The University of 2050/The Transphysical Classroom



Looking at the future of education, engineers must consider how technology plays into the classroom. How will advancing technology affect learning? What people can expect at some future date such as 2050? This topic relates to the “transphysical classroom”. There have been recent developments of virtual teaching platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic started a transition of education norms (occurring a few years before the writing of this piece). Predicting the upcoming period of this development is not easy. One must look at the positives and negatives of these recent experiences. They shine light onto the future shape of education’s technology use. A symbiotic relationship between virtual and traditional classrooms is being formed. This will give the best prediction of the classroom’s relationship with technology in 2050.

Virtual Learning of Today


The authors of this paper all belong to the UVA undergraduate class of 2024, which means we all experienced a version of the transphysical classroom due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In August of 2020, we were informed that all of our classes would be fully virtual, with no in-person component at all. Some students chose to live on grounds, paying for a dining plan and housing, while others decided to stay home. While this allowed students who stayed home to forgo the extra costs of college on top of tuition, it also led to those students missing out on critical college experiences that even their Covid-constrained peers on grounds had some version of. We envision a future where this gap isn’t quite so wide, achieved by both high tech and low tech methods.

High tech methods to address this gap in experience deal with the hardware and software used to connect students to each other and to other classroom environments. What this looked like during Covid-19 was Zoom calls and all the features that come with them, like breakout rooms and chat feeds. In the future we envision, Zoom or any other kind of video chat service, serves the students in the classroom and outside of the classroom equally. This means that students who are not present in the classroom will have a chance to interact with those who are physically present and vice versa.

Low-tech methods for bridging this gap are wide-ranging. Policies that give extra credit to students who initiate transphysical collaboration is one example of a low tech method of breaking the ice and building trust between students across a transphysical space.

Traditional College Experiences and Their Continuation


In person classes have their struggles. Universities can be a breeding ground for inconvenient illnesses and crazy student activists. There are those who do not enjoy college. Some students may even drop out. But incorporated with the college experience is the classroom. Receiving face-to-face interaction with some of the world’s leading researchers can be an amazing opportunity. This is coupled with the fact that experiences like labs or office hours outside of the classroom are possible. Traditional experiences shine light onto the culture associated with college – something that can be instilled down generations. This creates a sense of belonging at colleges. Many kids are prompted by their parents to attend college for the “college experience”. Educational benefits but also cultural aspects of this mode of higher education exist and cannot be ignored. In 2050 in-person college experiences will be available. Cultural aspects related to college will persist. However, the technology’s ability to encompass more learning styles may make education more inclusive. Student groups may be the entity to promote this. Students may confer the necessary balance that virtual learning has in tandem with in-person. Promoting student rights to stay home and not receive reprimand is a plausible trend by the year 2050. Pushback may be a factor, perhaps from universities and staff. These student virtual rights could relate to topics like mental health and student wellbeing – giving the student of 2050 the ability to advocate for wellbeing.

The Classroom of 2050


When predicting what the college classroom of 2050 will look like it must be said that all colleges will not look the same. The way that colleges of today differ due to location and values, so will the colleges of the future. Today, this manifests in class sizes, majors offered, classes required, and distribution of funding. These factors will still be relevant in the year of 2050, but a major difference between colleges will be how readily and completely they embrace new technology and use it to transform their classrooms and the experience of their students. As stated previously, changes to classrooms featuring new technology such as virtual learning do not necessarily improve desirability. This will be important to remember as technology companies will try to sell their products and services to universities without researching what is best for the students and instead focus on their own profits.

High-Tech Universities of 2050


The colleges of 2050 on the high-technology end of the spectrum will use new technological innovations to create classrooms that combine the traditional physical classroom with virtual elements or establish fully virtual learning environments. There are many ways they will go about this, one option will be with the use of holograms. Holograms will allow students who cannot physically attend class to be present in the classroom or allow speakers and lecturers to speak to a room of students without having to travel long distances. They will also provide the students with the ability to see objects in three dimensions and be a tool to improve their learning. To allow students to still physically interact with their peers and with their surroundings, another option would be robots. Students will 'call in' to a robot that is physically in the classroom and once in control, use it to move around the physical space. This will preserve the students ability to participate in labs, move around for group activities and discussions, and be a physical presence in the classroom. If universities opt for a completely remote virtual classroom, they will do so using virtual reality. Students can join from wherever they are and feel as though they are in a physical classroom with the other students. With the use of avatars in the virtual reality classroom students will have an added layer of anonymity which could improve their likelihood of participating in class especially for those students who struggle with anxiety. As AI improves we will see it incorporated into the classroom. Some universities will choose to have classes taught by an AI professor who can write lesson plans, grade students' work, and give feedback. The use of AI in grading students' work could improve the timeliness and quantity of feedback students receive on their assignments as well as eliminate any bias the professor might have while grading. Universities on the high-technology end of the spectrum will value accessibility, with students being able to study from anywhere in the world, as well as anonymity with the ability for students to use avatars in the classroom. These universities will also associate state of the art technology with prestige and quality of education. It is possible the interests of technology companies will influence education and we could see universities owned or sponsored by tech giants such as Meta or OpenAI.

Low-Tech Universities of 2050


Universities on the low-technology end of the spectrum will maintain a lot of traditional aspects when it comes to their classrooms. In-person learning will still be valued among many people and physical classrooms will be their primary type of classroom. Technology will aid students who are temporarily unable to physically attend due to illness or injury and these universities will use similar methods as those on the high-technology end of the spectrum. If you saw a lecture hall from 1996 and compared it to that of 2023, they would look almost identical. The main differences are the computer monitors and modern projector at the front of the classroom in 2023. These subtle differences will follow into 2050. Instead of computers made of plastic and metal we will have hologram screens and a projector capable of both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional display. These universities will also use AI, but much more sparingly. Instead of classes taught fully by AI, some professors will utilize AI programs to quickly grade students' work. These universities will value a well-rounded college experience for their students as well as tradition in academia. Mental health will be a focus at these universities and maintaining a personal connection amongst peers will be seen as a key factor in reducing anxiety and depression.



Universities have been considering how to improve education. The next 25 years could be a crucial developmental time in educational technology. What kind of virtual reality will colleges have? How much will these technologies be implemented? These are important questions. It may be worth noting that these questions may not be fully answered by 2050. A curious person should make predictions into unexpected circumstances. In 2019, few people predicted the immense rise of online learning in the years that followed. Will there be another big shift? What other events could spark this kind of change? The past has taught us that unexpected trends in education may become reality. The introduction of Zoom and asynchronous classes may have seemed unlikely in 2019. This relates to how ‘crazy’ developments discussed in this piece are at this time. Holograms may seem unthinkable now. It might be hard to imagine virtual reality classrooms. However, history (especially recent history) has taught us much is possible. Ideas that seem crazy may not seem so doubtful at a later point. There may be only one future but by examining different scenarios, a more logical result can unfold. Be creative in forecasting the future. Nobody can surely say what will happen.