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Learning at a distance doesn’t permit the proximity and physical presence that make the university experience both challenging and exciting. Just as virtual play on a screen lacks the human closeness of a playground, remote teaching and learning cannot replicate the literal coming together of professors and students. Without claiming and exploring their space, students will miss out on the ways in which learning happens not only in classrooms but in corridors, cafeterias and coffeehouses. They may be digital natives, but they want to “go to university” in real life.
It is time for universities to communicate in a loud and confident voice that the campus is crucial, and that the greatest degree possible of meaningful use of classroom, library and laboratory space will be supported. In any playground, it is always the case that we need appropriate precautions and protocols. Of course, the constraints of the pandemic demand particular responsiveness, patience and innovation. We may not be able to take off all the tape around the play structures quite yet. But as we make plans for university teaching, research, and learning this fall, let’s repeat, over and over, how important it is to reopen the campus “playground.” It’s not just kids who need to play.