Most college administrators and professors here in Thailand are familiar with the student complaint: campus is boring! Some universities are trying to solve this problem using Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of “stickiness” from his book, Tipping Point published in 2000. The sticky campus is now a designer phrase.
For an idea to be sticky it must be real, tangible or concrete. This often means it has a physical presence like a fruit tree, a banquet table, or a Frisbee basket. The idea must also be simple and obvious to everyone who sees it, moves around it or climbs inside.
Crucially, the idea must have a moral basis. It cannot be frivolous, but instead must convey a value that has meaning. Finally, the idea must tell a story. It begins a narrative that goes on and on. Here are 10 ideas that are low or no cost and meet all of the requirements. I assume even a small campus has resources and employees who can easily put these ideas into practice.
1) See that vast, hot, uninviting parking lot? What a huge waste of space, right? Wrong. Plant fruit trees right between the cars. I mean fruit trees that bear fruit people can pick and eat. Between those trees put in benches, picnic tables and even hammocks. People meet in parking lots naturally. No excuses, please. Make it work.
2) Sticking with plants (I can’t resist), use them inside with movable furniture to create open, but inviting nooks and crannies in hallways, cafeterias, cafes or anywhere there are informal, public spaces. The idea is to connect the outside and inside as much as possible.
3) Get rid of those cork or fabric bulletin boards and those tired, frayed Word doc announcements. Replace them with huge, writeable surfaces like next generation, interactive whiteboards where everyone is encouraged to doodle, sketch, announce and complain. Make sure the boards and staff can handle hard use, abuse and graffiti (some of which might be quite wonderful). Be creative with your solutions.
4) Use long, elegant banquet tables as free charging stations.
5) You absolutely must have good Wi Fi everywhere all of the time. Get rid of password protected guest networks. Let everyone everywhere into the network. Find other solutions for protection, bandwidth, etc…
6) Offer free space to local farmer’s markets or vendors that share values 1 or 2 days a week when the time and context allows the right traffic. Sticky retail space is integrated into the natural flow of people and ideas on your campus. Additionally, the campus coffee shop cannot be a low end, contract supplier. Do anything you must do to find someone with a passion for coffee shop culture and quality and support them enthusiastically and endlessly.
7) Encourage academic and even administrative departments to create collaborative social media projects like blogs, websites, online magazines, journals, etc…Dedicated spaces where these groups meet and work on campus encourage sticky activities and thinking. When internal departments like accounting or recruitment create social media spaces collaboration and institutional charisma develop.
8) A Frisbee golf course should span the entire campus. Players claim space as they tour the campus from fruit bearing parking lot to isolated, carpool sheds. Do not underestimate the power of this idea to open the space and broaden awareness of the territory.
9) Encourage professors to create blended classrooms. Students can post work, collaborate, download assignments, readings, etc…from shared class, social spaces. Maybe they will not use Blackboard, but are willing to use Line or Facebook. Do it! Why not?
10) Allow students access to small, retail spaces where they can experiment and test out their own ideas for businesses, social interaction or whatever they wish. One school I know has a free, bike repair shop. Another example is similar to the net café refugee trend in Japan, but instead students rent a partially open cubby with water, juice and coffee and study materials for temporary use.
Erich R. Sysak
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Hot seat interview with Erich R. Sysak - Erich has lived in Thailand for almost two decades. He's got many years of English teaching experience under his belt but he's also written several Thai-themed novels and developed a permaculture farm in Isaan.