An interesting conference organised by FernUniversität took place in Berlin on 25 January 2017 entitled “Change through digitalization – learning from other industries”. This conference had many links to the aims of the University of the Future research network.

The impact of digitalization on research and teaching at Universities

“If we combine our strengths as a university, such as our curiosity for research, the reflection on social developments, and our educational task as an institution for lifelong learning with the new challenges, it will be an interesting journey into the digital world.” Prof. Dr. Ada Pellert, President of the FernUniversität in Hagen taking stock after the conference of the FernUniversität “Change through digitalization – learning from other industries” at the NRW regional office in Berlin. The FernUniversität invited representatives from other universities, from education politics, the media and music industry.

Open Access opens up new forms of community

f Ada Pellert at Digitalization Conference
“Digitalization is a social phenomenon that fundamentally changes our way of acquiring knowledge and, above all, learning.” Ada Pellert (standing, left)

“Digitalization is a social phenomenon that fundamentally changes our way of living together, communicating, acquiring knowledge, and above all, learning,” said Ada Pellert. “Universities as social institutions are affected in manifold ways.” In some business sectors, digitalization has already led to profound changes. In pioneer industries such as media and music, completely new business models have been created.

Although it is difficult to transfer the concept “business model” to universities, universities can still benefit from the experience and stimulus from other sectors of society: especially regarding what to consider when structuring institutional change processes, and how change must be supported by administration. “Universities need to take a close look at how to organize research and teaching in the future. Research is already strongly influenced by digitalization nowadays: we can process very large amounts of data. Open access facilitates new forms of community-based collaboration between researchers and the general public,” says Pellert.

In teaching, roles are shifting between teachers and learners. Students’ role as co-producers of knowledge is more relevant than ever before. “They will also become confident consumers as digitalization makes teaching more transparent and comparable, also internationally “, adds the President.

Role of politics and business

Politics plays an important part: the cooperation between the political and the institutional level is crucial in addressing the digital challenges. Policy needs to ensure that equal opportunities, access to knowledge, international competitiveness and cultural diversity are protected under the conditions of digitalization.

At the closing panel, FernUniversität President Ada Pellert concluded: “Universities need to reflect and evaluate social changes that are triggered by digitalization. Universities are a central place of discourse.”

Quotes from the conference

Portrait of Prof. Ayad Al-Ani
Prof. Dr. Dr. Ayad Al-Ani
Organizational Researcher, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin

In addition to the traditional educational institutions such as schools and universities, individuals will patch together their educational pathways themselves: from traditional educational institutions, from learning in projects and from learning in communities – through all phases of life.

Portrait of Prof. Ulrike Baumöl
Prof. Dr. Ulrike Baumöl
Chair of Business Administration, especially Information Management
FernUniversität in Hagen

Digitalization is nothing purely technical, rather a technology-driven change of society. This means that people have to change. Teachers, for example, need to take a proactive, integrating role towards their students. They need to filter and sort information.

Portrait of Prof. Karlheinz Brandenburg
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h.c. Mult. Karlheinz Brandenburg
TU Ilmenau
Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media

New technological developments take time. First, people have to deal with it creatively. Then, business models and ways of doing things may have to be changed. This creates new opportunities also in the field of education. It is important to include the participation of many people.

Portrait of Prof. Andy Kaltenbrunner
Prof. Dr. Andy Kaltenbrunner
Media researcher and developer
Managing Director Medienhaus Wien

We realized that digitalization has changed many areas of life – often for the better and sometimes with doubt. It is important to apply knowledge already gained by others to universities quickly.

Portrait of Dr. Dietmar Möhler
MD Dr. Dietmar Möhler
Head of Department Higher Education Planning at the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research, NRW

Education must not become arbitrary, as it is too precious. We should equip higher education institutions properly so they can teach ways of dealing with new media. Yet, new forms of communication should be reflected in new teaching formats. We need to personalize the study environment.

Portrait of Romanus Otte
Romanus Otte
Head Axel Springer Global Network

In order to keep up within stormy changes, it is necessary to define the core of one’s tasks and keep an eye on one’s core mission. The task is to find new business models for this.

Portrait of Prof. Dr. Ada Pellert
Prof. Dr. Ada Pellert
Rector of the FernUniversität in Hagen
Spokeswoman of the digital universities NRW

For me, it is particularly challenging to understand digitalization as a means of improving the quality of teaching – towards personalized studying and providing support during different learning phases. New technical means can help to pursue entirely new ways of accompanying learning.

Portrait of Dr. Sebastian Saxe
Dr. Sebastian Saxe
CIO / CDO of the Hamburg Port Authority

If the discussion about digitalization is on its way, a lot has been gained already. It is important that administration places itself at the forefront of the movement. Hierarchies should be replaced by network structures. Openness and agility are needed.

Portrait of Prof. Felix Stalder
Prof. Dr. Felix Stalder
University of the Arts, Zurich
Media theorist

Universities need to actively engage in social transformation processes. Their mission is to empower people to participate. To this end, higher education institutions must introduce more participatory forms of education.

Portait of Prof. Carsten Winter
Prof. Dr. Carsten Winter
University of Music, Theater and Media Hannover
Chair of Media and Music Management

It is not the classic recipes of the economics that have driven the music industry, but sharing, liking, and commenting. Those are the push factors. Suddenly, things are transformed into something bigger when they are shared. This can be applied to universities: new forms of joint, interconnected research and teaching can emerge.

Documentation of the conference, including videos (in German)