Laying the foundations for an intelligent campus

James Clay headshot
James Clay

How universities and colleges can plan for the campus of the future.

Student using laptop outside university campus

The pandemic changed the whole concept of the campus. From being a physical hub for staff and students, the campus is becoming more of a platform for extending teaching and learning. As a consequence, the importance of data analytics to enhance the learner experience is increasing. 

Thanks to technologies like 5G and the IoT, the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data already enables meaningful actions to be taken faster. For example, smart building management systems can measure and react to CO2 levels in individual rooms, or monitor people flows in order to optimise space usage. 

The intelligent campus takes this to the next level, opening up vast possibilities for more effective use of learning and non-learning spaces. 

What is an intelligent campus? 

In many ways, the concept of an intelligent campus is still evolving. Essentially, though, it will combine data from the physical, digital and online environments, and enable it to be used in a holistic way to enhance the student experience.  

An intelligent campus will take data from a range of sources: not just the physical aspects of the campus and how they are being used, but also the data from digital systems such as attendance records, the virtual learning environment, the library, student records, electronic point-of-sale and online services. 

This joined-up approach will provide valuable insights into the student experience that might otherwise be missed - insights that can inform and support decision-making by individuals across the campus including students, academic and professional service staff.  

So the intelligent campus won’t just react to data - it will use it to develop insights, make predictions and ensure the best outcomes. 

What will it mean in practice?  

The use of dynamic data means that fast, accurate decisions can be made based on the current state of the campus. Some examples of that might be: 

  • A student using an app on their smartphone can decide if they should visit the library that day as the app is indicating that the library is very busy - but it also informs the student that the noise levels in the coffee shop on the other side of campus are low, making that a possible option
  • In anticipation of sessions about to take place in a classroom, the room system can set the heating and lighting to the optimal level for the specified activity, while also considering the preferences of that particular cohort of students
  • A member of the finance team finds out from an app on their laptop, based on data from previous visits, that the cafeteria is running low on the vegetarian special that day, so decides to leave now for lunch in order not to miss their favourite meal 

Small things perhaps, but all using live data intelligently to enhance the student and staff experience on a day-to-day basis. 

Predicting future needs 

The addition of a machine learning element to this aggregated data analysis will provide even deeper insights. Bringing in feedback, historical data and evaluative data, we can start to add a level of predictive analytics that will allow students and staff to make informed decisions based not only on what is happening now but what is likely to happen. For example: 

  • Predicting when the library will be most busy and noisy would allow students to choose whether to come to campus before or after peak times, and reduce the probability of the library being too full for comfort at any point
  • An intelligent timetabling system could start to reflect on the sort of activity likely during a particular study module so it could be shifted to an optimal room rather than sticking rigidly to the same space
  • By analysing when and how rooms are used, organisations could make smarter, more effective use of learning spaces and other facilities across campus and improve curriculum design and delivery 

It’s easy to see how interventions like this would enable students to learn more effectively and ensure that the organisation is running efficiently.  

And this is only the start.  

Building an intelligent campus 

It may go without saying, but it’s essential to get the foundations right. An intelligent campus will need a robust, secure, well-architected IT infrastructure on which to run, and data governance and data literacy will be key. But it’s important to see beyond the technology in order to understand its purpose and benefits fully.  

Making this concept into reality will require a strategic vision, multiple stakeholder buy-in, and a commitment to prioritising the needs of students and academics.  

In the long term, though, the possibilities for the intelligent campus are practically limitless.  

Find out more

About the author

James Clay headshot
James Clay
Head of higher education and student experience

As Jisc’s head of higher education and student experience, I coordinate Jisc’s overall strategy for HE learning, teaching and student experience and have lead responsibility for promoting the total programme and value and impact of all HE learning, teaching and student experience products and services delivered by Jisc.