Smart Campuses: Patronising or Supportive?

UEA is already its own mini city, a concrete jungle on a much smaller scale. If you wanted, you could live the entirety of your degree off the services provided by the campus. Whilst that does sound sheltered and largely dull, technology companies such as Future Cities are seeking to use campuses as microcosmic testing grounds to make campus living smoother and simpler.

Many modern campus universities function in a similar way, but it should be noted that rather than providing the liberty that city life offers it can often feel like a gated community. There are plans to futureproof Glasgow University by renovating huge areas of the campus through sensor networks for power distribution and a campus AI making spaces more interactive. Current advancements include Australia’s Deakin University which has implemented its own AI that functions from a phone app called Genie to provide assignment information, reading lists and timetables. It was at this point that it became clear that this technology is simply a nicer looking version of what’s already available. Our very own infamous Blackboard app alongside the dreaded admin of Evision performs all these tasks, although their efficiency is questionable.

The concept of such technology being on the doorstep of conventional university life seems quite strange. Given that UEA sees many modules without recorded lectures it’s a leap to suggest a fully organised system enabling a central hub of information supplementing university study. It isn’t extreme to suggest that improvements will be made to online resources. However, moving too quickly whilst leaving out some fundamental utilities makes such technological advancements seem rather in vain.

It is suggested that such apps may be able to act like personal assistants, attempting to make student life less complicated. Such a goal sounds altruistic; popping up to suggest study sessions or letting you know your assessment grades as soon as possible, as Deakin University’s Genie is designed to do, acting almost as a parent or teacher. Such encroachment raises ethical questions over data collection, something that has entered moral debates recently following the exposure of organisations such as Cambridge Analytica.

But on a more direct level, it seeks to protect students from the functioning in the real world. With the discussions of Universities already not doing enough to prepare students for the wider society, such technology often seeks to strengthen the bubble that students live in. Therefore, unless this technology is looking to transfer itself into the working world, something far harder to control or enforce on a city-scale, it may very easily become damaging for students trying to become more independent.

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Joseph Saul

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August 2022
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