In late September and early October, I had the opportunity to participate in a „learning journey“ which was initiated by Fulbright Germany in cooperation with Hochschulforum Digitalisierung by Stifterverband and perfectly organized by ImpactHub Berlin. Together with 12 Presidents, VPs, and Provosts of German Universities and Universities for Applied Science, representatives from DAAD, BMBF, Volkswagen Foundation and State Ministries of Science, we visited several Higher Education Institutions and other think tanks in New York City and in the Boston area. We were joined by a group of U.S. colleagues from State and Private Universities, as well as from smaller Liberal Arts Colleges who also applied for this trip.
But what is digital transformation of Education? The VP of EDUCAUSE gave her definition in one of the many speeches: „In the context of sweeping social, economic, technological, and demographic changes, digital transformation (Dx) is a series of deep and coordinated culture, workforce, and technology shifts that enable new educational and operating models and transform an institution’s operations, strategic directions, and value proposition.“
With a particular focus on learning and teaching in the digital age, we learnt about MIT’s Open Courseware and its transition into the global education service of EdX, which is a joint effort with Harvard University. Dropping educational ecosystems to other countries (and to corporate business) by providing online courses and local support for micro Master programs and delivering micro credentials seems to be the new business model. MIT’s Media Lab is impressive as always, bringing creative interdisciplinarity into a highly productive life.
What a student (from Bachelor to PhD) needs to learn in the digital age, this was the cross-cutting question. Answers to it came from Harvard‘s Learning Lab where both students and professors can gain expertise in the design of courses with various digital media (from film to 3D-modeling, from coding to animation). Particularly the Humanities seem to be highly interested, which was supported by longer discussions about „Digital Humanities“ and the need to get rid of the „Digital“ as the future of Humanities will certainly include digital archives, libraries and data modeling. How this affects teaching and learning was continuously discussed. Especially the U.S. colleagues referred to the overarching concept of „Bildung“ in order not to overemphasize the technical. Nevertheless, data science will become an important new field and students of all subject fields need to learn about digital data collection, research data management, digital production media and data analytics. How this can be integrated in doctoral education could be seen at CUNY‘s Graduate Center. And how it can be extended to new degree program was impressively demonstrated by CornellTech on their new campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City - a joint project with Technion at Haifa.
One of the most visible differences to the German HE system is the focus on data in every functional area: From student admission to student support services (with the help of chatbots), from enrolment to tracking learning products (with predictive learning analytics), from credit transfer to micro credentials (with blockchain technologies). Hence, datafication has already reached a level in the U.S. on which German privacy officers would either help to design privacy-friendly products or resign.
Having discussed extensively the transformation of teaching and learning in HEI and beyond, the tremendous effect on research practices were only touched in the context of the Humanities. But what about the change in Natural Sciences, Engineering, Maths and even Computer Science through digitalisation? What does it mean for the research process and what should Universities do? This will hopefully be covered in the upcoming meeting in Berlin in December. I am very much looking forward to it.