Collaboration Houses: How Technology & A Pandemic Have Created Entirely New Ways To Go To College

from the fascinating dept

There has been plenty of talk about how technology has impacted how we live during the pandemic, but it's interesting to see how that's impacting things beyond the most obvious -- including some interesting cultural changes. Over in the NY Times, reporter Taylor Lorenz, who always has her finger on the beat of the most interesting cultural changes due to technology, has an article about college collaboration houses. That is, because so many colleges are remaining in distance learning to start the school year, thanks to the ongoing pandemic, students are recognizing that just because they don't need to be on campus, it doesn't mean they need to stay at home either:

Two groups of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, have rented large houses in Hawaii for the fall semester. Six rising seniors at Columbia University will be living in a house in Portland, Ore. Several rising seniors at Harvard are renting property in Montana. There are at least seven large houses that have been rented in the greater Salt Lake City area alone, filled with students from different colleges.

While these may be modeled on the idea of so called "hype houses", in which social media stars rent some crazy mansion and live together while creating attempted viral content, this seems a lot more practical. And while my initial reaction was that this sounded like something only the most privileged students could do, as the report highlights, in many (though certainly not all) cases, the opposite is true:

Well-off students have pursued expensive rentals in premier vacation locales including Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Aspen, Colo. But for other students, college collab houses are a way to save money. “Costs have been a major factor in our decision because some of us are on financial aid,” said Phillip Pyle, 20, a rising junior at Williams College who is planning to rent a house with six friends in Maine or Massachusetts.

Hanah Jun, 19, a rising sophomore at Yale who is from Queens, just finalized plans to move to Barbados in the fall with three friends. She said that her family’s financial instability and lack of reliable Wi-Fi have made completing her studies from home nearly impossible. “I’m on full financial aid,” Ms. Jun said. “In terms of financial privilege, there’s a lot of students from alternative backgrounds looking to do this.”

In other words, for at least some of the students, doing a collab house is actually cheaper and better than (a) being on campus or (b) staying at home. Obviously, for some, their options for which houses they could "join" were impacted by their economic situation:

Morgan Margulies, 20, is a rising junior at Columbia University who will be doing his online classes this year from a house in Santa Cruz, Calif., with nine friends from other colleges, including state schools. “I am a first generation, low-income student and this is my cheapest option,” he said. “For a lot of people at Columbia, money is not an issue. They’re moving into places and they invited me and told me the rent, but it was not a realistic thing I could do.”

Apparently a lot of these students are using Airbnb to rent out homes -- and getting extreme discounts because they're renting them long term at a time when some Airbnb renters were finding it harder to find short term tenants.

It seems noteworthy how this is a somewhat emergent solution to deal with ongoing issues thanks to the pandemic, and a clever use of technology at the same time. Because you can do remote learning from anywhere (while acknowledging time zone differences can be an issue...), doing the schoolwork from home might not be the best option. And getting together with a small group of college friends can allow students to create a much smaller pod that is safer to weather the pandemic, and an online service like Airbnb helps make it more economical for many.

There are also some interesting cultural situations at play as well. We've discussed ICE's attempt to require foreign students attending US colleges and universities remotely to stay in their home countries, and while that's been scaled back somewhat, it appears that this has helped create scenarios where students are remaining in their home countries, but forming local pods to recreate at least some of the college experience:

More than 30 students from China who attend American universities plan to create a college collab courtyard in Beijing. Wendi Yan, 21, a rising sophomore at Princeton, is organizing the group. The students, from colleges including University of Pennsylvania, U.C. San Diego, Brown, Duke, Stanford and Middlebury, are planning to live in several apartments that face each other so they can somewhat recreate the American college experience remotely and study and socialize together.

“It feels like China and the U.S. are trying to split people apart, but because I’ll have these people, I think it will help tremendously,” Ms. Yan said.

Of course, they note that trying to do remote learning from China creates its own challenges, given the Great Firewall blocking so many US websites.

And, yes, obviously, getting college kids together creates risk of COVID-19 spreading, but keeping a much smaller group together -- if they take precautions and don't break out of that group too much -- can certainly help limit the spread (and, yes, I also remember being in college and recognize that not all college kids will be good at keeping in a small group or following restrictions, but contrary to the popular narrative, not all college kids are so bad).

Several college collab houses have created detailed spreadsheets outlining plans for what happens if residents fall ill. Others specifically chose destinations that were close to large cities or major hospitals.

“We have the largest Google doc,” said Merel Timmermans, 20, a rising junior at Grinnell College, who is renting a house in Utah with other Grinnell students. “There’s a Covid safety plan, all of our meals, a roommate contract, a ‘how things work’ guide, information on how we’re going to do chores, cook meals, and we have summaries of all the house meetings we’ve had over Zoom. We made a house Spotify playlist. We’re all filling out medical forms so we have them in case of emergency.”

There's a lot more in the article, and the whole thing really is fascinating to see how technology and culture are creating these new scenarios in the midst of a pandemic.

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Filed Under: collaboration houses, covid-19, distance learning, education


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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 3:01pm

    Re: Going into DIGS

    Living together is not new. We had that in college too.

    But living together NOWHERE NEAR WHERE YOUR UNIVERSITY IS is what's new and different. I thought that was clear from the article.


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