Making Global Feel Small

The place I work is a “Global University” in that we are not just a Boston-based institution anymore. We have campuses in cities all over the United States, Canada, and even in London. You may say, “lots of schools have campuses in other parts of the World,” but what we are doing feels very different.

We now have three undergraduate locations, and while places like one of my previous employers, Penn State, has undergraduate campuses across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there is something special about the idea that our undergraduate students can start in London, go to Oakland, CA, and then to Boston. We call it mobility.

It also means that we can have classes and experiences that students in all sorts of places can participate in in very synchronous ways. If you are a grad student in Portland, ME you might be interacting with other students who are in a room in Boston. A researcher doing work with an industry partner in Seattle can be actively discussing it with students in Toronto. Believe it or not, it has been really fun finding solutions to make this work in a way that humans can operate. If you’ve been in the technology space for a while you know that this used to be so hard, so expensive, and so low fidelity.

One of the things the work we did during the pandemic made us explore new ways of connecting classrooms across space and time. What was interesting about that exploration is that the technology also improved at a rate that we haven’t seen in quite some time.

Many of our classrooms now allow faculty to have a one tap environment to connect rooms all over the global network. A huge by-product of all of that work is that we can now use those spaces to bring our administration and staff who are spread across the network together to be part of events in real time.

This morning I was taken aback by the fact that as I sat in a room in Boston listening to two of our senior vice presidents talk I could see dozens of people sitting together in spaces stretching from Vancouver to London in real time. I know it sounds so simple, but it is enormously gratifying to see it in action without anyone even thinking that it is special. Maybe it isn’t rocket science, but it still feels like science fiction.

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