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The Phygital University: Bridging the Digital and Physical Campus

The Phygital University: Bridging the Digital and Physical Campus

This unprecedented time allows us to start sowing the seeds of a new model of higher education; one we like to call the “phygital university”.


Written by

Jeff Dixon

Principal Strategist, Higher Education, Traction on Demand

Beyond the immediate question of reopening campuses, we believe that COVID-19, like any crisis, represents a new long-term opportunity. The road to online education has been a long one for most schools, with many change management barriers to overcome. COVID-19, however, has forced nearly every institution to go fully virtual in a matter of weeks.

This unprecedented change now allows us to start sowing the seeds of a new model of higher education. One we like to call the “phygital university”. 

Instead of going back to the way things used to be, let’s think about the benefits we’ve seen in going fully digital. As we reintroduce physical interactions, can we envision a better, more sustainable model that blends the physical and digital experiences? This is the phygital university.

Rethinking Spaces 

Do we need to be running all courses in classrooms all the time? Or can learning happen elsewhere in some contexts, while these spaces serve other types of interaction? 

We’re already seeing recreation centers, who partner with our friends Traction Rec, begin to rethink their long-term offerings such as after school programs and fitness classes. They’re beginning to see that the primary value of what they offer isn’t curriculum — it’s connection. Going phygital can help us separate curriculum from connection so that we use our physical space to its fullest potential.

For most schools, reopening will mean introducing a flexible, blended model. This gives us the opportunity to think about the best time to be co-located in a physical space for learning, and what parts of the learning experience are better suited to a virtual space. If this experimentation is leveraged beyond the COVID-19 crisis, many classrooms could be reimagined as community spaces to drive connection.

Reuniting Communities 

How can we rethink connecting with our communities, including students, alumni, staff, faculty, and the many other stakeholders we engage with? 

After working with nonprofit organizations over the past few months, we’ve helped many find new ways to connect when traditional spaces, such as gala fundraisers, have closed their doors. Through innovative solutions, like our Traction Gather offering, they’ve been able to engage their communities in new ways. 

Many of our stakeholder groups have built a new set of virtual routines in their daily lives. As the world embraces virtual connections, we should begin to rethink how we connect our broader university, from recruiting events through alumni galas.

Reconnecting People

How can we rethink our ability to serve the whole person? 

Even internally at Traction on Demand, our COVID-19 response begins with our people. We’ve leveraged our team sentiment app, bettr.me, to help understand the challenges our teams face on a day-to-day basis. The goal is not to just get a job done, but also to care for each other’s mental health. 

What would it look like if our educational institutions didn’t just assess community exposure to COVID-19, but also how students, staff, and faculty are adjusting to their new campus life? Higher Education has been increasingly focused on supporting mental health and this is even more important amid the stress of COVID-19. Tools such as bettr.me provide a means for schools to keep a pulse on student wellbeing. 

Let’s Get Phygital 

As we move into the new normal, having digital processes in place across the student lifecycle —  from inquiry to alumni —  will be critical to long-term success. 

Prior to the crisis, Traction on Demand’s Higher Education Practice was developing a Recruitment & Admissions Accelerator to help universities and colleges drive faster value out of digital approaches to recruitment. The return on investments like these is now greater than ever. 

It’s still early days and we have a lot of work ahead, but now is the time to start asking the big questions about what a better future model might look like. The digital solutions we use today will be the backbone of the university of the future.

Are you looking to start your own phygital transformation? Check out our Five Steps to Reopening Higher Ed blog or get in touch with our Higher Education specialists.

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