Campus: What is the role of the campus in an increasingly blended environment?

More than anything, the move to online teaching forced all students and tutors to reflect on the role that the university campus plays in the student experience. Team Rooibos investigated how the role of the campus may change as a result of a prolonged period of online delivery, and their research helped clarify aspects of the campus experience that are easy to take for granted.

PUBLISHED ON 25th August 2021 | Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Team Rooibos: Adam Thomas, James Caddick, Rachel James, Richard Kilroy, Laura Blight and Jason Bascombe

Team Rooibos poster

If you download their slides, you can listen to extracts from their findings by hovering over the ‘speaker’ icons and clicking the ‘play’ button that appears.

Resources/transformative space

The first theme revealed the importance of the physical campus as a key driver of transformation. It is interesting to note that within this theme, interviewees drew particular attention to the value of ‘social and community’ spaces and the importance of the campus aesthetic. Interviewees also highlighted the role of the campus in providing access to specialist equipment that they would not have access to when learning remotely.

Community and belonging

In this theme, interviewees drew attention to the role of the campus in creating a sense of belonging – although one interviewee noted that it is equally possible to create a sense of belonging in online spaces too. Research by Speelman (2020) supports this finding by focusing on the link between a thriving organisation and the ability to maintain a sense of belonging with each student. The findings revealed the role of the campus in shaping students’ identity, and again highlighted the importance of the campus aesthetic and facilities in underpinning social learning.

Engagement and blended learning

When asked about the role of the campus, a senior manager stated how they felt the campus’ physical attributes were essential for learning in creative disciplines. Despite this, the literature indicates that blended learning can still play a valuable role in creative education by giving students more control over how and when they access learning (Fleischmann, 2021). However, a student interviewee provided a clear reminder of how simply transferring lectures online cannot be viewed as an effective approach to blended learning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is clearly supported by literature which highlights the importance of actively engaging students in their learning (Nyegaard, 2013).

Communities of practice

Viewing the findings using the theory of communities of practice emphasised the socially situated nature of learning in many creative disciplines. In one interview, a tutor focused on how working together in a physical space enables students to learn from each other in a way that is hard to replicate online. In another interview, a course leader discussed their belief that students develop both personally and professionally by interacting regular with their peers, a dynamic that they believed to be less effective through blended learning. Referring to Wenger’s theory, Aubrey and Riley (2019) draw attention to the difference between social constructivist and socially situated learning, stating that the latter is dependent on the ability to nurture relationships through joint activities.

Extracurricular activities

Team Rooibos’ research also revealed the key part that extracurricular activities can play in the university learning experience. One interviewee revealed how sports and musical activities played an integral role in developing and sustaining a sense of community. This finding is supported by research from Christison (2013) who draws attention to research that indicates a positive correlation between participation in extracurricular activities and students’ academic success and personal development.

Finances and investment

Interviewees again drew attention to the role of the campus in sustaining learning communities, and of the need for universities to invest in developing more community spaces. One interviewee also highlighted the need for more investment in technology to provide digital systems that could support the student experience more effectively.

Local vs global

While the previous themes have largely highlighted the positive attributes of the university campus, the literature provides a stark reminder that the physical campus does not always create an effective social learning environment. In a wide-ranging review of the literature, Da Vita (2007) notes that many students from outside the UK struggle to make any friends with UK students, and can leave university having not integrated successfully. While interviewees still advocated the benefits of the physical campus in supporting learning in creative disciplines, there were some indications of a perceived need for teaching in creative disciplines to move more towards a ‘post-campus’ perspective in order to support effective learning.


Aubrey, K. and Riley, A. (2019) Understanding and Using Educational Theories.

Christison, C. (2013) The benefits of participating in extracurricular activities.

Fleischmann, K. (2021) Hands-on vurses virtual: Reshaping the design classroom with blended learning. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. 20(1), 87-112.

Marshalsey, L. and Sclater, M. (2020) Together but apart: Creating and supporting online learning communities in an era of distributed studio education. The International Journal of Art and Design Education. 39(4), 826-840.

Nyegaard, C. et al. (2013) Student engagement: Identity, Motivation and Community.

Speelman, R. (2020) Fostering a sense of belonging in the classroom.

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