innovation and knowledge are essential for progress. You can gain knowledge by going to a university or doing research. Knowledge development requires a creative boost that might be released by a moment of serendipity. Thus universities have an interest in creating these moments. The question is: can we arrange the conditions for serendipity through design of university buildings?
Serendipity can occur through informal, unplanned encounters. These momentsontmoeting of informal communication are an important instant for knowledge and knowledge production as research on R& D organizations shows: The chance of having informal meetings enlarges the attractiveness of a university environment; these encounters can be seen as possibilities to gain new ideas and to strengthen opinions and visions. The chance of an informal meeting is one of the reasons to come to the campus, and contributes to a sense of belonging to the university as a place where you can meet interesting people.
What are the spatial conditions for these encounters? For an answer I made pictures of people gathering together on university ground. For this blog I choose one of the pictures I made in a faculty of Architecture.
On this picture we see the interior of a building, the intersection of the end of a staircase at your right-hand, a corridor the building has more than two floors. Let’s have a closer look to the people who are in it. In the foreground we see a man, presumably a cleaner with a garbage bag, emptying a bin. We see people standing and walking in the corridor. Someone is just flying down the stairs. I concentrate upon the people hanging in the doorway. One wears a checkered shirt and the other is dressed in orange. Both wear a backpack. They are male, talking, turned towards a girl. The girl seems to smile to them and looks sexy in her revealing shirt. Another young man is passing by. At the left side a girl is standing in the corridor. Does she watch the scene? Other people you see partly, maybe it is busy in the building. What we see is an encounter in a corridor, a route between destinations. We see that the people, who are talking, are hanging in a doorway at an intersection of routes.
According to this picture the existence and combination of a route, an intersection and a doorway are spatial conditions for this informal encounter. The crossing of routes increases the possibilities of encountering and at the same time people can continue on their way, anytime. Which stresses the voluntary nature of the encounter. The function of the doorway is multiple. The slightly narrowing in the corridor makes people decelerate, it marks a boundary between different spaces, both cause raised attention for the surroundings. It is a natural place to lean, because the doorpost comes forward from the wall. In a university such an occasion leads to a chat between students or scholars. And who knows, leads to a fruitful cooperation on a research project and an inspiring moment of insight. The creative boost that is required for knowledge development.

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