University 2020: The Worm Narrative, Part I

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

This is the year 2020, and Bobby is a freshman at UC San Diego worming at the New York Einstein, a three-star hybrid. His holemate, Chiu Wai, is a sophomore at Beijing University. Bobby is from Hawaii, and Chiu Wai is from Singapore. They’re up early this morning to complete their online classwork. Their plan is to spend the rest of the day hanging out at Union Square with friends from other worms.

Today, “going away to college” means selecting a college and a worm, a shortened version of worldwide dorm. All worms serve students from anywhere on the planet. Three-star worms offer shared holes, or rooms. Hybrid worms serve students from different colleges around the world; pure worms are reserved for students from specific colleges. The vast majority of worms are hybrid. Students are accustomed to and prefer international social networking, both online and onground.

In the context of worms, wormhole also refers to the spacetime curvature that theoretically shortens the distance between two points. Similarly, via the internet, students are able to instantly interact with classmates and professors from anywhere in the world.

Worms developed naturally as a result of two seemingly opposed forces colliding during the first decade of the 21st century. One was the value students, parents, and educators placed on “going away to college,” a rite of passage that boiled down to living in a dorm and experiencing a rich and full social life away from parents. The other was the virtual learning environment, or VLE, which theoretically negated the need for college campuses. College students grew up in and were comfortable in the VLE. They expected to take most if not all of their classes online, and this held true even when they lived in dorms.

As the VLE grew exponentially in response to a generation that actually lived in it outside of school, colleges began to not only upgrade but rethink the idea of dorms (see Cliff Peale’s “These Aren’t Your Parents’ Dorms: Residence Halls Provide More Amenities,”, 8.15.11). They realized that campus life was shifting from classrooms to dorms, where students were beginning to spend more of their formal learning time. In fact, most of the students who lived in dorms were taking classes online, and this trend was growing, fueled by an influx of younger professors who were equally at home in the VLE. In many large universities, students were registering in courses on different campuses throughout the system, and because the courses were online, students could do it all from the comfort of their dorms.

Gradually, colleges realized that dorms didn’t have to be on campus or in walking or biking distance. For students who enrolled in many online courses, commuting was preferable especially if it meant living in dorms or similar facilities that were closer to the urban hub, recreational areas, nightlife, or scenic locations. For example, in the University of Hawaii system, some student housing facilities are located in Waikiki and other exciting resort or urban areas. To avoid the commute to campus via car, moped, or bus, many opt for online classes. This way, they’re able to spend more time in their rooms and exciting surroundings. Instead of being isolated in dorms and cafeterias on out-of-the-way campuses, they can study in their centrally located rooms and spend their free time with friends on the beach or in shopping malls with lavish food courts.

With this drain, campuses became increasingly quiet and, dare I say it, empty. Lecture halls and classrooms stood empty for most of the day. Cafeterias and libraries, too, were nearly empty. Faculty office buildings echoed with silence, with the vast majority of faculty working from home or exotic locations in the world while connecting with their students and colleagues 24-7.

By 2015, colleges also realized that the quality of their dorms were the key to the vitality and success of their institutional brand. Furthermore, the VLE made it feasible to separate, once and for all, dorms from campuses. Worms could literally be anywhere on the planet, and the only criterion would be student interest. Thus, the key was to build them where students would come. For example, Stanford students could worm in major U.S. cities such as New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Miami or in other cities in the world such as Paris, London, Rome, Rio, Tokyo, and Beijing. Regardless of where the students wormed, they would still be Stanford students. The brand would thrive even though — and perhaps because — it was no longer anchored to Palo Alto.

To be continued.

4 Responses

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  3. Even though there would be some kind of a fee for a ‘worm’ don’t you expect that it would cost a lot less than room and board with no fees for study abroad?

    • Hi Thomas.

      Good point! I’ll see if I can’t work it into part II. It seems travel abroad is also part of the rite of passage that accompanies college graduation, and the reason that we, as parents, keep hearing is “It’s so educational!”

      Seriously, if one of the primary values of a traditional, F2F, on-campus college education is the social networking and partying that dorms seem to represent, then the natural trend would be to move dorms to exciting locations around the world. The formal learning would continue, uninterrupted, online.

      And it may even be possible for many students to stay at different worms every year. By the end of four years, they could conceivably experience four different cultures in different parts of the world.

      With varying worm categories, cost could be manageable for those on a limited budget, with worm-related part-time jobs such as kitchen help, janitor, tutor, guide, etc.

      There are some courses and majors that might require labs and hands-on or locale-specific experiences, but I believe they can be set up and managed from a distance. There’s no reason why colleges or other organizations, public and private, close to the worms can’t provide services.

      I’m getting ahead of myself . . .

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